Q. “To characterize the Quit India Movement as ‘Spontaneous Revolution’ would be partial interpretation, so also would be to look up at it as the culmination of Gandhian Satyagraha movements.” Elucidate. [UPSC, 2015]

Q. “To characterize the Quit India Movement as ‘Spontaneous Revolution’ would be partial interpretation, so also would be to look up at it as the culmination of Gandhian Satyagraha movements.” Elucidate. [UPSC, 2015] 


The Quit India Movement, also known as the August Movement, was a movement launched at the Bombay session of the All-India Congress Committee by Mahatma Gandhi on 8 August 1942, during World War II, demanding an end to British rule in India. ©

 The All India Congress Committee ratified Quit India resolution on 8th August, 1942 at Gowalia Tank in Bombay. It was unprecedented in the popular enthusiasm it generated. 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.

Quit India Movement characterised as a ‘Spontaneous Revolution’:

  • Gandhi delivered his famous “Do or Die” speech, arguing that this was the final battle and so the Indians must win independence or give up their lives for it.
  • The very next day, on 9th August, all the top eminent Congress leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Vallabhbhai Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru and Abul Kalam Azad were arrested.
    • Arrest of top leadership was followed by unprecedented mass fury that goes by the name of “August Revolution” in nationalist legends.
    • The sudden attack by the Government produced an instantaneous reaction among the people. There were clashes with authority, strikes, public demonstrations and processions in various part of country.
    • People devised a variety of ways of expressing their anger. Huge crowds attacked police stations, post offices, courts, railway stations and other symbols of a government authority.
    • National flags were forcibly hoisted on public buildings in defiance of the police. Cities, towns and villages witnessed the people’s wrath.
    • Parallel governments were established at many places.
  • The unusual intensity of the movement surprised everyone.
    • Viceroy Linlithgow described it as “by far the most serious rebellion since 1857”.
  • It was violent and totally uncontrolled from the very beginning, as the entire upper echelon of the Congress leadership was behind bars even before it began.
    • There is no denying that the Congress and Gandhi at this important historical juncture enjoyed unquestionable symbolic legitimacy in popular mind– whatever happened, happened in their name.
    • But neither Gandhiji nor any other Congress leaders had any control over the people and the volunteers, nor any of them had anticipated the kind of response the Quit India movement had generated.
      • To the Indian masses in 1942, Gandhi and Congress were symbols of liberation, not sources of ideological constraint.
      • In the words of Gyanendra Pandey, Gandhi was “the undisputed leader of a movement over which he had little command.”
  • The Quit India movement was the spontaneous participation of the masses compared to the other Gandhian movements like non-cooperation and civil disobedience.
  • Therefore, QIM is characterised as a spontaneous revolution, as “no preconceived plan could have produced such instantaneous and uniform results“.

QIM was not just an impulsive spontaneous response of an unprepared populace:

