Quit India Movement

Quit India Movement

This article deals with ‘Quit India Movement – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Modern History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here


  • Legendary struggle which also became famous by the name of the ‘August Revolution
  • Common people of the country demonstrated an unparalleled heroism and militancy. Moreover, the repression that they faced was the most brutal that had ever been used against the national movement.
  • Using the justification of the war effort, Government had armed itself with draconian measures & suppressed even basic civil liberties.

Reasons for start of Quit India Movement

  1. Failure of the Cripps Mission in April 1942 made it clear that Britain was unwilling to offer an honorable settlement and a real constitutional advance during War, and that she was determined to continue India’s unwilling partnership in the War efforts
  2. Popular discontent, a product of rising prices and war-time shortages, was gradually mounting. British, who were running a most efficient war economy at home based on sternly egalitarian rationing, made little serious effort in their colony to check a rampant black-market, and profiteering in food  along with stoppage in the supply of Burmese rice that directly led to the terrible famine of 1943 in Bengal. The synchronization of rising prices and shortages with the coming of a large number of Allied troops led to not unfounded fears that the food reserves of the country were being depleted to feed the army.
  3. High-handed government actions such as the commandeering of boats in Bengal and Orissa to prevent their being used by the Japanese had led to considerable anger among the people.
  4. Impact of the manner of the British evacuation from Malaya and Burma. It was common knowledge that the British had evacuated the white residents and generally left the subject people to their fate. It is probably not accidental that east U.P. and west and north Bihar—the region where the ‘August Rebellion’ attained its maximum popular intensity—was also traditionally one of the principal catchments areas for Indian migrant labour going to South East Asia and other parts of the world. Azamgarh district, for instance, used to receive Rs 30 lakhs annually from foreign money orders.
  5. There were sections of the Indian people who had benefited from the war in its first phase, particularly industrialists, traders, and businessmen in general profiting from war contracts. Such gains continued throughout the war—the bulk of the contractors and black marketeers were after all Indians—but for a brief period in 1942 other considerations seem also to have weighed considerably in the calculations of a significant section of the Indian business community. Eg losses incurred in Malaya and Burma had stricken the Banias and Marwaris to the soul . A war which yields no profits, in the circumstances of the Excess Profits Tax, and which is accompanied by the sacrifices experienced at Singapore and Rangoon, is not at all to their tastes. Hence, capitalist elements in the Congress Working Committee wanted to safeguard themselves and their property from the ill effects of a possible Japanese invasion.
  6. One major reason for the leadership of national movement thinking it necessary to launch a struggle was their feeling that the people were becoming demoralized and, that in the event of a Japanese occupation, might not resist at all. In order to build up their capacity to resist Japanese aggression, it was necessary to draw them to of this demoralized state of mind and convince them of their own power.

Features of Quit India Movement

  • Its essence was that British rule in India must end immediately .
  • Movement was started & conducted in haphazard manner in different areas by different persons without any guidance from any central authority . Chaotic character made resort to violence inevitable
  • It covered all provinces except Punjab, NWFP & Sind where it remained symbolic
  • Duration of movement was brief . It was broken by Oct 1942 as far as open activities are concerned but underground activities organised mainly by Jaiprakash Narayan continued till early months of 1943
  • Movement was leaderless & hence directionless since all leaders were arrested even before movement was launched. There was no definite line of action and each Indian who was to contribute to this movement became his own guide
  • Characterised by terrorist activities by educated youth which made communication, police & army establishment their targets
  • Saw installation of parallel governments at various places most notable were Satara in Maharashtra , Tumluk in Midnapur & Talchar in Orissa . However,  they didn’t pose serious threat to British rule
  • Congress Socialists faught strenuously & Jaiprakash Narayan played crucial role
  • Communists played opposite role . They did their best to help  British governments by acting as spies. Through its control over AITUC , Communist Party exerted its utmost influence to keep workers out of  national unrest
  • Hindu Mahasabha , RSS, Muslim League and section of Dalits represented by Ambedkar didn’t participate in Quit India Movement.

All India Pattern

On 7 August, Gandhi had placed the instructions he had drafted before the Working Committee, and in these he had proposed that peasants ‘who have the courage, and are prepared to risk their all’ should refuse to pay the land revenue. In the early hours of 9 August, in a single sweep, all the top leaders of the congress were arrested and taken to unknown destinations. The Government had been preparing for the strike since the outbreak of the War itself, and since 1940 had been ready with an elaborate Revolutionary Movement Ordinance.

Note – Different stance of Gandhi was seen in it. Gandhi declared in his passionate ‘Do or die‘ speech, “if a general  strike becomes a dire necessity, I shall not flinch” . Gandhi,  was prepared for once to counterance political strikes, precisely at a moment when the Communists were bound to keep aloof from them—in very sharp contrast to his attitudes in previous periods of Left-led labour militancy in 1928-29 or the late-1930s and early’ 40s. The Wardha Working Committee resolution had also introduced an unusual note of social radicalism : ‘the princes, “jagirdars”, “zamindars” and propertied and monied classes derive their wealth and property from the workers in the fields and factories and elsewhere, to whom eventually power and authority must belong.’

