Quit India Movement

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Procession view at Bangalore

The Quit India Movement (Bharat Chhodo Andolan or the August Movement) was a civil disobedience movement in India launched in August 1942, in response to Mahatma Gandhi's call for the immediate independence of India. Its aim was to bring the British government to the negotiating table through determined, but passive resistance. Unilaterally and without consultation, the British had entered India into World War II, arousing the indignation of large numbers of Indian people. On July 14, 1942, the Indian National Congress passed a resolution demanding complete independence from Britain and massive civil disobedience. On August 8, 1942, the Quit India Resolution was passed at the Bombay session of the All India Congress Committee (AICC). In a speech entitled, "Do or Die," given on August 8, 1942, Gandhi urged the masses to act as an independent nation and not to follow the orders of the British. His call found support among a large number of Indians, including revolutionaries who were not necessarily party to Gandhi's philosophy of non-violence.

Almost the entire Congress leadership, both at the national and local levels, was put into confinement less than twenty-four hours after Gandhi's speech, and the greater number of the Congress leaders spent the rest of the war in jail. Despite lack of direct leadership, large-scale protests and demonstrations were held all over the country. The British responded with mass detentions, making over 100,000 arrests. Within a few months the Movement had died down, and when the British granted independence on August 15, 1947, they cited revolts and growing dissatisfaction among Royal Indian Armed Forces during and after the war as the driving force behind Britain's decision to leave India. However, the political experience gained by the Indian people through activities such as the Quit India movement laid the foundation for the strongest enduring tradition of democracy and freedom in post-colonial Africa and Asia.

World War II and Indian Involvement

In 1942, the British, unilaterally and without consultation, entered India into World War II. The response in India was divided; some Indians wanted to support the British during the Battle of Britain, hoping for eventual independence through this effort. Others were enraged by the British disregard for Indian intelligence and civil rights, and were unsympathetic to the travails of the British people, which they saw as rightful punishment for their subjugation of Indians.

Public lecture at Basavanagudi, Bangalore with Late C.F.Andrews*

Opinions on the War

At the outbreak of war, during the Wardha meeting of the working-committee in September, 1939, the Congress Party had passed a resolution conditionally supporting the fight against fascism [1], but were rebuffed when they asked for independence in return. Gandhi, a committed believer in non-violent resistance, had not supported this initiative, because he could not support an endorsement of war; he advocated nonviolent resistance even against the tyranny of Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo). At the height of the Battle of Britain, however, Gandhi expressed his support for the fight against fascism and the British War effort, stating he did not seek to raise a free India from the ashes of Britain. However, opinions remained divided.

After the onset of the war, only a group led by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose took any decisive action. Bose organized the Indian National Army with the help of the Japanese, and, solicited help from the Axis Powers. The INA fought hard in the forests of Assam, Bengal and Burma, but ultimately failed owing to disrupted logistic, inadequate arms and supplies from the Japanese, and a lack of support and training. [2] Bose's audacious actions and radical initiative energized a new generation of Indians. The Quit India Movement tapped into this energy, channeling it into a united, cohesive action.

Cripps' Mission

In March, 1942, faced with an increasingly dissatisfied Indian sub-continent which participated in the war only with reluctance; with deterioration in the war situation in Europe and South East Asia; and with growing dissatisfaction among Indian troops in Europe, and among the civilian population in India, the British government sent a delegation to India under Stafford Cripps, in what came to be known as the Cripps' Mission. The purpose of the mission was to negotiate with the Indian National Congress to obtain total co-operation during the war, in return for progressive devolution and distribution of power from the Crown and the Viceroy to an elected Indian legislature. However, the talks failed to address the key demands of a time frame for self-government, and of a clear definition of the powers to be relinquished, essentially portraying an offer of limited dominion-status that was wholly unacceptable to the Indian movement.[3]

Resolution for Immediate Independence

On July 14, 1942, the Indian National Congress passed a resolution demanding complete independence from Britain. The draft proposed that if the British did not accede to the demands, massive civil disobedience would be launched.

However, it proved to be controversial within the party. A prominent Congress national leader, Chakravarti Rajgopalachari, quit the Congress over this decision, and so did some local and regional level organizers. Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Azad were apprehensive and critical of the call, but backed it and followed Gandhi's leadership until the end. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Dr. Rajendra Prasad were openly and enthusiastically in favor of such a disobedience movement, as were many veteran Gandhians and socialists like Asoka Mehta and Jaya Prakash Narayan.

