Gandhi was the figurehead for Indian nationalism and employed non-violent method called “Satyagraha” in pursuit of his goals. It is said that the negotiations for India’s independence started with “The Gandhi-Irwin Pact”; which gradually led to greater negotiation between the British and the Indians; and eventually independence for India. This paper will analyze the negotiation strategy and the tactics deployed by Indian Congress Party led by Gandhi that paved the path for India’s independence and the reason behind my freedom of speech today.

Historical Facts

India 1928: It was not until 1947 that India regained its independence – ending nearly 200 years of British rule. Before 1930, very few Indian Political parties had openly embraced the goal of political independence from the British. In the December 1928 Congress held in Calcutta, Mohandas Gandhi proposed a resolution that called for the British to grant dominion status to India, as granted to Australia, Canada, the Irish Free State, New Zealand, and South Africa. If the British failed to meet the given deadline of two years (later reduced to 1 year), the Congress would call upon all Indians to fight for complete independence.

British 1929: To break this growing momentum, on 31 October 1929, the Viceroy of India, Lord Irwin announced that the government would meet with Indian representatives in London for a Round Table Conference.

India 1929-1930: On Dec 1929 in the Lahore Session of Congress presided by Jawaharlal Nehru it was decided that the year-long deadline had passed and Dominion status was no more acceptable. “Purna Swaraj” (Complete Independence) resolution was passed and in pursuance with this resolution, the Legislatures and all the future elections were to be boycotted. The Congress Working Committee (CWC) was tasked to launch “Civil Disobedience Movement” including non-payment of taxes. The committee also invested Gandhi with full pow­ers to launch the movement. The Congress working committee met again on January 2, 1930 and publicly issued the Declaration of Independence or “Purna Swaraj” day to be observed on 26 January 1930. Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) began on March 12 with Gandhi leading the 240 mile long foot journey to Dandi, where he made salt to break the Salt Lawon April 6. This first defiance of the salt law led to many more boycotts throughout the country. Over 90,000 Satyagrahis, including Gandhiji and other congress leaders were imprisoned and Congress declared illegal. A freedom revolution had started uniting the Indian masses.

British 1930: The First Round Table Conference was opened officially by Lord Irwin on November 12, 1930 at London and went on till 19 January 1931. The Congress boycotted the conference as its demand for a discussion on “Purna-Swaraj” (Complete Independence) was rejected by the British Government; and many congress men were still in jail for their participation in Civil Disobedience Movement. Although representatives of the Princely states, minority communities and depressed class attended the conference; the conference failed to reach any settlement on Indian problems without congress’s presence. It ended with an appeal by the British Prime-minister, Ramsay Macdonald, to all Indians to end the civil disobedience movement.

Gandhi-Irwin Pact 1931: The First Round Table Conference had failed. The British Government decided to step down for a compromise with Gandhi. On January 25, 1931 Gandhi and all members of the CWC were released from jail unconditionally. Gandhi–Irwin Pact was signed by Mahatma Gandhi and Lord Irwin to bring about a compromise between the government and the Congress on 5th March 1931, before the second Round Table Conference in London.  This pact placed the Congress on an equal footing with the British Government on the Negotiations table for the first time; paving the path for India’s Independence.

India’s 1947-1950: 26th January was indeed celebrated as the Independence Day every year until in 1947 when India gained political independence from British on 15th August, which became the official Independence Day. However, the new Constitution of India, as drafted and approved by the Constituent Assembly of India, was mandated to take effect on 26 January 1950, to commemorate the 1930 declaration.



1.     Meticulous preparation to mobilize the masses

A) The Situation, Strategy and Style

The negotiations for India’s independence started between two parties with a huge leverage gap. On one hand was the British Government, then rulers of India and half the world; and on the other were the Indian people, suppressed, fragmented in caste systems, 500+ princely states and 1000+ languages. The challenge in front of Gandhi was not only to create higher leverage for India but also to unite Indians towards a common mission for India’s Independence. Gandhi envisioned Satyagraha as not only a tactic to be used in acute political struggle, but as a universal solvent for injustice and harm.

Gandhi’s early experiments of Satyagraha in South Africa had made him a mass leader.The Satyagraha movements were commonly described as “struggles”, “rebellions” and “wars without violence”. Unlike the common negotiation tactics the objective is not to achieve the physical elimination or moral breakdown of an adversary; but to initiate a psychological process through suffering at his hands, that could provide incentives for minds and hearts to meet and collaborate. In this strategy a compromise is not a failure but a natural and necessary step. If a compromise turns out to be premature and the adversary unrepentant; the Satyagrahi can always resume the non-violent battle.

