What happened during the QUIT INDIA MOVEMENT

  • Why was the 1942 Quit India Movement started? Misconceptions about the movement! Was it Non-violent and a Success?

Repeatedly the Congress and BJP exchange barbs on the success of failure of the Quit India Movement (launched on August 8, 1942). When in doubt, I refer to my Gita, The History and Culture of Indian People published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.


For this compilation I referred to Volume 11 titled Struggle for Freedom whose first edition was published in 1969 and second in 1988. All credits to authors. Copyright Bhavan.


Subsequent to the failure of the Cripps Mission Gandhi’s attitude changed. 


But what was the Cripps Mission?

Sir Stanford Cripps arrived in 1942 with the following proposals –

1. A new Indian Union which will have full status of a ‘Dominion’.

2. On cessation of hostilities (World War 2), a constitution-making body would be set up.

3. The constitution so framed would be on 2 conditions. Provinces would be entitled to frame by a similar process a constitution of their own, giving them the full status as the ‘Indian Union’. (In other words every province would have a right to secede and have a status equal to that of the Indian Union-this was inserted to get Jinnah acceptance. 1 Pg 305)

4. The second condition is the signing of a treaty to be negotiated between the British Government and the constitution making body to cover all ‘matters arising from the complete transfer of power from British to Indian hands’ particularly the protection of racial and religious minorities in accordance with the last government undertakings. Pg 637

5. Until the new constitution can be framed, the British must retain control of the defence of India as part of their world war effort.


The proposals were rejected for three reasons. Deep-rooted mistrust of the British and genuine character of their offers. Next a growing belief that the future of Britain was gloomy since it was expected to lose to Germany. Lastly, clause 3 meant partition of India which all parties opposed except the Muslim League. Another objection was that the rulers, not the people of India would determine their future. Pg 638.


Gandhi was earlier opposed to any mass movement during the World War II but now thought differently. He wanted the British to quit India because he believed that if they did the Japanese, would probably leave India alone. “By withdrawal Gandhi meant not the physical departure of every Englishman but ‘the withdrawal of British domination”. 1 Pg 307


Gandhi wrote how there should be a non-violent non-cooperation against the Japanese. Nehru initially differed from Gandhi’s views but he surrendered to Gandhi. C Rajagopalchari refused to surrender and formally resigned from the Congress on 15/7/1942. 


It seemed that Gandhi had once again assumed leadership of the Congress which he had relinquished during the crucial negotiations between the Congress and Cripps. “Though addressed to Britain, the Quit India call was also for Indians ears read as allowing Bose to capture the Indian mind.” 1 Pg 312


“Leave India in God’s hands”, he said on 24/5/1942. He wanted organised mass effort to get the British to leave India so that they could tell the Japanese not to advance any further. Gandhiji believed that since the war was on the Indian frontier, the British would come to terms with the Congress once the movement was launched. 


When the Viceroy got to know of the Congress resolution on Quit India he made it clear that the Government would not tolerate any rebellion during the War. Gandhiji’s confidence was shaken but he still believed that the government would not take any drastic action.


After the Congress passed the resolution on 8/8/1942, the government arrested Gandhi, Azad and other prominent Congress leaders before the next day dawned. The A.I.C.C. and all Provincial Congress Committees, except NW.F.P, were declared unlawful organizations.


The sudden removal of all types of leaders including at Taluk levels left no responsible men to guide the mass movement. The Government hoped they would be able to crush the movement but they erred.


The leaders arrest was followed by non-violent popular demonstrations over nearly all of India. It included civil disobedience and damage to public property. Lathi charge and firing was resorted to disperse processions. This made people violent. The disturbances were crushed and large number of white soldiers reached India. Large number of people were arrested and killed. The terrorist methods of the Government produced a violent reaction.


Gandhi did not formulate any definite program of action before he was arrested on August 9. No authentic account is available about any organised body which carried on the movement after the arrest of Gandhi/others. Each Provincial Congress Committee drew up its own plan.