The Congress had less success in rallying other political forces under a single flag. Smaller parties like the Communist Party of India and the Hindu Mahasabha opposed the call. Muhammad Ali Jinnah's opposition to the call led to large numbers of Muslims cooperating with the British, and the Muslim League obtaining power in the Imperial provincial governments.

On August 8, 1942, the Quit India Resolution was passed at the Bombay session of the All India Congress Committee (AICC). At the Gowalia Tank Maidan in Bombay, since re-named August Kranti Maidan (August Revolution Ground), Gandhi gave a speech urging Indians to follow non-violent civil disobedience. He told the masses to act as an independent nation and not to follow the orders of the British. His call found support among a large number of Indians. It also found support among Indian revolutionaries who were not necessarily party to Gandhi's philosophy of non-violence.

Suppression of the Movement

Picketing in front of Medical School at Bangalore

The British, already alarmed by the advance of the Japanese army to the India/Burma border, responded the next day by imprisoning Gandhi at the Aga Khan Palace in Pune. All the members of the Congress Party's Working Committee (national leadership) were arrested and imprisoned at the Ahmednagar Fort. Due to the arrest of major leaders, a young and till then relatively unknown Aruna Asaf Ali presided over the AICC session on August 9, and hoisted the flag. Later, the Congress party was banned. These actions only created sympathy for the cause among the population. Despite lack of direct leadership, large-scale protests and demonstrations were held all over the country. Workers remained absent en masse and strikes were called. Not all the demonstrations were peaceful. At some places bombs exploded, government buildings were set on fire, electricity was cut, and transport and communication lines were severed.

The British swiftly responded with mass detentions. A total of over 100,000 arrests were made nationwide, mass fines were levied, and demonstrators were subjected to public flogging[4]. Hundreds of resisters and innocent people were killed by police and army fire. Many national leaders went underground and continued their struggle by broadcasting messages over clandestine radio stations, distributing pamphlets, and establishing parallel governments. The British sense of crisis was strong enough that a battleship was specifically set aside to take Gandhi and the Congress leaders out of India, possibly to South Africa or Yemen, but such a step was ultimately not taken, out of fear of intensifying the revolt[5].

The entire Congress leadership was cut off from the rest of the world for over three years. Gandhi's wife, Kasturbai Gandhi, and his personal secretary, Mahadev Desai, died in a short space of months, and Gandhi's own health was failing. Despite this, Gandhi went on a 21-day fast and maintained a superhuman resolve to continue his resistance. Although the British released Gandhi on account of his failing health in 1944, Gandhi kept up the resistance, demanding the complete release of the Congress leadership.

By early 1944, India was mostly peaceful again, while the entire Congress leadership was incarcerated. A sense that the movement had failed depressed many nationalists, while Jinnah and the Muslim League, as well as Congress opponents like the Communists and Hindu extremists, sought to gain political mileage, criticizing Gandhi and the Congress Party.

Contributions Towards Indian Independence

The successes and failures of the Movement are debated. Some historians claim that it failed.[6] By March 1943, the movement had petered out.[7] Even the Congress, at the time saw it as failure.[8] Analysis of the campaign obtained by Military Intelligence in 1943 came to the conclusion that it had failed in its aim of paralyzing the government. It did, however, cause enough trouble and panic among the War administration for General Lockhart to describe India as an "occupied and hostile country."[9] However much it might have disconcerted the Raj, the movement may be deemed to have ultimately failed in its aim of bringing the Raj to its knees and to the negotiating table for immediate transfer of power.

Within five months of its inception, the Movement had almost come to a close, and was nowhere near achieving its grandiose aim of toppling the Raj. The primary underlying reason, it appears, was the loyalty of the army, even in places where the local and native police came out in sympathy.[10] This certainly was also the view of the British Prime Minister, Clement Atlee, at the time of transfer of power. Atlee deemed the contribution of "Quit India" movement as minimal, ascribing greater importance to the revolts and growing dissatisfaction among Royal Indian Armed Forces during and after the war as the driving force behind Britain's decision to leave India.[11]

Which phase of our freedom struggle won for us Independence? Mahatma Gandhi’s 1942 Quit India movement or the INA army launched by Netaji Bose to free India, or the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny of 1946? According to the British Prime Minister Clement Attlee, during whose regime India became free, it was the INA and the RIN Mutiny of February 18-23, 1946, that made the British realize that their time was up in India.