B) Communication Tactics

Through a series of events like the British rejection of Indian Congress’s request to grant dominion status to India by 1930 the Congress Working Committee (CWC) was fixated at achieving “Purna Swaraj” (Complete Independence) and a decision to launch Civil Disobedience Movement had been taken and Gandhi was to lead the movement.

The 1882 Salt Act gave the British a monopoly on the collection and manufacture of salt levying the salt tax. Gandhi chose the paltry “Salt” as a medium to communicate with the common Indian and to mobile the masses. Initially, Gandhi’s choice of the salt tax was met with skepticism by the CWC which favored a land revenue boycott instead. The British Viceroy, Lord Irwin, did not take the salt protest seriously either and wrote to London, “At present the prospect of a salt campaign does not keep me awake at night.”

It seems like for Gandhi “Salt” was a strategically symbolic choice[5]; a positioning theme that resonated with all classes much more than any abstract demand for greater political rights. Over time it not only conveyed the assertive demand for complete independence to the British, but also reminded the Indian public the importance of Purna-Swarajeven for petty things like salt. Salt was used by every Indian to replace the salt lost by sweating in India’s tropical climate. The salt tax represented 8.2% of the British Raj tax revenue, and impacted even the poorest Indians. The freedom to create Salt became a classic Authoritative Standard that united Indian masses across regions, castes, religions and beliefs.

2.     Information exchange to create leverage against British

In January 1930, Gandhi paved the foundation for negotiations with Lord Irwin by issuing an eleven point ultimatum that strategically avoided any mention of a constitutional change, but echoed numerous popular demands like 1) Total prohibition 2) release of political prisoners 3) reduction in military expenditure 4) changes in Arms Act 5) reform of the C.I.D 6) lowering of rupee-sterling rate 7) textile protection 8) reservation of coastal shipping for Indians 9) a fifty percent reduction in land tax 10) abolition of both salt tax and government salt monopoly.

Next, Gandhi leveraged British Government’s refusal as a trigger point to launch the Civil Disobedience movement and made salt as the cornerstone for uniting Indians. He embarked upon a 240 miles long Salt-March along with seventy-eight members of Sabarmati Ashram, from Ahmedabad on March 12 to reach the coast at Dandi on April 6th. By the time Gandhi reached Dandi more than 50,000 people had joined the march. Throughout the march Gandhi gave lectures to local villagers to energize them towards “Poorna-Swaraj”. Updated of this march were broadcasted regularly over radio and shared through daily newspapers called “Patrika”. This perhaps was most powerful use of the “social-media” (as it existed then) to share information both with the Indian masses and the British.

Once the way was cleared by Gandhi’s ritual at Dandi, the movement now spread rapidly and defiance of the salt laws started all over the country. People joined demonstrations and the campaign to boycott foreign goods and to refuse to pay-taxes. In many parts of the country, the peasants refused to pay land revenue and rent and had their lands confiscated. A notable feature of the movement was the wide participation of women. In North-western provinces Pathans organized the society of “Khudai Khidmatgars” (or Servants of God) known popularly as Red Shirts. Similar societies and missions were launched across several states and regions throughout India. The government resorted to ruthless repression, lathi-charges (beating with sticks) and firing. Over 90,000 Satyagrahis, including Gandhi and other congress leaders were imprisoned and Congress was declared illegal.

Gandhi’s was arrested on May 4, 1930; which was followed by massive protests across India. Gandhi’s arrest was further leveraged by the Congress working committee to sanction civil disobedience defiance beyond Salt Tax to “Non-payment of revenue to government” and “Rural Chaukidari tax” (No payment to rent to Zamindars i.e. landlords who remained loyal to the British).

The campaign had a significant effect on changing world and British attitude towards Indian independence and caused large numbers of Indians to join the fight for the first time. More than 3 lakh Indians – Men, women, Muslims, Hindus, rich, poor, students, merchants, tribal and peasants from all parts of the country joined the Civil Disobedience Movement, which became the largest movement of that time.

Gandhi had tactfully leveraged Salt symbolically to not only unite the fragmented India; but also leverage non-violence against the violent British to create leverage for India by shifting the Power of Authority towards the Indian masses!

