Some of the highlights of
Voice of idealism
It was on August 8, 1942 that Quit India movement was launched. It was a movement that gave expression to people’s hatred for British imperialism. But, what is this movement’s legacy to independent India? Salil Misra attempts to find answers.
Of all the movements launched as part of our freedom struggle, the Quit India movement was easily the most complex, dramatic and multi-faceted. It was a movement planned and conceived by Mahatma Gandhi, but went completely against his principles of non-violence. It was marked not so much by open demonstrations, non-cooperation and jail-going, but by underground activities, violence, destruction of government buildings and looting of government property. In a way, it was the most unGandhian struggle that was nonetheless initiated by Gandhi. The most curious thing about this movement was that till around 1940 Gandhi himself was very reluctant and completely disinclined to launch this struggle. However, by 1942, he emerged as the most determined of all Indian leaders to launch the struggle. What happened in two years’ time to change his mind completely? More importantly, what is Quit India movement’s legacy to independent India?
Quit India was indeed unusual in many ways. It was the shortest of all the movements launched against the British. It started on August 8, 1942 and by the end of September had been brought under control by the British. But it was also the most decisive and heroic struggle against the British. Given the fact that the British quickly arrested all the major Congress leaders, it was also the most leaderless struggle. In the absence of national leaders, people evolved their own innovative ways in which to undermine the authority of the British. The Quit India story is indeed very curious and also instructive.
The roots of Quit India go back to 1939-40, if not earlier. By around 1940, the Indian National Movement had completed a full circle and desperately needed to break out of the circle. It had conclusively demonstrated, through a series of struggles, that most Indian people wanted British imperialism to go. It had become clear that large sections of the Indian population (except perhaps big landlords and princes) had rallied behind the national movement at some point or the other. Middle classes, students, women, workers and peasants had been particularly active in the struggles against British imperialism. However, the British had shown no inclination to oblige them by leaving India. They hoped to be able to stay on in India by retaining their support base among the tiny pockets of the Indian elite.
The beginning of World War II in 1939 dramatically altered the political scenario. Indians had had a bitter experience during the First World War in which they had supported England in the hope of getting some concessions. But they had been bitterly disappointed to find that the British were in no mood to grant any concessions after the war. For all their help in the war, the Indians were ‘rewarded’ with the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre in 1919 in which hundreds of Indians were killed in Amritsar in Punjab. Gandhi later said, referring to Indian support in the war: “We wanted bread, but got stones instead.”
But the character of World War II was somewhat different. It was seen as a war between the forces of fascism and those of democracy. England and USA were pitched in the war against Germany and Japan. The entire world was threatened by the very real possibility of a fascist take-over. Great Britain, USA and the USSR were seen as the only hope if the entire world was to be saved from the threat of fascism. The trouble however was that England was fighting for a freedom of the world, but denied the same freedom to the people of India. Immediately after the beginning of the war, England unilaterally declared India to be a party in the war. But it refused to entertain any thought of freedom to the Indian people. The famous Atlantic Charter of August 1941, signed by Churchill, upheld freedom and self-government for the people of the world, but not for Indian people. In September 1941, Churchill declared in a speech that the Atlantic Charter did not apply to the British colonial empire.
What could the Indian leadership do? This was a dilemma for them. Nehru had great sympathy with the people of China suffering Japanese aggression. Gandhi had aversion to all wars but he was uncompromisingly opposed to the forces of fascism. Gandhi’s natural sympathies lay with the ‘citadel of democracy’ in their war against fascism.
Therefore they were reluctant to launch a struggle against the British, particularly at a time when the British were involved in a war against fascism. Both Gandhi and Nehru did not want to embarrass the British war efforts by launching a movement against them.
During 1939-40, both Gandhi and Nehru saw British imperialism as a danger, but fascism as an even greater danger.
However, within two years’ time, around May 1942, Gandhi was absolutely certain that a ‘do or die’ struggle against British imperialism was necessary and could not be avoided. What had brought about this change in Gandhi’s priorities?
