On 22nd April, 1942 Mahatma Gandhi gave a clear indication of his thought to Horace Alexander in a letter saying,
“My firm opinion is that the British should leave India now in an orderly manner and not run the risk that they did in Singapore and Malaya and Burma, Britain cannot defend India much less herself on Indian soil with any strength. The best thing she can do is to leave India to her fate.”
He further said that the presence of British in India was a direct invitation of Japan to invade India. So “leave India in God’s hand or in modern parlance of anarchy” he emphatically said.
The repeated failures of attempts, the emphasis of communal discord, and the regular propaganda of the League of Nation all produced a feeling of frustrated desperation in the minds of Gandhi that prompted him to declare the genesis of “Quit India Movement”. Gandhiji asserted “whatever the consequences to India, her real safety and that of Britain too lie in orderly and timely British withdrawal from India. The fiction of majority and minority will vanish like the mist before the morning sun of liberty. The natural leaders of the country will have the wisdom to evolve and honorable solution of India’s difficulties.”
Through May and June, 1942 Gandhiji and the Congress leaders expressed their views that the British should immediately withdraw from India since Churchill did not pay any head to any demands. Therefore the leaders thought of a mighty movement to oust them. Only C. Rajgopalachari opposed to such proposal that was in favour of the acceptance of the Cripps’ plan and the principle of Pakistan.
He said that the immediate withdrawal of British would leave India to the mercy of Japanese aggression. Unable to agree the proposals of Gandhiji, Rajaji resigned from the Congress with few others. Under the grim determination the Congress Working Committee met at Wardha and passed a resolution on 14th July demanding the immediate end of the British rule in India. This became famous as the ‘Quit India’ Resolution. The orderly withdrawal of the British as suggested by the British gradually attracted the imagination of the people which resulted in the resolution at Wardha.
It resolved that “If the demand for the British withdrawal was rejected, the Congress would be reluctantly compelled to utilize all the non-violent strength at its Command and to launch a widespread struggle under Mahatma’s leadership.”
The Working Committee resolution was ratified and endorsed by the resolution of the All India Congress Committee at Bombay on 7th and 8th of August 1942 which declared among other things that the Committee was of opinion “that the immediate ending of British rule in India was an urgent necessity, both for the sake of India and for the success of the cause of the United Nations.
The ending of the British rule in this country was thus a vital and immediate issue on which depend the future of the war and the success of the freedom and democracy.” The All India Congress Committee thought of utilizing all the non-violent strength of the nation for a wide-spread struggle under Gandhi’s leadership.
The British Government felt very much disturbed at Gandhiji’s desire for an “open rebellion”. Churchill angrily refused to make any negotiation with Gandhi whom he was afraid of. He said that “He was not going to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.”
Reacting on this statement Gandhiji proclaimed “I am not going to be satisfied with anything short of complete freedom, we shall do or die. We shall either free India or die in the attempt.” The Government did not wait Gandhiji to meet the Viceroy.
The official machinery had obviously been kept on the ready and moved with lightning speed. Within hours after the meeting of the All India Congress Committee had concluded late on the night of 8th August, Gandhiji and all other members were arrested. Gandhiji was detained in the Agakhan Palace in Poona and other leaders were sent in a special train to Ahmadnagar Fort.
The Congress was declared unlawful and millions of Congress members all over the country were quickly rounded up and thrown into the jail. Against such activities of the Government public opinion was gaining momentum. Public life virtually came to a standstill and business was suspended. Every city and towns observed hartals. Demonstrations and processions were organized by the people spontaneously everywhere.
National songs and slogans demanding the release of the leaders rent the air throughout the country. Naturally it became a leaderless movement of the mass. Un-organised but agitated, unprepared but angry and without any short of guidance the people plunged into the revolution famous as the Quit India Revolution or the August Revolution.
There was no violence. Agitated and excited though they were the crowds remained on the whole peaceful. But there was much tension and the very size of the crowds made the Government nervous. The crowds did not heed the warnings of the police and the police invariably opened fire. In Delhi alone during 11th and 12th August the police used forty-seven rounds of fire on the unarmed mob that resulted in the loss of seventy six lives. The revolt was spearheaded by the students, workers and the peasants.
There were strikes in the factories, colleges and schools. Police stations, Post offices and Railway stations which were considered as the symbols of British authority were attacked set on fire and damaged. Telephone wires were cut and attempts were made to derail trains. Peasants evaded tax payment. Common people worked as their own leader and came out for action in their own way.
At many places they formed action Committees to conduct the movement. Some of the leaders of the Left Wing went underground to guide the revolution from secret places. Students became more active in revolutionary work. Leaders like Jayprakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia, Aruna Asaf Ali Surendranath Dwivedy, A.S. Patwardhan and Ram Nandan Mishra tried their best to keep the movement going from underground.
Revolutionary violence occurred on a large scale in many places. The Government made a determined bid to crush the movement as quickly as possible. Beside normal repressive measures, recourse was taken to machine gun and aerial firing. This only increased in people’s funny and led to more, violent and wider disturbances.
