Quit India Movement: The Precursor to India’s Freedom at Midnight
The Movement That Made 15 August 1947 Possible
Though the Quit India movement had generated controversies at the time, it is considered as one of the most important milestones in the Indian freedom movement.
- The ‘Quit India Movement’ that started on 8 August 1942 changed the course of Indian history.
- All the leaders and freedom fighters who participated in the movement were jailed.
- They were released only after three years, after the World War II ended.
- The Muslim League declared its support to the British on the WWII proposal.
- The Muslim League grew in strength during the war, while the Congress languished.
1939: The Trigger of the Quit India Movement
Without the consent of the Indian people, India was dragged into World War II to fight on Britain’s side. The Indian National Congress leaders felt that this was not India’s war.
Moreover, the Congress expected, but could not procure, an unconditional offer of British withdrawal from India as a condition of its support.
Over 87,000 Indian soldiers (including those from modern day Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh) died in World War II (1939-45).
March 1942, The Cripps Mission
The Cripps mission was an attempt in late March 1942 by the British government to secure full Indian cooperation and support for their efforts in World War II. The mission was headed by Sir Stafford Cripps, a senior left-wing politician and government minister in the War Cabinet of Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Cripps was sent to negotiate an agreement with the Indian leaders. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League had no qualms about supporting Britain in its war but the Congress leaders refused to discuss anything except total freedom.
The Cripps mission was eventually a washout.
8 August 1942: Gandhiji Launches Quit India Movement
In an effort to bring the British to the negotiating table, Gandhi launched his ‘Quit India’ movement in August 1942, and issued from a large meeting ground in Bombay (now Mumbai) the famous call to ‘do or die’.
Where Was Quit India Launched?
Gowalia Tank Maidan (now also known as August Kranti Maidan) is a park in central Mumbai where Mahatma Gandhi issued the Quit India speech on 8 August 1942, decreeing that the British must leave India immediately or else mass agitations would take place.
The call mobilised the citizens to a huge Civil Disobedience movement as the British refused to grant independence till the War was over.
INC Leaders in Jail, but Movement Goes On
Almost the entire Congress leadership, and not merely at the national level, was put into confinement less than twenty-four hours after Gandhi’s speech, and the greater number of the Congress leaders were to spend the rest of the war days in jail.
At Gowalia tank maidan on the day the crowd had gathered and learnt that Gandhiji, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad had been put into jail, freedom fighter Aruna Asaf ALi realised that if the chance was frittered away, even the movement could collapse.
Unmindful of the danger, she rushed forward and unfurled the Indian tricolour.
Why Were Congress Leaders Charged With Sedition?
The ‘Quit India’ movement then escalated into large-scale violence directed at railway stations, telegraph offices, government buildings, and other emblems and institutions of colonial rule.
There were widespread acts of sabotage, and the government held Gandhi responsible for these acts of violence, suggesting that they were a deliberate act of Congress policy.
That led to the incarceration of the Congress leadership.
(The article is being republished from The Quint’s archives on occasion of 75 years since the Quit India Movement. It was first published on 8 August 2016.)