Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India Movement

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In March 1942 the war cabinet of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill sent the socialist Sir Richard Stafford Cripps, a close personal friend of Nehru, to New Delhi with a postwar proposal.

The Quit India Movement, or the August Movement, was a Civil Disobedience Movement launched at Gowalia Tank Maidan, at the Bombay session of the All-India Congress Committee by Mahatma Gandhi on 8 August 1942, during World War II, demanding an end to British Rule of India.

Refusing to support the colonial British government’s involvement in World War II, in 1942 the Indian National Congress party launched the campaign known as Quit India.

The Cripps Mission offered Indian politicians full “dominion status” for India after the war’s end, with the additional stipulation, as a concession primarily to the Muslim League, that any province could vote to “opt out” of such a dominion if it preferred to do so.

Declaring that the British presence in India was a provocation to the Japanese, Gandhi called on the British to “quit India” and to leave Indians to deal with the Japanese by nonviolent means, but Gandhi and all members of the Congress Party high command were arrested before the dawn of that movement in August 1942.

Gandhi called for ‘Do or Die’, a voluntary British withdrawal from India. Gandhi told the masses to act as an independent nation and not to follow the orders of the British. The next day, Gandhi, Nehru and many other leaders of the Indian National Congress were arrested by the British Government under the Defence of India Rules.

The Working Committee, the All India Congress Committee and the four Provincial Congress Committees were declared unlawful associations under the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1908.

The arrest of Gandhi and the Congress leaders led to mass demonstrations throughout India. Thousands were killed and injured in the wake of the ‘Quit India’ movement. Strikes were called in many places. The British swiftly suppressed many of these demonstrations by mass detentions; more than 100,000 people were imprisoned.

Workers remained absent en masse and strikes were called. Not all 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 ‘Quit India’ movement, more than anything, united the Indian people against British rule. Although most demonstrations had been suppressed by 1944, upon his release in 1944, Gandhi continued his resistance and went on a 21-day fast.

The Quit India campaign raised the threat of a massive nonviolent struggle and thereby influenced Britain’s decision to grant independence to India. Muslim leaders opposed Quit India. Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s opposition to the call led to large numbers of Muslims cooperating with the British, and enlisting in the army. The Muslim League gained large numbers of new members. Congress members resigned from provincial legislatures, enabling the League to take control in Sind, Bengal and Northwest Frontier.

By the end of the Second World War, Britain’s place in the world had changed dramatically and the demand for independence could no longer be ignored.

One of the achievements of the movement was to keep the Congress party united through all the trials and tribulations that followed. 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 ultimately did not take that step out of fear of intensifying the revolt

The ‘Quit India’ movement, more than anything, united the Indian people against British rule. Although most demonstrations had been suppressed by 1944, upon his release in 1944 Gandhi continued his resistance and went on a 21-day fast. By the end of the Second World War, Britain’s place in the world had changed dramatically and the demand for independence could no longer be ignored.