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The Quit India Movement (Bharat Chhodo Andolan 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 immediate independence. Gandhi hoped to bring the British government to the negotiating table.[1] Almost the entire Indian National Congress leadership, and not just at the national level, was put into confinement less than twenty-four hours after Gandhi's speech, and the greater number of the Congress leaders were to spend the rest of World War II in jail.

Procession view at Bangalore

Contents

World War II and Indian involvement

By 1942, Indians were divided over World War II, as the British Governor-General of India, Lord Linlithgow, had unilaterally and without consultation entered India into the war. Some wanted to support the British during the Battle of Britain, hoping for eventual independence through this support. Others were enraged by the British disregard for Indian intelligence and civil rights, and were unsympathetic to the travails of Britons in the United Kingdom, which they saw as revenge for the subjugation of Indians.

Opinions on the War

Public lecture at Basavanagudi, Bangalore with Late C.F.Andrews*

At the outbreak of war, the Congress Party had during the Wardha meeting of the working-committee in September 1939, passed a resolution conditionally supporting the fight against fascism[2], 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 fascism 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.

Cripps' Mission

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, 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 elected Indian legislature. However, the talks failed, having failed to address the key demand of a timeframe towards self-government, and of definition of the powers to be relinquished, essentially portraying an offer of limited dominion-status that was wholly unacceptable to the Indian movement.[3]

Resolution for immediate independence

On July 14, 1942, the Indian National Congress passed a resolution demanding complete independence from the British government. The draft proposed that if the British did not accede to the demands, massive civil disobedience would be launched.

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 till the end. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Dr. Rajendra Prasad were openly and enthusiastically in favor of such a disobedience movement, as were many veteran Gandhians and socialists like Asoka Mehta and Jaya Prakash Narayan.

The Congress had lesser success in rallying other political forces under a single flag and mast. Smaller parties like the Communist Party of India and the Hindu Mahasabha opposed the call. Muhammad Ali Jinnah's opposition to the call led to large numbers of Muslims cooperating with the British, and the Muslim League obtaining power in the Imperial provincial governments.

Allama Mashriqi (head of the Khaksar Tehrik) was called to join the Quit India Movement. Mashriqi was apprehensive of its outcome and did not agree with the Congress Working Committee’s resolution and on July 28, 1942, Allama Mashriqi sent the following telegram to Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Mahatma Gandhi, Rajagopalachariar, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad and Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramiyya. He also sent a copy to Sambamurty (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 July 8th. 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...”[4]

On August 8, 1942 the Quit India Resolution was passed at the Bombay session of the All India Congress Committee (AICC). At Gowalia Tank, Bombay, Gandhi told Indians to follow non-violent civil disobedience. He told the masses to act as an independent nation. His call found support among a large number of Indians.

Suppression of the movement

Picketing in front of Medical School at Bangalore

The British, already alarmed by the advance of the Japanese army to the India/Burma border, responded the next day by imprisoning Gandhi at the Aga Khan Palace in Pune. All the members of the Party's Working Committee (national leadership) were arrested and imprisoned at the Ahmednagar Fort. Due to the arrest of major leaders, a young and till then relatively unknown Aruna Asaf Ali presided over the AICC session on August 9 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 scale protests and demonstrations were held all over the country. Workers remained absent en masse and strikes were called. However, 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.

A minor uprising took place in Ballia 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.

The British swiftly responded with mass detentions. Over 100,000 arrests were made nationwide, mass fines were levied, and demonstrators were subjected to public flogging.[5] Hundreds of resisters and innocent people were killed in police and army shootings. Nevertheless, 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.[6]

The entire 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 own health was failing. Despite this, Gandhi went on a 21-day fast and maintained a superhuman resolve to continuous resistance. Although the British released Gandhi on account of his failing health in 1944, Gandhi kept up the resistance, demanding the complete release of the Congress leadership.

By early 1944, India was mostly peaceful again, while the entire Congress leadership was 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.

Contributions towards Indian independence

The successes and failures of the Movement are debated. Some historians claim it failed.[7] By March 1943, the movement had petered out.[8] Even the Congress, at the time saw it as failure.[9] Analysis of the campaign obtained by Military Intelligence in 1943 came to the conclusion that it had failed in the aim of paralysing the government. It did however cause enough trouble and panic among the War administration for General Lockhart to describe India as an "Occupied and hostile country."[10] However, much as it might have disconcerted the Raj, the movement may be deemed to have ultimately failed to bring the Raj to its knees and the negotiating table for immediate transfer of power, as it aimed to. It came to all but a close within five months of its inception, and was nowhere near its grandiose aim of toppling the Raj. The primary underlying reason, it seems, was the loyalty of the army, even where the local and native police came out in sympathy.[11] This certainly, was also the view of the British Prime Minister at the time of transfer of power, Clement Attlee. Attlee deemed the contribution of Quit India as minimal, ascribing stupendous importance to the revolts and growing dissatisfaction among Royal Indian Armed Forces during and after the war as the driving force behind Britain's decision to leave India.[12][13]

Some Indian historians, however, argue that, in fact, the movement had succeeded[citation needed]. In support of the latter view, without doubt, the war had sapped a lot of the economic, political and military life-blood of the Empire. Also, although at the national level the ability to galvanize rebellion was limited, the movement is notable for regional success especially at Satara, Talcher, and Midnapore.[14] 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.[14] At the time, from intelligence reports, the Azad Hind Government under Netaji Subhash Bose in Berlin deemed these an early indication of success of their strategy of fomenting public rebellion.[15]

It is certain is that a population of millions had been motivated as it never had before to claim independence as a non-negotiable goal, and every act of defiance and rebellion only reinforced the nationalist sentiment. In addition, the British people and the British Army seemed unwilling to back a policy of repression in India and other parts of the Empire even as their own country lay shattered by the war's ravages.[citation needed] The INA trials in 1945, the resulting militant movements, and the Bombay mutiny had already shaken the confidence of British rule in India.[16] By early 1946, all political prisoners had been released and Britain adopted a political dialogue with the Indian National Congress for the eventual transfer of power. On August 15, 1947, this transfer was complete, and the states of India and Pakistan came into being.

