The Purna Swaraj Declaration, made on the 26th of January 1930, by the Indian National Congress, was a move away from asking for Dominion Status and asking for Complete Independence, as a Republic of equals (us) who will determine their own path and destiny. the full text of the declaration
“We believe that it is the inalienable right of the Indian people, as of any other people, to have freedom and to enjoy the fruits of their toil and have the necessities of life, so that they may have full opportunities of growth. We believe also that if any government deprives a people of these rights and oppresses them, the people have a further right to alter it or to abolish it. The British Government in India has not only deprived the Indian people of their freedom but has based itself on the exploitation of the masses, and has ruined India economically, politically, culturally and spiritually. We believe, therefore, that India must sever the British connection and attain Purna Swaraj or Complete Independence.
“India has been ruined economically. The revenue derived from our people is out of all proportion to our income. Our average income is seven pice, less than two pence, per day, and of the heavy taxes we pay, twenty per cent are raised from the land revenue derived from the peasantry and three per cent from the salt tax, which falls most heavily on the poor.
“Village industries, such as hand-spinning, have been destroyed, leaving the peasantry idle for at least four months in the year, and dulling their intellect for want of handicrafts, and nothing has been substituted, as in other countries, for the crafts thus destroyed.
“Customs and currency have been so manipulated as to heap further burdens on the peasantry. The British manufactured goods constitute the bulk of our imports. Customs duties betray clear partiality for British manufactures, and revenue from them is used not to lessen the burden on the masses, but for sustaining a highly extravagant administration. Still more arbitrary has been the manipulation of the exchange ratio which has resulted in millions being drained away from the country.
“Politically, India’s status has never been so reduced, as under the British regime. No reforms have given real political power to the people. The tallest of us have to bend before foreign authority. The rights of free expression of opinion and free association have been denied to us, and many of our countrymen are compelled to live in exile abroad and they cannot return to their homes. All administrative talent is killed, and the masses have to be satisfied with petty village offices and clerkships. “Culturally, the system of education has torn us from our moorings, our training has made us hug the very chains that bind us.
“Spiritually, compulsory disarmament has made us unmanly, and the presence of an alien army of occupation, employed with deadly effect to crush in us the spirit of resistance, has made us think that we cannot look after ourselves or put up a defence against foreign aggression, or defend our homes and families from the attacks of thieves, robbers, and miscreants.
“We hold it to be a crime against man and God to submit any longer to a rule that has caused this fourfold disaster to our country. We recognize, however, that the most effective way of gaining our freedom is not through violence. We will prepare ourselves, by withdrawing, so far as we can, all voluntary association from the British Government, and will prepare for civil disobedience including non-payment of taxes. We are convinced that if we can but withdraw our voluntary help, stop payment of taxes without doing violence, even under provocation, the end of this inhuman rule is assured. We, therefore, hereby solemnly resolve to carry out the Congress instructions issued from time to time for the purpose of establishing Purna Swaraj.
There were those in the liberal faction of the Indian National Congress who had an issue with the concept of civil disobedience. Dr.Ambedkar in particular. In the Nagpur session, a few months later, on August 8th he made a speech at the Depressed Classes Congress:
he endorsed Dominion status, and criticized Gandhi’s Salt March and civil disobedience movement as inopportune; but he also criticized British colonial misgovernment, with its famines and immiseration. He argued that the “safety of the Depressed Classes” hinged on their “being independent of the Government and the Congress” both: “We must shape our course ourselves and by ourselves.” His conclusion emphasized self-help: “Political power cannot be a panacea for the ills of the Depressed Classes. Their salvation lies in their social elevation. They must cleanse their evil habits. They must improve their bad ways of living…. They must be educated…. There is a great necessity to disturb their pathetic contentment and to instil into them that divine discontent which is the spring of all elevation.”
Gandhi, however, was of the view that non violence and civil disobedience were the way forward.
“The Congress cannot stay its hands after having passed the independence resolution, “It was no bluff, no showy nothing. It was deliberate definite change in the Congress mentality. It is then as much up to the critics as to me, to devise ways and means of achieving independence.”
On those who had issues with the non violent part of the resolution, Gandhi had this to say
There is undoubtedly a party of violence in the country. It is as patriotic as the best among us. What is more, it has much sacrifice to its credit. In daring it is not to be surpassed by any of us. It is easy enough to fling unkind adjectives at its members, but it will not carry conviction with them. I am not referring to the frothy eloquence that passes muster for patriotism. I have in mind that secret, silent, persevering band of young men and women who want to see their country free at any cost. But whilst I admire and adore their patriotism, I have no faith in their method. I am convinced that their methods have cost the country much more than they know or care to admit. But they will listen to no argument, however reasonable it may be, unless they are convinced that there is a programme before the country which requires at least as much sacrifice as the tallest among them is prepared to make. They will not be allured by our speeches, resolutions or even conferences. Action alone has any appeal for them. This appeal can only form non-violent action which is no other than civil resistance. In my opinion, it and it alone can save the country from impending lawlessness and secret crime. That even civil resistance may fail and may also hasten the lawlessness is no doubt a possibility. But if it fails in its purpose, it will not be civil resistance that will have failed. It will fail, if it does, for want of faith and consequent incapacity in the civil resisters.
“We must cease to dread violence, if we will have the country to be free. Can we not see that we are tightly pressed in the coil of violence? The peace we seem to prize is a mere makeshift, and it is bought with the blood of the starving millions. If the critics could only realize the torture of their slow and lingering death brought about by forced starvation, they would risk anarchy and worse in order to end that agony. The agony will not end till the existing rule of spoliation has ended. It is a sin, with that knowledge, to sit supine, and for fear of imaginary anarchy or worse, to stop action that may prevent anarchy, and is bound, if successful, to end the heartless spoliation of a people who have deserved a better fate.”
On the New Year’s Eve 1930 (31st December 1929) Jawaharlal Nehru unfurled the tricolour at Lahore, and declared that 26th Jan 1930 would mark the beginning of Purna Swaraj.
It is a fascinating era in Indian history. India was lucky to be led by moral and intellectual giants – who debated vigrously with each other, at the same time as working for a common goal – a strong, independent India, where all of us are equal.