Genesis, Spread and Impact of Quit India Movement UPSC Notes | EduRev

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UPSC : Genesis, Spread and Impact of Quit India Movement UPSC Notes | EduRev

The document Genesis, Spread and Impact of Quit India Movement UPSC Notes | EduRev is a part of the UPSC Course History for UPSC (Civil Services) Prelims.
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  • When war broke out in Europe in September 1939, the attitude of the Congress was unequivocal. The Congress objected to Britain dragging India into the war with which she had nothing to do and was being fought by Britain to preserve her empire. 
  • The Communists within the Congress and outside had called the war in Europe an imperialist war. However, their attitude changed as soon as Germany invaded the Soviet Union and the struggle for them became a Peoples’ War.
  • From the beginning of British rule in India, the strategy of the British rulers was to divide the Hindus and Muslims. The Conservative Party had assiduously built up the Muslim League as a counterpoise to the forces of nationalism. 
  • Lord Zetland quoting the Prime Minister, Mr Winston Churchill, said in a Cabinet Memorandum on January 31, 1940, “Hindu-Muslim feud is the bulwark of British rule in India.” No wonder, therefore, that the Muslim League under Mr Jinnah was putting every possible obstacle in the way of an agreement between the Congress and the Government. 
  • The Hindu Maha Sabha under Veer Savarkar had called on the Hindus to join the Armed Forces in large number so as to be ready for independence and to meet the challenge of the League.
  • The attitude of Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress towards the war changed as the war spread but the British Government was determined to ignore the change. 
  • When Britain declared war on behalf of India without consulting the people of India, the Congress Working Committee asked the Government to define its aims in declaring war and to define and clarify proposals about India’s future in unequivocal terms because if the war was to be fought for the maintenance of the status quo, India would have nothing to do with it. The Working Committee recalled how Britain had denied and repudiated assurances given to the people of India after winning the First World War.
  • From the outbreak of the war the Congress was in a dilemma. It had sympathy with the democracies and considered Fascism and Nazism an evil. But it also realised that India could join in the struggle only as an equal. It wanted assurances about India’s future within a definite time-frame. Britain refused to give any pledge of granting Dominion Status to India within a specified time, because as the Secretary of State put it “one result would be obviously to forfeit all Muslim support.” 
  • All that Britain was prepared to promise was consultation with representatives of various communities, parties and interests of India, including the princes for such modifications in the Government as might be necessary. 
  • Mahatma Gandhi was disappointed. He said “the Viceroy’s declaration shows clearly that there is to be no democracy for India if Britain can prevent it. Another Round Table Conference is promised at the end of the War. Like its predecessor, it is bound to fail. The Congress asked for bread and it has got a stone.”
  • The Congress Ministries in the provinces resigned when the Working Committee found that the British attitude was totally uncompromising. But still the Congress wanted to give Britain and her allies another chance. Gandhiji declared that he did not want to win freedom for India at the cost of ruin of the United Kingdom and was prepared to wait till the end of the war. 
  • The Congress had till then declared non-violence as its creed. In order to help bring about a settlement it declared that non-violence was to be practised only for the internal struggle for freedom but was not suitable for defence against foreign aggression. 
  • The Working Committee went a step forward when it extended a hand for cooperation in the war effort provided a national government was formed. This was the farthest that the Congress could go.
  • Within the country and the Congress itself there were elements like the Socialists who felt that Congress leadership was wasting precious time and opportunity in making one overture after another to the British Government. 
  • Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had by now escaped to Germany and was broadcasting regularly to the Indian people. There were many like him who sincerely felt that Britain’s difficulty was India’s opportunity. But Gandhiji and the Congress fully realised that between British imperialism and Nazism, British rule was the lesser evil. 
  • Jawaharlal Nehru in particular had looked on India’s struggle for independence as part of the global struggle against colonialism and imperialism. He knew well what would be in store for India if the Axis Power won the war. It would have meant exchanging British rule for a worse evil—racist Nazi rule. The Congress efforts for a compromise were made with this in view.
  • But was Britain serious about finding a political solution for the Indian problem? As the War progressed, President Roosevelt and President Chiang Kai Shek had both pressed for an effort to solve the Indian problem. Britain, therefore, made a half-hearted gesture by sending Sir Stafford Cripps to India. But the manner in which the Viceroy sabotaged the Mission made Britain’s intentions suspect in Indian eyes. 
  • That this suspicion was not unfounded is borne out by the memorandum of a conversation which took place in Washington in the State Department on May 26, 1942. The  participants included Col. Johnson and Col. Herrington who had both been to India. 
  • The purpose of the meeting was to dete-rmine why the Cripps Mission failed. Both the American officers expressed the firm conviction that “the British are prepared to lose India, as they lost Burma, rather than make any concessions to Indians in the belief that India will be returned to them after the war with the status quo ante prevailing.”