An extract from a letter written by P.V. Chuckraborty, former Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court, on March 30, 1976, reads:

"When I was acting as Governor of West Bengal in 1956, Lord Clement Attlee, who as the British Prime Minister in postwar years was responsible for India’s freedom, visited India and stayed in Raj Bhavan Calcutta for two days`85 I put it straight to him like this: ‘The Quit India Movement of Gandhi practically died out long before 1947 and there was nothing in the Indian situation at that time, which made it necessary for the British to leave India in a hurry. Why then did they do so?’ In reply Attlee cited several reasons, the most important of which were the INA activities of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, which weakened the very foundation of the British Empire in India, and the RIN Mutiny which made the British realize that the Indian armed forces could no longer be trusted to prop up the British. When asked about the extent to which the British decision to quit India was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s 1942 movement, Attlee’s lips widened in smile of disdain and he uttered, slowly, ‘Minimal’."


Some Indian historians, however, argue that, in fact, the movement had succeeded. The rebellion definitely put a strain on the economic and military resources of the British Empire at a time when they were heavily engaged I World War II. Although at the national level, the ability to galvanize rebellion was limited, the movement is notable for regional success especially at Satara, Talcher, and Midnapore.[13] In the Tamluk and Contai subdivisions of Midnapore, the local populace were successful in establishing parallel governments, which continued to function, until Gandhi personally requested the leaders to disband in 1944.[14] At the time, from intelligence reports, the Azad Hind Government under Netaji Subhash Bose in Berlin deemed these an early indication of success of their strategy of fomenting public rebellion.[15]

It may ultimately be a fruitless question whether it was the powerful common call for resistance among Indians that shattered the spirit and will of the British Raj to continue ruling India, or whether it was the foment of rebellion and resentment among the British Indian Armed Forces.[16][17] What is beyond doubt, however, is that a population of millions had been motivated, as it never had been before, to say ultimately that independence was a non-negotiable goal, and every act of defiance only increased this sentiment. In addition, the British people and the British Army showed unwillingness to back a policy of repression in India and other parts of the Empire, even as their own country lay shattered by the war's ravages.

The INA trials in 1945, the resulting militant movements, and the Bombay mutiny had already shaken the pillar of the Raj in India.[18] By early 1946, all political prisoners had been released. Britain openly adopted a political dialogue with the Indian National Congress to prepare for the eventual transfer of power. On August 15, 1947, India was declared independent.

A young, new generation responded to Gandhi's call. Indians who lived through Quit India formed the first generation of independent Indians, whose trials and tribulations sowed the seeds of the strongest enduring tradition of democracy and freedom in post-colonial Africa and Asia. When considered in the light of the turbulence and sectarianism which surfaced during the Partition of India, this can be termed one of the greatest examples of prudence of humanity.

See also


  1. The Second World War and the Congress, Indian National Congress. Retrieved December 20, 2007.
  2. Wendy Kristianasen. Forgotten armies of the East, English language. www.mondediplo.com. Retrieved December 20, 2007.
  3. Tarak Barkawi. "Culture and Combat in the Colonies. The Indian Army in the Second World War," J Contemp History 41(2): 325–355, 332
  4. D. Fisher and A. Read. The Proudest Day: India's Long Road to Independence. (WW Norton. 1998), 330
  5. Ibid., 329
  6. Banglapedia article on Quit India Movement, Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. Retrieved December 20, 2007.
  7. L. James. Raj; Making and unmaking of British India. (Abacus. 1997), 571
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Dhanjaya Bhat, Writing in The Tribune Sunday, February 12, 2006. Spectrum Suppl.
  12. R.C. Majumdar. Three Phases of India's Struggle for Freedom. (Bombay, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1967), 58-59. There is, however, no basis for the claim that the Civil Disobedience Movement directly led to independence. The campaigns of Gandhi … came to an ignoble end about fourteen years before India achieved independence … During the First World War the Indian revolutionaries sought to take advantage of German help in the shape of war materials to free the country by armed revolt. But the attempt did not succeed. During the Second World War Subhas Bose followed the same method and created the INA. In spite of brilliant planning and initial success, the violent campaigns of Subhas Bose failed … The Battles for India's freedom were also being fought against Britain, though indirectly, by Hitler in Europe and Japan in Asia. None of these scored direct success, but few would deny that it was the cumulative effect of all the three that brought freedom to India. In particular, the revelations made by the INA trial, and the reaction it produced in India, made it quite plain to the British, already exhausted by the war, that they could no longer depend upon the loyalty of the sepoys for maintaining their authority in India. This had probably the greatest influence upon their final decision to quit India.
  13. Bidyut Chakraborty. Local Politics and Indian Nationalism: Midnapur {1919-1944). (Manohar. 1997).
  14. Ibid.
  15. James
  16. Wendy Kristianasen. Forgotten armies of the East, English. Retrieved December 20, 2007.
  17. RIN mutiny gave a jolt to the British, The Tribune. Retrieved December 20, 2007.
  18. Majumdar

