‘Quit India’ was launched on 8th August 1942 in Mumbai (then Bombay) to demand freedom from British rule. In August of 1947, Gandhi led a Civil Disobedience Movement called the Quit India Movement to gain independence (Satyagraha). Gandhi called for “an orderly withdrawal of the British from India” during the movement’s non-violent protests. Through his passionate speeches, Gandhi inspired people by proclaiming “every Indian who desires freedom must be his own guide…”. “Let every Indian consider himself to be a free man”, Gandhi declared in his fiery “Do or Die” speech the day the Quit India Movement was declared.
Within a few hours of Gandhi’s speech, most of the Indian National Congress leaders were arrested; many were imprisoned for the next three years, until World War II ended. The British were receiving heavy support during this time from the Viceroy’s Council, Muslims, the Communist Party, princely states, the Indian Army, and the Civil Service. Businessmen in India were experiencing profits as a result of wartime spending, and so they largely opposed Quit India. During this time, students were drawn to Subhas Chandra Bose, who was in exile, and the only support Indians received from outside was from American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who forced British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to agree to Indian demands. The British, however, refused to do so, saying that it would only be possible when World War II ended.
The British reacted quickly to isolated cases of violence that broke out around the country, arresting thousands of people and keeping them in jail through 1945. Along with filling jails with rebellious leaders, the British also abolished civil rights, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press.
Because of poor coordination and a lack of a coherent plan of action, the British were able to crush the Quit India Movement so easily. While the Quit India Movement has flaws, it remains significant since it was during this movement that the British began thinking about ways they could leave India in a peaceful and dignified manner after being unable to govern it successfully.
The outbreak of World War II in 1939 led to Britain’s war with Germany. Due to India’s importance to the British Empire, she was included in the war. Congress’ Working Committee expressed its displeasure over the hostile activities taking place in Germany on the 10th October 1939 and declared that India refused to participate in the war because it was against fascism. The Viceroy made an announcement, on the 17th of October 1939, stating the British government was fighting for peace in the world. The Prime Minister also promised that once the war ended, the government would amend the 1935 Act which provided for the establishment of a “federation of India” comprising British India and some or all of the princely states.
Additionally, there were major changes taking place in England’s political landscape. Since Churchill was a conservative, he was unmoved by Indian demands when he became Prime Minister. Gandhi decided to launch the Civil Disobedience Movement after Congress rejected it’s demands and a large scale dissatisfaction was widespread across the nation.
The movement was started by Gandhi’s follower Vinoba Bhave who used Satyagraha as a weapon against the British. There were hundreds of Satyagrahi’s who spoke out against the war across the country. Around 14,000 Satyagrahis were immediately arrested.
Another event that triggered the Quit India Movement was the failure of the Cripps Mission. The British Government sent Sir Stafford Cripps to discuss the war in Europe with Indian political parties on 22nd March. Indians were offered a draft declaration of the British Government which included the establishment of a dominion, the creation of a constituent assembly, and the right of provinces to form their own constitutions. However, all of this would be granted at the end of the war. Despite these promises for the future, the Congress was unhappy with them, with Gandhi saying, “It is a post dated check on a bank in trouble.”. There were also fears of Japan attacking India, terror in East Bengal, and the realization that the British could no longer defend India.
The Quit India Movement was responsible for keeping the Congress Party united during these challenging times. Gandhi and its working committee members were detained by the British when the Japanese Army advanced on the Indian-Burma border. Afterward, the British continued to ban the Congress Party. There were large demonstrations in every corner of the country. Gandhi’s mantra of non-violence was not applied to all protests, and bombs were exploded and government offices were burned down.
As a result, the British arrested large numbers of people and publicly flogged them. In this violence, hundreds of innocent people died, and the Congress leadership was cut off from the rest of the world until the war ended. Although ill and bereaved by the recent passing of his wife, Gandhi who was in prison remained committed to his resolution. Because of Gandhi’s health, the British released him, but Gandhi continued his opposition and demanded the release of Congress leaders behind bars.
Peace was restored to India in 1944 despite the Congress leaders not being released. The Quit India Movement was a disappointment to many nationalists. Similarly, the All India Muslim League and the Communist Party heavily criticized the Congress Party for the failure of the movement.
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