3.     Bargaining: Proposing and concession making

The movement had generated worldwide publicity, and it was important for Irwin to end it. For the first time Viceroy Lord Irwin praised Gandhi with attractive words, “however mistaken any man may think him to be and however deplorable may appear the results of the policy associated with his name no one can fail to recognize the spiritual force which impels Mr. Gandhi to count no sacrifice too great in the cause, as he believes of the India he loves”;

The Government proposed that Congress participate in the Second Round Table Conference in 1931. As a concession Gandhi and all other members of the CWC were released unconditionally on January 25, 1931. Gandhi was authorized by the Congress to negotiate with Lord Irwin. Eight meetings were conducted between the two men, which lasted for a total of 24 hours.

Historical documents manifest that the two men took the details discussed behind the closed doors to grave with them. There is also evidence that both were impressed by each other’s sincerity towards their motherland which makes me believe that they must have probed each other to not only understand their needs but also to meet the other side’s objections one by one with the lowest impact concessions they could make.

Although some argue that the terms of the “Gandhi-Irwin Pact” fell manifestly short of those which Gandhi had prescribed as the minimum for a truce; the fact that these negotiations actually took place between British and Indian congress was the turning point in India’s independence struggle when the Indian Congress was placed on an equal footing with the British Government. After all the in the non-violent tactics of negotiating and fighting, compromise is a natural and necessary step to initiate the psychological process that provides incentives for minds to meet and collaborate.

4.     Commitment and implementation

Gandhi–Irwin Pact – The outcome of these talks was a pact known as “Delhi Pact” or the “Gandhi-Irwin Pact” that was signed on March 5, 1931 between Mohandas K. Gandhi, leader of the Indian nationalist movement, and Lord Irwin, British viceroy (1926–31) of India. The goal of this pact was to bring about a compromise between the government and the Congress. The British Government agreed to withdraw all ordinances, end prosecutions and release all political prisoners detained in connection with the movement; restore the confiscated property of the Satyagrahis and permit Indians to make salt for domestic use. Government also agreed to let the people picket peacefully, the shops that sold liquor. The viceroy turned down two of Gandhi’s demands: Public inquiry into police excesses, and Commutation of Bhagat Singh and his comrades’ death sentence to life sentence.

Gandhi on behalf of the Indian National Congress agreed to discontinue the Civil Disobedience movement, and to participate in the Second Round Table Conference.


Gandhi did not achieve everything he demanded but in the people’s eyes, the plain fact that the Englishman had been brought to negotiate instead of giving orders outweighed all shortcomings. This drive empowered activists to continue their fight albeit from a position of greater strength in the next round. This achievement itself makes a convincing case that Gandhi had succeeded.

Negotiations over instrumental policies though important can only be successful once a symbolic shift in the public opinion is achieved, and power-holders are put in a situation that necessitates responding to disruptions created by activist mobilizations. Whether it was the South Africa movement, or the Indian Freedom struggle Gandhi demonstrates the finesse of a master negotiator who knew how to create symbolic trumps to trigger the “consistency principle” mobilizing the masses towards a common symbolic cause. He then leveraged the power of these mass movements, using “authority principle” to persuade the opponents to gain victory on the specific policy matters of political significance! Brilliant Play!

Gandhi’s Negotiation Style

Mahatma Gandhi was a lawyer by profession and several historic incidents demonstrate the effectiveness of this Mahatma’s negotiation style. He prepared each step meticulously; expected nothing but Poorna Swaraj for India; listened to the signals from the Indian masses as well as the British Raj; and never compromised on his personal integrity towards truth. As I reflect on Gandhi’s Negotiation style these things come to mind:

  • Bargaining Style: Being a Satyagrahi, a lawyer and a self-declared disciple of truth his style seems to be inclined towards that of a Collaborator and a skillful compromiser.
  • Goals: I believe he had set his goal at “Complete Independence for a united India from British”, his target became “Complete Independence from British even with divided India and Pakistan” and his bottom-line was “ Dominion status to India”
  • Authoritative Standards: Gandhi used simple popular beliefs and demands to define authoritative standards – Salt being one of them.
  • Relations and their interest: Gandhi was a master at nurturing relations. He knew when and how to inspire the masses with his simplicity; when to negotiate with assertive means like Satyagrah and when to lead the congress for pacts like the Gandhi-Irwin pact. This skill enabled him to negotiate baby steps towards “Poorna-Swaraj” or Complete Independence for India.
  • Leverage: The Gandhi-Irwin pact demonstrates his ability to negotiate effectively by creating leverage with careful planning and execution.

Credits: There are numerous books and articles available on this topic. I read through quite a few and became aware of many many more. Sincere thanks to all the authors who made it possible for me to wet my feet a bit on the history that played a key role in defining who I am today and the independent life I am privileged to lead .

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