In some places like Midnapore in West Bengal and Balia in U.P. even parallel Governments were set up by the people. For Churchill and Linlithgow brutal force was the only method to suppress the revolution. The Muslim League understands and ably denounced the Quit India Movement. So did the leaders of the depressed classes.
The leaders of the Muslim League criticized the Congress decision to “launch an open rebellion”. The league further declared that the movement was not directed for securing the independence of all “but for the establishment of Hindu Raj and to deal a death blow to the Muslim goal of Pakistan”. The Communist party of India after the soviet entry into the Second World War came to regard the war as the “people’s war” against Imperialism and Fascism.
The movement had a widespread effect in villages and towns. Even the people in the Native States joined the movement in towns and organized people’s war in their respective states. The Government reacted quickly and let loose a reign of terror. India was transformed into a police state. The police atrocities did not even spare simple villagers when they gathered in their protest meetings.
At many places houses were burnt by the police, huge amounts of fines were realized from the people. Women and children were assaulted. By November 1942, the official figure revealed 1,028 as killed and 3125 as seriously wounded. The figures no doubt were very less and the real death was much more. There were firings on as many as 538 occasions by the police and the military.
The movement revealed the people’s fighting spirit and their desperate longing for freedom. The courage with which freedom fighters like Matangini Hazra an old lady holding the Congress flag at Midnapur courted death. This movement thus served as an eye-opener to the British Government about India’s attitude to imperialism. The “Quit India Movement” of 1942 gave the death blow to the British Rule.
The August Revolution in India marked the culmination of the Indian Freedom Movement. It was a question of time, the transfer of power and the pattern of Government the country was to have after independence, determining the actual mechanics of the transfer. There remained no doubt for Indians to win freedom any longer.
C. Rajgopalachari having quitted the Congress was working for a settlement with the League. The change in the Indian and international situation necessitated a change in the Congress policy. The British Government also expressed its willingness to reach in a settlement. Rajaji making a deep study on the situation suggested a basis for settlement which received the approval of Gandhiji. Accordingly Gandhiji-Rajaji-Jinnah negotiation started and continued throughout September 1994 proved futile as Jinnah remained adamant in his demand and did not want to come to a settlement.
According to the terms of the settlement drafted by Rajgopalachari to which Gandhiji agreed are as follows:
(1) The Muslim League was to endorse the demand for independence and co-operate with the Congress in the formation of a provisional interim Government for the transitional period.
(2) After the end of the war a Commission should be appointed for demarcating contiguous distinct in the North-West and East of India where in the Muslim population had an absolute majority.
(3) In such demarcated areas a plebiscite of all the inhabitants should decide the issue of separation from India. If the majority decided in favour of separation the decision should be given effect to without prejudice to the right of the districts on to border to choose to join either state.
(4) In the event of separation mutual agreement safeguarding defence, commerce and communication should be reached. Transfer of population if any should be on an absolutely voluntary basis.
The negotiation failed as Jinnah wanted the whole of six Muslim provinces and the plebiscite to be restricted to Muslims only. The failure of the negotiation was disappointing. The initiative for breaking the dead lock now rested in the British Government. Thus the Rajgopalachari formula in 10th July 1944 provided the basis of the future settlement.
In March 1945 Lord Wavel went to England to consult the British Cabinet. He himself was opposed to the partition and thus tried to convince the Cabinet in that light. True to general expectations he came back with a plan which he announced on 14th June 1945. The statement referred to the Government’s eagerness to break the political deadlock in India on the terms provided in the Cripps offer in 1942.
It further proposed that the Central Executive Council would be reconstituted and it should have balanced representation of the main communities including equal proportion of Muslims and Caste Hindus.” With co-operation at the centre Wavel expressed the hope of the re-establishment of Provincial Legislatures and the scrapping of the Advisory regimes.
These proposals he added were in no way to influence the future permanent Constitution for India. According to the proposal the new Central Executive Council would be an exclusively Indian Council. It would carry on the Government until a permanent Constitution could be agreed upon and come to force.” Making a remark on the proposal the Secretary of State’s S.L. Amery said “We are placing India’s immediate future in Indian hands.”
Lord Wavell summoned Conference of Indian political leaders who had been released earlier at Shimla on 25th June 1945 to discuss the new proposal. But the Conference failed on the issue of the reconstitution of the Viceroys Council when Jinnah obstinately demanded that all the Muslim members of the Council must be members of the League. Such a proposition of Jinnah was totally unacceptable to the Congress which insisted on its national character.
The chief spokesman of the Congress in this Conference was Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. He firmly declared that the Congress Cannot possibly be a party to any arrangement, howsoever temporary it may be that prejudices its national character, tends to impair the growth of nationalism and reduces Congress directly or indirectly to a communal body. The Viceroy came in for criticism for allowing Jinnah to wreak the new proposals.
