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Quit India

gandhi

Bombay, 8 August 1942

The speech which Gandhi delivered at the commencement of the Quit India Movement on 8th August, 1942, was one of the most important in his long political career. After 1942 Gandhi’s iron grip on the­ Congress party loosened and in subsequent years his role was peripheral.

This movement also proved to be the bloodiest. In some parts of the country, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, people lost all control. They burned hundreds of railway stations and post offices, attacked police stations and damaged other government property. The government suppressed the uprising using coercive measures. There are different estimates of persons killed and wounded but certainly the number ran into hundreds. The movement died soon after. Following is Gandhi’s speech at the AICC meeting in Bombay. (Translated from Hindi.)

There was a time when every Musalman claimed the whole of India as his motherland. During the years that the Ali brothers were with me, the assumption underlying their talks and discussions was that India belonged as much to the Musalmans as to the Hindus. I can testify to the fact that this was their innermost conviction and not a mask; I lived with them for years. How then is it that I have now come to be regarded as so evil and detestable?

Where has all that dignity, that nobility of spirit, disappeared now? I should ask all Musalmans, including Qaid-e-Azam Jinnah, to recall those glorious days and to find out what has brought us to the present impasse. Qaid-e-Azam Jinnah himself was at one time a Congressman.

If today the Congress has incurred his wrath, it is because suspicion has entered his heart. May God bless him with a long life, but when I am gone, he will realize and admit that I had no designs on the Musalmans and that I had never ever betrayed their interests.

The Qaid-e-Azam says that he is compelled to say bitter things and cannot help giving expression to his thoughts and his feelings. Similarly I would say: I consider myself a friend of the Musalmans. Why should I then not give expression to the things nearest to my heart, even at the cost of displeasing them? How can I conceal my innermost thoughts from them? I should congratulate the Qaid-e-Azam on his frankness in giving expression to his thoughts and feelings, even if they sound bitter to those who hear. But even so why should the Musalmans sitting here be reviled, if they do not see eye to eye with him? If millions of Musalmans are with you, can you not afford to ignore the handful of Musalmans who may appear to be misguided? Why should one with the following of several millions be afraid of a majority community, or of the minority being swamped by the majority?

I, therefore, want freedom immediately, this very night, before dawn, if it can be had. Freedom now cannot wait for the realization of communal unity. If that unity is not achieved, sacrifices necessary for it will have to be much greater than would have otherwise sufficed. But the Congress must win freedom or be wiped out in the effort. Do not forget that the freedom which the Congress is struggling to achieve will not be for the Congressmen alone but for all the forty crores of the Indian people. The Congressmen must forever remain humble servants of the people.

The Qaid-e-Azam has said that the Muslim League is prepared to take over the rule from the Britishers if they are prepared to hand it over to them as the British took over the Empire from the hands of the Muslims. Millions of Musalmans in this country come from Hindu stock. How can their homeland be any other than India? My eldest son embraced Islam some years back. What would his homeland be – Porbander or Punjab? I ask the Musalmans: ‘If India is not your homeland, what other country do you belong to? In what separate homeland would you put my son who embraced Islam?’ As I said earlier, many greater sacrifices will have to be made this time in the wake of our struggle because of the opposition from the Muslim League and from the English.

Nevertheless, the actual struggle does not commence this moment. You have only placed all your powers in my hands. I will now wait upon the viceroy and plead with him for the acceptance of the Congress demand. That process is likely to take two or three weeks. What would you do in the meanwhile? What is the programme for this interim period in which all can participate? As you know, the spinning-wheel is the first thing that occurs to me. I made the same answer to the Maulana. He would have none of it, though he understood its import later. The fourteen-fold constructive programme is, of course, there for you to carry out. What more should you do?

I will tell you. Everyone of you should, from this moment onwards, consider yourself a free man or woman, and act as if you are free and are no longer under the heel of this imperialism. You may take it from me that I am not going to strike a bargain with the viceroy for ministries and the like. I am not going to be satisfied with anything short of complete freedom. He may propose the abolition of the salt tax, the drink evil, etc., but I will take ‘Nothing less than freedom’.

Here is a mantra, a short one, that I give you. You may imprint on your hearts and let every breath of yours give expression to it. The mantra is ‘Do or Die.’ We shall either free India or die in the attempt. We shall not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery. Every true Congressman or (Congresswoman) will join the struggle with an inflexible determination not to remain alive to see the country in bondage and slavery. Let that be your pledge. Keep jails out of your mind. If the government lets me be free, I will spare you the trouble of filling the jails. I will not put the strain of maintaining a large number of prisoners on the government at a time when it is in trouble. Let every man and woman live every moment of his or her life hereafter in the consciousness that he or she eats or lives for achieving freedom and will die, if need be, to attain that goal. Take a pledge with God and your own conscience as witness, that you will no longer rest till freedom is achieved and will be prepared to lay down your lives in the attempt to achieve it. He who loses his life will gain it; he who will seek to save it shall lose it. Freedom is not for the coward or the faint-hearted.

M.K.Gandhi