Quit India

Quit India Movement

The Quit India Movement (Bharat Chhodo Andolan or the August Movement) was a civil disobedience movement launched in India in August 1942 in response to Mohandas Gandhi's call for immediate independence. Gandhi hoped to bring the British government to the negotiating table. Almost the entire Congress leadership, and not merely at the national level, was put into confinement less than twenty-four hours after Gandhi's speech, and the greater number of the Congress leaders were to spend the rest of the war in jail.

World War II and Indian involvement

By 1942, Indians were divided over World War II, as the British had unilaterally and without consultation entered India into the war. Some wanted to support the British during the Battle of Britain, hoping for eventual independence through this support. Others were enraged by the British disregard for Indian intelligence and civil rights, and were unsympathetic to the travails of Britons in the United Kingdom, which they saw as revenge for the subjugation of Indians.

Opinions on the War

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.

Cripps' Mission

In March 1942, faced with an increasingly dissatisfied sub-continent only reluctantly participating in the war, and deteriorations in the war situation in Europe and South East Asia, and with growing dissatisfactions among Indian troops- especially in Europe- and among the civilian population in the sub-continent, the British government sent a delegation to India under Stafford Cripps, 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 of progressive devolution and distribution of power from the crown and the Viceroy to elected Indian legislature. However, the talks failed, having failed to address the key demand of a timeframe towards self-government, and of definition of the powers to be relinquished, essentially portraying an offer of limited dominion-status that was wholly unacceptable to the Indian movement.

Resolution for immediate independence

On July 14, 1942, the Indian National Congress passed a resolution demanding complete independence from Britain. The draft proposed that if the British did not accede to the demands, massive civil disobedience would be launched.

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.

Suppression of the movement

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.

Contributions towards Indian independence

The successes and failures of the Movement are debated. Some historians claim it failed. By March 1943, the movement had petered out. Even the Congress, at the time saw it as failure. Analysis of the campaign obtained by Military Intelligence in 1943 came to the conclusion that it had failed in the aim of paralysing the government. It did however cause enough trouble and panic among the War administration for General Lockhart to describe India as an "Occupied and hostile country. However, much as it might have disconcerted the Raj, the movement may be deemed to have ultimately failed to bring the Raj to its knees and the negotiating table for immediate transfer of power, as it aimed to. It came to all but a close within five months of its inception, and was nowhere near its grandiose aim of toppling the Raj. The primary underlying reason, it seems, was the loyalty of the army, even where the local and native police came out in sympathy. This certainly, was also the view of the British Prime Minister at the time of transfer of power, Clement Atlee. Atlee deemed the contribution of Quit India as minimal, ascribing stupendous importance to the revolts and growing dissatisfaction among Royal Indian Armed Forces during and after the war as the driving force behind Britain's decision to leave India.

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.


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