On August 8, 78 years ago, Mahatma Gandhi gave the call for British colonisers to “Quit India” and for the Indians to “do or die” to make this happen.
Gandhi and almost the entire top Congress leadership were arrested, and thus began a truly people-led movement in our freedom struggle.
While factors leading to such a movement had been building up, matters came to a head with the failure of the Cripps Mission.
The World War II was raging, and a worried British needed the cooperation of their colonial subjects in India.
To this end, in March 1942, a mission led by Sir Stafford Cripps arrived in India to meet leaders of the Congress and the Muslim League. The idea was to secure India’s whole-hearted support in the war, in return for self-governance.
Despite the promise of “The earliest possible realization of self-government in India”, the offer Cripps made was of dominion status, and not freedom. Also, there was a provision of the partition of India, which was not acceptable to Congress.
The failure of the Cripps Mission made Mahatma Gandhi realize that freedom would be had only by fighting tooth and nail for it.
Though initially reluctant to launch a movement that could hamper Britain’s efforts to defeat Fascist forces in the World War, Congress eventually decided to launch a mass civil disobedience.
At the Working Committee meeting in Wardha in July 1942, it was decided the time had come for the movement to move into an active phase.
Gandhi and all other senior Congress leaders had been jailed. He was kept at the Aga Khan Palace in Pune, and later in the Yerawada jail. It was during this time that Kasturba Gandhi died at the Aga Khan Palace.
The arrest of the leaders, however, failed to deter the masses. With no one to give directions, people took the movement into their own hands.
There were strikes, demonstrations, and people’s marches in defiance of prohibitory orders in Kanpur, Patna, Varanasi, and Allahabad.
The protests spread rapidly into smaller towns and villages. Till mid-September, police stations, courts, post offices and other symbols of government authority were attacked.
Railway tracks were blocked, students went on strike in schools and colleges across India, and distributed illegal nationalist literature. Mill and factory workers in Bombay, Ahmedabad, Poona, Ahmednagar, and Jamshedpur stayed away for weeks.
While Gandhi gave the clarion call of Quit India, the slogan was coined by Yusuf Meherally, a socialist and trade unionist who also served as Mayor of Mumbai.
The Quit India movement was violently suppressed by the British – people were shot, lathi-charged, villages burnt and enormous fines imposed. In the five months up to December 1942, an estimated 60,000 people had been thrown in jail.
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