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Barkawi, Tarak. 2006. "Culture and Combat in the Colonies: The Indian Army in the Second World War." Journal of Contemporary History 41 (2): 325-355.
  • Chadha, Yogesh. 1997. Rediscovering Gandhi. London: Century. ISBN 0712677313
  • Chakrabarty, Bidyut. 1997. Local politics and Indian nationalism, Midnapur, 1919-1944. New Delhi: Manohar Publishers & Distributors. ISBN 817304158X
  • Chakravarty, Shachi. 2002. Quit India movement, a study. Delhi: New Century Publications. ISBN 8177080253
  • Chopra, Pran Nath, and S. R. Bakshi. 1986. Quit India Movement British secret documents. New Delhi, India: Interprint. ISBN 8185017328
  • Hutchins, Francis G. 1973. India's revolution; Gandhi and the Quit India movement. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674450256
  • James, Lawrence. 1997. Raj: the making and unmaking of British India. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0316610720
  • Majumdar, R. C. 1961. Three phases of India's struggle for freedom. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.
  • Read, Anthony, and David Fisher. 1998. The proudest day India's long road to independence. New York: Norton. ISBN 0393045943
  • Venkataramani, M. S. and B. K. Shrivastava. 1979. Quit India the American response to the 1942 struggle. New Delhi: Vikas. ISBN 0706906934
  • Wolpert, Stanley A. 2006. Shameful flight the last years of the British Empire in India. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195151984

External links

All links retrieved December 7, 2022.

Indian Independence Movement
History: Colonisation - British East India Company - Plassey - Buxar - British India - French India - Portuguese India - More...
Philosophies: Indian nationalism - Swaraj - Gandhism - Satyagraha - Hindu nationalism - Indian Muslim nationalism - Swadeshi - Socialism
Events and movements: Rebellion of 1857 - Partition of Bengal - Revolutionaries - Ghadar Conspiracy - Champaran and Kheda - Jallianwala Bagh Massacre - Non-Cooperation - Flag Satyagraha - Bardoli - 1928 Protests - Nehru Report - Purna Swaraj - Salt Satyagraha - Act of 1935 - Legion Freies Indien - Cripps' mission - Quit India - Indian National Army - Bombay Mutiny
Organisations: Indian National Congress - Ghadar - Home Rule - Khudai Khidmatgar - Swaraj Party - Anushilan Samiti - Azad Hind - More...
Indian leaders: Mangal Pandey - Rani of Jhansi - Bal Gangadhar Tilak - Gopal Krishna Gokhale - Lala Lajpat Rai - Bipin Chandra Pal - Mahatma Gandhi - M. Ali Jinnah - Sardar Patel - Subhash Chandra Bose - Badshah Khan - Jawaharlal Nehru - Maulana Azad - Chandrasekhar Azad - Rajaji - Bhagat Singh - Sarojini Naidu - Purushottam Das Tandon - Tanguturi Prakasam - Alluri Sitaramaraju - More...
British Raj: Robert Clive - James Outram - Dalhousie - Irwin - Linlithgow - Wavell - Stafford Cripps - Mountbatten - More...
Independence: Cabinet Mission - Indian Independence Act - Partition of India - Political integration - Constitution - Republic of India


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