National Movement During the Second World War
The Second World War broke out on 1 September 1939 when Germany attacked Poland. England entered the War on 3 September and without consulting the Indian leaders, declared India as a partner in its war effort. To begin with, the Congress leaders were eager to support the anti-fascist forces because of their earlier stand of opposition to fascism.
In fact, Gandhiji expressed his distress at Westminster Abbey and the House of Parliament in London being bombed and offered unstinted cooperation to Britain. However, the dilemma before the Congress was how to come to the assistance of Britain while they were under its subjugation. At a Congress Working Committee meeting in Wardha in mid-September 1939, different strands of opinion emerged within the party on the issue of support to the war. Subhas Bose and the Socialists saw the war as an imperialist one.
They wanted Congress to go in for a mass struggle immediately, taking advantage of Britain’s predicament. Jawaharlal Nehru neither wanted India to join the war till she was free nor was in favour of a struggle as advocated by the Socialists. Finally, Nehru’s stand prevailed with Gandhiji’s support.
The resolution censured fascist aggression but explained that India could not come out on the side of the Allies while being unfree. The Congress called for Britain to make true its claims that the war was for freedom by giving India its independence.If this was done, Indians would join the Allies in the war against fascism. The reaction of the Viceroy to this resolution was predictably hostile.
In a statement issued on 17 October 1939, he repeated the line that there was disunity among the Indians and pitted the Muslim League and the Princes against the Congress. All that was offered was a consultative committee without any real powers and talks at the end of the war between all parties to amend the 1935 Act. Gandhiji was dismayed by this response, especially as he had been unconditional in his offer of support to Britain from the beginning of the war.
He charged the government with continuing the old policy of “divide and rule”. He summed up the response thus: “The Congress asked for bread and it has got a stone.” The CWC at its meeting on 23 October endorsed Gandhiji’s reaction by calling upon the Congress ministries to resign, which they immediately did. Subhas Bose, Congress Socialist party leaders, Communists and Royists termed the war as an imperialist one and mobilized opinion for a movement against the British.
Subhas Bose was willing to leave the Congress if need be and set up a parallel organization which would direct the movement. In his view, the mass of Congressmen and the mass of people would come behind his group. However, the Communists and the Congress Socialists disagreed with this assessment and felt Gandhiji’s leadership was essential for a successful movement. Nehru, could see the merits on both sides but eventually went along with Gandhiji.
The year 1940 saw the Muslim League making the demand for Pakistan at its all-India session held in Lahore in March. The League demanded a reconsideration of the 1935 Act on the basis of sovereign states in the Muslim majority areas in the north-west and east of India. This demand was based on the two-nation theory advocated by Jinnah since the 1930s. This theory argued that Hindus and Muslims were not two communities within India but two different nations which must constitute different territorial units.
The League advocated that Congress would institute Hindu raj in independent India and Muslims would be persecuted under it. As such, political and cultural survival of Muslims depended on this demand for an autonomous area. They now launched a campaign of vilification against Congress calling it a Hindu party, and emphasizing the impossibility of co-existence between Hindus and Muslims. This generated anxieties amongst the Muslim masses regarding their future in a free India.
The Muslim League received the support of the British in this demand and once this resolution was adopted, the British were able to constantly refer to differences amongst Indian leaders as the reason why Britain could not give India its independence.
By the end of 1940, Gandhiji was asked to lead the Congress and his decision was to start individual satyagraha. This was to be a protest by chosen individuals against participation in the war. The pledge of the satyagrahi was: “It is wrong to help the British war effort with men or money.” Vinobha Bhave was the first satyagrahi and Nehru the second.
Gandhiji explained to the Viceroy that it was necessary to clarify that the Indian people were not participating in the war effort contrary to British claims. The motive behind offering individual satyagraha was to gear Congress organization for another mass movement. By 15 May 1941, more than 25,000 satyagrahis had been arrested. After their release from prison, Indian leaders were concerned about the security of India. The CWC passed a resolution in December 1941 offering to cooperate in the war effort if Britain promised complete independence after the war.
In March 1942, Stafford Cripps came to India to obtain the cooperation of Indians for the war. This was partly a response to the pressure of the US and Chinese leaders. The Cripps offer promised India Dominion Status and a Constituent Assembly after the war. It conceded the essentials of Pakistan by allowing provinces to have separate agreements with Britain. Defence of the country continued to be under the control of the British, indicating the lack of any desire to part with authority in the present.
