Saving Indian Villages: British Empire, the Great Depression and Gandhi’s Civil Disobedience Movement

AuthorAlok Oak
Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterOriginal Articles
Saving Indian Villages:
British Empire, the Great
Depression and Gandhi’s Civil
Disobedience Movement
Alok Oak1
This article traces an intricate relationship between Mahatma Gandhi’s call for Civil Disobedience
(1930–1933) and the global economic slump of the 1920s experienced by Britain and colonial India.
I argue that the economic hardships faced by Indians (particularly the peasant classes) forced Gandhi
to revisit his sociopolitical approach to India’s nationalist movement. Despite the chronological over-
lap of the Great Depression (1929–1931) with Gandhi’s Civil Disobedience Movement (1930–1933),
the relation between these two major events has not been adequately explored in recent scholarship.
I propose to contextualize the changes in Gandhi’s economic ideas and political strategy (often against
contending ideological trends) leading to his defence of Indian peasant interests during the Gandhi–
Irwin Pact and the Second Round Table Conference. Gandhi’s increasing awareness of the economic
crises and Britain’s severe opposition to granting financial autonomy to India pushed Gandhi in the
direction of charting a new path for economic self-reliance. This, I suggest, resulted in his nation-wide
popular movement for reviving the Indian village economy in the form of the ‘Constructive Programme’
(1934–1948) in subsequent years.
Global Depression, colonialism, Civil Disobedience Movement, Gandhi, economic nationalism
The global financial recession of 1929, emerging in the United States and later known as the Great
Depression (1929–1931), had devastating effects on the capitalist core and the colonized peripheral
countries. India, a British colony since the late eighteenth century, faced an acute agrarian crisis during
Original Article
1 School of History, University of St Andrews, Scotland
Corresponding author:
Alok Oak, School of History, University of St Andrews, St Katherine’s Lodge, St Andrews KY16 9BA, Scotland.
Studies in Indian Politics
10(2) 227–241, 2022
© 2022 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/23210230221135834

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