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Quit India Movement

Impact On General People In Eastern Bengal

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Dr. Forqan Uddin Ahmed :
History attests that the 'Quit India Movement’ was not welcomed by all Indians. There were sharp differences of opinion among the nationalist leaders and parties about the movement in the face of the National and International crisis of 1942. It was also proved to be controversial within the Congress. For instance, prominent Congress leader Chakravarti Rajagopalchari had quit the Congress over this decision and so did many regional leaders. Even Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad were apprehensive about the movement but accepted it and stuck with Gandhi's leadership.
The Muslim League did not support the 'Quit India Movement' in response to Congress' Opposition to its demand for Pakistan.  Sumit Sarkar observes that the Muslims almost everywhere kept themselves aloof from 1942 and they remained neutral rather than actively hostile or pro-British. But Muslim League was active against the 'Quit India Movement' at least in some places of Gujarat and in Eastern Bengal. The Muslim League was, however, of the view that if the British left India in its current state, the Muslims would be suppressed by Hindu majority. On the other hand, the Communist Party of India, because of their People's War strategy, and to get the ban lifted (at that time it was banned by the British Government) did not support the 'Quit India Movement'.  Another large section of the Indian society, not so well organised politically, the untouchable or 'dalit' being disturbed by the emerging balance of forces within the Congress, did not support this movement. The industrialists, traders and businessmen, in general, were benefited from the World War-II in its first phase. Therefore, they also did not support the 'Quit India Movement'.
The 'Quit India Movement' was the most revolutionary anti-colonial movement under Gandhi's leadership. Then, why Gandhi and the Congress had adopted such revolutionary movement in Congress leadership did not undertake any major movement against the British government in the 1930s. Therefore, the ascendency of the Congress was challenged in numerous ways by the emergence of several new political forces and the resurgence of some older ones. Therefore, they were losing control over many trends within the National Movement which were moving in different directions. In such a situation, as Bhaskar Chakrabarty observes, the Congress, after years of organisational weakness, had come up with 'Quit India Movement' to ascertain its vitality and organisational power although with limited effect in many regions.
In Bengal, the 'Quit India Movement' was intense in Kolkata and in the districts of Medinipur, Hugli, Bankura and Dinajpur but fairly moderate in the eastern districts. It was moderate in the eastern districts firstly because of the steady weakening of the Congress on one hand, and on the other, the ascendency of the Krishak-Praja Party (KPP) since the late 1930s. This political party of Bengal had a considerable influence for a short period of time in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Under the leadership of A.K.Fazlul Huq, this party with its programme of abolition of the Zamindari System, making peasants the absolute owner of land, reduction of rent rate, freeing the indebted peasants from the bondage of mahajan, providing interest-free loan to the peasants, etcetera had won the support of the majority peasantry especially in Eastern Bengal. Through a non-communal approach, Huq was able to win the support from the scheduled caste also. As a result, in the ever first provincial election of Bengal in 1937, KPP got 36 out of 250 seats (33 were from Eastern Bengal) and formed a coalition government with Muslim League. Thus, Eastern Bengal became the stronghold for the KPP. It is to be noted that as the Chief Minister of Bengal, Fazlul Huq was dutiful to maintain law and order in Bengal but at the same time, he was sympathetic towards the Congress demand. Secondly, as it was everywhere in India many Congress men in the Eastern districts did not support this movement. Thirdly, the Muslim League had organized its cadres and supporters against the movement considering it a declaration of war against the Muslims, because the Congress was opposed to the demand for Pakistan. Nevertheless, there were considerable mass mobilisations into the 'Quit India Movement' in many place of Eastern Bengal.
For a number of reasons, the mass mobilisation in the 'Quit India Movement' in Eastern Bengal was moderate. Firstly, the dominant political party of this region, Muslim League was opposed to the movement. Secondly KPP, the other dominant political party was running the provincial government of Bengal in coalition with Muslim League and did not support the 'Quit India Movement'. Thirdly, the Eastern Bengal in general and its South-Eastern parts, in particular, were under continuous threat of Japanese attack since the fall of Burma in March 1942. Against the Japanese threat, the British government had deployed a large number of soldiers and war amenities and maintained tight security in these regions which, perhaps, squeezed the scale of the 'Quit India Movement'.
