The Quit India Movement was a major milestone after the Salt Satyagraha in the history of Indian independence struggle. It was a civil disobedience movement launched in August 1942 with Gandhiji’s call for immediate independence. It is also known as the Bharat Chodo Andolan or the August Kranti.
This historical movement played out in the backdrop of World War II. The British government entered India in the war unilaterally and without consultation with the Indian people. This angered Indians terribly. In March 1942, faced with an increasingly dissatisfied sub-continent, only reluctantly participating in the war, 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. The talks failed because they did not address the key demand of a timetable of self-government and of definition of the powers to be relinquished. It offered only limited dominion-status that was wholly unacceptable to the Indian movement.
On July 14, 1942, the Indian National Congress passed a resolution demanding complete independence from Britain and massive civil disobedience. On August 8, 1942, the Quit India Resolution was passed at the Bombay session of the All India Congress Committee. 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 Congress Party’s 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. Inspired by Gandhiji’s “Do or Die” speech, ordinary men and women jumped into the movement, despite lack of direct leadership. Large-scale protests and demonstrations were held all over the country. Workers remained absent and strikes were called. Not all the 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. A total of over 100,000 arrests were made nationwide, mass fines were levied, and demonstrators were subjected to public flogging. Hundreds of resisters and innocent people were killed by police and army fire. Many national leaders went underground and continued their struggle by broadcasting messages over clandestine radio stations, distributing pamphlets, and establishing parallel governments.
The entire Congress leadership was cut off from the rest of the world for over three years. Gandhiji’s wife, Kasturba Gandhi, and his personal secretary, Mahadev Desai, died in a short space of months, and Gandhi’s own health was failing. Despite this, Gandhi went on a 21-day fast and maintained a superhuman resolve to continue his resistance. Although the British released Gandhiji on account of his failing health in 1944, he 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. The movement died down, and when the British granted independence on August 15, 1947, they cited 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. However, the political experience gained by the Indian people through activities such as the Quit India movement laid the foundation for the strongest enduring tradition of democracy and freedom in post-colonial Africa and Asia.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited revolutionary Chandrashekhar Azad’s birthplace at Bhabra village in Madhya Pradesh on August 8. The visit marks the start of the government’s ’70 Saal Azaadi, Yaad Karo Kurbani’, a 15-day campaign to commemorate India’s struggle for freedom from colonial rule.