Although the underground movement carried on till the start of 1943, the open movement was crushed within 2 months and practically collapsed before the end of September 1942. 


Jayaprakash Narayan who was the real leader of the revolt of 1942, ascribed its failure to lack of coordination and organization. There was a lack of clear-cut program of action. Lack of funds was another drawback. It should be remembered that the 1942 movement was mostly confined to students, peasants and the lower middle class. “It was generally believed that Communist leaders like M N Roy were liberally provided funds by the Government to sabotage the 1942 movement.” Pg 659


Movement across India

Lots of violence in Mumbai and movement was intense elsewhere in Maharashtra. The movement was widely spread and well organized in Karnataka where important leaders had managed to stay out. A parrarrel government known as Patri Sarkar was formed in Satara, Maharashtra.


In Gujarat the movement began with general strikes which lasted from 3 days to three and a half months.


In Bihar attempts were made in remote village to paralyse the government machinery by sabotaging means of communication and getting control of government buildings. People declared the establishment of a National Government in north Bhagalpur. Revolutionaries played an important role in the struggle in Bihar. Two groups, Siaram Dal and Parsuram Dal were active in Bihar. Parallel governments were set up in Ballia (UP), Tamluk, Talcher, Satara


For the sake of brevity not covered the movement in U.P., MP, Bengal and Orissa. The tempo of the movement was comparatively less in the South.


General Review

There exist two misconceptions about the 1942 movement.


One, that it was pre-dominantly non-violent. The movement was violent. India had switched from non-violent to violent attempt to gain independence.


Secondly, credit is given to Gandhi for carrying out this glorious revolution which gave Indian freedom. The movement collapsed in less than two months and India got freedom five years under different circumstances. Both Gandhi and Congress offered apology and explanation for the madness which seized the people. Pg 673


The utterances of Congress leaders negate the view that the outbreak was a spontaneous popular reaction to the arrest of Gandhi etc. and not a premeditated course of rebellion. Pg 674


Among the different revolutionary groups in different parts of India were the two Dals in Bihar, Hindustan Socialist Republican Army in U.P., Anusilan Samiti and Jugantar Group in Bengal were the most important ones. This gigantic movement soon lost its tempo and by February 1943, it was over.


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Was the 1942 Movement a Dismal failure?

No. It left no doubt that India’s freedom battle began in right earnest. Indians were determined to be free from British rule. To give credit to Gandhi for 1942, after he publicly disowned his responsibility for the whole movement, would be wrong. Pg 678. 


The year 1942-43 marks the end of her struggle for freedom. The revolutionary movement which had started in the early 20th century and Satyagraha, which Gandhi launched in 1920, both came to an end, without India achieving freedom. But it was out of these failures came India’s freedom. 

Netaji speaking at Cathay Theatre, Singapore. Pic courtesy National Archives Singapore.

India’s battle for freedom was that of the Indian National Army. 


Read   How I.N.A. contributed to India’s Independence  


“Patel would maintain till the end that Quit India was correct. But he storied, in a suppressed layer of his soul, several thoughts of blame. Next time he would think twice before going by Gandhi’s instinct. Nehru would justify Quit India in 1956.” 1 Pg 336/337


“Quit India has not been an unmixed blessing. If the Congress was preserved by it, Jinnah had been strengthened: the Raj had let its sunshine fall on the League. The incidents of violence had disturbed the Raj but also, in some important circles, discredited the Congress. It was the Congress Working Committee that had come to a standstill not the Raj.” 1 Pg 336


Decide for yourself on the failure or success of the Quit India Movement, the lack or presence of a strategy and the naivety in believing that the British would leave India because of a likely Japanese invasion. – You decide. 



1. PATEL a Life by Rajmohan Gandhi


Also read

1. Causes, Impact, Limitations, Significance

2. History and Interesting Facts

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