The Spirit of the Quit India Movement - Lohia’s Perception
‘We want to be free, and we shall be free’
On August 9 falls the 77th anniversary of the Quit India Movement, famously known as the August Revolution and an important milestone in the history of India's freedom.
As per a letter written by Ram Manohar Lohia to the Viceroy, Linlithgow, the British government killed fifty thousand patriots and injured many times more during the August Revolution.
On the occasion of the movement’s 75th anniversary two years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a call for reviving the spirit of the Quit India Movement by coining a new slogan, Karenge aur karke rahenge – We will do it and we will accomplish it – in place of Gandhi's slogan Karo ya maro – Do or Die.
PM Modi’s slogan is a sort of exhortation to achieve the goal of building a ‘New India’ by the year 2022. That is when India will complete 75 years as an independent nation-state.
But the Prime Minister’s call is utterly misaligned with the basic spirit which underlay the Quit India movement. It is hard to link that spirit with the idea that lies behind Prime Minister's New India, which is a bizarre, unmindful effort to build a stagnant mentality, otherwise known as ‘Manuvad’, fit into a borrowed and poor digital setup.
This New India is being built at the cost of the Constitution, and the sovereignty and resources of the republic. This Constitution, sovereignty and public resources were achieved with independence from the colonial power, of which the Quit India Movement was the gateway. To build a New India at their cost, can only be possible when the spirit of freedom is reduced to the spirit of slavery.
In the PM’s modified call the obvious meaning can be read that the time has come to correct the ‘incorrect’ spirit of the freedom struggle. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was farsighted enough, as they opposed the struggle for independence inspired by an incorrect spirit!
The communists of India would be called honest because they had opposed the Quit India Movement and at the same time had no concern with its spirit or of the people and leaders who participated in it. Although the Communist Party of India later apologised for its role in the Quit India Movement, even today most communist leaders and intellectuals can be found defending their oppositional role during the Quit India Movement on the basis of international conditions.
They consider the independence of India in 1947 to be a consequence of international conditions, not the result of the Indian people’s struggle and sacrifices.
Lohia in his analysis of the freedom movement uses the phrase ‘will of freedom’. To him the Quit India Movement conveyed the fact that even if the leaders of the country were directed by the will of freedom, the real strength to achieve it decisively resided in the public. In this nationwide movement a large number of people participated lending the movement witnessed unprecedented courage and endurance.
Lohia wrote quoting Leon Trotsky that ‘barely one percent of the Russian population took part in the Russian Revolution. In our Revolution no less than 20% of our people took part.’
The Quit India resolution was passed on August 8, 1942. Aruna Asaf Ali hoisted the tricolour on the Gowalia Tank grounds, and on the night of August 9 senior leaders of the Congress were arrested. Due to the arrests, an action plan of the movement could not be formulated. The relatively young leadership of the Congress Socialist Party was active, but it had to work underground.
In such a situation, Jai Prakash Narayan wrote two long letters from unknown places to provide guidance and encouragement to the revolutionaries and to explain the character and method of the movement. It can be said that the public itself was the leader during the Quit India Movement.
Lohia wrote on its twenty-fifth anniversary that “9th August was and will remain a people’s event. 15th August was a state event… 9th August 1942 expressed the will of the people – we want to be free, and we shall be free. For the first time after a long period in our history, crores of people expressed their desire to be free… Anyhow, this is the 25th anniversary of 9th August 1942. It should be celebrated well. Its 50th anniversary perhaps will be celebrated in such a way that 15th August will be forgotten, and even 26th of January will either be foreshadowed or would equal it.”
Lohia did not live to see the fiftieth anniversary of the August Revolution. His belief that people will listen to him after his death has proven to be a delusion.
The fiftieth anniversary of the August Revolution came in the wake of the New Economic Policies which had already been introduced in the year 1991. These policies opened the country’s doors to the domestic and foreign multinationals for loot; and a five hundred year old mosque was demolished in the name of Lord Rama.
Since then, due to the nexus of neo-liberalism and communalism, the ruling class of India has become a bitter enemy of the Indian people, who had paved the way for freedom while facing the suppression of imperialist rulers in the Quit India Movement.
The inception of the PM’s much glorified New India took place in 1991-1992. In the last three decades, sovereignty and resources from the country, and constitutional rights from the public have been snatched. The spirit of the freedom struggle, including that of the Quit India Movement, is being used, by its propagators, in the direction of building this very New India.
‘Lohia ke log’ (Lohia’s men) too are involved in this venture. By the time it is the hundredth anniversary of the Quit India Movement, the picture of New India will have become quite certain.
In order to stop this future from becoming a reality, a new resolution must be taken with the aid of Lohia’s words: “We want to be free, and we shall be free” from New India.
Further taking a clue from Lohia’s perception of the spirit of the Quit India Movement, it can be said that the people of India will bring to life this revolution to regain India, just as they did on August 9, 1942.
Prem Singh teaches Hindi at Delhi University and is former president of the Socialist Party.