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Quit India Movement

Introduction:


The Quit India Movement has rightly been described as the most massive anti-imperialist struggle. In 1942, the year that the movement was launched and the next five years witnessed unparalleled and tumultuous events in the political history of India.


Gandhi delivered his famous "Do or Die" speech, arguing that this was the final battle- a "fight to the finish"-and so the Indians must win independence or give up their lives for it. This fired the imagination of an already rankled Indian population, expecting a breakdown of the established authority.


The unusual intensity of the movement surprised everyone. Viceroy Linlithgow described it as "by far the most serious rebellion since 1857''. It was violent and totally uncontrolled from the very beginning, as the entire upper echelon of the Congress leadership was behind bars even before it began. And therefore, it is also characterised as a "spontaneous revolution", as "no preconceived plan could have produced such instantaneous and uniform results"

Causes:

  • Economic hardships (rising prices and famines)

  • Failure of Cripps mission

  • News of British setbacks in South-East Asia and an impending British collapse increased widespread readiness to voice displeasure.

  • Growing discontent across all sections.


The Congress endorsed the Quit India Resolution on August 8, 1942, at the Gowalia Tank in Bombay. Additionally, the meeting resolved to: demand an immediate end to British rule in India; declare India's commitment to self-defense against all forms of fascism and imperialism; establish a provisional Government of India following British withdrawal; and sanction a civil disobedience movement against British rule. Gandhi was appointed as the leader of the struggle.



Sumit Sarkar has identified three phases of the Quit India movement:


It initially started as an urban revolt, marked by strikes, boycotts and picketing, which were quickly suppressed.


In the middle of August, the focus shifted to the countryside, which witnessed a major peasant rebellion, marked by the destruction of communication systems, such as railway tracks and stations, telegraph wires and poles, attacks on government buildings or any other visible symbol of colonial authority and finally, the formation of "national governments" in isolated pockets. This brought in severe government repression forcing the agitation to move underground.


The third phase was characterised by terrorist activities.


Not only the educated youth participated in such activities, but also bands of ordinary peasants organised such subversive actions by night, which came to be known as the "Karnataka method".


key characteristics:

  • mass participation-workers, peasants, students and women participated.

  • underground activities were organised to escape repression

  • parallel governments were established

  • it was violent and spontaneous

  • Communists, Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha didn’t show support.


Gandhi Ji, Ahimsa and Quit India:


On the question of non-violence, Gandhi this time was remarkably ambivalent. "I do not ask from you my own non-violence. You can decide what you can do in this struggle”. Said Gandhi, on 5 August.


Three days later on the 8th, speaking on the AICC resolution, he urged: "I trust the whole of India today to launch upon a nonviolent struggle." But even if people deviated from this path of nonviolence, he assured: "I shall not swerve. I shall not flinch".


In other words, the issue of non-violence seemed to have been of lesser importance in 1942 than the call for "Do or Die" or the invitation to make a final sacrifice for the liberation of the nation.

Gandhi was in a dilemma. Congress volunteers were justifying violence by referring to his own dictum that it was justifiable in self-defence. He did not condone violence, but did not formally condemn it either; instead, he held the government responsible for the outbreak of violence. Indeed, neither he nor any other Congress leaders had any control over the people and the volunteers, nor any of them had anticipated the kind of response the Quit India movement had generated.


Significance/Conclusion:


Despite varied ideas of freedom, the Quit India movement had captivated the imagination of a major segment of the Indian public by promising speedy independence from a repressive imperial authority. It was anything but non-violent, the support it generated shocked the Britishers who realised their fate was near approaching and hastened the negotiations leading to independence.

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