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Quit India Movement

The ascendancy of Mahatma Gandhi in the political scenario of pre Independence India, bears a close relationship to the roles that he discharged in the three National Movements; namely The Non Co-Operation Movement, The Civil Disobedience Movement and The Quit India Movement. All the three movements were structured following the celebrated political ideologies of Gandhi.

Satyagraha or passive civilian resistance and ahimsa or non violence became the unique weapons of Indian National Movements. However, The Quit India Movement departed significantly from the preceding movements in that it lacked organization and widespread violence became a common feature of the movement.

Nevertheless, The Quit India Movement occupies a special place in the history of Indian struggle for freedom for taking the final step towards India's independence under the able leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi's inspiring statement - "We shall either free India or die in the attempt; we shall not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery" ignited the sentiments of Indians across the nation.

Factors Contributing to the Launch of Quit India Movement

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 10th 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 October 17th 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 22nd 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 August 8th, 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 3rd 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 22nd 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.

Gandhi's Call for Quit India

Sir Stafford Cripps left the country amidst unprecedented excitement. Immediately after the return of Sir Stafford Cripps, Gandhi announced 'Quit India' as the war cry for the Indians. To quote Gandhi, "The presence of the British in India is an invitation to Japan to invade India. Their withdrawal removes that bait............". Gandhi realized that the time was ripe to take some strong and quick actions. He wrote a series of articles in Harijan where he urged the people to rise in action. He was in favor of resorting to direct action. In order to give effect to the Mahatma's views, The Congress Working Committee adopted the well known 'Quit India' Resolution, on July 14th 1942 at Wardha. The All India Congress Committee accepted this resolution with some modifications, on 8th August, 1942 in Bombay.

The very next day, on 9th August, eminent Congress leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Vallabhbhai Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru and Abul Kalam Azad were arrested. The masses were left without any guidance. Gandhi's 'do or die' call for the people created an upheaval in the country. But at the same time, Gandhi mentioned specifically that mass movement should be conducted following non violent means. The Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, adopted a policy of harsh repression all over the country and gory instances of British atrocities abounded all over. This ruined the atmosphere of non violence in the country. Unlike the other two movements, the Non-Co-Operation and the Civil Disobedience Movement that unleashed under the aegis of Mahatma Gandhi, the Quit India Movement captures the quintessence of a 'spontaneous' rising by the people.

The Quit India Movement, inaugurated at the call of the Mahatma, unfolded in four phases. In the first phase there were strikes, processions, demonstrations and processions. This phase lasted for a period of three to four days and commenced from the day of Gandhi's arrest on August 9th , 1942. The factory and mill workers rose to the cause and displayed maximum vigor and enthusiasm. The government took recourse to repressive measures to subdue the movement. In an incident of open fire in Bombay, the casualties included large number of women and children.

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