Thus Lord Wavell’s support to Jinnah to veto the constitutional progress on the basis of unity and the refusal of the Congress to meet the rising demands of the Muslim League were the two important factors behind the failure of the Shimla Conference. Jinnah blamed the Hindu India and the deadlock continued.
In the meanwhile the General Election was held in England and the Labour Party was voted to power. The new Prime Minister Clement Attlee and the Secretary of State Lord Pethick Lawrence expressed their keenness to grant independence to India at an early date. The Labour Cabinet had genuine sympathy for Indian aspiration.
The explosive Indian situation and the Post-War Britain’s military power were the objects of consideration. After a brief visit of Wavell to London for consultation, he announced a new policy broadcast on 19th September 1945.
He announced that elections to the Central and Provincial legislatures would be held in the coming winter and responsible ministries would be formed in the provinces. A constitution making body would be convened very quickly after the Viceroys talk with the representatives of major political parties and of Indian states would be completed.
The Government intended to bring an Executive Council into function soon after the elections and thus appealed for Indian co-operation and help in the early “realisation of full self Government in India.” Prime Minister Attle acted swiftly to face the Indian situation. In February 1946, he announced in the House of Commons that “the British Government has decided to send out to India a special Mission of Cabinet Ministers” for discussion with the leaders about the early realisation of self-Government.
Interim Government and Communal Strife:
After the refusal of the Muslim League to join the Interim Government the Viceroy invited Jawaharlal Nehru the President of the Congress to form an Interim Government. This offer was accepted by the Congress Working Committee. The call of Jinnah for ‘Direct Action Day’ on 16th August passed off without much untoward incident in most parts of the country. The province of Bengal was under the Muslim League ministry headed by Saheed Suhrawarthy. He declared the day as the public holiday. He declared to have the parallel Government in the province.
In the capital of the Province the followers of the Muslim League began their Direct Action Day by demonstrations and processions. In no time this led to violence. The Hindus were in overwhelming majority in Calcutta who came out to oppose the violence of the League. The city and the suburbs had a terrible blood bath rightly dubbed as the great Calcutta killing. Large scale murders, mob attacks, arson and pillage went on unchecked for the next few days with the connivance of the League Ministry in Bengal.
Lamented Mahatma Gandhi appealed to the nation to remain calm but it had no reaction. His hopes of communal harmony were shattered to pieces. He could defeat the imperial British Government by his weapon of non-violent but stood shocked to see the communal violence of the Indian people. The Calcutta killing worked like a signal for riots in other parts of the country.
Communal trouble broke out in Bombay, Ahmadabad, Noakhali (East Bengal) and Bihar and in many other places. It began to spread to different parts of the country like a malignant disease. Gandhiji visited the affected areas on peace mission along with many national leaders but he could not put an end to the fratricidal fight through the sanity of the people.
The Interim Government headed by Jawaharlal Nehru was sworn in on 2 September 1946. Shortly afterwards the Viceroy succeeded in persuading the Muslim League to join the Interim Government. But the League and the Congress members in the Government did not work as a team due to the wide divergence in their ideas, views and objectives. Liaquant Ali became the Finance Minister and he either rejected or delayed every proposal put up by the Congress members of the executive council. Smooth running of the Government was thus bound to be affected and the League openly denounced the idea of accepting Nehru as leader and to the idea of collective responsibility of the Ministry.
Communal tension naturally grew up. To the great surprise and dismay of the entire League announced that it would not participate in the Constituent Assembly. The British Government taking advantage of the situation convened a meeting of the political parties of India at London. The outcome of the meeting was negative. The British Government thereafter announced that the Government would not implement any constitution drafted by the Constituent Assembly unrepresented by a large section of the people
The Constituent Assembly met on 9th December without a single member of the Muslim League. The Constituent Assembly under the President-ship of Dr. Rajendra Prasad set on its work in right earnest. The congress demanded the resignation of the League members from the Interim Government in view of their boycotting the Constituent Assembly. Under this grim situation the country was passing through a curious stage of suspense, fear and expectation. The British officers showed no desire to discharge their duty.
Pathetically the Viceroy said “Let them fight it out, friends. Things have gone too far.” On 20th February, Prime Minister Attlee made the historic announcement “His majestys” Government wish to make the necessary steps to effect the transference of power into the responsible Indian hands by a date not later than June 1948. He also announced the appointment of Admiral Viscount Lord Luis Mountbatten as the new Viceroy in place of Lord Wavell to work out the transfer of power as the last Viceroy of India.
This announcement caused great excitement and elation in many parts of India. The Muslim League now sought to strengthen its hold on the Muslim majority provinces. Again the League took recourse to ‘Direct Action’ to vindicate and popularize its demand for Pakistan. The result was an orgy of communal riots throughout the country.
Communal frenzy in the Punjab resulted loss of thousands of lives, properties worth millions of rupees and countless people were rendered homeless destitute. These incidents brought the people face to face with the stark reality. Partition became unavoidable. The Congress finally reconciled to this solution but the Muslim League evoked no favorable response.