  • The last two decades of mass movement which in the recent past had been conducted on a much more radical tone under the leadership of the various associated and affiliated bodies of the Congress, like the AITUC, CSP, AIKS and the Forward Block– had already prepared the ground for such a conflagration.
  • The Congress leaders before 9 August had drafted a twelve point programme had elaborate plan for the Movement.
    • Several versions of this programme were in circulation among Congress volunteers, including the one prepared by the Andhra Provincial Congress Committee, which contained clear instructions for such subversive action.
    • However, compared to what actually happened, even this was a cautious programme.
  • As the movement progressed, the AICC continued to issue “Instructions to peasants” which outlined the course of action anticipating what was to eventuate in the later months of the movement.
  • The element of spontaneity of 1942 was certainly larger than in the earlier movements, though even in earlier movements, the Congress leadership allowed considerable room for an initiative and spontaneity.
    • In fact, the whole pattern of the Gandhian mass movements was that the leadership chalked out a broad programme of action and left its implementation at the local level to the initiative of the local and grass roots level political activists and the masses.
    • Even in the Civil Disobedience Movement of 1930, perhaps the most organized of the Gandhian mass movements, Gandhiji signalled the launching of the struggle by the Dandi March and the breaking of the salt law, the leaders and the people at the local levels decided whether they were going to stop payment of land revenue and rent, or offer Satyagrahi against forest Laws, or picket liquor shops, or follow any of the other items of the programme.
    • Of course, in 1942, even the broad programme had not yet been spelt out clearly since the leadership was yet to formally launch the movement. But, in a way, the degree of spontaneity and popular initiative that was actually exercised had sanctioned by the leadership itself.
    • The resolution passed by the AICC on 8 August 1942 clearly stated: ‘A time may come when it may not be possible to issue instruction or for instructions to reach our people, and when no Congress committees can function. When this happens, every man and woman who is participating in this movement must function for himself or herself within the four corners of the general instructions issued. Every Indian who desires freedom and strives for it must be his own guide.’
  • Apart from this, the Congress had been ideologically, politically and organizationally preparing for the struggle for a long time.
    • From 1937 onwards, the organization had been revamped to undo the damage suffered during the repression of 1932-34.
    • In political and ideological terms as well, the Ministries had added considerably to Congress support and prestige.
    • In East U.P. and Bihar, the areas of the most intense activity in 1942 were precisely the ones in which considerable mobilization and organizational work had been carried out from 1937 onwards.
    • In Gujarat, Sardar Patel had been touring Bardoli and other areas since June 1942 warning the people of an impending struggle and suggesting that no- revenue campaigns could well be part of it.
    • Congress Socialists in Poona had been holding training camps for volunteers since June 1942.

Culmination of Gandhian Satyagraha:

  • The Quit India Movement was first true pan India movement as freedom struggle was extended to native state also.
  • The Quit India Movement marked a new high in terms of popular participation in the national movement and sympathy with the national cause.
    • Youth, workers, women, peasants, government officials, even many small Zamindars and some Muslims had participated.
    • The role of women was also much broader.
    • Even bureaucracy and military came under the influence of nationalism.
  • A twelve point programme included the usual Gandhian methods of satyagraha.
  • The element of spontaneity of 1942 was present in all Gandhian Movements like in 1919-22, 1930-31 and 1932, which had reached much larger in the Quit India Movement. Also in earlier Movements, Gandhiji allowed considerable room for local initiative which had reached peak in the QIM.
  • Though the Quit India Movement was violent in nature, in Francis Hutchins’ view, Gandhiji’s major objection to violence was that its use prevented mass participation in a movement, but that, in 1942, Gandhiji had come round to the view that mass participation would not be restricted as a result of violence.
  • Gandhiji, through the Individual Civil Disobedience campaign in 1940-41, and more directly since early 1942, had prepared the people for the coming battle, whi9ch would be final, ‘short and swift.’

In some ways, it was not culmination of Gandhian Satyagraha:

  • The Gandhian Satyagraha was  the combination of truth, sacrifice, non- violence, selfless service.
    • Gandhiji this time was remarkably ambivalent on the question of non-violence. I do not ask from you my own non-violence. You can decide what you can do in this struggle”, said Gandhi on 5 August.
      • Three days later on the 8th, speaking on the AICC resolution, he urged: “I trust the whole of India to-day to launch upon a nonviolent struggle.” But even if people deviated from this path of nonviolence, he assured: “I shall not swerve. I shall not flinch“.
    • The Quit India Movement was violent from the start.
    • Gandhiji refused to condemn the violence of the people because he saw it as a reaction to the much bigger violence of the state.
  • The movement was launched with the Gandhi’s slogan ‘Do or Die’ which means continue the struggle till the achievement of freedom. This marks the shift from the struggle-truce-struggle policy and makes the road for the sustained struggle.
  • A twelve point programme not only included the usual Gandhian methods of satyagraha, but a plan to promote industrial strikes, holding up of railways and telegraphs, non-payment of taxes and setting up of parallel government.
  • The activities during Quit India Movement had great influence of socialist ideas. Gandhiji himself was in an aggressive mood and called it final movement to expel British from India.

Hence the Quit India Movement had elements of spontaneity as well as planning and it was in some ways culmination of Gandhian Satyagraha and in other ways it digressed from the Gandhian Satyagraha. But it had certainly accelerated the process of Indian Independence.©

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