'A Mad Risk'
The success of Independence Day, on 26 January 1930, when huge crowds in towns and villages throughout India had gathered to take the pledge of independence solemnly and entirely without incident, led Gandhi to believe that all his work of educating and preparing the people for satyagraha was bearing fruit. The time was ripe for action, with little fear of another Chauri Chaura. But what form should that action take? For once, Gandhi made no claim that his voices had spoken to him, but with or without them he settled on the perfect answer: salt. 'Salt suddenly became a mysterious word,' Jawaharlal Nehru recalled later, 'a word of power. The Salt Tax was to be attacked, the salt laws were to be broken. We were bewildered and could not quite fit in a national struggle with common salt.' 1
Gandhi was probably the greatest exponent the world has ever seen of what might be described as symbolic politics. He had an extraordinary flair for dramatizing political issues through easily comprehensible yet potent images which even the simplest peasant could understand. The Salt Tax was just such an issue. The manufacture and sale of salt was one of the three original monopolies established for the East India Company by Clive, back in 1765 — the others were tobacco and betel nuts — and had long been subjected to a heavy tax, which, since salt is one of the staples of life, no one could avoid paying. Even those living by the ocean were forbidden to pick up lumps of natural sea salt for their morning rice, on pain of heavy fines. 'There is no article like salt outside water by taxing which the State can reach even the starving millions, the sick, the maimed and the utterly helpless,' Gandhi wrote. 'The tax constitutes therefore the most inhuman poll tax the ingenuity of man can devise.' 2
On 2 March, Gandhi wrote a personal letter to the viceroy, warning him that he was about to start a new campaign: