On August 5, 2020 Prime Minister of India drew parallel between movement for Ram temple in Ayodhya and freedom struggle. He did so just a few days before the 89th anniversary of the Quit India movement. It was indeed painful to see a Prime Minister who has taken oath to uphold the Constitution and values of freedom struggle negating the same freedom struggle by equating it with Ram Temple movement which had nothing to with values of freedom struggle which liberated us from British rule and celebrated inclusive nationalism. In the annals of history numerous movements have been launched for unchaining humanity from bondage and exploitation. The Quit India movement stands out as extraordinary, revolutionary and unparalleled for the employment of non-violence for achieving independence of India and establishing democracy in our country. Its intensity and massive scale covering whole of India and mobilising Indians of all faiths, languages and economic strata under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi brought out its significance for the whole humanity more than the American Revolution and French Revolution.
It was the last and decisive struggle in the annals of our freedom movement spearheaded by Gandhiji and very authentically represented the Idea of India affirming the secular credentials of our society. It was anchored on composite culture, inclusive politics and shared values of ancient civilization. It represented a political persuasion flagging democratic method of nation building without trampling upon the rights of people. Enlisting the participation of vast masses of ordinary men and women and particularly the students, it affirmed creative nationalism underling its creative, constructive, and liberal dimensions. It negated nationalism defined by one religion shaped by forces representing bigotry and communalism. It was the grand culmination of the first war of independence of 1857 which saw numerous immortal heroes and heroines laying down their lives for the cause of India and leaving behind an exemplary legacy of service, inclusive patriotism and sacrifice.
Some of the prominent names such as Mangal Pandy, Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi and the rallying figure of the first war of independence Bahadur Shah Jafar and their sacrifices offer us invaluable lessons to uphold secularism, shared values, pluralism, diversity and above all pan- Indian nationalism which is expansive in its scope and not restricted to one culture or faith.
On this occasion when we humbly recall the uplifting and wholesome spirit of Quit India movement we gratefully acclaim the exemplary freedom fighters such as Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev, Ashfaqulla Khan and other martyrs whose vision and values have shaped our struggle for independence and immensely inspired our nation building process. Bhagat Singh and Mahatma Gandhi faced sedition charges because of their nationalism which was beyond one culture and one particular identity. Their legacy is now coming under severe pressure and in fact facing serious assaults by those forces who invoke narrow nationalism and constrict it to such an extent that the Idea of India represented so splendidly by freedom fighters is being endangered in a calculated manner. A plain reading of Bhagat Singh's "Why I am an Atheist" reveals his idea of India which is in sharp contrast to the proponents and advocates of cultural nationalism which is exclusive and which rejects the other.
The spirit of our freedom movement means the spirit of Jana Gana, the ordinary people of India- men, women, villagers, town and city dwellers, literates, illiterates, rich and poor, poets and writers and every one irrespective of faith pursued, language spoken or region inhabited or profession followed. Such vast masses could be united together and could participate in freedom struggle because of non-violence. Had there been violent method employed then only the able bodied males could have participated. It has been rightly said that because of non-violence the freedom movement of India under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi heralded the age of common people in human history and gave strength and moral momentum to their movement. It is because of non-violence that we laid the firm foundations of democracy which rests on the strength of ordinary people of India.
As I said in this vast Jana Gana we had poets, artists and many other stalwarts from the world of ideas and creativity and their contributions for our freedom struggle were immense.
Quit India Movement and Press Freedom
A month before the Quit India movement was started, Mahatma Gandhi launched the Individual Civil Disobedience or Individual Satyagraha to protest against the measures taken by the British Government against press and media which wrote against the British decision to involve India in the second World War without the consent of the people of our country. When Gandhiji wrote about non-violence the British rulers took objection to it and said that when war was on, none could go against it by reflecting on non-violence. So the individual civil disobedience was launched to protect press freedom and Mahatma Gandhi put it by boldly writing "The issue on which individual civil disobedience has been started is undoubtedly that of free speech and free pen. But at the end the issue is "Independent India". In fact Gandhiji described free speech and free pen as the foundation of Swaraj. On the 79th anniversary of the Quit India movement we are witnessing the diabolical threat and danger posed to the free speech and free press by series of measures taken by the Union Government. Now media is gaged by punitive measures in case they say something against the Government. Even sedition charges are hurled against them. Individual Satyagraha was the only Satyagraha started launched by Gandhi to defend press freedom which is systematically demolished and destroyed now. Is the Government upholding the spirit of Quit India movement or deliberately destroying it? The people who never participated in freedom struggle and who sided with the Britishers are now going against the noble values of that epoch making struggle the ethos of which need to be upheld as per the mandate of the Fundamental Duties enshrined in the Constitution to uphold the values of freedom movement.
The broad and creative nationalism which took shape during freedom struggle is now being revised to make it narrow by anchoring it one culture and identity. The Prime Minister Shri Modi even made a preposterous claim on 5th August 2020 that movement for construction of Ram Temple in Ayodhya was equivalent to freedom struggle. He is further from truth. While freedom struggle was the struggle of all Indians irrespective of faith, language and caste movement for Ram Temple represented only Hindutva and culminated in the destruction of Babri Mosque, indicted by the Supreme Court as criminal activity.
Quit India movement stood for creative nationalism
Unfortunately now nationalism is defined only on military terms. It is very dangerous. It diminishes creative and wholesome dimensions of nationalism shaped during freedom struggle. Such nationalism defined in jingoism and military terms was a manifestation of the western worldview when the western countries were engaged in colonizing the world and sustaining imperialism. None other than Jawaharlal Nehru who was one of the heroes of the Quit India movement said "It was wrong for people in the West to look at every question from the narrow stand point of a soldier, and talk much of racial superiority of the Anglo Saxons, Germans or the Italians, and to forget that there were other races also in this world. " What was done by Europeans and pointed out and indicted by Nehru during Quit India movement is being now replicated by the present regime and it constitutes a negation of the spirit of Quit India movement.
Yusuf Mehruli Coined Quit India
Let us examine and explore another aspect of Quit India movement. There were four outstanding figures of that Movement- Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad and Aruna Asaf Ali. A little exploration of the history of that period educates us that while Maulana Azad was the President of the Indian National Congress when Quit India movement was launched, Pandit Nehru was the President of the Pradesh Congress Committee of the UP. And it is fascinating to note that two words "Quit India" were coined by socialist leader Yusuf Mehruli who was Mayor of Bombay in August 1942 and who facilitated the organisation of the session of the Indian National Congress in the Azad Maidan on 8th August 1942. He also coined the slogan "Simon Go Back" when Simon Commission visited India.
In Bombay when the Indian National Congress had its session on the Quit India Movement it was presided over by its President Maulana Azad and the Resolution on Quit India was moved by Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel seconded it. While moving the Resolution Nehru said that "I am proud of Indian nationalism because it is broad based and has an international background. The British withdrawal from India would mean promotion of world freedom and its meaning for world history".
Quit India Movement Celebrated Idea of India
So involvement of Gandhi, Nehru, Azad and Patel made it historic. And Aruna Asaf Ali participated in the Quit India movement with firebrand spirit and defying the lathi charge of the British police and held high the tri colour. She emerged as shining heroine of the movement. And when Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Azad and Patel were arrested the Congress session was chaired by Aruna Asaf Ali. Leadership of Gandhi, Nehru, Patel Azad, Yusuf Mehruli, Aruna Asaf Ali and many others in sustaining the Quit India movement made it inclusive. What did it represent? It represented the triumph of Idea of India in 1942. And today Islamo phobia is being perpetuated and it is unfairly stated by those who never participated in the struggle for independence that Muslims had no role to play in making our country free from foreign rule. The real spirit of Quit India movement needs to be invoked to uphold the Idea of India which is facing danger and devastation from those who were nowhere near the mainstream of freedom struggle.
The shattering impact of the Quit India movement on the British authorities was expressed by none other than the then Viceroy Lord Linlithgow who in a secret despatch wrote the British Prime Minister Winston Churchil on 31st August 1942 , "I am engaged here in meeting the most serious rebellion since that of 1857, the gravity and extent of which we have so far concealed from the world for reasons of military security." That was how the very foundations of the British Empire were shaken by the Quit India movement and we got independence subsequently and framed our Constitution.
While paying tribute to the martyrs of the Quit India movement and its leaders and all those people who participated in it and urge let us preserve, protect and defend the Idea of India facing constant assault and attack. In doing this we would pay real tribute the martyrs and leaders of the Quit India movement and recapture its glorious legacy.
.The author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure in Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed in the article are in his personal capacity.