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OCTOBER 25, 2012

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The Cripps failure in 1942 made clear that Britain was unwilling to offer an honourable settlement. This convinced even the hardcore moderates that the time was now ripe for the final struggle. Therefore, the Wardha Congress meeting decided to launch a struggle for  independence. The historic August 8 meeting at Gowalia Tank in Bombay was unprecedented in the popular enthusiasm it generated. Huge crowds waited outside as the leaders deliberated. Gandhiji’s speech, delivered in his usual, serious style, had an electrifying impact. The famous slogan of "Do or Die" was given by Gandhiji and it became a rallying cry for the Quit India Movement, which began with the arrest of all prominent leaders on 9th August, 1942.



The Quit India Movement had begun.






The movement included all possible forms of civil disobedience and non-cooperation. The sudden attack by the government produced an instantaneous reaction among the people. Major towns observed hartals, had public demonstrations and processions in defiance of the government orders to crush the movement. The brutal, all-round repression succeeded within six months in halting the mass phase of the movemen. Meanwhile, underground networks were being consolidated in various parts of India. An all-India underground network led by Achyut Patwardhan, Aruna Asaf Ali, Sucheta Kriplani, Biju Patnaik, Ram Manohar Lohia, RP Goenka and Jaiprakash Narain emerged. They provided a line of command to the workers and also collected money and materials and distributed them among workers. Lohia regularly broadcast on the underground Congress Radio to disseminate his messages.



The outbreak of the movement also gave a fillip to the Indian National Army, which commanded by Subhas Bose in 1943 in Singapore. He set up the Provisional Government of Free India in October, 1943 there. Bose set up the headquarters in Rangoon and began to reorganize the INA (Azad Hind Fauz). In 1944, the INA decided to wage an open war on the British in India with the help of the Japanese army. But the discriminatory treatment given by the Japanese demoralized the INA men. The subsequent capture of their most prominent commanders Prem Kumar Sehgal, Shah Nawaz and Gurdial Dhillon in the NEFA sector, quashed all hopes of liberating India. All the three were tried in the famous INA Red Fort Trials in 1945, which generated unprecedented sympathy for them, and considering this, they were let off by the British despite having been found guilty of sedition.



The end of World War II marked a dramatic change. From then till the dawn of freedom in 1947, the political stage saw a spectrum of popular mass participation. Expectant and restless people greeted the Congress leaders on their release from jail. The Labour Party, which had assumed power in England after the war was in hurry to settle the Indian problem. As a result, the ban on Congress was lifted and elections declared. The growing nationalist sentiment which peaked around the INA trials developed into violent confrontation with the authority in 1945-46. There were two major upsurges, one in Calcutta over the INA trials and the other was the strike by the Royal Indian Navy Ratings (RIN).




The growing nationalist upsurge and many other factors ---- demoralized army, bureaucracy and police, growing international pressure ---- compelled the British to announce the Cabinet Mission in 1946, charged with evolving a scheme for transfer of power to India. The scheme given by the mission did not mention a separate Pakistan, but the plan given was misinterpreted by both the Congress and the Muslim League in their own ways. Jinnah was firmly determined on a separate Pakistan. With the battle cry Lekar Rahenge Pakistan, the Muslim communal groups provoked communal frenzy in Calcutta on 16th August, 1946. The Hindu communal groups retaliated in equal measure and the toll was 5000 lives. The British were worried that they had lost control over monster they had helped unleash.




The League never joined the Interim Government headed by JL Nehru, as per the mission plan. Earlier, it had refused to join the Constituent Assembly also. It was almost certain that Jinnah would not be content with anything less than a separate Pakistan.




The British Premier Clement Attlee tried to dresolve the crisis by announcing in the British Parliament that the British had decided to withdraw from India on 30th June, 1948. Lord Mountbatten was appointed the new Viceroy, who had the task of winding up the British Raj and transferring power. The anticipation of freedom dispelled the air of gloom in India. The statement was enthusiastically received in the Congress circles. The partition of the country was implied in the condition that if the Constituent Assembly was not fully representative (i.e. if the Muslim majority provinces did not join it), power would be transferred to more than one Central Government. Mountbatten had a clear directive from His Majesty’s Government to explore all possibilities of unity and division of India till October, 1947 after which he had to advise on the manner of transfer of power.




The Mountbatten Plan, as the 3rd June, 1948 Plan came to be known, sought to make an early transfer of power on the basis of Dominion Status to two successor states --- India and Pakistan. However, India woke up to the dawn of freedom much earlier on 15th August, 1947 and Pakistan a day earlier. The rationale for the early transfer of power was securing the Congress agreement to Dominion Status. Another benefit was that the British could escape the responsibility for the worsening communal situation. The Punjab massacres that accompanied the Partition were the final indictment of the British policy. The Boundary Commission, chaired by Cyril Radcliffe could not give its decision in such a short time. The result was all-round confusion and chaos. In fact, the people in India had been given the choice of moving either to Pakistan or staying back. In the migration that followed, massacres of the worst kind were perpetrated by the communal elements on both sides. All this could have been avoided, had the British acted with some foresight and statesmanship.



On the day of the Partition, Gandhiji was in Naokhali, pacifying crowds, alleviating fears and dispelling myths. Despite the tragic partition, at last India had won freedom from the clutches of a tyrannical ruler and the people raptly listened to Nehru's electrifying Tryst With Destiny.... speech on the intervening night of 14th and 15th August, "Long, long ago, we had made a tryst with destiny. Today the time has come when we shall reaffirm that pledge not partially or wholly, but very substantially. Today, when the while world sleeps, India shall wake to freedom……." Despite the tragedy of Partition, the people came out on streets, and danced in sheer joy and gay abandon.





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