First big change was the immediacy of the Japanese invasion. Overrunning of Singapore, Malaya and Burma by Japan suddenly brought the war to Indian shores. The possibility of a Japanese invasion of India created a huge panic among the people. The Indian people living in Singapore and Malaya began to return to India as refugees. Many English people had also been trapped in these countries. The British government made great efforts to escort them to safety but did nothing for the Indians. Great resentment developed in India at the double standards practised by the British. No effort whatsoever was made by the British for the rehabilitation of the Indian refugees. Many Indian voluntary groups emerged at this point to help the Indian refugees. Congress organised the rehabilitation programme for the refugees. This helped to build up Congress as an alternative to the British. There was great disillusionment with the British and people felt betrayed by the government.
Arrival of foreign troops on the Indian soil added greatly to their discontent. India had already been declared as a party to the war by the British. After the Japanese attack on the Pearl Harbour in 1941, USA also joined the war and India became a major site of war in Asia. Large number of American and British troops landed in India. Large areas were emptied out for the construction of temporary aerodromes. Many school buildings too were taken over to provide facilities for the troops. There were cases of foreign soldiers misbehaving with the local women. All this added greatly to the already existing indignation against the British.
Diversion of food grains and other essential commodities for the army created a huge scarcity for these items in the countryside. There was virtually a famine-like situation. These accumulated scarcities did eventually culminate in a major famine in Bengal in 1943, claiming three million lives. The Bengal famine of 1943 was easily one of the biggest tragedies of 20th century India and was the theme of Satyajit Ray’s famous film, Ashani Sanket (Ominous Signals).
In short, Indian people and society bore a heavy brunt of the war. Huge calamities were inflicted on them during the war. And the strangest thing was that it was not their war. It evoked no patriotism among them, only aversion. Indian people disliked the Germans and the Japanese. But they disliked England even more for obvious reasons. The British rule had used them as cannon fodder in the war. They became extremely vulnerable victims in a war in which they otherwise had no direct stakes, nor any sympathies with any side.
It was for some of these reasons that tremendous resentment built up among the people against the British. Gandhi also became extremely restless. He was now convinced that a fresh round of struggle against the British had become unavoidable.
This was to be a round of struggle in which no special demands were to be made to the British. They were simply asked to leave. Gandhi could clearly see that India had become vulnerable to Japanese invasion precisely because of British presence on Indian soil. If the British left, or were forced to leave, Japan would have no reason to invade India and the Indians would be saved the suffering and indignity that befell the people of Singapore, Malaya and Burma. The British had proved completely incapable of defending the people of these countries and could not therefore be trusted to defend the Indian people. Indian people had to defend themselves in the eventuality of a Japanese invasion. A round of struggle at this stage was also a way of shaking people out of passivity and preparing them to defend themselves. Gandhi served an ultimatum to the British: “Leave India to God. If that is too much, then leave her to anarchy.” Knowing fully well that he and other Congress leaders would be arrested very soon, he made a final appeal to the people: “Here is a mantra, a short one, that I give you. You may imprint it on your hearts and let every breath of yours give expression to it. The mantra is: “Do or Die.” We shall either free India or die in the attempt; we shall not live to se the perpetuation of our slavery.”
In August things happened pretty much as anticipated by Gandhi. As soon as the Congress organisation gave a call for Quit India, all its top leaders were immediately arrested and the organisation was banned. The movement suddenly became completely leaderless. It was now that people took the struggle in their own hands. They remembered the instructions of Gandhi but implemented them in their own way. People understood that the open and non-violent defiance of the British rule was no longer possible. They therefore took the struggle underground and attacked the symbols of British authority. Immediately after the arrest of national leaders, spontaneous hartals and demonstrations erupted in most parts of the country in defiance of the law.
The government retaliated by gagging the press. The publication of National Herald and the Harijan stopped for the entire duration of the struggle. Many other papers stopped publication for a shorter duration. People responded by attacking government buildings and hoisting national flags on them. Small groups of people blew up bridges, removed railway tracks, and cut telephone and telegraph wires. Students went on strikes in schools and colleges all over the country. Workers also struck work and many mills were closed down in Ahmedabad and Mumbai. According to government estimates, in the first week of the struggle, 250 railway stations were damaged or destroyed, and over 500 post offices and 150 police stations were attacked. In Karnataka alone, there were 1,600 incidents of cutting of telegraph lines, and 26 railway stations and 32 post offices were attacked. All this was indicative of the extent of anger people felt for the British. In retaliation, the government went on complete offensive and tried to crush the struggle.
By the end of 1942, over 60,000 people had been arrested and around 10,000 people had been killed in firing by the police and the army. Significantly, there were very few civilian casualties, including Englishmen.
One innovative and dramatic feature of the struggle was the setting up of an underground Congress radio for the purposes of news dissemination. The Congress Radio was set up clandestinely from various places in Mumbai whose broadcast could be heard as far as Chennai. Yet another important aspect of the struggle was the tacit and covert support provided to the movement by the Indians serving in British police, army and the civil services. These acts of support, however disguised, demonstrated to the British that in similar situations of national protest in future, the Indians in British services could not be relied upon to put down the rebellion. The tide of nationalism had finally reached the Indians in British services.
Quit India proved to be the final agent in Indian freedom in 1947. Although the British were able to suppress the movement, in the process they lost all moral authority to rule India. When the World War was over and the clouds of uncertainty disappeared from the political horizon, the general mood in India had changed completely. The writing on the wall was clear. The repression used during the struggle had made the British very unpopular and totally unacceptable to the Indian people. The British knew that they had won the war but lost the most precious jewel in the British imperial crown. They had been able to rule India for the last two centuries because of support from sections of Indian population. This Indian support had acted like the pillars that sustained British rule in India. After Quit India these pillars began to collapse. Without the support of these pillars it was impossible for the British to remain in India. Indian freedom also became a catalyst in the whole process of decolonisation. Between 1945 and 1960 nearly 120 colonies in Asia and Africa got freedom from European domination. Quit India was no doubt a turning point in this mammoth process of the dismantling of formal imperialism in the post-war world.
What is the legacy of Quit India movement for independent India? The struggle exemplified the crucial message that under modern conditions, no state system, however powerful and strong, can be stable unless it has the support and the backing of people.
The Quit India movement sent a strong message to the British that they had lost all legitimacy to rule India. Significantly, what applied to the alien British state applies equally compellingly to the Indian national state also. Any state can legitimately rule the territory only if it can reach out to the minds and hearts of the people. No state, however powerful and popular, can rule through purely coercive methods. It can effectively rule only so long as it has the support of people. This is easily the greatest legacy of Quit India movement to the rulers of independent India.
(The writer teaches history at the Ambedkar University, Delhi)
Quit India Day – Festivals of India
August Movement (August Kranti)
The Quit India Movement (Bharat Chhodo Andolan), or the August Movement (August Kranti) was a civil disobedience movement launched in India in August 1942 in response to Mohandas Gandhi’s call for ‘Satyagraha’ (independence).
On August 9, 1942 the Quit India Movement began which later triggered the British leaving the country and India attaining independence on August 15, 1947 a few years later. Quit India day is observed every year on August 9 to mark the anniversary of Quit India movement.
Quit India Movement was truly a turning point in India’s struggle for freedom. Father of the nation, Gandhiji gave a call to the masses and urged them to raise their voice against British and asked them to “Quit India”.
Function is held in schools where skits, speeches are staged. The significance of the day is highlighted. The entire nation fills with a sense of patriotism and pay tributes to martyrs of the freedom struggle and the political leaders lay wreaths on the memorial.
Footage – Events – Quit India – 1942 August 9
Quit India Movement
||The neutrality of this article is disputed. (June 2014)|
The Quit India Movement (Hindi: भारत छोड़ो आन्दोलन Bhārat Chhodho Āndolan), or the India August Movement (August Kranti), was a civil disobedience movement launched in India on 8 August 1942 by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The All-India Congress Committee proclaimed a mass protest demanding what Gandhi called “an orderly British withdrawal” from India. It was for the determined, which appears in his call to Do or Die, issued on 8 August at the Gowalia Tank Maidan in Mumbai in 1942 The British were prepared to act. Almost the entire INC leadership, and not just at the national level, was imprisoned without trial within hours after Gandhi’s speech. Most spent the rest of the war in prison and out of contact with the masses. The British had the support of theViceroy’s Council (which had a majority of Indians), of the Muslims, the Communist Party, the princely states, the Indian Imperial Police, the British Indian Army and the Indian Civil Service. Many Indian businessmen were profiting from heavy wartime spending and did not support Quit India. Many students paid more attention to Subhas Chandra Bose, who was in exile and supporting the Axis. The only outside support came from the Americans, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt pressured Prime Minister Winston Churchill to give in to Indian demands. The Quit India campaign was effectively crushed.
The British refused to grant immediate independence, saying it could happen only after the war ends.
Sporadic small-scale violence took place around the country but the British arrested tens of thousands of leaders, keeping them imprisoned until 1945. In terms of immediate objectives Quit India failed because of heavy-handed suppression, weak coordination and the lack of a clear-cut programme of action. However, the British government realised that India was ungovernable in the long run, and the question for postwar became how to exit gracefully and peacefully.
- 1 World War II and Indian involvement
- 2 Resolution for immediate independence
- 3 Local activism
- 4 Suppression of the movement
- 5 Media
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
- 9 Further reading
World War II and Indian involvement
In 1939 Indian nationalists were angry that British Governor-General of India, Lord Linlithgow, had without consultation with them brought India into the war. The Muslim League supported the war, but Congress was divided.
At the outbreak of war, the Congress Party had passed a resolution during the Wardha meeting of the working-committee in September 1939, conditionally supporting the fight against fascism, but were rebuffed when they asked for independence in return. Gandhi had not supported this initiative, as he could not reconcile an endorsement for war (he was a committed believer in non-violent resistance, used in the Indian Independence Movementand proposed even against Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Hideki Tojo). However, at the height of the Battle of Britain, Gandhi had stated his support for the fight against racism and of the British war effort, stating he did not seek to raise an independent India from the ashes of Britain. However, opinions remained divided.
After the onset of the war, only a group led by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose took any decisive action. Bose organised the Indian National Army with the help of the Japanese, and, soliciting help from the Axis Powers, conducted a guerrilla war against the British authorities.
On the 23rd of March 1942, faced with an increasingly dissatisfied sub-continent only reluctantly participating in the war and deterioration in the war situation in Europe and with growing dissatisfaction among Indian troops — especially in Africa — and among the civilian population in the sub-continent, the British government sent a delegation to India under Stafford Cripps, the Leader of the House of Commons, in what came to be known as the Cripps mission. The purpose of the mission was to negotiate with the Indian National Congress a deal to obtain total co-operation during the war, in return for progressive devolution and distribution of power from the crown and the Viceroy to an elected Indian legislature. The talks failed, as they did not address the key demand of a timetable of self-government and of definition of the powers to be relinquished, essentially making an offer of limited dominion-status that was wholly unacceptable to the Indian movement.
Factors contributing to the movement’s launch
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (August 2013)|
In 1939, with the outbreak of war between Germany and Britain, India was announced to be a party to the war for being a constituent component of the British Empire. Following this declaration, the Congress Working Committee at its meeting on 10 October 1939, passed a resolution condemning the aggressive activities of the Germans. At the same time the resolution also stated that India could not associate herself with war unless it was consulted first. Responding to this declaration, the Viceroy issued a statement on 17 October wherein he claimed that Britain is waging a war driven by the motif to strengthen peace in the world. He also stated that after the war, the government would initiate modifications in the Act of 1935, in accordance to the desires of the Indians.
Gandhi’s reaction to this statement was; “the old policy of divide and rule is to continue. The Congress has asked for bread and it has got stone.” According to the instructions issued by High Command, the Congress ministers were directed to resign immediately. Congress ministers from eight provinces resigned following the instructions. The resignation of the ministers was an occasion of great joy and rejoicing for leader of the Muslim League, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. He called the day of 22 December 1939 ‘The Day of Deliverance’. Gandhi urged Jinnah against the celebration of this day, however, it was futile. At the Muslim League Lahore Session held in March 1940, Jinnah declared in his presidential address that the Muslims of the country wanted a separate homeland, Pakistan.
In the meanwhile, crucial political events took place in England. Chamberlain was succeeded by Churchill as the Prime Minister and the Conservatives, who assumed power in England, did not have a sympathetic stance towards the claims made by the Congress. In order to pacify the Indians in the circumstance of worsening war situation, the Conservatives were forced to concede some of the demands made by the Indians. On 8 August, the Viceroy issued a statement that has come to be referred as the “August Offer”. However, the Congress rejected the offer followed by the Muslim League.
In the context of widespread dissatisfaction that prevailed over the rejection of the demands made by the Congress, Gandhi at the meeting of the Congress Working Committee in Wardha revealed his plan to launch Individual Civil Disobedience. Once again, the weapon of satyagraha found popular acceptance as the best means to wage a crusade against the British. It was widely used as a mark of protest against the unwavering stance assumed by the British. Vinoba Bhave, a follower of Gandhi, was selected by him to initiate the movement. Anti war speeches ricocheted in all corners of the country, with the satyagrahis earnestly appealing to the people of the nation not to support the Government in its war endeavors. The consequence of this satyagrahi campaign was the arrest of almost fourteen thousand satyagrahis. On 3 December 1941, the Viceroy ordered the acquittal of all the satyagrahis. In Europe the war situation became more critical with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the Congress realised the necessity for appraising their program. Subsequently, the movement was withdrawn.
The Cripps’ Mission and its failure also played an important role in Gandhi’s call for The Quit India Movement. In order to end the deadlock, the British government on 22 March 1942, sent Sir Stafford Cripps to talk terms with the Indian political parties and secure their support in Britain’s war efforts. A Draft Declaration of the British Government was presented, which included terms like establishment of Dominion, establishment of a Constituent Assembly and right of the Provinces to make separate constitutions. These would be, however, granted after the cessation of the Second World War. According to the Congress this Declaration only offered India a promise that was to be fulfilled in the future. Commenting on this Gandhi said; “It is a post dated cheque on a crashing bank.” Other factors that contributed were the threat of Japanese invasion of India and realisation of the national leaders of the incapacity of the British to defend India.
Resolution for immediate independence
The Congress Working Committee meeting at Wardha (14 July 1942) passed a resolution demanding complete independence from the British government. The draft proposed massive civil disobedience if the British did not accede to the demands.
However, it proved to be controversial within the party. A prominent Congress national leader Chakravarti Rajgopalachari quit the Congress over this decision, and so did some local and regional level organisers. Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Azad were apprehensive and critical of the call, but backed it and stuck with Gandhi’s leadership until the end. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Dr. Rajendra Prasad and Dr Anugrah Narayan Sinha openly and enthusiastically supported such a disobedience movement, as did many veteran Gandhians and socialists like Asoka Mehta and Jayaprakash Narayan.
Allama Mashriqi (head of the Khaksar Tehrik) was called[by whom?] to join the Quit India Movement. Mashriqi was apprehensive of its outcome and did not agree with the Congress Working Committee’s resolution. On 28 July 1942, Allama Mashriqi sent the following telegram to Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Mahatma Gandhi, C. Rajagopalachari, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad and Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramayya. He also sent a copy to Bulusu Sambamurti (former Speaker of the Madras Assembly). The telegram was published in the press, and it stated:
“I am in receipt of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s letter of 8 July. My honest opinion is that Civil Disobedience Movement is a little pre-mature. The Congress should first concede openheartedly and with handshake to Muslim League the theoretical Pakistan, and thereafter all parties unitedly make demand of Quit India. If the British refuse, start total disobedience…”
The resolution said, “-The committee, therefore, resolves to sanction for the vindication of India’s inalienable right to freedom and independence, the starting of a mass struggle on non-violent lines on the widest possible scale, so that the country might utilise all the non-violent strength it has gathered during the last 22 years of peaceful struggle…they [the people] must remember that non-violence is the basis of the movement…”
Opposition to Quit India
The Congress had little success in rallying other political forces under a single flag and program. Smaller parties like the Hindu Mahasabha opposed the call. The Communist Party of India strongly opposed the Quit India movement and supported the war effort because of the need to assist the Soviet Union, despite support for Quit India by many industrial workers. In response the British lifted the ban on the party. The movement had less support in the princely states, as the princes were strongly opposed and funded the opposition.