Discontent

  • It was in this background that the All India Congress Committee met in Bombay in August 1942. Britain had spurned every overture made by the Congress. Even Gandhiji’s pronouncement that the Allies could post troops in India after Britain withdrew went unnoticed. 
  • The patience of the Congress leadership was at its end. There was discontent in the country because of rising prices, shortage of commodities and the repressive policies of the Government. 
  • The people had lost confidence in the ability of the Government to defend the country because of the way in which Britain had withdrawn from Malaya and Burma. 
  • Japanese forces were knocking at the door and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army comprising Indian officers and soldiers  captured in Burma and Malaya were fighting alongside. 
  • The Japanese claimed that they were delivering India from foreign rule and the promise looked tempting to many in India. Within the Congress, the Socialists were not the only ones to be disillusioned with Britain. 
  • The rank and file and above all the youth of the country felt that it was a question of now or never. If the Congress did not launch a struggle immediately, there would be no chance to launch it later.
  • As for the Government, it was not prepared to say anything beyond a vague promise of talks with all elements about the future of the country after the war was over. It was happy that the Cripps Mission sent just to placate the United States and China had failed. 
  • It knew that the Congress might launch a struggle and wanted to be the first with the blow. It, therefore, launched a propaganda campaign against the Congress. 
  • The Congress assurance that it would not jeopardize the defensive capacity of the Allies, would resist Japanese aggression, help China, were all glossed over. An attempt was made to present the Congress as an organisation out to undermine the war effort. 
  • Side by side, arrangements were made to crush the Congress, should it launch a struggle.
  • The resolution passed by the All India Congress Committee called for end to British rule in India and promised full support of an independent India in the war against Nazism, Fascism and Imperialism. 
  • It asked for the establishment of a provisional government representing all sections of the Indian people which would defend India and resist aggression. The Provisional Government was also to evolve a scheme for a Constituent Assembly which was to prepare a constitution for the country acceptable to all sections of the Indian people. 
  • The Constitution was to be a Federal one with the largest measure of autonomy for the federating units, who were also to hold the residual powers.
  • The Committee noted that earlier appeals to Great Britain had met with no response. It, therefore, sanctioned the starting of a mass struggle for India’s freedom on non-violent lines under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. Jawaharlal Nehru who moved the resolution and Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel who seconded it made impassioned speeches but the day belonged to Mahatma Gandhi who gave the slogan “Do or Die. Either free India or die in the attempt.” 
  • This became the watchword of the move-ment later. Ganhiji’s speech made it clear that th-ough the AICC had adopted the resolution, it did not mean that the struggle was to be launched immediately. He proposed to meet the Viceroy first and plead with him for the acceptance of the Congress demand. Only after that would he formulate his plans and programme. Gandhiji had prepared a draft of instructions for the movement which was to be discussed the next day but it was never discussed.

