Purna Swaraj: The Declaration of the Independence of India

by Mohandas K. Gandhi

1929 proposed flag of India, with Gandhian spinning wheel; courtesy en.wikipedia.org

Editor’s Preface: The Indian National Congress formally approved “The Declaration of the Independence of India” on December 19, 1929, and it is important to understand it in its historical context. (1) Purna swaraj can be translated as “complete, sovereign independence,” that is, Indian independence from Great Britain and the ending of colonial rule. Various models had been proposed for Indian sovereignty prior to 1930, including several versions of power sharing. However, a sequence of events by the British government, violating or curtailing Indian civil rights, resounded as a betrayal to Gandhi. The “Declaration” marks a turning point in Gandhi’s thinking about Britain, and the nature of India’s future relationship with British rule. (2) There has been some disagreement as to its authorship, but Gandhi can be said to have solved the matter in February 1937 when he wrote,“ I was its author. I wanted the people not merely to repeat the mantra of independence but to educate the people as to its why and wherefore.” (3) Purna Swaraj was to be read throughout the country on January 26, 1930, and that date is still celebrated as India Independence Day. Please also see our explanatory notes at the end. JG

Purna Swaraj

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 per day, and of the heavy taxes we pay, 20 per cent are raised from the land revenue derived from the peasantry and 3 per cent from the salt tax, which falls most heavily on the poor. (4)

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. 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 rate, 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 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, and 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 defense against foreign aggression, or even defend our homes and families from 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 through nonviolence. We will therefore prepare ourselves by withdrawing, so far as we can, all voluntary association from the British Government, and will prepare for civil disobedience, including nonpayment of taxes. We are convinced that if we can but withdraw our voluntary help and 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.

Endnotes: (JG)

(1) One of the most recent and best discussions of Purna Swaraj is: Anthony J. Parel, Pax Gandhiana: The Political Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, London: Oxford University Press, 2016; pp. 75-8.

(2) The Indian National Congress and Gandhi were reacting especially to the Amritsar massacre (1919), the Rowlatt Act (1919), and the debate surrounding and ultimately the passage of the Simon Commission Report (1930). Among the more reliable accounts of these, their impact on the Indian political struggle for independence, and the evolution of Gandhi’s thought, we recommend, Judith Brown, Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1980. A more specific, and contemporaneous discussion is C. F. Andrews, India and the Simon Report, London: Allen, 1930.

(3) Parel op cit; p. 73 makes a convincing case for Gandhi’s authorship. See also: Mahatma Gandhi, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, New Delhi: Publications Division, Government of India, 1958-1993; Vol. 71; p. 116.

(4) The Indian currency is divided as follows: 4 pice = 1 anna; 16 annas = 1 rupee. In 1930 1 Rupee = .33 US $ (33 US cents). The figure that Gandhi here gives for a daily wage of 7 pice a day, or about one eighth of a rupee, would therefore have equaled, in 1930, 4 US cents a day. This would not have constituted, even by India’s standards of poverty, a living wage. For a discussion of these incomes see Andrews, op cit.

A NOTE ON THE TEXT: Our text is from The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, New Delhi: Publications Division, Government of India, 1958-1993; Vol. 71; p. 116. However, we have corrected minor spelling mistakes, and have added the explanatory notes below.

“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi