QUIT INDIA MOVEMENT (AUGUST KRANTI)
- After Cripps’ departure, Gandhi framed a resolution calling for British withdrawal and a non-violent non-cooperation movement against any Japanese invasion.
Resolution for Complete Independence:
- The CWC meeting at Wardha (July 14, 1942) accepted the idea of a struggle and 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.
- 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...”
- 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 organizers.
- 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.
Reasons of starting a struggle:
- The failure of the Cripps Mission to solve the constitutional deadlock exposed Britain’s unchanged attitude on constitutional advance and made it clear that any more silence would be tantamount to accepting the British right to decide the fate of Indians without consulting them.
- There was popular discontent because of rising prices and shortage of rice, salt, etc. and because of factors such as commandeering of boats in Bengal and Orissa. There were fears of Britain following a scorched earth policy in Assam, Bengal and Orissa against possible Japanese advance.
- News of reverses suffered by the British in South-East Asia and an imminent British collapse enhanced popular willingness to give expression to discontent. Popular faith in the stability of British rule was so low that people were withdrawing deposits from banks and post offices.
- The manner in which the British evacuated from South-East Asia leaving the subjects to their fate (two roads were provided—Black Road for Indian refugees and White Road exclusively for European refugees), and the rout by an Asian power shattered white prestige and exposed the racist tendencies of the rulers.
- The leadership wanted to condition the masses for a possible Japanese invasion.
AICC Meeting—Gowaliar Tank Maidan, Bombay (August 8, 1942):
- The Congress Working Committee had adopted the ‘Quit India’ Resolution on July 14th 1942 at Wardha. The All India Congress Committee accepted this resolution with some modifications, on 8th August, 1942 in Bombay. The British were prepared to act.The very next day, on 9th August, eminent Congress leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Vallabhbhai Patel, Jaeaharlal Nehru and Abul Kalam Azad were arrested.Most spent the rest of the war in prison and out of contact with the masses.
- The Quit India Resolution was ratified and the meeting resolved to:
- Demand an immediate end to British rule in India.
- Declare commitment of free India to defend itself against all types of Fascism and imperialism.
- Form a provisional Government of India after British withdrawal.
- Sanction a civil disobedience movement against British rule.
- Gandhi was named the leader of the struggle.
Gandhi’s General Instructions to Different Sections:
- These were spelt out at the Gowalia Tank meeting but not actually issued. They were directed at various sections of society:
- Government servants: Do not resign but declare your allegiance to the Congress.
- Soldiers: Do not leave the Army but do not fire on compatriots.
- Students: If confident, leave studies.
- Peasants: If Zamindars are anti-government, pay mutually agreed rent, and if Zamindars are pro-government, do not pay rent.
- Princes: Support the masses and accept sovereignty of your people.
- Princely states’ people: Support the ruler only if he is anti-government and declare yourselves to be a part of the Indian nation.
- Gandhi followed up with the now-famous exhortation: “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’. (on 7th August,1942 session).We shall either free India or die in the attempt; we shall not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery.”
Spread of the Movement:
- Gandhi had carefully built the tempo through individual civil disobedience movements, organisational revamping and a consistent propaganda campaign. The Government, however, was in no mood to either negotiate with the Congress or wait for the movement to be formally launched.
- In the early hours of August 9, in a single sweep, all the top leaders of the Congress were arrested and taken to unknown destinations. Removal of established leaders left the younger and militant elements at their own initiative.
- Within few hours of the resolution and call, all the national leaders were arrested. Since there were no leaders outside, the movement became violent. The people burnt the Govt. offices and violence could not be controlled by the Congress. British Govt. moved the army and more than one lakh people were arrested. During this period, the contact of the leaders with the masses were cut off.
- 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.
Public on Rampage:
- The general public attacked symbols of authority, hoisting national flags forcibly on public buildings. Satyagrahis offered themselves up to arrest, bridges were blown up, railway tracks were removed and telegraph lines were cut.
- This kind of activity was most intense in eastern UP and Bihar. Students responded by going on strikes in schools and colleges, participating in processions, writing and distributing illegal news patrikas and acting as couriers for underground networks. Workers went on strike in Ahmedabad, Bombay, Jamshedpur, Ahmednagar and Poona.
- 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.
- This was undertaken by the Socialists, Forward Bloc members, Gandhi ashramites, revolutionary terrorists and local organisations in Bombay, Poona, Satara, Baroda and other parts of Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra, UP, Bihar and Delhi. Underground activity was carried out by Rammanohar Lohia, Jayaprakash Narayan, Aruna Asaf Ali, Usha Sharma, Biju Patnaik, Chhotubhai Puranik, Achyut Patwardhan, Sucheta Kripalani and R.P.
- Goenka. Usha Sharma started an underground radio in Bombay. This phase of underground activity was meant to keep up popular morale by continuing to provide a line of command and guidance to distribute arms and ammunition.
- Congress Radio was a clandestine and underground radio station, which operated for about three months during the Quit India Movement and functioned from different locations from Bombay. It was organized by Usha Mehta (1920–2000), a veteran freedom fighter of India with the help of ham radio operators. Her other associates for organizing the Congress Radio included Vithalbhai Jhaveri, Chandrakant Jhaveri, and Babubhai Thakkar. The technicians and the equipment were supplied by Nanak Motawani of Chicago Radio, Mumbai. Eminent personalities like Ram Manohar Lohia, Achyutrao Patwardhan, and Purushottam Trikamdas were also associated with the Congress Radio
Parallel governments were established at many places:
- Ballia (in August 1942 for a week)—under Chittu Pandey. He got many Congress leaders released.
- Tamluk (Midnapore, from December 1942 to September 1944)—which undertook cyclone relief work, sanctioned grants to schools, supplied paddy from the rich to the poor, organised Bidyut Bahinis etc.
- Satara (mid-1943 to 1945)—named “Prati Sarkar”, was organised under leaders like Y.B. Chavan, Nana Patil, etc. Village libraries and Nyayadan Mandals were organised, prohibition campaigns were carried on and ‘Gandhi marriages’ were organised.
Extent of Mass Participation and Support:
- Main storm centres of the movement were eastern UP, Bihar, Midnapore, Maharashtra, and Karnataka.
- The participation was on many levels.Active help was provided by businessmen (through donations, shelter and material help though many Indian businessmen were profiting from heavy wartime spending and did not support Quit India. ), students (acting as couriers), simple villagers (by refusing information to authority), pilots and train drivers (by delivering bombs and other material) and government officials including police (who passed on secret information to activists).
- Students, workers and peasants were the backbone of the movement while the upper classy and the bureaucracy remained largely loyal.
- Youth, especially the students of schools and colleges, remained in the forefront.(though Many students paid more attention to Subhas Chandra Bose, who was in exile and supporting the Axis)
- Women, especially school and college girls, actively participated, and included Aruna Asaf Ali, Sucheta Kripalani and Usha Mehta.
- Workers went on strikes and faced repression.
- Peasants of all strata were at the heart of the movement. Even some Zamindars participated. These peasants concentrated their offensive on symbols of authority and there was complete absence of anti-zamindar violence.
- Government officials, especially those belonging to lower levels in police and administration, participated resulting in erosion of government loyalty.Loyalty to Government suffered considerable erosion. This also showed how deep nationalism had reached.
- Muslims helped by giving shelter to underground activists. There were no communal clashes during the movement.
- Communists, despite their anti-war line, felt the irresistible pull of the movement.
- Princely states showed a low-key response.
- The only outside support came from the Americans, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt pressured Prime Minister Winston Churchill to give in to Indian demands.
- In this struggle, the common people displayed unparalleled heroism and militancy. The repression they faced was the most brutal, and the circumstances under which resistance was offered were most adverse.
- The movement established the truth that it was no longer possible to rule India without the wishes of Indians.
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.TheMuslim 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.On March 23, 1943 Pakistan Day was observed.
- 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 martial law was not applied, the repression was severe. Agitating crowds were Lathi-charged, tear-gassed and fired upon. The number of those killed is estimated at 10,000.
- The press was muzzled. The military took over many cities; police and secret service reigned supreme. Rebellious villages were fined heavily and in many villages, mass flogging was done.
- The masses were left without any guidance after arrest of all top leadership on 9th August after ratification of Quit India Movement Resolution. Gandhi’s ‘do or die’ call for the people created an upheaval in the country. This ruined the atmosphere of non- violence in the country. Unlike the other two movements, the Non-Co-Operation and the Civil Disobedience Movement that unleashed under the aegis of Mahatma Gandhi, the Quit India Movement captures the quintessence of a ‘spontaneous’ rising by the people.
- The element of spontaneity was higher than before, although a certain degree of popular initiative had been sanctioned by the leadership itself, subject to limitations of instructions. Also, the Congress had been ideologically, politically and organisationally preparing for the struggle for a long time.
- The great significance was that the movement placed the demand for independence on the immediate agenda of the national movement. After Quit India, there could be no retreat.
Gandhi’s fast, February 1943:
- Gandhi was imprisoned at the Aga Khan Palace in Pune. 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
- Gandhi started a fast as an answer to an exhortation by the Government to condemn violence; the fast was directed against the violence of the state. The popular response to the news of the fast was immediate and overwhelming. Protests were organised at home and abroad through hartals, demonstrations and strikes. Three members of the viceroy’s executive council resigned.Gandhi got the better of his opponents and refused to oblige by dying.
The fast achieved the following purposes:
- Public morale was raised
- Anti-British feeling was heightened.
- An opportunity was provided for political activity.
- Government’s high-handedness was exposed.
- 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, criticizing Gandhi and the Congress Party.
Q. Why did Gandhi supported Violent Quit India Movement?
- Gandhi shifted away from his long-standing condemnation of violence. In 1942, a few months before the Quit India resolution was announced, “Gandhi argued that under certain conditions the use of violence would not injure the national cause, however much he might prefer a different form of service”.
- Gandhi had always argued that violence was acceptable to use in immediate self-defense such as against murderers and rapists, and by 1942, he had decided that violent resistance to British rule could also fit underneath this category, as a form of immediate and instinctual resistance against criminal acts.
- So while Gandhi still preferred and urged all those partaking in the struggle to use tactics of non-violence, he would not condemn those who took up arms. And indeed, he arguably expected violence to break out, while almost sarcastically pushing the idea that mass struggle against exploiters would remain non-violent, as seen in this excerpt from an interview in 1942:
- Gandhi: In the villages…the peasants will stop paying taxes…their next step will be to seize the land.
- Fischer: With violence?
- Gandhi: There may be violence, but then again the landlords may cooperate.
- Fischer: You are an optimist.
- Gandhi: They might cooperate by fleeing.