Freedom Movement from 1935 to the Quit India Movement of 1942

The Government of India Act 1935 and the Congress

The, civil Disobedience Movement of 1930-34 was the last mass movement launched by the Congress under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi with the failure of the movement, initiative passed into the hands of the British Government. The framework for many of the subsequent developments was provided by the Government of India Act of 1935. The first stage of its creation had been the appointed of the Simon Commission in 1927 and its report; and the second stage was the convening of the Round Table Conferences in 1903, 1931 and 1932. Ultimately, the British Parliament passed the act and Royal assent was given to it in August 1935.

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The elections to the Provincial Assemblies under the act were held in the spring of 1937. The success of the Congress at the hustings was astonishing exceeding the expectations of the Congressman themselves. After some initial hesitation and extensive intra-party discussion the Congress ultimately formed ministries in the provinces of madras, the united provinces, Bombay, Bihar, Orissa and the central provinces. Latter, ministries were formed in the North-West Frontier provinces and in Assam.

The Congress ministries on the whole were successful. Their administrative ability surprised even hostile and prejudiced critics. They undertook maters which had been neglected by the British administration. They tackled the problems of basic education and adult literacy. They launched programmes of rural reconstruction and undertook agrarian legislation. They devote their attention to matters of public health and tried to implement items, such as prohibition, from Gandhiji’s programme. On the whole, their record was impressive. The ministries, however, remained in power until the outbreak of the Second World War 1939 when they resigned embolic following the government of India’s decision to make India a party to the war without consulting the national leaders or the popular ministries.

Congress factionalism

The Congress leaders had initially been divided on the issue of acceptance of office under the act of 1935. One group supported by Gandhiji favored acceptance, the other group led by Jawahrlala Neheru opposed it. But Neheru ultimately yielded; the radical group in the Congress, therefore, searched for another leader. Subash Chandra Bose emerged as the hero of the Younger Congressmen who believed in socialism and in aggressive methods against the British. His popularity earned him President Ship of the Congress in 1938. Although there were deep ideological and temperamental differenced between Bose and Gandhiji, the latter agreed to initial him in the high office in the hope that the responsibility of office would moderate his extremist ardor. He was thus selected to preside over the Congress of Haripura, in March 1938.


However, soon after the Haripura Congress, the differences between Subash Chandra and Gandhiji leaders of the Congress began to widen rapidly. Bose was opposed to the federal scheme envisaged in the Government of India Act of 1935; he regarded it as undemocratic and antinational. Gandhiji, on the other hand was willing to accept the scheme with certain modifications.

Subash Chandra Bose laid emphasis upon national planning unity and organization of the masses for the national struggle. This caused annoyance in Gandhian circles who were then looking forward to an understanding with the British Government.

After the Munich Pact in September 1938, Bose began “an open propaganda throughout India, in order to prepare the Indian people for a national struggle which should synchronize with the coming war in Europe.” The completed the breach between Bose and the Gandhian wing of the Congress. The result was a contest between the two for the election of the President of the next session of the Congress. In the election that took place in January 1939, the Gandhian candidate. Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramayya was defeated and Bose was re-elected. Gandhiji declared that the defeat to Pattabhi Sitramayya was his personal defeat.


In the Congress session at Tripura which took place in March 1939. Bose urged that the Congress should immediately give an ultimatum to the British Government demanding independence within six months and should simultaneously prepare for a mass struggle. But the suggestion was not accepted. In the open session a resolution was adopted which declared.

“In view of the critical situation that may develop during the coming year and in view of the fact that Mahatma Gandhi alone can lead the Congress and the country to victory during a crisis, the Congress regards it as imperative that the executive Authority of the Congress should command his implicit confidence and request the President to nominate the working Committee for the ensuing year in accordance with the wishes of Gandhiji”.

This created a deadlock which could not be resolved by negotiations between Subash Chandra Bose and Gandhiji. Consequently, Bose resigned and formed a new party known as the Forward Bloc. The All-India Congress Committee elected Rajendra Prasad as the President of the Congress, for the year.

Congress and the War:

Germany’s dictator Adolf Hitler invaded Poland in September 1, 1939. On September 3, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany in fulfillment of their pledges to Poland. Thus the Second World War started. The next day Indian Governor General Lord Linlithgo declared India a belligerent. Thus the country was dragged into the war without consultations with national leaders and the popular ministries in the provinces.


The Congress had forewarned the Government that a declaration of war on behalf of India without its consent would cause trouble. The Government paid no need to this warning rather it soon started preparations to wage a war against the Congress. It promulgated ordinances and took many far-reaching measures which affected the Indian people vitally and circumscribed and limited the powers and activities of the provisional Governments. This was done without the consent of the Indian People.

The Congress Working Committee met at Wardha from September 8 to 15, 1939. It invited the Government to define and clarify its war aims and especially proposals about India’s future in unequivocal terms. The committee also declared that the Indian people refused to cooperate in the war so long as equality of states and freedom was withheld. It also reserved to withdraw the nationalist members of the legislative assembly. The Government interpreted the Congress Working Committee resolution as the refusal of the Congress to cooperate in the war efforts and characterized it as an attempt at bargaining. Consequently, the Congress working committee met again at Wardha on October 22 and passed a resolution calling upon the Congress ministries to resign. By the middle of November all the Congress ministries were out of office.

During the following months efforts continues to be made for an agreement between the Government and the Congress. But all efforts failed because the British Government was not prepared to reopen constitutional discussion during the war, nor was it willing to make any political advance in view of the opposition it would excite among the Muslims.

In the meantime the war situation changed rapidly. After the German conquest of Poland, within a few weeks of the declaration of war there was a long stalemate. However, in April 1940, Hitler started a new offensive and within about two months overran the Scandinavian countries and conquered Belgium, Holland and France. This frightened the British government and fresh negotiations were started with the Congress. Ultimately the Governor General made a statement on August 8, 1940 which was intended to break the deadlock. The statement made three proposals; (1) an immediate expansion of the Viceroy’s Executive Council by appointing a number of Indian representatives; (2) the establishment of a War Advisory Council consisting of representatives of British India and the Indian states to meet or regular intervals; (3) the promotions of practical steps to arrive at an agreement among Indians “on the form which it should arrive at its conclusion, and secondly, upon the principles and outlines of the constitution itself”.

The announcement did not satisfy the Congress. It widened the difference between India as represented by the Congress and England. On October 11 the Congress Working Committee decided to start individual civil disobedience. On October 27, the first Satyagrahi Vinoba Bhave was arrested followed soon by many more including Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel. The movement continued up to December 1947. It is estimated that more than 25,000 Satyagrahis were arrested.

Muslim League and the Pakistan Resolution:

During the Non co-operation Movement of 1920-22, Hindus and Muslim had formed a united front against the Government. But as soon as the movement was withdrawn, the two communities began to drift apart. The differences between the two communities accentuated when the keystone of the Non-cooperation Movement collapsed. In 1922 the Khalifa, the Sultan of Turkey, was deposed by Kamal Ataturk and in 1924 the institution of Khilafat was abolished. Naturally the Khilafat Movement lost its point and was shown to be an anachronism that in fact it was.

The collapse of the Khilafat Movement led to a revival in the fortunes of the Muslim League which had laid dormant during the movement. Mohammed Jinnah who had resigned from the Congress in 1920 in opposition to Non-cooperation now again moved to the forefront of the Muslim middle-class affairs. He was instrumental in promoting the revival of the Muslim League.

At the popular level, in the period after the withdrawal of Non-cooperation, communal relations between Hindus and Muslims became bitter. With disturbing frequency, riots broke out and increasingly large numbers died in the confrontation between the two communities. The relations between Hindus and Muslims were further embittered when a famous Arya Samaj leader Swami Shraddhanand was murdered by a young Muslim fanatic.

In 1928 and All – Parties conference met at Delhi and appointed a committee known as the Nehru Committee, for drafting a constitution for India. The committee made a report within a few months. It recommended the abolition of separate electorates and their replacement by joint and reserved seats. In addition, it recommended the formation of Muslim majority provinces like Sindh and North-West Frontier Province. This did not satisfy the League or Jinnah and both withdrew their support to the scheme.

In the Round Table Conferences that were held in 1930, 1931 and 1932, the Muslim delegates led by Jinnah took an openly communal stand and no solution to the communal problem could be found.

The elections to the provincial assemblies held in 1937 under the Act of 1935 and the subsequent political developments further embittered the relations between the Muslims and the Congress. As a result of the elections the Congress ministries were formed in several provinces. The Muslim League under the leadership of Jinnah carried on poisonous communal propaganda against the Congress ministries and baselessly charged them with committing atrocities against the Muslims. The League had as a matter of fact, declared a war against the Congress. The communal propaganda of the League was highly successful. When the Congress ministers resigned following the outbreak of the Second World War, the League celebrated a day of liberation.

The widening gulf between the Congress and the Muslim League ultimately led to the passing by the Muslim League of the famous Pakistan resolution in 1940.

The idea of Pakistan was first mooted by India’s most popular and influential poet Muhammad Iqbal. In his presidential address at the All-India Muslim League session at Allahabad he said.

“I would like to see the Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sindh and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single state. Self government within the British Empire or without the British Empire, the formation of a consolidated North-West Indian Muslim state appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims at least of North-West India”.

What Iqbal precisely envisaged is not clear. Subsequent commentators have maintained that he foreshadowed a separate, free Muslim state. But the fact is that Iqbal was not thinking in terms of the partition of India, but in terms of a federation of autonomous states within India.

The idea as well as the name of Pakistan was suggested by Chowdhary Rahmat Ali, a student of Cambridge University in 1930. He published a pamphlet ‘Now or Never’ in 1933 in which he advocated a separate Muslim state in the North-West of India. He named it Pakistan which meant the land of the pure and was coined from the first letters of Punjab, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Sindh and the final part of Baluchistan. This did not include Bengal where Muslims were also concentrated. However, in the beginning the idea was dismissed as a school boyish exercise, a chimera. But the idea became popular during the period 1937-39 when the Muslim League carried on baseless communal propaganda against the Congress. Finally, the Lahore sessions of the League passed the following resolution on March 24, 1940.

Resolved that it is the considered view of this session of the All-India Muslim League that no constitutional plan would be workable in this country or acceptable to the Muslim unless it is designed on the following basic principles viz. that geographically contiguous units are demarcated into regions which should be so constituted, with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary, that the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority as in the North-Western and Eastern Zones of India should be grouped to constitute ‘Independent States’ in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign.

In other words, the League decided that India must be divided along religious lines and separate nations created. There were, according to the League, two nations in India and each must have its home land, its territory and its own state. Jinnah said that the problem of India was not national and international. The Congress opposed this view and took up the position that India was one nation, religion alone could not be a base of nationalism, and that free India was one nation, must be secular and united. However, the British Government from the beginning supported the Muslim League stand.

Cripps’ Mission (1942):

The individual civil disobedience started by the Congress in 1940 was only symbolic. It was not meant to obstruct the war efforts of the Government. Naturally, it did not make any impact on Indian politics. In the meantime the war took a serious turn in 1941. In June 1941 Hitler invaded Russia and in December Japan and America entered the war which now became a world war in the real sense of the term. Japan made a devastating attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii Island on December 7, 1941. Soon they overran Philippines, Malaya and the British and Dutch possessions in South-East Asia. In February 1942 Singapore fell into Japanese .hands. They occupied Burma and through its forests marched toward Assam. The war came to the border land of India by the middle of 1942.

The critical situation convinced the British government that the need of Indian cooperation in the war was imperative. Chiang-Kai-Shek, President of the Chinese Republic also warned that if the British government does not fundamentally change their policy toward India it would be like presenting India to the enemy and inviting them to quickly occupy India. The President of the U.S.A. exercised pressure on Britain, the result, was that the British Government sends to India a mission headed by Sir -Stafford Cripps, a member of the British war Cabinet. Cripps arrived in Delhi on March 23, 1942 and brought with him a draft scheme for settling4he political problem of India. Cripps offered Dominion status and the right of succession from the Commonwealth, if desired, at the conclusion of the war. Secondly, provinces and states would be given the option of not acceding to any constitution framed by a Constituent Assembly and the subsequent right of setting themselves as states independent of the Indian union. This did not actively encourage the formation of Pakistan but neither did it actively discourage it.

The Congress rejected the Cripps, proposals, first because de facto power would remain with the British during the war, and secondly, because the provision for non-accession was unrealistic. The Congress felt that the problem of minorities could only be solved in a Constituent Assembly and only after the primary battle for independence had been won.

The Cripps Plan encountered opposition of the entire range; of Indian public opinion including the most moderate opinion. The blame lay entirely with the British Government.

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