Declaration of Purna Swaraj (Indian National Congress, 1930)
The Indian National Congress, on 19 December 1929, passed the historic ‘Purna Swaraj’ – (total independence) resolution – at its Lahore session. A public declaration was made on 26 January 1930 – a day which the Congress Party urged Indians to celebrate as ‘Independence Day’. The declaration was passed due to the breakdown of negotiations between leaders of the freedom movement and the British over the question of dominion status for India.
In 1929, Lord Irwin, the then Viceroy of India, made a vaguely announced – referred to as the Irwin Declaration – that India would be granted dominion status in the future. Indian leaders welcomed this as they had been making the demand for dominion status for a long time. They now wanted all further negotiations with the British to focus on the formalization of dominion status for India.
The Irwin Declaration triggered a backlash in England: politicians and the general public were not in favour of India obtaining dominion status. Under pressure, Lord Irwin, at a meeting with Jinnah, Nehru, Gandhi and Sapru, told Indian leaders that he could not promise dominion status anytime soon. The Indian National Congress irked and now changed its stance: it gave up demands for dominion status and instead, at its Lahore Session in 1929, passed the ‘Purna Swaraj’ resolution that called for complete independence. The resolution marked the beginning of a large-scale political movement against colonial rule.
The resolution was a short 750-word document. It did not have a legal/constitutional structure – it read more like a manifesto. It called for severing ties with the British and claimed ‘Purna Swaraj’ or ‘complete independence’. It indicted British rule and succinctly articulated the resulting economic, political and cultural injustice inflicted on Indians. The document spoke on behalf of Indians and made its intention of launching the civil disobedience movement clear.
Most scholars, like Mithi Mukherjee in India under the Shadows of Empire, see the Purna Swaraj resolution as a critical component of the changing strategy of the independence movement in engaging with the British: the demand for freedom was now made in the language justice and not charity. The Purna Swaraj resolution was seen as a critical symbolic event by leaders of the freedom movement and Indians in general. During the constitution-making process during 1946 -1950, members of the Constituent Assembly chose 26 January 1950 for the Constitution of India to come into effect to honour the date of the public declaration of 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 (less than twopence) 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 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 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 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.