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Recalling ‘Quit India’ Movement

Context

  • On this day 80 years ago, on August 9, 1942, the people of India began the decisive final phase of their independence struggle.
  • It was a massive anti-colonial uprising on a never-before-seen scale, and it sent a clear message that the British Empire in India was about to come to an end.

Relevance:

GS Paper 1: The Freedom Struggle – its various stages and important contributors
/contributions from different parts of the country

Mains Question:

The Quit India Movement was unlike any other Gandhian mass movement. Analyze critically. (250 words)


The Occurrence

  • The previous day (August 8), Mahatma Gandhi had told the Raj to “Quit India,” and the entire Congress leadership was already in jail, so when August 9 dawned, the people were on their own — out on the street, driven by the Mahatma’s call of “Do or Die.”
  • The British eventually crushed this truly people-led movement, but by then it was clear that nothing short of their final departure was acceptable to India’s masses.

Prepping for August 1942

  • The failure of the Cripps Mission brought to a head the factors that had been building up to such a movement.
  • With World War II raging, the British government needed the help of its colonial subjects. With this in mind, a mission led by Sir Stafford Cripps arrived in India in March 1942 to meet with leaders of the Congress and the Muslim League.
  • The plan was to gain India’s unwavering support for the war, with the promise of self-government as a reward.
  • But things did not go as planned. Despite promising “the earliest possible realisation of self-government in India,” Cripps only offered dominion status rather than freedom. There was also a provision for partitioning India, which the Congress rejected.
  • The failure of the Cripps Mission taught Gandhi that freedom would only come if Indians fought for it tooth and nail.
  • The Congress was initially hesitant to launch a movement that might jeopardise Britain’s efforts to defeat fascist forces.
  • However, it eventually decided to engage in mass civil disobedience. The Working Committee meeting in Wardha in July 1942 decided that the time had come for the movement to go active.

Gandhi’s speech: Do or Die

  • On August 8, 1942, Gandhi delivered a speech to the people of Bombay at the Gowalia Tank Maidan (Mumbai). “I’m going to give you a short mantra.” “Imprint it on your hearts so that you can express it with every breath,” he said.
  • “The motto is ‘Do or Die.’ “We will either free India or die trying; we will not live to see our slavery continue,” Gandhi declared. On the ground, Aruna Asaf Ali hoisted the Tricolour. The Quit India campaign had been officially launched.
  • The government reacted quickly, and by August 9, Gandhi and all other senior Congress leaders were imprisoned. Gandhi was first taken to the Aga Khan Palace in Poona (Pune), and then to the Yerwada jail. Kasturba Gandhi died at the Aga Khan Palace during this period.

The Raj vs. the People

  • The arrest of their leaders had no effect on the masses. People took control of the movement because there was no one to direct them.
  • Hundreds of thousands of ordinary Indians clashed with police in Bombay, Poona, and Ahmedabad. Protests erupted the next day (August 10) in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar. Strikes, demonstrations, and people’s marches were held in Kanpur, Patna, Varanasi, and Allahabad in defiance of prohibitory orders.
  • Protests quickly spread to smaller towns and villages. Police stations, courts, post offices, and other symbols of government authority were repeatedly attacked until mid-September.
  • Railway tracks were blocked, students went on strike in schools and colleges across India, and illegal nationalist literature was distributed. Mill and factory workers in Bombay, Ahmedabad, Poona, Ahmednagar, and Jamshedpur have been on strike for several weeks.
  • Protests were violent in some areas. Bridges were blown up, telegraph wires were severed, and railway lines were severed.
  • The socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia wrote on the 25th anniversary of the Quit India Movement, “9th August was and will remain a people’s event.” The 15th of August was a state holiday… The people’s will was expressed on August 9, 1942: “We want to be free, and we will be free.” For the first time in our history, crores of people expressed their desire to be free…”

‘Quit India,’ says the slogan.

  • While Gandhi issued the rallying cry, the slogan was coined by Yusuf Meherally, a socialist and trade unionist who also served as Mayor of Bombay.
  • Meherally coined the slogan “Simon Go Back” a few years ago, in 1928.

Brutally suppressed Protests

  • The British violently suppressed the Quit India movement, shooting and lathicharging people, burning villages, and imposing crippling fines.
  • An estimated 60,000 people were imprisoned in the five months leading up to December 1942.

Conclusion

  • In comparison to other Gandhian movements such as non-cooperation and civil disobedience, the Quit India movement was the result of spontaneous mass participation.
  • The historic significance of this movement was that it brought the demand for independence to the forefront of the national movement.
  • There could be no retreat after ‘Quit India.’ Independence was no longer a bargaining chip. And this became abundantly clear following World War II.

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October 2022
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