Even Nehru who considered Cripps to be a friend was dismayed by the proposals. The offer of Dominion Status rather than full independence was not acceptable to the Congress. Dominion Status would have entailed membership of the British Commonwealth of Nations and allegiance to the British Queen. The Congress also objected to the fact that the representatives of the states would be nominated by the rulers and not elected by the people. Last of all, they opposed the right of the provinces to secede from the Centre because they saw it as an attempt to divide the country.
Quit India Movement
The failure of the Cripps Mission convinced Gandhiji and Nehru that there was no point in looking towards Britain for any substantive political settlement during and after the war.
The reluctance to start a mass movement at a time when Hitler was knocking at Britain’s door was at an end. Gandhiji proposed a resolution for the CWC in July 1942 which called for the British to ‘Quit India’ and for the Indian people to fight the Japanese invasion non-violently.
On 8 August 1942, ‘Quit India’ resolution was passed at the AICC meeting at Gowalia Tank in Bombay.
Gandhiji made it clear that the Congress demand was not for anything specific like ministries or abolition of the salt tax but for nothing less than freedom. He exhorted them to ‘do or die’ in the struggle for independence. He said, “We shall either free India or die in the attempt; we shall not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery.” Gandhiji laid down specific tasks for different groups: soldiers were told to refuse to fire on their own people, officials to declare allegiance to the Congress, Princes to accept sovereignty of their own people, peasants, “who have the courage and are prepared to risk their all”, not to pay land revenue.
The next day on 9 August Congress leaders including Gandhiji, Nehru, Patel and Maulana Azad were arrested. In reaction, lakhs of people reached the scene of the 8 August meeting at Gowalia Tank in Bombay, and clashed with the authorities. The next few days saw hartals, public demonstrations, processions and defiance of the law.
The major storm-centres were UP and Bihar. A mass upsurge took place all over the country. Forms of protest were many: police stations, courts, post offices, railway stations and other symbols of authority were attacked by huge crowds. Satyagrahis offered arrest in large numbers. Crowds numbering a few thousand removed railway tracks while smaller groups disrupted communications.
Strikes in schools and colleges were rampant. Hundreds of news sheets or patrikas mushroomed all over the country. Workers went on strike in Ahmedabad, Bombay, Jamshedpur, Ahmednagar and Poona. Bihar and East UP witnessed a virtual rebellion. The initial message was taken to the villages by students of Banaras Hindu University who hijacked trains and took them inside villages, raised slogans and mobilized people.
Tirhut division in Bihar was cut off from the rest of the country for two weeks. It is estimated that in 10 districts of north and central Bihar, 80 per cent of police stations were captured or temporarily evacuated.
Government repression took the form of imposing collective fines, whipping of suspects, burning of entire villages and even firing and machine-gunning from low-flying aircrafts. Over 10,000 people were killed in police and military firing. Sixty thousand were arrested by the end of 1942. Such brutal and large scale repression was not seen since the revolt of 1857. An underground movement also emerged during this period.
The important leaders of this movement were Achyut Patwardhan, Aruna Asaf Ali, Ram Manohar Lohia, Sucheta Kripalani, Jayaprakash Narayan and others. They were active in different parts of Bombay Presidency, Kerala, Andhra, UP, Bihar and Delhi.
An unusual feature of the movement was the parallel governments which came up in some parts of the country. The most famous was in Ballia in east UP where Chittu Pandey asked the Collector to hand over power to him. However, it lasted only for a week. Another parallel government came up in Tamluk in Midnapore district of Bengal. Known as the Jatiya Sarkar, this lasted almost two years from December 1942 to September 1944.
Satara in Maharashtra saw a parallel government known as the Prati Sarkar with Nana Patil as its leader. Here, peoples’ courts were set up, prohibition was enforced, and village libraries set up. The Prati Sarkar continued till 1945.
Gandhiji was released in May 1944 on medical grounds. On the part of the Congress, at Rajaji’s initiative, Gandhiji entered into talks with Jinnah. Gandhiji gave his support to Rajaji’s proposals, which envisaged setting up of a Union with India and Pakistan forming two regions in it and pursuing a common policy on Defence, Commerce, Communications and other essential purposes.
It also envisaged Muslim League endorsing the demand for independence and cooperating with the Congress in the formation of a provisional government. Further, a Commission would be appointed after the war to demarcate Muslim majority areas in north-west and eastern India. A plebiscite would be held in these areas to determine the issue of separation from India. Gandhiji and Jinnah met in September but this scheme did not commend itself to Jinnah, who insisted on Gandhiji agreeing to the two-nation theory and partition without plebiscite.
Gandhiji now busied himself with constructive work which was to help the reorganization of the Congress party through activities like membership drives, training programmes and fund collection.