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The Quit India Managment

As a British dependency, India automatically became one of the belligerent countries in the Second World War when Britain declared war against Germany in 1939.  The Indian National Congress refused to cooperate with the British in the war effort unless and until their aims were clearly defined and an assurance given that India would be declared a free nation at the end of the war. The smouldering discontent caused by the persistent British refusal to accept the national demand reached the flash point with the entry of Japan in the war on the side of the Axis powers. The rapidity with which the Japanese succeeded in over running Singapore, Siam, Malaya and Burma and bringing the devastating war close to the borders of India created an alarming Situation. The British Government  now felt the necessity for winning over the nationalist elements in India and sent Sir Stafford Cripps, a member of the British War Cabinet, to start negotiations on-the future constitution of the country. Cripps arrived in Delhi on March 23, 1942. He had long discussions with the leaders of various parties and groups, but his promise to grant ‘Dominion Status’ and a ‘Constituent Assembly’ after the war failed to make any appeal to the Congress. The failure of Cripps mission underlined the need for an open challenge against foreign rule which could be the only provocation for the Japanese to carry war and devastation to the soil of India.

The All-Indian Congress Committee, which met at Bombay, adopted a resolution on August, 8, 1942, sanctioning “the starting of mass struggle on non-violent lines on the widest possible scale under the leadership of Gandhi.”  The Committee demanded the complete withdrawal of the British power from India so that the war could, indeed, become a people’s war in which millions of free Indians could participate with zeal and enthusiasm. Although the Congress had not yet made any preparation for a mass movement, the ‘Quit India’ resolution was in effect a call for an open revolt against the foreign rule. Gandhiji urged everybody to act as if they were free and said: I’m not going to be satisfied with anything short of complete freedom...We shall do or die. We shall either free India or die in the attempt.”

The British Government of India could not afford to ignore this open challenge to its authority. On August 9, at early dawn, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabh Bhai Patel, Abul Kalam Azad and other members of the Congress Working Committee were arrested. Within a week, almost every important functionary of the Congress in every part of India was put behind the bars. This sudden arrest of the leaders left the Indian masses unguided and free to react in any spontaneous manner. The intention of the Congress leaders was to launch a non-violent campaign, but the people reacted in many cases in a violent manner, particularly when they were faced with repression of the most brutal nature. The unarmed mobs started with peaceful hartals,  protest meetings and demonstrations, but very soon, these led to frequent clashes with the police and the military authorities, the angry mobs turned their attention to communications of all kinds, like railways, post and telegraphs and roads, so that these could be hampered. Outbreaks of violence took place in Assam, Bengal, Bihar, U.P., Bomaby and central Provinces, In eastern U.P. and northern Bihar, the Government temporarily lost its hold. In Midanpur (Bengal) and Satara (Maharashtra), Parallel governments were set up which eliminated all vestiges of British rule for some time from these areas. Cases of arson sabotage and attack on Government officials on duty also occurred. The Government embarked on a policy of ruthless repression. According to official figures, in the course of five months, beginning from August 9, the police and army units took recourse to firing 538 times, as a result of which 940 persons were killed and 1, 630 were injured. The number of persons arrested totalled more than 60, 000. These were the official Government figures which did not give the complete truth. The real figures of those killed, wounded or imprisoned were probably much higher. According to non-official estimates, the number of those killed must have reached about 10,000.

The Quit India Movement, in spite of its violence and intensity, did not succeed. The masses took part in the movement, but without any guidance or clear-cut plan. They sometimes felt concerned at the violent turn of events, which they knew would never win the approval of their leaders who were wedded to the cult of non-violence. There was lack of coordination among the participants who were widely separated from each other. Even in those areas where they had seized power, they did not know how to make it a starting point for the long march towards the country’s freedom. The movement, however, succeeded in demonstrating that people all over the country were ready to make all sacrifices for attaining freedom. The British rulers had cased to command the loyalty or even the acceptance of the people. Foreign rule was doomed to wither away and the dawn of independence was now only a question of time.


(Who’s Who of Indian Martyrs, Vol-3, Published by Publications Division)