History is full of contradictions or different interpretations of the same event. The Jain philosophy has coined a word for different interpretations of an event or issue. That is called “Anekantvad”. The Indian history has many shades or interpretations as per the convenience of the rulers or those who interpret. Hence, we need to base our presentations on the basis of the facts and documentation which may lead to near neutral analysis of the facts. The Quit India movement of August 1942 had a lasting impact on the Indian Freedom movement; leading the British to vacate “Partitioned India” in August 1947. Some years back Dr. K. K. Chaudhari, the Executive Editor and Secretary, Gazetteers Department of Maharashtra Government and an eminent historian, literary shocked me by showing a copy of “The Times of India” dated July 1942 which had headlined: “Nehru opposes the Quit India Resolution”. Unfortunately, Dr. Chaudhari could not incorporate the photocopy of it in his well-researched book “Quit India Revolution : The Ethos of Its Central Direction” to avoid controversy. Nehru was not just the only Indian leader to oppose the Quit India resolution but since he was so close to Mahatma Gandhi, his opposition was considered significant. Yusuf Meherally, the founder of Congress Socialist Party(1934) and a Gujarati Mayor of Bombay, coined both the slogans, “Quit India”(1942) and “Simon Commission Go Back”(1928). He was elected Mayor of Bombay while being imprisoned in Yerawada Central Jail in 1942.
When Japan was knocking at the doors of India by penetrating into Imphal, Sir Stafford Cripps, a prominent Labour member of the British War Cabinet, came to India in March 1942 to seek India’s cooperation to fight the war. Despite offering certain proposals to negotiate an agreement with Indian leaders, Cripps Mission failed, leading to Gandhiji’s call for the Quit India. Dr. Chaudhari describes the chronology of the events and meetings: Sir Cripps was a friend of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. He invited Congress President Maulana Azad to discuss the package deal on 23 March 1942. Azad argued that with Defence in British hands, it would be impossible for him to go to the people to tell them to join Army. Moreover, suppose that Indians in Subhash Babu’s INA (50,000 Indian prisoners of war in Japan- conquered territories) invaded India, how could Congress ask Indians to oppose them when they were infact coming only to drive away the British? Nehru argued on the same lines, his main theme being, “ a National Government without Defence is nothing”. Sardar Patel and Dr. Rajendra Prasad were totally opposed to the proposals in principles and practice, while Gandhiji “found nothing good at all in them”. The Mahatma asked Cripps: “ Why did you come if this is what you have to offer? If this is your entire proposal to India, I would advise you to take the next plane home.” While not a word of encouragement was forthcoming from the Viceroy, many in the Viceregal Lodge gave a cold shoulder to Cripps and
opposed even what Cripps had offered. Dr. Chaudhari records : “If the Japanese reach India, there was every chance that Master Tara Singh (Akali Dal) and V.D. Savarkar ( Hindu Mahasabha)would lead their followers into the enemy’s camp.”
Shortly after the Cripps debacle, Mahatma Gandhi announced his demand “British Must Go”. The Congress Working Committee was to meet at Allahabad at the end of April. Mahatma sent a draft resolution demanding British withdrawal from India and sent it through Mira Ben, his disciple. To Nehru he wrote, “If you do not like my resolution, I really cannot insist. The time has come when each of us must choose his own course.” Even after the Allahabad resolution of the Congress, which was much diluted by Nehru, Maulana and Rajgopalachari, there were still dissenting voices. Hence, Gandhiji had to ask for Rajaji’s resignation from the Congress as well as from the Madras Assembly to which he had been elected on a Congress ticket. “Even on eve of adopting the Quit India resolution at Wardha (in July 1942), Gandhiji found that Nehru and Maulana had drifted apart from him. Gandhiji indeed expressed “a suspicion that Maulana Saheb does not entirely approve of the proposed action…Therefore I suggest that the Maulana should relinquish presidentship but remain in the Committee ; the Committee should elect an interim President and all should proceed unitedly.” In the end, Maulana Azad fell in line and continued to serve as President. The Working Committee authorized Mahatma Gandhi to take charge of the movement and to lead it. Gandhiji had the support of Sardar Patel who stood by him like a rock.
When Mahatma Gandhi gave a call for Quit India in August 1942, most of the Congress leaders were arrested and were imprisoned at Pune, Ahmednagar or Naini. Even Mrs. Indira Gandhi who returned after her honeymoon was arrested where as her husband, Pheroz Gandhi, preferred to go underground and run the activity in support of the call given by Gandhiji. When most of the Congress leaders were arrested, the Hindu Mahasabha leaders including Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee were holding ministerial posts with the Muslim Leaguers! In Bengal and Sindh , there were coalition ministries of Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha. The Moderates were eager to walk into the Viceroy’s Executive Council. The list comprised of M.R.Jaykar, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, B.Shiva Rao, Sir Chimanlal Setalvad, Sir Purshottam Thakurdas, N.M. Joshi, Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer, etc. Sir Chimanlal arged that, if India would not cooperate with the British, there was sure to be Japanistan and Kabrastan of all Indian hopes of independence. Sir C.P. wanted to make India safe for the British. The Depressed Castes leader, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, was feeling neglected but was invited to join the Viceroy’s Executive Council in July 1942. “The English supplement of the ‘Vande Mataram’ of 5 October 1942 accused Jamnadas Mehta of getting Rs.13,000 from the Government Treasury every month, along with M.N.Roy, for pro-government propaganda by the Indian Labour Federation.” Mohammad Ali Jinnah was jubilant, but not all Muslim leaders felt so. Asaf Ali was imprisoned. Aruna Asaf Ali hoisted the Indian National Congress flag at Gowalia Tank Maidan (now known as August Kranti Maidan). Even the Indian Christians and the Parsees were in forefront in supporting the Congress in 1942.Dr.Chaudhari notes: “In the summer of 1942, history was moving very fast, and Mahatma Gandhi was ordaining the end of a mighty Empire. He was aware that anarchy might lead to an internecine warfare for a time or to an unrestricted sabotage. Yet it was a case for Swaraj or death.”
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( The writer is a Socio-political Historian. E-mail : [email protected] )