We will be commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Quit India Movement on August 9. It was the last mass agitation before India became Independent on August 15, 1947. A day before i.e. on August 14 India was divided and a new nation Pakistan came into existence. On August 8, at Mumbai’s Gowalia Tank, Mahatma Gandhi gave a call for ‘Do or Die’ in his speech. The call for Quit India galvanized the people of the country. British imperialists arrested thousands of Indians. Gowalia Tank is now called August Kranti Maidan. The month of August is significant as far as India’s Independence is concerned. On August 1, 1920, non-cooperation movement against imperialist Britain was launched. It was in the background of the Jalianwala Bagh massacre and Rowlatt Act.
Mahatma Gandhi addressed the Congress session on August 8 and gave a call for ‘Do or Die’. He said, “There is a mantra, short one that I give you. You imprint it on your heart and let every breath of yours give an expression to it. The mantra is do or die.”
Within hours of Gandhi’s speech the entire Congress leadership including Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Azad were arrested and put behind bars. The movement became leaderless. The atmosphere was charged. The whole country was on the road. Violent incidents took place at many places. Police lathi-charged and fired at the people at many places. Many died.
At that time the Second World War (1939-45) was on. Indian leadership demanded Independence before it supported Britain in the war. But, the British declined to accept demands made by Indian leaders. India refused to cooperate with Britain. Conservative Winston Churchill became the Prime Minister of Britain and continued until the end of the war. He was hawkish and was against the India and Indian leadership.
He abused Mahatma Gandhi by calling him ‘half-naked fakir’. Churchill also used to refer Gandhi as a ‘fanatic’. He was against India becoming independent. He said, “I have not become His Majesty’s First Minister to preside over liquidation of Empire.” Shockingly, he blamed Indians for the worst Bengal famine of 1943.
In March 1942, Britain sent Sir Stafford Cripps to India with a proposal of a new constitution. Congress and Muslim League both rejected the British plan. It was on July 14, 1942, the Congress Working Committee approved the resolution which declared that “the immediate ending of the British rule in India is an urgent necessity both for the sake of India and for the success of the cause of United Nations”. The historic session of AICC began on August 7 and concluded after mid-night of August 8-9. Mahatma Gandhi wanted a catchy slogan, which can give a clear message to Britishers to leave India. C Rajagopalachari proposed ‘withdraw’ some others suggested ‘Get Out’. Gandhi did not like either. Yusuf Meherally, a socialist and trade unionist, suggested ‘Quit India’. Gandhi liked it instantly. The resolution was approved. It was also known as Quit India Resolution. The slogan touched the country. The two words carried a categorical political message and electrified the country.
The government banned peaceful demonstrations. Thousands of Congress workers were put behind bars. People gathered in a large number at Gowalia Tank even in such a repressive atmosphere. Young Aruna Asaf Ali suddenly came forward, showed tremendous courage and unfurled a tri-colour at the Gowalia Tank. Gandhi was arrested and kept at Aga Khan Palace in Pune. His wife Kasturba and secretary Mahadev Desai died in the Aga Khan Palace. Finally, he was released in May 1944.
When Congress and other revolutionaries were fighting for Independence there were others who did not support Quit India movement. The history of India’s Independence struggle is unique in many ways. It established that the non-violent movement can mobilise more people including women. The participation of women in the Gandhi’s struggle was much higher than the earlier ones. The Quit India movement will continue to inspire Indians and the world. It has shown us the strength of non-violence. Gandhi’s philosophy continues to inspire lakhs of people.