Spread

  • Early the next day (August 9, 1942) Mahatma Gandhi, the Congress President Maulana Azad, Nehru, Patel and all other leaders were arrested. In an organised attempt to terrorise the people, the police entered houses, arrested the men and in many cases dishonoured the women. Men were whipped and some of the whippings took place in jails. There was large scale firing and lathi charge.
  • The news of the arrest of Congress leaders for a time stunned the people but then there was a mass upsurge. The Government took recourse to repression on a scale never seen since 1857. Between August 9, 1942 and December 31, 1943, police opened fire 601 times killings 763 people and injuring 1941. The military fired on 68 occasions killings 297 people and injuring 238. In five cases aeroplanes were used to fire from the air.
  • On their part, the people in an attempt to bring administration to a standstill destroyed or damaged 208 police stations, 749 Government buildings, 525 public buildings, 382 railway stations, 945 post and telegraph offices and carried out 664 bomb explosions. The Congress maintained that the number of persons killed by the police and the military was not less than 10,000. Some sources placed it as high as 15,000. The truth will never be known because in many cases men were just taken away by the police and were never seen again. Not less than 100,000 people were arrested all over India.
  • Disturbing as these figures are, they do not tell the whole story. In large parts of the country there was no British rule for almost three weeks. The people set up a parallel government of their own and in places like Satara it functioned for almost four years. 
  • A new group of leaders emerged. Jai Prakash Narayan, Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, Achyut Patwardhan and Mrs Aruna Asaf Ali emerged as the heroes of the people. 
  • Young Congressmen and students took the lead in organising the struggle. Many of them were to play an important role in independent India. Y.B. Chavan, Vasantrao Patil and Nana Patil in Satara, Raj Narayan and Prabhu Narayan in U.P. and Kedar Nath Pande in Bihar were among the new leaders thrown up by the struggle. In Balia, Chittu Pande led the struggle and formed the parallel government. 
  • The movement had many other heroes. Some of them gave their lives while facing the army and the police. But brute force soon asserted its strength and but for sporadic cases of sabotage the Quit India Movement was almost dead after a few months.
  • It will ever remain a moot point as to who organised the large scale violence. Mahatma Gandhi had on his part made it clear that the struggle would be non-violent in nature.In any case, the instructions that he had drafted did not reach the people because he was arrested even before the draft could be discussed. 
  • Many leaders of the older school who had not been arrested took shelter under the plea that Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress were wedded to non-violence and therefore shied away from leading the students and youth when they asked them to do so. But the younger leaders had no such qualsm. They took up the leadership.
  • In its White Paper “Congress Responsibility for the Disturbances”, the Government tried to make out that the Congress was responsible for the violence and acts of sabotage. What it conveniently overlooked was that it was the people who rose in anger when they found that the Congress leaders had been arrested even when they were giving the Government one chance after another to reach a settlement on the question of India’s future.

Impact 

  • It is true that the Quit India movement failed to oust the British from India immediately and certainly, there was agonizing mental depression in 1943 and 1944 in the country. But the moral and political lessons of the ‘Do or Die’ programme were profound. 
  • The Revolution revealed that India’s youth had grown defiant and would not tolerate the slavery of the British. There was a strong and ever-growing social and political consciousness in the country which, it was to be remembered, did not explode more violently only due to the superior force of the British arms. The country was, indeed, experiencing a deep sense of bitter humiliation, agony, resentment and anger, and another more severe explosion could not be ruled out.
  • Although the Communists, the Muslim League, the Akalis and the Ambedkar group were opposed to the 1942 Revolution, it did have, unmistakably, a wide territorial and popular base. The Revolution, generally, was fiercest in the areas where the great patriotic revolt of 1857 had taken place.
  • Churchill had claimed that the revolt had been suppressed with a firm hand. The Government had shown its callousness in inflicting severe oppression on the people. But the repression and brutalities and the tapasya of the leaders did create the impregnable fortress of a soon-to-be-liberated India.
  • In 1944, Gandhiji was very ill and, hence, on May 7, he was released. On 17th June 1944, he wrote to the Viceroy indicating his desire to meet him. But Wavell did not agree. On July 29, 1944 Gandhiji again wrote to the Viceroy that if the Government would make a declaration regarding India’s independence he would advise the Congress to participate in a war-time government, provided it could control all non-military departments.
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