Editorial Articles


Quit India Movement 

Somen Chakraborty

From the 'bow' with inscription 'Quit India' presented by Yusuf Meherally, a freedom fighter and Mayor of Bombay, Gandhiji picked up the catchphrase for his forthcoming movement against the British rule. Though Gandhiji lost the opportunity to lead the August Movement it remained alive, took a national character and became unique people's upsurge against the imperial power in all form and expression. Neither anyone saw such spontaneous rebellion nor so horrific and intense repression had been unleashed by the British on Indian masses, ever since the revolt of 1857. The Quit India movement in 1942 became the last milestone in India's march towards independence.
'Quit India' was originally a strategic action plan to pressurize British government through dialogue to execute independence of India. Eventually it became a resolved decision of the Congress party for peaceful, non-violent movement under prudent guidance and action plan of M K Gandhi, its mentor. But to everyone's surprise the movement ultimately turned to be a spontaneous violent revolt by the Indian masses.
Arrest of the Congress leaders since 8th August left none outside jail who could take the scheduled mass agitation forward. On listening to the news of the 'Quit India' resolution combined with arrest of their leaders, aghast, angry and desperate Indians entrusted the responsibility on themselves to spearhead the movement. At the dawn of August 9, a new history of impromptu people's revolt emerged across the country against the British rule.
A massive disturbance broke out. People came down on the streets to register their protest. Public reaction was immediate, spontaneous and all pervasive. Every region, city and town of the country in the following days witnessed mass upsurge. People in native states also joined and organized agitations in their own way. The revolts were spearheaded by all sections of society - the students, youth, women, workers, the peasants, villagers, business people, government officials, professionals and many others. While in some places they were peaceful, at some other areas they turned violent. The agitating crowds did not relent to police repression and refused to disperse. Schools were closed, business was suspended, operation in factories was stopped, labor strikes paralyzed the supply chains and offices got deserted for no one to manage it. Almost every city and town in every nook and corner of the country observed hartal.
Civil rebellions engulfed the country in spite of unprecedented repressions. The rebels swelled into enormous number.  They were aggressive and violent. They were strong and ruthless. The peasants in many places started guerilla resistance to combat the British forces. Because of continuing agitations and attacks the British rule virtually disappeared from several areas. Every government property and establishment that bore the sign of British authority became the symbol of imperialism. Railway tracks, railway stations, telegraph towers, banks, government treasuries and police chowkis - none was spared.  The rebels attacked, ransacked, destroyed, robbed and at times set the state properties on fire.
Sadly enough, many European residents on official duty were attacked physically. Criminals and anti-social elements took this opportunity for loot and robbery and went scot free. They got so deeply integrated with people's genuine agitation that separating the rebellion and from the acts of sabotage by unscrupulous criminals became almost an impossibility. Public life in India during the next couple of weeks virtually came to a standstill.
The rebellions were spontaneous. They were outbursts of anger but without leadership, guidance and any viable action plan. The second rank of leadership like Jaiprakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia, Achyut Patwardhan, Sucheta Kripalani, Aruna Asaf Ali, Usha Mehta and others who went  underground in time, made attempts to redirect the movement in tune with the Quit India resolutions. In spite of severe risks and challenges Aruna Asaf Ali and Usha Mehta managed a mobile radio station, called 'Congress Radio' and disseminated information about the movement to the people to upkeep their hope and morale. "The effectiveness of underground workers… depended on the support of thousands of ordinary people continuing in ordinary occupations". Social, political and economic networks of common people played exemplary roles by securing supplies, raising funds, keeping surveillance and giving shelter to rebels.
Yet the revolt disappeared as quickly as they had emerged. Unarmed crowds could not withstand police repressions, arrests and military firing for long. State repression knew no bound. Demonstrators were targeted also from aircrafts. Under the title 'Operation Thunderbolt' the British left no means to bring the movement to its end. Terror was let loose on every public demonstration. By the time the revolt lost its momentum over one lakh people got arrested, over ten thousand people had died in police and military firings and thousands of others suffered injuries.
Local Government : A New Hope
Apart from mass agitations and violent actions during the Quit India Movement people in various states besieged temporary control over a number of towns, cities and villages. In some places they successfully established autonomous governments.  These governments might not have survived for long, but they bore the evidence of capability of the Indians to manage government and administration on their own. They demonstrated that the people of India were prepared to carry forward the fight for independence. Four major parallel governments were established in Balliya (Uttar Pradesh), Tamluk (Bengal), Satara (Maharashtra) and Talcher(Orissa).
