The Quit India Movement, 1942

Quit India Movement launched by Congress on 8th August 1942 under the leadership of Gandhiji was a response & reaction to circumstances prevailing in India at that time. The colonial character of the British Rule was the most fundamental reason behind the launching of the Quit India Movement.

Economic hardship was faced by the common masses & intensified Anti-British discontents. Items of common use were being exported to meet the needs of the armed forces. As a result of this, Famine like situation developed in Bengal. The policy of repression & suppression being followed by British rule also forced Gandhiji to give a call for the launching of the Mass Movement. The bitter experience of post-World War I had also tied the hands of an Indian nationalist. Indians had supported the British during World War I wholeheartedly but the reward of this cooperation was received in form of the Rowlatt act & Jalianwalan Bagh massacre.

Indian Nationalists didn’t want to commit the same mistake again. The impending threat of the Japanese invasion left the Indian nation with no choice but to launch an all-out struggle against Britain because Gandhiji knew very well that the presence of the British was inviting Japan as there was no traditional hostility between India & Japan.

Under these circumstances, the Congress working committee in Wardha on 14th July 1942, authorized Gandhi to launch Mass Movement On 8th August 1942, the All India Congress Committee assembled at Gowalia Tank Ground, Mumbai & adopted the Quit India resolution. The movement commenced the next day as spontaneous resolve. 

Background of Quit India Movement

As colonialism advanced, the nationalist movement in India also became more adamant. Since the adoption of Poorna Swaraj in the Lahore resolution in 1929, the British government in India also became more repressive. The difference between the colonial power and its subjects had sharpened. With the failure of successive Round Table Conferences, in the early 1930s, Gandhi launched several civil disobedience movements. On 5th May 1930, Gandhi was arrested for violating the Salt Law.

Gandhi was again arrested after the failure of the Second Round Table Conference as the British feared resistance from the larger Indian mass. There was a growing division of nationalists on the issue of the communal electoral system. Ramsay MacDonald’s Communal Award, 1932, that aimed at creating a separate province of Sindh was a major point of contest between the Indian National Congress and minorities. Till the enactment of the Government of India Act, 1935, several leaders were arrested and jailed. Against the backdrop of the 1929 Lahore resolution, the Indian National Congress under the leadership of Gandhi resolved to give a final call on India’s freedom. The movement was rechristened as the ‘do or die’ quit India movement in 1942.

Reasons for the Launch of the Quit India Movement

The 1942 ‘do or die’ movement was also known as the ‘August Revolution. After a brief lull in the nationalist assertion due to the occurrence of the Second World War, the nationalist in India were determined to give a death blow to foreign rule in India. The early 1940s proved to be a critical phase in the history of India’s national and international politics. It was a phase when the Japanese troops reportedly made progress toward Southeast and South Asian territories.

The Chinese, United States, and British Governments were looking for a mechanism to settle India’s question so that a determined response to Japanese advancement could be made. As a result, in March 1942, the British Prime Minister appointed Sir Stafford Cripps, a member of the War Cabinet, to pursue the British Government’s future road map for India. A major contribution was the proposal for granting Dominion Status to India for the first time. 

The Cripps Mission failed to stop nationalist churning in India. The mission proposed an Indian dominion with an option to remain within the British Commonwealth or to secede from it. The Mission also laid down a provision for a Constituent Assembly to frame a constitution in India. It also laid down provisions for provinces to secede, if desired. The mainstream nationalist became disgruntled with the proposals of the Cripps Mission as it ran short of complete freedom while it at the same time encouraged the prospects of further division of India.

The Congress and Hindu Mahasabha were against any such proposal. The Muslim League opposed the Mission for not recognizing their aspirations of the two-nation theory. The depressed classes disapproved of the Mission for not clearly ensuring their participation in the making of a Constitution in India. The growing division within was a major cause of concern for the Indian National Congress and Gandhi. A determined resistance against British colonialism was expected to unite nationalist politics in India.

In the words of Sumit Sarkar, the summer of 1942 found Gandhi in a strange and uniquely militant mood. Gandhi decried the British rule by issuing a call to ‘leave India to God or to anarchy’. Gandhian critique of colonialism was based on his disapproval of the British regime which he called ‘disciplined anarchy.’

It became a strategic and political necessity to launch a collective anti-colonial movement to redress communal division and colonial atrocities in India. Gandhi thought it was a ripe moment for Indians to take advantage of the failure of the Cripps Mission, the Japanese threat to the British empire, and prolonged dissatisfaction with the British political economy in India. Gandhi initially advised the British to voluntarily withdraw from India to which the British did not pay any heed.

The political scenario in India was tense. The Congress, Muslim League, and depressed classes took their own distinctive positions on the future political course of India. The All-India Congress Committee meeting in Allahabad that lasted between April 29 to 1 May 1942 discussed the political developments in India. It resolved to wage a non-violent resistance in India. Two months later, on 14th July 1942, the Congress Working Committee met again at Wardha which unanimously resolved to entrust Gandhi to lead the mass movement in India.

