The Quit India movement or the Revolt of 1942 or ‘August Revolution’ of 1942 was the most popular and powerful mass movement in the series of agitations led by Gandhi in the course of freedom struggle.
By the time this mass movement was planned, the Second World War was going on, the shadows of the Japanese invasion on India were making the sky dark and cloudy.
The efforts of Cripps mission bore no fruit and the prices of essential commodities were soaring high and the day does not appear to be far off for the deliverance from the British imperialism.
Sumit Sarkar writes “The summer of 1942 found Gandhi in a strange and uniquely militant mood, ‘Leave India to God or to anarchy” he repeatedly urged the British – this orderly disciplined anarchy should go, and if as a result there is complete lawlessness I would risk it”.
These statements made, in May 1942 are indicative of the restlessness of the leader, who ‘promised’ Swaraj within one year and who is eager and anxious to see that his mission of gaining freedom for India is realized soon. Sumit Sarkar aptly observes “though the need for non-violence was always reiterated, Gandhi’s mantra of Do or Die represents the militant mood of Gandhi”.
In the working committee meeting held at Wardha on 14 July, 1942 the Congress first accepted the idea of a struggle. The All India Congress Committee that met in Bombay in August ratified this decision to go in for struggle. In his speech Gandhi made it very clear “I am not going to be satisfied with anything short of complete freedom. May be, he (the Viceroy) will propose the abolition of salt tax, the drink evil. But I will say nothing less than freedom”. Gandhi then followed up with the now famous exhortation Do or Die. “Here is a Mantra, a short one that I give you. You may imprint it on your hearts and let every breath of yours give expression to it. The mantra is Do or Die. We shall either free India or die in the attempt; we shall not live to see the perpetuation of slavery”.
Gandhi also gave a call to all sections of the people, the princes, the Jagirdars, the Zamindars, the propertied and moneyed classes, who derive their wealth and property from the workers in the fields and factories and elsewhere, to whom eventually power and authority belong. In the view of Sumit Sarkar, the above statement of Gandhi indicates his social radicalism and shift in the philosophy of the Congress, by now people with the goals of socialism and communism have become a part of the broad-based Congress organization; On the other hand, the British too were equally determined to crush any movement of the Congress.
The then Viceroy Linlithgow in a letter dated 8 August, 1946 categorically made his mind very clear “I feel very strongly that the only possible answer to a declaration of war by any section of Congress in the present circumstances must be a declared determination to crush the organization as a whole”. Thus, the two sides were ready to act and even before the formal launching of the movement, the government in a single sweep arrested all the top leaders of the Congress in the early hours of August 9, 1942. This led to spontaneous outburst of mass anger against the arrest of leaders. There was mass upsurge all over the country for six or seven weeks after the unexpected event of August 9, 1942.
Bipan Chandra writes, “People devised a variety of ways of expressing their anger in some places, huge crowds attacked police stations, post offices, courts, railway stations and other symbols of government authority. National flags were forcibly hoisted on public buildings in defiance of the police”. Cities, towns and villages witnessed the people’s wrath. Peasants, workers and students actively participated in showing their resentment against the government. By following tactics of brutality, the government suppressed the movement. Gandhi who was arrested in the early hours of 9 August, started fast on 10 February by declaring that the fast would last for 21 days.
One more feature to be noticed in this connection was the refusal of Gandhi to condemn the violence of the masses and held the government responsible for this violence. All over the country people responded positively and actively towards the fast of Gandhi. Gandhi was released on 6 May, 1944 on medical grounds.
It is to be noted that the Quit India movement was the spontaneous participation of the masses compared to the earlier non-cooperation and civil disobedience movements. Bipan Chandra was of the view: “the great significance of this historic movement was that it placed the demand for independence on the immediate agenda of the national movement. After ‘Quit India’ there could be no retreat. Independence was no longer a matter of bargain. And this became amply clear after the war”.
The spirit unleashed was carried further by Indian National Army of Subhas Chandra Bose. An understanding of the process of the struggle for independence of India reveals its long drawn dynamics of the strategy adopted by the leaders of this movement.
While the pre-Gandhian phase was one of creating conscious awareness of the evils of the colonial and imperialist among the masses, the Gandhian phase of ‘struggle-truce-struggle’ was one of sustaining the tempo of the movement through the stages of non-cooperation followed by civil disobedience, followed by the Quit India movement.
Besides Gandhi’s ideology of non-violence and technique of Satyagraha, it was the strategy of struggle-truce-struggle that accelerated and sustained the urge for freedom and enabled India to achieve freedom in 1947. We find a gradual and slow transition from mini-scale minority of freedom seekers to mass organization of freedom seekers during the time of Gandhi, and his most outstanding contribution was the successful strategy of struggle-truce-struggle in stages to sustain the tempo of the movement. Undoubtedly, Gandhi was a great strategist of the 20th century mass political mobilization process motivated by self-reliant rule of the masses through more of non-violent means.