Quit India Movement
The Quit India Act (Hindi: भारत छोड़ो आन्दोलन Bhārat Chhodo Āndolan), or the August Movement (August Kranti) was a civil disobedience movement launched in India in August 1942 in response to Mohandas Gandhi's call for 'Satyagraha' . The All-India Congress Committee proclaimed a mass protest demanding what Gandhi called "an orderly British withdrawal" from India. The call for determined, but passive resistance appears in his call to Do or Die, issued on 8 August at the Gowalia Tank Maidan in Mumbai on year 1942.
The British were prepared to act. Almost the entire INC leadership, and not just at the national level, was imprisoned without trial within hours after Gandhi's speech—at least 60,000 people. Most spent the rest of the war in prison and out of contact with the masses. The British had the support of the Viceroy's Council (which had a majority of Indians), of the Muslims, the Communist Party, the princely states, the Imperial and state police, the Indian Army, and the Indian Civil Service. Many Indian businessmen were profiting from heavy wartime spending and did not support Quit India. Many students paid more attention to Subhas Chandra Bose, who was in exile and supporting the Axis. The only outside support came from the Americans, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt pressured Prime Minister Winston Churchill to give in to Indian demands. The Quit India campaign was effectively crushed.
The British refused to grant immediate independence, saying it could happen only after the war ended.
Sporadic small-scale violence took place around the country but the British arrested tens of thousands of leaders, keeping them imprisoned until 1945, and suppressed civil rights, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. In terms of immediate objectives Quit India failed because of heavy-handed suppression, weak coordination and the lack of a clear-cut programme of action. However, the British government realized that India was ungovernable in the long run, and the question for postwar became how to exit gracefully and peacefully.
- 1 World War II and Indian involvement
- 2 Resolution for immediate independence
- 3 Local activism
- 4 Suppression of the movement
- 5 Media
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
World War II and Indian involvement
In 1939 Indian nationalists were angry that British Governor-General of India, Lord Linlithgow, had without consultation with them brought India into the war. The Muslim League supported the war, but Congress was divided.
At the outbreak of war, the Congress Party had passed a resolution during the Wardha meeting of the working-committee in September 1939, 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 Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Hideki Tojo). However, at the height of the Battle of Britain, Gandhi had stated his support for the fight against racism 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, conducted a guerrilla war against the British authorities.
In March 1942, faced with an increasingly dissatisfied sub-continent only reluctantly participating in the war and deterioration in the war situation in Europe and South East Asia and with growing dissatisfaction 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,the leader of the 'House of Commons'in London, 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 an elected Indian legislature. The talks failed, as they did not address the key demand of a timetable of self-government and of definition of the powers to be relinquished, essentially making an offer of limited dominion-status that was wholly unacceptable to the Indian movement.
Factors contributing to the movement's launch
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In 1939, with the outbreak of war between Germany and Britain, India was announced to be a party to the war for being a constituent component of the British Empire. Following this declaration, the Congress Working Committee at its meeting on 10 October 1939, passed a resolution condemning the aggressive activities of the Germans. At the same time the resolution also stated that India could not associate herself with war as it was against Fascism. There was hardly any difference between British colonialism and Nazi totalitarianism. Responding to this declaration, the Viceroy issued a statement on 17 October wherein he claimed that Britain is waging a war driven by the motif to strengthen peace in the world. He also stated that after the war, the government would initiate modifications in the Act of 1935, in accordance to the desires of the Indians.
Gandhi's reaction to this statement was; "the old policy of divide and rule is to continue. The Congress has asked for bread and it has got stone." According to the instructions issued by High Command, the Congress ministers were directed to resign immediately. Congress ministers from eight provinces resigned following the instructions. The resignation of the ministers was an occasion of great joy and rejoicing for leader of the Muslim League, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. He called the day of 22 December 1939 'The Day of Deliverance'. Gandhi urged Jinnah against the celebration of this day, however, it was futile. At the Muslim League Lahore Session held in March 1940, Jinnah declared in his presidential address that the Muslims of the country wanted a separate homeland, Pakistan.
In the meanwhile, crucial political events took place in England. Chamberlain was succeeded by Churchill as the Prime Minister and the Conservatives, who assumed power in England, did not have a sympathetic stance towards the claims made by the Indians. In order to pacify the Indians in the circumstance of worsening war situation, the Conservatives were forced to concede some of the demands made by the Indians. On 8 August, the Viceroy issued a statement that has come to be referred as the "August Offer". However, the Congress rejected the offer followed by the Muslim League.
In the context of widespread dissatisfaction that prevailed over the rejection of the demands made by the Congress, Gandhi at the meeting of the Congress Working Committee in Wardha revealed his plan to launch Individual Civil Disobedience. Once again, the weapon of satyagraha found popular acceptance as the best means to wage a crusade against the British. It was widely used as a mark of protest against the unwavering stance assumed by the British. Vinoba Bhave, a follower of Gandhi, was selected by him to initiate the movement. Anti war speeches ricocheted in all corners of the country, with the satyagrahis earnestly appealing to the people of the nation not to support the Government in its war endeavors. The consequence of this satyagrahi campaign was the arrest of almost fourteen thousand satyagrahis. On 3 December 1941, the Viceroy ordered the acquittal of all the satyagrahis. In Europe the war situation became more critical with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the Congress realized the necessity for appraising their program. Subsequently, the movement was withdrawn.