The mantra of Do or Die

In the following month, on 8th August 1942, the All-India Congress Committee met at Bombay again under the guidance of M.K. Gandhi and resolved to issue a Quit India call to the British regime in India. Gandhi declared ‘I am not going to be satisfied with anything short of complete freedom.’ He further stressed that ‘here is a Mantra (do or die) … we shall either free India or die in the attempt; we shall not live to see the perpetuation of slavery.’

Gandhi termed it a ‘Do or Die’ movement. Just a day after the launching of the Quit India movement, 9th August 1942, most of the Congress leaders including Gandhi were arrested invoking the provisions of the Defence of India Rules. The British could no longer underestimate the gravity of the resistance. The nationalist assertion had almost cornered the British to its end days. The All-India Congress Committee and most of the Provincial Congress Committees were declared unlawful under the provisions of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1908.

The government further prohibited public meetings and assembly of people under rule number 56 of the Defence of India Rules. Thousands were killed and injured in the wake of the Quit India movement. Strikes were called in many places. The British swiftly suppressed many of these demonstrations by mass detentions; more than 100,000 people were imprisoned. The movement went out of control as demonstrations took place in most parts of India. The British regime promulgated harsher laws like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Ordinance in 1942 to subdue the Quit India movement. 

The Quit India Movement was effectively suppressed by 1944. Gandhi was released in 1944 but only ended up with a 21-day fast. Gandhi and Congress never lost sight of India’s complete freedom. As envisioned by Congress and mainly Gandhi, the Quit India movement brought several steps closer to India’s complete independence and self-rule. It not only cornered the British regime but also helped in engaging differences within the nationalist movement in India. It to a large extent united the movement with a mass orientation, and convinced the nationalist leaders, mainly the Congress, to acknowledge the deeply existing communal aspirations in India.

Impact of Quit India Movement

The launching of the Quit India Movement transformed the character of the Anti-British Struggle completely. Instead of just being the National Movement, India’s struggle against British Rule became an all-out war against foreign domination. The movement was launched by Gandhiji with the slogan “do or die”.

Gandhi gave mantra of Do or Die
Gandhi gave the mantra of Do or Die

The movement commenced as spontaneous revolutions. It appeared as if people were waiting on Fringe & one call of Gandhiji’s lack of Indians jumped into Anti-British Struggle immediately. The launching of the Quit India Movement greatly radicalizes the Anti-British Struggle because despite many violent incidents the movement was never called off or suspended by Gandhi. In spite, Gandhiji held the British responsible for these violent incidents.

Gandhian Movement of Struggle Truce Struggle abounded in favor of socialist strategy “sustained struggle.” The Quit India Movement was the first time Pan India movement because for the first time the National Scale struggle was extended to the native state. The whole of India participated in the liberation movement.

The role of women was very important in Quit India Movement. Women leaders like Usha Mehta contributed greatly to the fight against British Rule. Aruna Asaf Ali laid the Anti-British agitation in the streets. Usha Mehta set up secret Congress radio to propagate the nationalist message. The level of nationalist was awakening was carried to a new height.

Even the Bureaucracy & military forces came under influence of the nation. British Rule officials realized that the days of British Rule in India were less. They knew that very soon the power would get transferred into Indian hands. So officers didn’t take any strong measure against National Leaders. The Royal Indian Mutiny of Feb 1946 prevails that the British couldn’t longer rely on the support & loyalty of Indian soldier.

Steel pillars on which structure of the British Indian Empire resting had started crumbling. Hereafter, it was just a matter of time before British Rule would come to end. The Quit India Movement exhibited the maturity of Indian nationalism because, despite the arrest of all prominent National Leaders in the early morning of 9th August, the movement commenced with great intensity. The local leaders jumped to the forefront to lead the anti-British struggle & as a result of this movement left a lasting impact on India’s struggle against British Rule.

Quit India Movement took an aggressive outlook

The activities during the Quit India Movement revealed the great influence of the socialist idea, Gandhi’s speech of moderation was no longer visible an extremely aggressive outlook in December 1942. He was in a strange and militant mood during Quit India Movement.

British Indian administration had got paralyzed completely as a result of launching of Quit India Movement at many places viz. Balia (Uttar Pradesh) Tamluk (Midnapur, Bengal) & Satara, II government were formed by Indian Nationalists. This government ran for many months successfully. It was the pressure of the Quit India Movement that convinced the British that the days of colonial rule on India were over. As a result of this, the British started to plan to leave India immediately after the end of World War II.

The mainstream nationalist movement in the wake of the Quit India Movement was largely centered on non-violence. The 1942 movement brought India much closer complete independence. According to Sumit Sarkar, Gandhi and Congress never lost sight of non-violence as a tool of anti-colonial resistance but Gandhi’s mantra of ‘do or die’ necessitated an urgency amongst the common people.

It successfully generated a militant mood and commitment to the cause of India’s freedom. Acknowledging the widening of nationalist churning in India, Bipan Chandra argues that people began to devise a variety of ways of expressing their anger by protesting colonial offices like police, post offices, courts, and governmental symbols. It was a point of no return for Indians to bargain for freedom. From non-cooperation to civil disobedience and to the Quit India Movement, India moved closer to independence.

