The failure of the Cripps Mission led to unprecedented disturbances throughout India. Japan was advancing towards India, while the British government was unwilling to part with power, the congress was equally emphatic that an effective defence against Japan could be organised only by a popular government. There were differences of opinion among the Indian leaders to the developing situation. Subash Bose from Berlin urged for cooperation with Japan. He broadcasted fiery speeches to invite the Indian public by telling them that,” British difficulties were opportunities for them” to attain their freedom. But the congress High command did not like that the anti-British feelings among the people to develop into pro-Japanese sentiments. ‘
Because it was opposed to both Japanese and British imperialism. The congress President Maulana Azad felt that negotiations should be resumed with Great Britain and full cooperation to the Allied powers be extended if Britain made, an absolute promise of Indian independence after the war and if the American President or the United Nations gave a guarantee that the promise will be fulfilled. Nehru’s view was that the British Government must make a formal declaration of India’s independence at one. The provisional Government then formed should negotiate with Great Britain the terms of cooperation. But Mahatma Gandhi advocated mass action to drive out the British out of India.
In 1940 Gandhiji was opposed to any programme of satyagraha. But this radical change in his thinking was brought about probably by continued apathy of the British authorities and the unmitigated hardship of the people. He felt that after the withdrawal of the British from India the Japanese might not attack and even if they did, free India would be in a better position to deal with the invaders. He, therefore, thought that the British should be called to quit and leave the country in the hands of God. The danger that the country would become a battle ground for the British and the Japanese forces was increasing.
A meeting of the congress working committee was held at Wardha and after a lot of discussion, a resolution was passed on 14 July 1942 which stated that the failure of the Cripps Mission and the attitude of the British government towards India “has resulted in a rapid and widespread increase of ill-will against Britain and a growing satisfaction at the influence of Japanese arms.” It was stated that the congress desired to build up resistance to any aggression on or invasion of India by the Japanese or any foreign power and the congress would change the ill-will against Great Britain into good-will “if India feels the glow of freedom.” It was made clear that “in making the proposal for the withdrawal of the British rule from India, the congress had no desire whatsoever to embarass Great Britain or the Allied powers in their prosecution of the war or in any way to encourage aggression on India or increased pressure on China by the Japanese or any other power associated with the Axis Group.”
It was hoped that this “very reasonable and just proposal1 would be accepted by Great Britain, ‘not only in the interests of India but also that of Britain and of the cause of freedom to which the United Nations proclaimed their adherence.” It was made clear in the resolution that in case India’s appeal was not accepted, the congress would then be reluctantly compelled to utilise all the non-violent strength for the vindication of political rights and liberty.” The final decision was to be taken by the congress at a meeting fixed for 7 August 1942 at Bombay. The congress gave 24 days to the Government to make a favourable response.
A meeting of the All India congress committee was held in Bombay on 7 August 1942 as scheduled. On 8th August the ‘Quit India’ Resolution was passed by overwhelming majority. The Resolution stated, “The immediate ending of the British rule in India is an urgent necessity for India. That a provisional Government will be formed ……… Its primary function must be to defend India …. The provisional government will evolve a scheme for a constituent Assembly ” The congress approved of a mass struggle on non-violent lines, on the widest possible scale, to convince the British that they should quit India immediately, which however, did not mean physical withdrawal of the British from India but simply transfer of power into the hands of the Indians.
The congress handed over the leadership of the movement entirely to Gandhi. Gandhi regarded the impending movement as the last struggle for Indian Independence. He gave a mantra ‘Do or Die’ and asked the people to imprint on their hearts. The AICC made still another appeal to Britain and the UN to respond to the call of freedom and justice. It did not decide to lauch the Quit India Movement at once. In their concluding speech, Gandhi and Azad declared that they would again approach the viceroy and the UN Heads for a honourable settlement. The AICC decided that on 9 August Nehru would explain to the US and the people of India through the Radio the scope and contents of the Quit India Resolution.
But before the Movement could be launched the government had decided to crush it. In the morning of 9 August, Gandhi, Nehru, Azad, Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Acharya Kripalini etc. were arrested. As many as 148 congress leaders were arrested and interned along with their followers. The congress was declared an unlawful association. This step worked as a spark that ignited Quit India Movement. In the absence of leaders and a proper direction, the people spontaneously did what they could or what they thought could paralyse the administration and bring an end of the foreign rule.
All over the country, there were hartals and strikes in factories, schools and colleges and public demonstrations. Angered by repeated firings and lathi-charges, the people took to violence at many places. They attacked the police stations, post offices and railway stations etc. They cut off telegraph and telephone wires and railway lines. Madras and Bengal were the most affected in this respect. British authority disappeared in parts of UP, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal, Maharastra, Andhra and Madras. At some places the people set up parallel Government.
For the first time since 1857 vast number of people rose to challenge by force the British rule in India. Indeed, it amounted to the biggest threat to British rule in India since the Mutiny. Even Lord Linlithgow described the 1942 movement as “by far the most serious rebellion since that of 1857, the gravity and extent of which we have so far concealed from the world for reasons of military security.”
But an unarmed and leaderless mob could be no match to a powerful and organised government having unlimited force at its disposal. The government used all its machinery to suppress the movement. Hundreds of people were arrested and imprisoned. Many were killed by police firing. Mass flogging and even machine gunning of mobs from air took place. The revolutionary leaders went underground for sometime to direct the movement before they were arrested. The socialist party leaders Jai Prakash Narayan, Dr. Ram Monohar Lohia and Mrs. Aruna Asaf Ali organised a violent movement to dislodge the British government. The government was able to suppress the movement.
The movement was an ultimatum to the Britishers to quit India. Its significance lies in the fact that though it failed in achieving its immediate goal, it paved the way for freedom of India. Actually, it was the Quit India Movement, Azad Hind Fauj and the India Naval Mutiny that persuaded the British to quit. It was a grand success in terms of arousal and mobilisation of the masses in anti-British drive. While on the one hand, the movement was instrumental in bringing freedom for India, on the other hand it also provided opportunity to the Muslim League to consolidate its position leading to the partition of India.