The August Kranti Maidan in Mumbai was the venue of one of the most historic moments in the story of Modern India, for it was here that Mahatma Gandhi gave his clarion call the “do or die” while launching the Quit India Movement on 8th August 1942.
Did You Know that the Indian National Congress, which passed the Quit India Resolution on this occasion, was forced to launch this massive act of defiance out of a sense of betrayal and failed negotiations with the British?
The Congress had formed governments in 7 of the 11 provinces in British India, in the elections of 1937. Since the Congress showed an ability to govern, this victory was considered a step towards independence from the colonial British.
But Britain threw a wrench into the works when the Second World War broke out in 1939. Without consulting India, Viceroy of India, Lord Linlithgow, declared India, alongside Britain, at war with Hitler's Germany.
The Congress and other nationalist leaders were outraged, and the Congress ministries in the provinces resigned. They said they would only support the war effort only if Britain promised India independence.
Linlithgow responded with a threat of his own. If the Congress didn’t support Britain, he said Britain would simply turn to, and empower, the Muslim League. The Congress had to back down. But in the face of rising discontent in India, the Cripps Mission was sent to India.
The Cripps Mission, which arrived in March 1942, was to discuss a change in India’s political status. Cripps offered only Dominion status, not full independence. Both the Congress and the Muslim League rejected the proposal.
The Congress launched the Quit India Movement in Bombay, where Gandhi announced his mantra of “do or die”. He said: “Here is a mantra, a short one, that I give to you. You may imprint it on your hearts and let every breath of yours give expression to it. The mantra is ‘Do or Die’. We shall either free India or die in the attempt; we shall not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery.” The atmosphere at the maidan was electric.
The next day, all senior leaders including Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Abul Kalam Azad were arrested on charges of sedition. They were jailed for 3 years without a trial, till the end of the Second World War, in 1945.
But Indians had embraced Gandhi’s message of non-cooperation, and people across the country took to the streets and protested vigorously. Soon, the crowds turned violent and the British arrested over 100,000 demonstrators. The movement was suppressed by 1944.
The Quit India Movement may not have achieved independence immediately but it convinced the British that the demand for freedom could no longer be ignored. The movement was the final push and a war-weary Britain had to give in.
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