The Bengal famine of 1943 convinced Indians to fully get rid of the colonial government as India’s poverty was understandably caused by alien rule. Bipan Chandra further views that ‘the great significance of this historic movement was that it (quit India movement) placed the demand for independence on the immediate agenda of the national movement. In brief, the Quit India Movement broadened the outreach of the nationalist movement. It clearly stated the commitment to complete freedom. 


The heat of the Quit India movement was felt by the British Government. The rejection of the ‘Cripps mission’ was one of the key factors that contributed Gandhi to decide to call for Bharat Chhodo Andolan (Quit India Movement) on August 8, 1942. The movement aimed at transforming the anti-colonial movement into a full-fledged independence movement. Though the movement was suppressed with the arrest and detention of Gandhi and others, the British government was forced to experiment with another high-powered mission to India by British Prime Minister Atlee in 1946.

It was known as the Cabinet Mission Plan which took up the issue of setting up a Constituent Assembly, framing a constitution, and transfer of power. The Indian National Congress demanded a strong center with minimum powers for the provinces. While the Muslims League stood for widening legislative empowerment of the Muslims in India. The granting of dominion status to India did not satisfy the Muslims as it did not entertain the question of a separate dominion for Muslims.

It must be remembered that in 1940 the Muslims League was placed for a separate Pakistan state. Instead of creating two dominions, the post-Quit India movement response of the British proposed the creation of an Indian dominion. A constituent assembly was set up on 9th December 1946. 389 members Constituent Assembly was founded. The Muslim League abstained from the activities of the Constituent Assembly. The Indian Independence Act, of 1947 finally divided India into two dominions – India and Pakistan. 

Previous Year Questions of UPSC Prelims

Ques 1: Which one of the following observations is not true about the Quit India Movement of 1942? (UPSC Prelims 2011)

(a) It was a non-violent movement

(b) It was led by Mahatma Gandhi

(c) It was a spontaneous movement

(d) It did not attract the labor class in general

Answer: Option D

In August 1942, Gandhiji started the ‘Quit India Movement’ and decided to launch a mass civil disobedience movement ‘Do or Die’ to call for an end to British rule in India. Gandhiji was soon imprisoned at Aga Khan Palace in Pune and almost all leaders were arrested. It was basically promoted as a nonviolent and noncooperative movement. Hence, statement 1 is correct.
The movement was also known as India August Movement or Bharat Chodo Andolan. It was launched on August 8, 1942, by Mahatma Gandhi at the Bombay session of the All India Congress Committee (AICC).
The British government responded to the call of Gandhi by arresting all major Congress leaders the very next day. Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, etc. were all arrested. This left the movement in the hands of the younger leaders like Jayaprakash Narayan and Ram Manohar Lohia.
The people responded to Gandhi’s call in a major way. Hence, statement 3 is correct.
The majority of the Quit India Movement was carried by the labor class as they agitated through bandhs and hartals. Hence, statement 4 is not correct.

Ques 2: Quit India Movement was launched in response to: (UPSC Prelims 2013)

(a) Cabinet Mission Plan

(b) Cripps Proposals

(c) Simon Commission Report

(d) Wavell Plan

Answer: Option B

Explanation: The Quit India Movement also known as the ‘August Revolution’ was launched after the failure of the Cripps Mission. On 8 August 1942 at the All-India Congress Committee (AICC) session in Bombay, M K Gandhi launched the ‘Quit India’ movement, during World War II.

This was a civil disobedience movement in response to Mohandas Gandhi’s call for Satyagraha. The first time Indian Tricolor was hoisted was when Aruna Asaf Ali hoisted the Indian Tricolour in the Gowalia Tank Maidan proudly. In a speech entitled, “Do or Die (Karo ya Maro),” given by Mahatma Gandhi.

Quick Questions on Quit India Movement for UPSC Preparation

The Quit India movement was launched on 8th August 1942 by the Congress under the leadership of the Gandhiji. The main demand raised through the movement was about the instant abolition of British Rule in India.

All India Congress launched the Quit India Movement on 8th August 1942 under the leadership of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The demands were made through this movement are as follows:

  • The instant abolition of British control in India.
  • Declaration of India’s will to defend itself against all forms of imperialism and fascism.
  • The establishment of a provisional administration in India following the British withdrawal.
  • Authorizing a movement of civil disobedience against British rule.

The Movement communicated unequivocally that India could not be governed without the backing of Indians. It placed the demand for Total Independence at the forefront of the liberation movement’s objectives.

Mahatama Gandhi gave the slogan of D0 or Die to the nation. The slogan was given to promote Indians to participate in the Quit India Movement launched by Congress under his leadership against the British Government. 

The collapse of the Cripps Mission to India was the initial cause to launch the Quit India Movement. The British presumption of unconditional support from India to the British in World War II was not accepted well by the Indian National Congress. The anti-British sentiments and demand for full independence had acquired support among the masses.

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