The Revolt of 1942 and the Quit India Movement
The evening after the Quit India Resolution was passed, Gandhiji addressed some memorable words to the Indian people. The words were “Do or Die. We shall either free India or die in the attempt.”
The next morning Gandhiji and all other important Congress leaders were arrested. The Government hoped this would stifle the movement. But the rulers had not correctly gauged the changed mood of the people. Spontaneous acts of protest hartals, strikes, processions followed the arrests. Students played a major role in organizing these demonstrations, which at first were mostly non-violent.
The police replied with more arrests, lathi-charges, and firings. In Bihar, Bombay, the United Provinces, the Central Provinces and Madras, people began attacking symbols of the oppressive foreign government. Post offices were burned, trains were derailed and telegraph lines were properly cut. Factories were closed and the production of war materials was suspended.
With breakdown of communication, parts of the country were cut off. British rule virtually ceased to exist. For a while ‘parallel governments’ functioned in Midnapur in Bengal, Ballia in UP, and in some other towns and districts. Groups like Jugantar, Anushilan, and the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army took advantage of the general chaos to engage in revolutionary activities. Members of the Congress Socialist Party tried to co-ordinate these operations into a regular guerrilla campaign. They did it under the direction of Jayaprakash Narayan.
The government’s ‘leonine violence’ had given rise to a popular violent reaction. As always, this led to more violence. Since the Punjab crisis of 1919, for the first time, the authorities sent soldiers against the civilian population. The British had all the death-dealing machinery of modern warfare at their disposal, and they used it mercilessly. Thousands were killed and wounded in military operations, which included machine-gun firing and bombing from airplanes. The Indian police made tens of thousands of arrests, and resorted to bestial methods to quell the uprising. By the end of September the British were again in control of the country. The last embers of revolt were extinguished in 1943.
There followed two years of ominous silence. During this period Bengal and parts of Orissa, Bihar, and Madras suffered a terrible famine. It was the repetition of a familiar story of the nineteenth century. But at this time in presence of modern transportation, such a tragedy was impossible. The government provided belated relief operations. More than three million men, women and children died in that famine.
The Indian National Army (INA) was originally founded by Capt Mohan Singh in Singapore in September 1942 with Japan’s Indian priosoners . This was along the concept of, and with support of, what was then known as the Indian Independence League, headed by the expatriate nationalist leader Rash Behari Bose.
The idea of a liberation army was revived with the arrival of Subhas Chandra Bose in the Far East in 1943.
In July, at a meeting in Singapore, Rash Behari Bose handed over control of the organisation to Subhas Chandra Bose. Bose was able to reorganise the fledging army and organise massive support among the expatriate Indian population in South-East Asia, who lent their support by both enlisting in the Indian National Army, as well as financially in response Bose’s calls for sacrfice for the national cause. At its height the INA consisted of some 85,000 regular troops, including a separate women’s unit, the Rani of Jhansi Regiment ( named after Rani Lakshmi Bai), which is seen as a first of its kind in Asia.
The INA’s first commitment was in the Japanese thrust towards Eastern Indian frontiers of Manipur. On the Indian mainland, an Indian Tricolour, modeled after that of the Indian National Congress, was raised for the first time in the town in Moirang, in Manipur. Bose had hoped that large numbers of soldiers would desert from the Indian Army when they would discover that INA soldiers were attacking British India from the outside. However, this did not materialise on a sufficient scale.
Instead, as the war situation worsened for the Japanese, troops began to desert from the INA. At the same time Japanese funding for the army diminished, and Bose was forced to raise taxes on the Indian populations of Malaysia and Singapore.