The Cripps' Mission and its failure also played an important role in Gandhi's call for The Quit India Movement. In order to end the deadlock, the British government on 22 March 1942, sent Sir Stafford Cripps to talk terms with the Indian political parties and secure their support in Britain's war efforts. A Draft Declaration of the British Government was presented, which included terms like establishment of Dominion, establishment of a Constituent Assembly and right of the Provinces to make separate constitutions. These would be, however, granted after the cessation of the Second World War. According to the Congress this Declaration only offered India a promise that was to be fulfilled in the future. Commenting on this Gandhi said; "It is a post dated cheque on a crashing bank." Other factors that contributed were the threat of Japanese invasion of India, rule of terror in East Bengal and realization of the national leaders of the incapacity of the British to defend their India.
Resolution for immediate independence
The Congress Working Committee meeting at Wardha (14 July 1942) passed a resolution demanding complete independence from the British government. The draft proposed massive civil disobedience if the British did not accede to the demands.
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 until the end. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Dr. Rajendra Prasad and Dr Anugrah Narayan Sinha openly and enthusiastically supported such a disobedience movement, as did many veteran Gandhians and socialists like Asoka Mehta and Jayaprakash Narayan.
Allama Mashriqi (head of the Khaksar Tehrik) was called[by whom?] to join the Quit India Movement. Mashriqi was apprehensive of its outcome and did not agree with the Congress Working Committee's resolution. On 28 July 1942, Allama Mashriqi sent the following telegram to Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Mahatma Gandhi, C. Rajagopalachari, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad and Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramayya. He also sent a copy to Bulusu Sambamurti (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 8 July. 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..."
The 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..."
Opposition to Quit India
The Congress had little success in rallying other political forces under a single flag and program. Smaller parties like the Hindu Mahasabha opposed the call. The Communist Party of India strongly opposed the Quit India movement and supported the war effort because of the need to assist the Soviet Union, despite support for Quit India by many industrial workers. In response the British lifted the ban on the party. The movement had less support in the princely states, as the princes were strongly opposed and funded the opposition.
Muslim leaders opposed Quit India. Muhammad Ali Jinnah's opposition to the call led to large numbers of Muslims cooperating with the British, and enlisting in the army. The Muslim League gained large numbers of new members. Congress members resigned from provincial legislatures, enabling the League to take control in Sindh, Bengal and Northwest Frontier.
The nationalists had very little international support. They knew that the United States strongly supported Indian independence, in principle, and believed the U.S. was an ally. However, after Churchill threatened to resign if pushed too hard, the U.S. quietly supported him while bombarding Indians with propaganda designed to strengthen public support of the war effort. The poorly run American operation annoyed both the British and the Indians.
Although at the national level the ability to galvanize rebellion was limited, the movement is notable for regional success especially at Satara in Maharashtra, Talcher in Orissa, 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. A minor uprising took place in Ballia, now the easternmost 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. Of special importance in Saurashtra (in western Gujarat) was the role of the region's 'baharvatiya' tradition (i.e. going outside the law) which abetted the sabotage activities of the movement there. In rural west Bengal, the Quit India Movement was fueled by peasants' resentment against the new war taxes and the forced rice exports. There was open resistance to the point of rebellion in 1942 until the great famine of 1943 suspended the movement.
Suppression of the movement
One of the achievements of the movement was to keep the Congress party united through all the trials and tribulations that followed. The British, already alarmed by the advance of the Japanese army to the India-Burma border, responded by imprisoning Gandhi. All the members of the Party's Working Committee (national leadership) were imprisoned as well. Due to the arrest of major leaders, a young and till then relatively unknown Aruna Asaf Ali presided over the AICC session on 9 August 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 protests and demonstrations were held all over the country. Workers remained absent en masse and strikes were called. Not all demonstrations were peaceful, at some places bombs exploded, government buildings were set on fire, electricity was cut and transport and communication lines were severed.
The British swiftly responded with mass detentions. Over 100,000 arrests were made, mass fines were levied and demonstrators were subjected to public flogging. Hundreds of resisters and innocent people were killed in police and army shootings. 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 ultimately did not take that step out of fear of intensifying the revolt.
The 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 months and Gandhi's health was failing, despite this Gandhi went on a 21-day fast and maintained his resolve to continuous resistance. Although the British released Gandhi on account of his health in 1944, Gandhi kept up the resistance, demanding the release of the Congress leadership.
By early 1944, India was mostly peaceful again, while the Congress leadership was still 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 sought to gain political mileage, criticizing Gandhi and the Congress Party..
- British Raj
- Indian Independence Movement
- Non-Cooperation Movement
- Indian nationalism
- Government of Azad Hind
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