Of them the local independent government in Satara district of Maharashtra, namely 'Patri Sarkar' continued for three long years. It had a judicial branch made up of people's courts. The decisions were made through popular consensus. Village committees catered to the day-to-day requirements of the community and took care of the basic services. A youth militia was formed to protect the government from the attacks by the British forces and safeguard the peasants from exploitation and violence of the local rich.
No denial of the fact that the people of India kept the Quit India movement alive when their leaders were in jail. This, however, no way meant that the resolution passed by Congress for a movement had no significance.
Quit India Resolution
In view of the deteriorating war situation, growing unrest in its colonies and increasing frustration among the soldiers in the war fronts, the British government felt an urgent need to open dialogue with the Indian leaders. One of their strategic action plans was conferring dominion status to some of the colonised countries in which India topped the list. Stafford Cripps, a member of the House of Common, led a delegation to India in March 1942 to work out the modalities for 'progressive devolution and distribution of power' to an elected Indian legislature.
The mission, however, failed miserably to convince the Congress leaders for it could neither prescribe a definitive timeline nor did it define the 'power' that the British government wanted to relinquish. What Cripps mission failed to pronounce had been clarified unambiguously later in a Viceroy's statement. It was proposed that everything would be done taking into consideration the desire of the Indians though it would be executed only after the end of the World War II. Gandhiji reacted to this sarcastically saying, 'the Congress has asked for bread and it has got stone'.
For Gandhi the concern was much more than independence. By then the Japanese reached at the doorstep. Malay and Burma were already usurped by the Japanese forces. He was perturbed by the deteriorating war situation. He was skeptical about the future political status of the British. For him any attack on British India in ultimate meaning would be an attack on his motherland. Bringing an end to the British rule in India thus became an urgent necessity to save her from any further invasion. He firmly believed that the onus of protecting India did not lie with the British government. It was the duty of the fellow countrymen.
Only solution to this dual crisis of India, for him, was compelling the British to hand over the power to the Indians at the earliest and quit the land. He refused to accept 'a post dated cheque from a crashing bank'. A mass struggle became an imminent need, an issue of 'do or die'. After the Atlantic Charter between UK and USA was signed in 1941, the international support slowly came in. The charter resolved that "all of the nations of the world, for realistic as well as spiritual reasons, must come to the abandonment of the use of force". Following this Chinese supremo Chiang Kai Shek and President Roosevelt of USA tried their bit to persuade Britain to break the deadlock and come in terms with the Indian leaders for negotiations.
The parties in India were divided on taking a position about the political action in the context of complex alliances  that emerged during the War. On the one side, were the fascist forces which were violating all humanitarian norms to secure their domination over human race. And on the other side, are the allied countries who were engaged in stupendous effort to combat the fascist aggression. The same British which had become a key ally in the allied camp had kept the Indians under colonial rule through centuries. Most of the parties felt no need for an agitation against British in this juncture.
The discussions within congress party to arrive at a consensus on the Quit India resolution were never cordial. Some of the arguments regarding opposition to the British government in the context of on-going War were uncompromising and bitter. Some leaders left the Congress and many others condemned Gandhi in most scathing words. However, Gandhi stood firm on the need for an immediate struggle against British. If Congress would fail to support he resolved to "create a movement', out of the sands of India, 'which would be larger than the Congress itself'.
 The Congress 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". The resolution further said, "all the nations of the world for realistic as well as spiritual must come to the abandonment of the use of force". The Congress had ministers in eight provinces at that time and they all resigned. The Congress leaders now gathered in Bombay to give the clarion call.
Impact was Far-Reaching
The Quit India not only established Gandhi as the unchallenging national leader but also created the pathway for his coronation as 'father of the nation'.
The revolt that broke out during the movement shaped the necessary psyche and prepared the ground for the Indian Naval Mutiny in 1946. Political equation between the Indian masses and the British ruler had never been same after the Quit India movement. Open rebellions by people everywhere shattered the illusion of British colonial legitimacy. The August revolt signaled very clearly that India was out of the British hand for ever.
The other important milestone of Quit India movement was Gandhiji's partial admission to the significance and inevitability of violence in mass movements. The August revolt in all parameters was revolutionary and violent in nature. Though he himself remained stuck to non-violence all through his life, Gandhiji acceded that under certain conditions the use of violence would not injure the national cause. In an interview to Louis Fischer Gandhi told, 'there may be violence but then again the landlords may cooperate by fleeing'. Quit India movement will always be remembered as the only national movement where people became their own guide in this final phase of freedom.
(The author is an academician. e-mail : c_somen@yahoo.com)
Views expressed are personal.
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