A young, new generation responded to Gandhi's call. Indians who lived through Quit India came to form the first generation of independent Indians-whose trials and tribulations may be accepted to have sown the seeds of establishment of the strongest enduring tradition of democracy and freedom in post-colonial Africa and Asia- which, when seen in the light of the torrid times of Partition of India, can be termed one of the greatest examples of prudence of humanity.

References

  1. ^ The call for determined, but passive resistance that signified the certitude that Gandhi foresaw for the movement is best described by his call to Do or Die, issued on 8 August at the Gowalia Tank Maidan in Bombay, since re-named August Kranti Maidan (August Revolution Ground).
  2. ^ Official Website of the Indian National Congress, sub-link to article titled The Second World War and the Congress. http://www.aicc.org.in/the_congress_and_the_freedom_movement.htm#the. URL accessed on 20-Jul-2006
  3. ^ Barkawi, Tarak. Culture and Combat in the Colonies. The Indian Army in the Second World War. J contempt History. 41(2). pp. 325–355. 
  4. ^ Nasim Yousaf “Hidden facts behind British India's freedom : a scholarly look into Allama Mashraqi and Quaid-e-Azam's political conflict”,p.137.
  5. ^ D, Fisher D; Read A (1998). The Proudest Day: India's Long Road to Independence. WW Norton. pp. 330. 
  6. ^ D, Fisher D; Read A (1998). The Proudest Day: India's Long Road to Independence. WW Norton. pp. 329. 
  7. ^ Banglapedia article on Quit India Movement
  8. ^ L., James (1997). Raj; Making and unmaking of British India. Abacus. pp. 571. 
  9. ^ James L, op.cit
  10. ^ James L. Op. Cit.
  11. ^ James L, op.cit.
  12. ^ Dhanjaya Bhat, Writing in The Tribune,Sunday, February 12, 2006. Spectrum Suppl.

    Which phase of our freedom struggle won for us Independence? Mahatma Gandhi’s 1942 Quit India movement or The INA army launched by Netaji Bose to free India or the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny of 1946? According to the British Prime Minister Clement Attlee, during whose regime India became free, it was the INA and the RIN Mutiny of February 18-23 1946 that made the British realize that their time was up in India. An extract from a letter written by P.V. Chuckraborty, former Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court, on March 30 1976, reads thus: "When I was acting as Governor of West Bengal in 1956, Lord Clement Attlee, who as the British Prime Minister in post war years was responsible for India’s freedom, visited India and stayed in Raj Bhavan Calcutta for two days`85 I put it straight to him like this: ‘The Quit India Movement of Gandhi practically died out long before 1947 and there was nothing in the Indian situation at that time, which made it necessary for the British to leave India in a hurry. Why then did they do so?’ In reply Attlee cited several reasons, the most important of which were the INA activities of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, which weakened the very foundation of the British Empire in India, and the RIN Mutiny which made the British realise that the Indian armed forces could no longer be trusted to prop up the British. When asked about the extent to which the British decision to quit India was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s 1942 movement, Attlee’s lips widened in smile of disdain and he uttered, slowly, ‘Minimal’."

  13. ^ Majumdar, R.C., Three Phases of India's Struggle for Freedom, Bombay, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1967, pp. 58-59. There is, however, no basis for the claim that the Civil Disobedience Movement directly led to independence. The campaigns of Gandhi ... came to an ignoble end about fourteen years before India achieved independence.... During the First World War the Indian revolutionaries sought to take advantage of German help in the shape of war materials to free the country by armed revolt. But the attempt did not succeed. During the Second World War Subhas Bose followed the same method and created the INA. In spite of brilliant planning and initial success, the violent campaigns of Subhas Bose failed.... The Battles for India's freedom were also being fought against Britain, though indirectly, by Hitler in Europe and Japan in Asia. None of these scored direct success, but few would deny that it was the cumulative effect of all the three that brought freedom to India. In particular, the revelations made by the INA trial, and the reaction it produced in India, made it quite plain to the British, already exhausted by the war, that they could no longer depend upon the loyalty of the sepoys for maintaining their authority in India. This had probably the greatest influence upon their final decision to quit India.
  14. ^ a b Chakraborty, Bidyut Local Politics and Indian Nationalism: Midnapur {1919-1944).. Manohar. 1997.
  15. ^ James L op.cit
  16. ^ Majumdar, R.C., Three Phases of India's Struggle for Freedom, Bombay, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1967, pp. 58-59. There is, however, no basis for the claim that the Civil Disobedience Movement directly led to independence. The campaigns of Gandhi ... came to an ignoble end about fourteen years before India achieved independence ... During the First World War the Indian revolutionaries sought to take advantage of German help in the shape of war materials to free the country by armed revolt. But the attempt did not succeed. During the Second World War Subhas Bose followed the same method and created the INA. In spite of brilliant planning and initial success, the violent campaigns of Subhas Bose failed ... The Battles for India's freedom were also being fought against Britain, though indirectly, by Hitler in Europe and Japan in Asia. None of these scored direct success, but few would deny that it was the cumulative effect of all the three that brought freedom to India. In particular, the revelations made by the INA trial, and the reaction it produced in India, made it quite plain to the British, already exhausted by the war, that they could no longer depend upon the loyalty of the sepoys for maintaining their authority in India. This had probably the greatest influence upon their final decision to quit India.

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