Fourthly, Master Da Surya Sen and his revolutionary forces were brutally suppressed in the mid-1930s. Surya Sen was a member of Congress but he had his own revolutionary ideas and spirit. By recruiting young teenagers and turning them into revolutionaries he fought fearlessly against the British authority. It is true that his revolutionary activities were confined in Chattogram but the revolutionaries from other parts of Bengal were greatly influenced by his leadership. However, after the suppression of Surya Sen and his comrades, the majority of the revolutionaries of this region had joined the Communist Party of India (CPI) which had opposed to the movement. So, there was a lack of men-on-actions for the Congress in Eastern Bengal. The CPI, on the other hand, was rather fighting the all-people's war against fascism and for world liberation. However, the Quit India agitations in Eastern Bengal came to an end by December 1942.
There were no violent demonstrations by peasants in Eastern Bengal where the population was predominantly Muslims. Women also did not play a conspicuous part in the movement, but a few women were attending meetings, taking part in processions, or picketing school in Dhaka, Barishal, Jashore, Dinajpur, Bogura, Rajshahi and Gaibandha (Rangpur). However, teachers had played a considerable role in encouraging the students. Many teachers had pretended inability to attend classes on account of picketing, thus directly contributing to the closing of schools/colleges and the release of students for the Congress program. Even, at some places, the protests of Muslim students against frequent interferences with their studies were not heeded by the school and college authorities.
No particular information of 'Quit India Movement' in Dhaka University is available in the accessible sources. It is to be noted that campus of Dacca University had become a battlefield hospital during the World War II. The British army had embarked Salimullah Hall, Jagannath Hall and the adjacent areas, and turned them into a hospital for the treatment of the wounded soldiers. A large number of temporary barracks were also made in the open places of Nilkhet for this purpose. Therefore, because of the heavy presence of armies, Dhaka University was, indeed under threat. These could have led to no 'Quit India' agitations in Dhaka University. But to avoid agitations, Dhaka University remained close from 7 September to 25 October.
It is evident in some British secret documents that the Jugantor Party and Anushilan Samiti were active to some extent in the 'Quit India' agitations in the eastern districts. In some cases, the agitations in the eastern districts found to be coordinated by the Jugantor leaders from Kolkata. The Jugantor Party as remarked by its then leader Jyotish Bhaumik, was working underground to create a deadlock in the machinery of British government. They had paid special attention to the coastal districts. Therefore, leaders like Hemanta Tarafdar, Sudhir Ghosh, Bhupendra Mazumdar, Bana Das and Kamala Das Gupta had visited the coastal districts of Bengal. Jyotish Bhaumik desired to organise all the districts of Bengal to carry out acts of sabotage. Jugantor's plan was to recruit and train bands of young men to wage guerrilla warfare for the independence of India.
Sudhir Ghosh succeeded Jyotish Bhaumik as the leader of Jugantor after Jyotish Bhaumik was arrested in October 1942. Sudhir Ghosh was looking for young men who could throw bombs according to his scheme. The plan was to stage bomb outrages against Intelligence Branch and Tippera, on the third week of November. On the night he was arrested,  Sudhir Ghosh intended to meet a member of Dhaka who wanted to show him some explosives he had procured to blow up bridges. However, the 'Quit India' agitation in East Bengal was under government crackdown from the very beginning. Wholesale arrest of young people took place in almost every urban places of Eastern Bengal. Nevertheless, as the movement went on, many people of Eastern Bengal particularly the students took violent part and challenged the colonial rulers.
The Quit India Movement was the most revolutionary independence movement in India after the Great Rebellion of 1857. But for a number of reasons, mass mobilisation into this movement was fairly moderate in Eastern Bengal. Yet, people from many urban places of Eastern Bengal, suppressions and sacrificed many lives for the independence of India. In terms of immediate achievement, this movement failed because of government's crackdown, weak co-ordination and the lack of a precise course of action. But the martyrs of this movement with enormous popular support had forced the British Raj in India to fall back on its coercive foundations. So, the ultimate impact of the 'Quit India Movement' was pivotal towards the freedom of India. However, the most interesting part of this movement was that the leadership was passed on to peasants, rickshaw-pullers, chakka-drivers and illiterate villagers. When the 'dalit' peasants and other poorer classes participated in the 'Quit India Movemen', their motivation was different from those of the educated youths and the middleclass peasants. They were not even organised either by Congress or the Communist Party. But the commonly shared dominant tone was of anti-imperialism that united them and, in the villages; it even overshadowed the existing anti-feudal tendencies. Aruna Asaf Ali has rightly viewed that it is the general people who had shown the way in the Quit India Movement.  

(Dr. Forqan Uddin Ahmed, former Additional Secretary, writer, researcher and columnist)

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