The fourth decade of the twentieth century is of utmost importance in the history of India’s struggle for freedom. This was the period of the Second World War (1939 -1945), which shattered the mighty British Empire to its core. During the Second World War, in 1942, the Allied Powers (the Soviet Union, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom) suffered losses in South East Asia. Being a British Colony, India feared the Japanese attack during the war, and hence Britain wanted Indian support in the war for which Britain sent Cripps Mission to India; however, the Cripps Mission failed to pacify Indian leaders. After the failure of the Cripps Mission, Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India Movement at the Bombay session of the All India Congress Committee at the Gowalia Tank Maidan on 8 August 1942; the movement is also known as the August Kranti Movement.
Quit India Resolution
On 14 July 1942, the Congress Working Committee at Wardha adopted a resolution, demanding an end to British rule in India following which a movement called the Quit India Movement started under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. On 8 August 1942, in his Quit India speech at the Gowalia Tank Maidan, Mahatma Gandhi said,
Everyone of you should from this moment onwards consider yourself a free man or women and act as if you are free. I am not going to satisfy with anything short of complete freedom. We shall do or die .We shall either free India or die in the attempt”
While proposing massive civil disobedience, Mahatma Gandhi summoned people from different sections of the society like government servants, soldiers, students, and princes of princely states.
Spread of the movement
On 9 August 1942, all Congress leaders were arrested and taken to some unknown location. The Congress Working Committee, the All India Congress Committee, and the Provincial Congress Committees were declared unlawful associations under the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1908. Public meetings were strictly prohibited. As the senior leaders were under arrest, the responsibility of spearheading the movement came into the hands of young leaders. Aruna Asif Ali, a relatively unknown figure at that time presided over the Congress Committee session on 9 August 1942.
The arrest of Mahatma Gandhi and others and the underground activity
Mahatma Gandhi and Sarojini Naidu were arrested and kept in Aga Khan Palace in Pune. Dr. Rajendra Prasad and Jayaprakash Narayan were arrested in Patna and kept in Hazaribagh jail, but Jaiprakash Narayan escaped, and he started an underground network. Ram Manohar Lohiya, Jayaprakash Narayan, Aruna Asif Ali, Tushar Mehta, Biju Patnaik, Achyut Patwardhan, Sucheta Kriplani, and RP Goenka were actively involved in these underground activities. Usha Mehta was famous for starting an underground radio in Bombay. The main aim of these underground activities was to keep up the movement alive in the absence of its main leaders.
Parallel governments across the country
A significant feature of the Quit India Movement was the emergence of parallel governments in some parts of the country. The first such parallel government was set up in Ballia in Eastern UP under Chittu Pandey. He was responsible for the release of many arrested Congress leaders. In Tamluk (Medinipur Bengal), the ‘Jatiya Sarkar’ or Tamluk National Government undertook cyclone relief work, sanctioned grants to schools, and supplied paddy from the rich to the poor. In Satara (Maharashtra), a parallel government called ‘Prati Sarkar’ was organized under the leadership of YB Chavan, Nanaji Patel, etc. Village libraries and Nyayadan Mandals were organized, prohibition campaigns carried out, and ‘Gandhi Marriages’ were organized.
Participation of the masses and the movement gaining momentum
There was wide participation of the people from every section of society. Youth, especially the students of schools and colleges, remained at the forefront. Women, workers, and peasants showed keen interest in participation. Government officials also participated in the movement to some extent. Muslims all across the country helped the movement to gain momentum by providing shelter to the underground leaders, and there was a complete absence of communal clashes during the movement. Contrary to popular sentiments, some organizations did not participate in the movement but rather opposed it. Communists, Muslim League, and Hindu Mahasabha were prominent among these. Many princely states showed a cold response to the movement, and the heads of these princely states were not enthusiastic about the movement.
Government’s tactic to suppress the movement
There was heavy repression from the government side. The agitating people were attacked, Lathi charged, and tear-gassed by the police. More than 10,000 people were killed across the country. The military took over many cities. The disobedient villages were fined heavily.
Though the government succeeded in suppressing the movement, this movement demonstrated that the Nationalist feeling in the common masses had reached its zenith, and Britishers realized that they would no longer rule India against the wishes of its people. By this time, the immediate agenda of the movement had become ‘complete independence.’ The courage and resistance that the masses showed in this movement were unparalleled. The people wanted to get India free from the shackles of slavery, oppression, and insult. The dawn of freedom was near. In February 1943, Mahatma Gandhi started a fast to condemn the violence that the common people faced during government repression. Meanwhile, the Muslim League demanded a separate state of Pakistan and observed Pakistan Day on 23 March 1943, giving a clear message to the Muslim population that their fate was different from secular India.
- After the failure of the Cripps Mission in 1942, there was a feeling of frustration among all sections of the people across India.
- On 10 May 1942, Mahatma Gandhi wrote in Harijan about the consequence of the Cripps Mission. He wrote,
The presence of British Empire in India is an invitation to Japan to invade.”
- In July 1942, a resolution was adopted by the Congress Working Committee, which is generally referred to as the ‘Quit India resolution,’ under which a non-violent movement was started under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. Through individual civil disobedience, organizational revamping, and a consistent propaganda campaign, Mahatma Gandhi was preparing the masses for bigger future agitations against British Raj.
- On 9th August 1942, the big leaders of the Congress were arrested and taken to an unknown location. Consequently, leadership in the movement was provided by less-known leaders like Aruna Asif Ali.
- Congress and its associated organizations were declared illegal under the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1908.
- Many leaders like Jayaprakash Narayan, Aruna Asif Ali, Usha Mehta, etc., went underground and continued disruptive activities to keep the movement alive.
- An important feature of the Quit India Movement was the formation of parallel governments in many places across India like Ballia, Tamluk, and Satara.
- There was immense participation in the movement across various activities of society, which included women, youth, workers, government officials, and the Muslim population.
- Communists, the Muslim League, and the Hindu Mahasabha did not support the movement.
- The government suppressed the movement with an iron hand, killing more than 10,000 people, and many villages were fined heavily for participating in the movement.
- This movement removed fear from the minds of the people against Colonial rule, demanding an end to British rule in India.