Whole movement can be seen in three phases

Sumit Sarkar has identified three phases of the Quit India movement.

Phase 1

  • It initially started as an urban revolt, marked by strikes, boycott, hartals , picketing & clashes with police which were quickly suppressed.
  • In Bombay, as soon as the news of arrests spread lakhs of people flocked to Gowalia Tank where a mass meeting had been scheduled and there were clashes with the authorities.  
  • On 10th August ,Delhi and many towns in U.P. and Bihar, including Kanpur, Allahabad, Varanasi and Patna followed suit with hartals, public demonstrations and processions in defiance of the law.
  • In Patna , administration lost control virtually for two days 
  • Government responded by gagging the press. The National Herald and Harijan ceased publication for the entire duration of the struggle, others for shorter periods.
  • Tata steel plant was totally closed down for 12 days from 20 August in which sole labour slogan was they will not resume work until national government was formed
  • In Ahmedabad , textile mill strike lasted for three & half month . Nationalist chronicler later described city as Stalingrad of India
  • Spearheaded by students & urban middle class 

Phase 2

  • Started from end of August which witnessed a major peasant rebellion
  • Focus shifted to countryside
  • Militant students fanned out from centers like  Benaras , Patna & Cuttack
  • Destroyed communication on massive scale such as railway tracks and stations, telegraph wires and poles, attacks on government buildings or any other visible symbol of colonial authority and  finally, the  formation of “national governments” in isolated pockets like Talcher (Orissa) , Satara (MH) , Midnapur , Balia etc  leading a veritable peasant struggle against white authority strongly reminiscent in some ways of 1857 revolt. This brought in severe government repression  forcing the agitation to move underground.
  • Major centers – Northern & Western Bihar, Eastern UP , Midnapur in Bengal & pockets of Maharashtra , Karnataka & Orissa

Phase 3

  • Weakened by brutal repression
  • Movement entered its longest but formidable phase
  • Characterised by
    • Terroristic activities by educated youth directed against communication , police & army installations occasionally rising to level of guerrilla war eg in North Bihar by Jai Prakash (JP)
    • Propaganda activities by using various means, including a clandestine radio station run by hitherto unknown Usha Mehta  from “some where in India”.
  • Part time peasant squads engaged in farming by day &  sabotage activities by night aka Karnatak Method & in some parts parallel governments continued eg Talcher in Orissa

Some regional variations

1 . Punjab & NWFP

  • Unusually quiet with only two cases of police firing & 2500 arrests each
  • Politics in the Punjab was already set hard in the communal mould – Hindu, Muslim or Sikh, while wartime army employment and rising grain-prices kept quiet a peasantry which had developed a prosperous kulak-type upper stratum

2. Madras Presidency

  • Movement was relatively weak except scattered pockets like Guntur & west Godavari in AP & Coimbatore & Ramnad in TN
  • Main reason – Rajagopalachari opposed the movement,  strength of constitutionalism, absence of the socialists, opposition of the Kerala communists, indifference of the non-Brahmans and strong southern challenge to a political campaign dominated by north

3. Provinces

  • Well below the intensity
  • Among big states only Mysore was seriously affected
  • Agitations followed three phase pattern here as well

4. Bihar

  • Greatest intensity in whole country
  • Main reason was during 1930s this region became principle base of Kisan sabha & had bulk of Kisan Sabha cadres and considerable tribal participation too

5. Bombay Presidency

  • Took two forms

Main leaders

  • Brutal and all-out repression succeeded within a period of six or seven weeks in bringing about a cessation of the mass phase of the struggle.
  • But in the meantime, underground networks were being consolidated in with prominent members such as Achyut Patwardhan, Aruna Asaf Ali, Ram Manohar Lohia, Sucheta Kripalani, Chotubhai Puranik, Biju Patnaik, R.P. Goenka and later, after his escape from jail, Jayaprakash Narayan (with his Azad Dastas) had begun to emerge.

Gandhi’s Fast

  • February 1943, striking new development provided a new burst of political activity. Gandhi commenced a fast on’ 10 February in jail. He declared the fast would last for twenty-one days. This was his answer to Government which had been constantly exhorting him to condemn the violence of the people in the Quit India Movement. Gandhi not only refused to condemn the people’s resort to violence but unequivocally held the Government responsible for it. It was the ‘leonine violence’ of the state which had provoked the people, he said.
  • The popular response to the news of the fast was immediate and overwhelming.’ All over the country, there were hartals, demonstrations and strikes. Calcutta and Ahmedabad were particularly active. Prisoners in jails and those outside went on sympathetic fasts. Groups of people secretly reached Poona to offer Satyagraha outside the Aga Khan Palace where Gandhi was being held in detention. Public meetings demanded his release and the Government was bombarded with thousands of letters and telegrams from people from all walks of life — students and youth, men trade and commerce, lawyers, ordinary citizens, and labour organizations. From across the seas, the demand for his release was made by newspapers such as the Manchester Guardian, New Statesmen, Nation, News Chronicle, Chicago Sun, as well as by the British Communist Party, the citizens of London and Manchester, the Women’s International League, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Ceylon State Council.
  • Severest blow to the prestige of the Government was the resignation of the three Indian members of the Viceroy’s Executive Council, M.S. Aney, N.R. Sarkar and H.P. Mody, who had supported the Government in its suppression of the 1942 movement, but were in no interest to be a party to Gandhi’s death.
  • Viceroy and his officials remained unmoved guided by Winston Churchill’s statement to his Cabinet that ‘this is our hour of triumph everywhere in the world & was not the time to crawl before a miserable old man who had always been our enemy
  • Fast had done exactly what it had been intended to do. The public morale was raised, the anti-British feeling heightened, and an opportunity for political activity provided.