Muslim leaders opposed Quit India. Muhammad Ali Jinnah‘s opposition to the call led to large numbers of Muslims cooperating with the British, and enlisting in the army. The Muslim League gained large numbers of new members. Congress members resigned from provincial legislatures, enabling the League to take control in Sindh, Bengal and Northwest Frontier.
The nationalists had very little international support. They knew that the United States strongly supported Indian independence, in principle, and believed the U.S. was an ally. However, after Churchill threatened to resign if pushed too hard, the U.S. quietly supported him while bombarding Indians with propaganda designed to strengthen public support of the war effort. The poorly run American operation annoyed both the British and the Indians.
Although at the national level the ability to galvanise rebellion was limited, the movement is notable for regional success especially at Satara in Maharashtra, Talcher in Odisha, and Midnapore. In Tamluk and Contai subdivisions of Midnapore, the local populace were successful in establishing parallel governments, which continued to function, until Gandhi personally requested the leaders to disband in 1944. A minor uprising took place in Ballia, now the easternmost district of Uttar Pradesh. People overthrew the district administration, broke open the jail, released the arrested Congress leaders and established their own independent rule. It took weeks before the British could reestablish their writ in the district. Of special importance in Saurashtra (in western Gujarat) was the role of the region’s ‘baharvatiya’ tradition (i.e. going outside the law) which abetted the sabotage activities of the movement there. In rural west Bengal, the Quit India Movement was fueled by peasants’ resentment against the new war taxes and the forced rice exports. There was open resistance to the point of rebellion in 1942 until the great famine of 1943 suspended the movement.
Suppression of the movement
One of the achievements of the movement was to keep the Congress party united through all the trials and tribulations that followed. The British, already alarmed by the advance of the Japanese army to the India-Burma border, responded by imprisoning Gandhi. All the members of the Party’s Working Committee (national leadership) were imprisoned as well. Due to the arrest of major leaders, a young and till then relatively unknown Aruna Asaf Ali presided over the AICC session on 9 August and hoisted the flag; later the Congress party was banned. These actions only created sympathy for the cause among the population. Despite lack of direct leadership, large protests and demonstrations were held all over the country. Workers remained absent en masse and strikes were called. Not all demonstrations were peaceful, at some places bombs exploded, government buildings were set on fire, electricity was cut and transport and communication lines were severed.
The British swiftly responded with mass detentions. Over 100,000 arrests were made, mass fines were levied and demonstrators were subjected to public flogging. Hundreds of civilians were killed in violence many shot by the police army. Many national leaders went underground and continued their struggle by broadcasting messages over clandestine radio stations, distributing pamphlets and establishing parallel governments. The British sense of crisis was strong enough that a battleship was specifically set aside to take Gandhi and the Congress leaders out of India, possibly to South Africa or Yemen but ultimately did not take that step out of fear of intensifying the revolt.
The Congress leadership was cut off from the rest of the world for over three years. Gandhi’s wife Kasturbai Gandhi and his personal secretary Mahadev Desai died in months and Gandhi’s health was failing, despite this Gandhi went on a 21-day fast and maintained his resolve to continuous resistance. Although the British released Gandhi on account of his health in 1944, Gandhi kept up the resistance, demanding the release of the Congress leadership.
By early 1944, India was mostly peaceful again, while the Congress leadership was still incarcerated. A sense that the movement had failed depressed many nationalists, while Jinnah and the Muslim League, as well as Congress opponents like the Communists sought to gain political mileage, criticising Gandhi and the Congress Party..
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