At the outbreak of war, the Congress Party had during the Wardha meeting of the working-committee in September 1939, passed a resolution 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 to tyranny, used in the Indian Independence Movement and proposed even against Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo). However, at the height of the Battle of Britain, Gandhi had stated his support for the fight against fascism and of the British War effort, stating he did not seek to raise a free 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 organized the Indian National Army with the help of the Japanese, and, soliciting help from the Axis Powers. The INA fought hard in the forests of Assam, Bengal and Burma, but ultimately failed owing to disrupted logistic, poor arms and supplies from the Japanese, and lack of support and training Bose's audacious actions and radical initiative energized a new generation of Indians. The Quit India Movement tapped into this energy, channelling it into a united, cohesive action.
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 till the end. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Dr. Rajendra Prasad were openly and enthusiastically in favor of such a disobedience movement, as were many veteran Gandhians and socialists like Asoka Mehta and Jaya Prakash Narayan.
The Congress had lesser success in rallying other political forces under a single flag and mast. Smaller parties like the Communist Party of India and the Hindu Mahasabha opposed the call. Muhammad Ali Jinnah's opposition to the call led to large numbers of Muslims cooperating with the British, and the Muslim League obtaining power in the Imperial provincial governments.
Allama Mashriqi (head of the Khaksar Tehrik) was called to join the Quit India Movement. Mashriqi was apprehensive of its outcome and did not agree with the Congress Working Committee’s resolution and on July 28, 1942, Allama Mashriqi sent the following telegram to Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Mahatma Gandhi, Rajagopalachariar, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad and Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramiyya. He also sent a copy to Sambamurty (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 July 8th. 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...”< ref>Nasim Yousaf “Hidden facts behind British India's freedom : a scholarly look into Allama Mashraqi and Quaid-e-Azam's political conflict”,p.137.
On August 8, 1942 the Quit India Resolution was passed at the Bombay session of the All India Congress Committee (AICC). At Gowalia Tank, Bombay, Gandhi told Indians to follow non-violent civil disobedience. He told the masses to act as an independent nation. His call found support among a large number of Indians.
The British, already alarmed by the advance of the Japanese army to the India/Burma border, responded the next day by imprisoning Gandhi at the Aga Khan Palace in Pune. All the members of the Congress Party's Working Committee (national leadership) were arrested and imprisoned at the Ahmednagar Fort. Due to the arrest of major leaders, a young and till then relatively unknown Aruna Asaf Ali presided over the AICC session on August 9 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 scale protests and demonstrations were held all over the country. Workers remained absent en masse and strikes were called. However, not all the demonstrations were peaceful. At some places bombs exploded, government buildings were set on fire, electricity was cut, and transport and communication lines were severed.
A minor uprising took place in Ballia , now the eastern most 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.
The British swiftly responded by mass detentions. A total over 100,000 arrests were made nationwide, mass fines were levied, and demonstrators were subjected to public flogging. Hundreds of resisters and innocent people were killed in police and army firings. 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 such a step was ultimately not taken out of fear of intensifying the revolt.
The entire 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 a short space of months, and Gandhi's own health was failing. Despite this, Gandhi went on a 21-day fast and maintained a superhuman resolve to continuous resistance. Although the British released Gandhi on account of his failing health in 1944, Gandhi kept up the resistance, demanding the complete release of the Congress leadership.
By early 1944, India was mostly peaceful again, while the entire Congress leadership was 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 and Hindu extremists, sought to gain political mileage, criticizing Gandhi and the Congress Party.
Some Indian historians, however, argue that, in fact, the movement had succeeded . In support of the latter view, without doubt, the war had sapped a lot of the economic, political and military life-blood of the Empire. Also, although at the national level the ability to galvanize rebellion was limited, the movement is notable for regional success especially at Satara, Talcher, 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. At the time, from intelligence reports, the Azad Hind Government under Netaji Subhash Bose in Berlin deemed these an early indication of success of their strategy of fomenting public rebellion.
It is uncertain whether it was ultimately the Quit India Movement or unrest in the British Indian Armed Forces that allowed the post-War Labour government to negotiate a swift transfer or power to India after WWII. However, what is certain is that a population of millions had been motivated as it never had before to claim independence as a non-negotiable goal, and every act of defiance and rebellion only reinforced the nationalist sentiment. In addition, the British people and the British Army seemed unwilling to back a policy of repression in India and other parts of the Empire even as their own country lay shattered by the war's ravages. The INA trials in 1945, the resulting militant movements, and the Bombay mutiny had already shaken the confidence of British rule in India. By early 1946, all political prisoners had been released and Britain adopted a political dialogue with the Indian National Congress for the eventual transfer of power. On August 15, 1947, this transfer was complete, and the states of India and Pakistan came into being.
A young, new generation responded to Gandhi's call. Indians who lived through Quit India came to form the first generation of independent Indians-whose trials and tribulations may be accepted to have sown the seeds of establishment of the strongest enduring tradition of democracy and freedom in post-colonial Africa and Asia- which, when seen in the light of the torrid times of Partition of India, can be termed one of the greatest examples of prudence of humanity.