  • Marked a new high in terms of popular participation in the national movement and sympathy with the national cause
  • Students from colleges and even schools were the most visible element, especially in the early days of August
  • Women especially college and school girls, played a very important role. Aruna Asaf Ali and Sucheta Kripalani were two major women organizers of the underground movement
  • Peasants of all strata, well-to-do as well as poor, were the heart of the movement especially in East U.P. and Bihar .
  • Government officials, especially those at the lower levels of the police and the administration, were generous in their assistance to the movement. They gave shelter, provided information and helped monetarily.

Note – In general, regions marked by some amount of agricultural progress and the emergence of a prosperous and broad rich peasant upper stratum tended to keep away from Quit India Movement : Punjab, western U.P., Gujarat, the Thanjavur delta in Tamilnadu. The main centres of peasant rebellion in contrast were in eastern India, where per capita agricultural production  have stagnated or even declined.

Was movement spontaneous outburst or an organised rebellion ?

  • The element of spontaneity of 1942 was certainly larger than in the earlier movements, although even in 1919-22, as well as in 1930-31 and 1932, the Congress leadership allowed considerable space  for an initiative and spontaneity.
  • In fact, the whole pattern of the Gandhian mass movements was that the leadership chalked out a broad programme of action and left its implementation at local level to the initiative of the local and grass roots level political activists and the masses.
  • In 1942, even the broad programme had not yet been spelt out clearly since the leadership was yet to formally launch the movement. But, in a way, the degree of spontaneity and popular initiative that was actually exercised had sanctioned by the leadership itself. The resolution passed by the AICC on 8 August 1942 clearly stated: ‘A time may come when it may not be possible to issue instruction or for instructions to reach our people, and when no Congress committees can function. When this happens, every man and woman who is participating in this movement must function for himself or herself within the four corners of the general instructions issued. Every Indian who desires freedom and strives for it must be his own guide.’
  • Apart from this, the Congress had been ideologically, politically and organizationally preparing for the struggle for a long time. Congress Socialists in Poona had been holding training camps for volunteers since June 1942. Gandhi himself, through the Individual Civil Disobedience campaign in 1940-41, and more directly since early 1942, had prepared the people for the coming battle, which he said would be ‘short and swift.

How did use of violence by people in this struggle square with congress policy of non violence

  • There were many who refused to use or sanction violent means and confined themselves to the traditional weaponry of the Congress. But many of those, including many staunch Gandhians, who used ‘violent means’ in 1942 felt that the peculiar circumstances warranted their use.
  • Many maintained that cutting of telegraph wires and the blowing up of bridges was all right as long as human life was not taken.
  • Gandhi refused to condemn the violence of the people because he saw it as a reaction to the much bigger violence of the state.

Significance of Movement

  1. Great significance of this historic movement was that it placed the demand for independence on the immediate agenda of the national movement. After Quit India there could be no retreat. Any future negotiations with the British Government could only be on the manner of the transfer of power.
  2. Due to this movement & violence , Britishers learned that after the war keeping India by force would be expensive proposition. Hence, there was greater readiness to accept a negotiated settlement . In these negotiations, Congress was to figure prominently because they had the potential to mobilise masses on large scale.
  3. D.D. Kosambi pointed out in a brilliant piece of contemporaneous  history-writing in 1946, ‘the glamour of jail and concentration camp served to wipe out the so-so record of the Congress ministries in office, thereby restoring the full popularity of the organisation among the masses.’ Rightist Congress leaders who throughout the late 1930s had urged more and more cooperation with the British and pursued increasingly conservative policies as ministers could now bask in the halo of patriotic self-sacrifice, as much as the Socialists who had done most of the actual fighting in 1942.
  4. Left  was very much weakened . They performed heroic actions, but it was untimely and doomed to failure, given the British control of massive military resources in 1942. Brutal repression also exhausted many peasant bases, built up through years of Gandhian constructive work or radical Kisan Sabha activity. It is significant that Bihar, eastern U.P., and the Maharashtra, Karnatak and Orissa countryside where Quit India Movement was strong played little or no part in the anti-imperialist upsurge of 1945-46

After the war, Congress was dominated by the Right-wingers and they strongly disapproved popular militancy, they wanted to return to a regime of discipline & order rather than confrontation. Hence, Congress drifted swiftly away from the path of agitation & leaned towards Constitutionalism . Thus by way of fighting the Raj, DA Low argued , Congress itself was in the process of becoming Raj.

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