The Indian Nation in 1942


The Indian Nation in 1942, a collection of essays edited by Gyanendra Pandey, takes an in-depth look at the Quit India Movement, its causes and consequences, and reactions to it across the country.

In his Introduction, Pandey says that the intensity and spread of the movement was contingent on a number of factors: the ‘immediacy’ of World War II in different parts of the subcontinent; the British government’s preparedness to put down any resistance that might interfere with War supplies; and the sharp differences of opinion among nationalist leaders and parties about the stand they should adopt in the face of the 1942 international crisis.

The movement’s strongest centres were Bombay, Satara and Ahmedabad in the west, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the north, and Bengal and Orissa in the east. Madras (on account of Congress leader C. Rajagopalachari’s opposition) and Kerala (due to the Communist Party’s opposition) were relatively quiet during this time. The general ‘aloofness’ of Muslims to the movement, the author says, could be attributed in part to the growth of an independent Muslim political leadership and a separate Muslim constituency. Dalit groups, poor peasants and landless labourers were also hesitant to join the movement, which was led predominantly by rich peasants, small landlords and students from petty-bourgeois backgrounds.

1: ‘The Quit India Movement in Medinipur District’

In this essay, Hitesranjan Sanyal says that the political agitation in Medinipur district of Bengal was driven by unrest among the peasantry. Soon after the Congress called for non-cooperation with the War efforts, the government curbed nationalist activities in Medinipur because of its resistance to colonial rule earlier. However, the uprising in eastern Medinipur made the government bring in military reinforcements. To break up the ‘rebellion’, the police, under military protection, began extensive looting, destruction, arson, physical torture and organised rape, which was especially ferocious in Tamluk town. The government repression, cyclonic devastation in October 1942 and fear of impending scarcities made the people set up a parallel nationalist government in Kanthi and Tamluk towns, which was eventually dissolved in August 1944.

2. ‘The Quit India Movement in Gujarat’

In this piece, David Hardiman notes that Gujarat was probably the best organised in its participation in the Quit India Movement. The core support for the movement came from middle class and upper caste people in Ahmedabad and Baroda. Congress workers used the patrika (bulletin) to disseminate information and instructions, and Ahmedabad was the main production centre for patrikas. While some patrikas endorsed Gandhian ideas of non-violence, others took on a more aggressive stance.

3: ‘The Revolt of August 1942 in Eastern U.P. and Bihar’

In this essay, Gyanendra Pandey says that after the arrest of Congress leaders in Bombay, Bihar’s Ghazipur district was relatively quiet – until small groups of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) students came in and called for the ‘destruction’ of government property. Enthusiastic protestors carried out attacks on police stations, railway tracks and stations at Ghazipur Ghat, Nagesar, Tarighat, Ankuspur, Patkania, Dildarnagar and other locations. The author says that the magnitude and force of the uprising in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar may have been the most significant phase of the movement in terms of spreading the nationalist message. The British retaliated with violence, using military and armed police units.

4: ‘Popular Uprising in 1942: The Case of Ballia’

Mangal Pande, the sepoy who started the uprising of 1857, belonged to Ballia and its people were proud of their district’s nationalist past. In Chandan Mitra’s essay, we learn that early nationalist ideas came to Ballia (an overwhelmingly Hindu district) through the Arya Samaj. In the 1930s, Banaras became a centre for ‘terrorist’ activities; BHU was a base for Marxist and socialist sympathisers. The Congress Quami Seva Dal (originally the Quami Sena Dal), led by two BHU students, emerged at that time and grew rapidly, recruiting a new generation of activists to the nationalist cause.

5: ‘Storm over Malkangiri: A Note on Laxman Naito’s Revolt, 1942’

In this essay, Biswamoy Pati tells us that that after Koraput district merged with Orissa in 1936, the Provincial Congress Committee (PCC) established itself in the district and was able to successfully recruit enthusiastic activists for its cause. The author also describes the oppressive conditions that led to the uprising in Malkangiri sub-division. The British routinely created ‘new burdens’ for people (such as the War collections. These hardships caused the existing fituri (rebellion) tradition to converge with the Quit India Movement and assume significant proportions in Malkangiri.

6: ‘Quit India in Madras: Hiatus or Climacteric’

This essay by David Arnold reminds us that while the Quit India Movement was more momentous in the north – 24,000 arrests were made in Bombay, 16,000 in Bihar and Bengal, and 6,000 in Madras – the stirrings in the south established it as an all-India movement. The universities in Madras and Annamalai were prominent centres of the movement, where students organised boycotts, held processions and finally forced authorities to close down the campuses. The movement also made way for the non-Brahmin and ‘self-respect’movements that brought to fore leaders like E.V. Ramaswami Naicker and Kumaraswami Kamaraj.

7: ‘The Satara Prati Sarkar’

In this essay, Gail Omvedt discusses how there was more than just widespread guerilla activity in Satara district of Maharashtra. A sustained parallel government or prati sarkar was established and continued to function till 1946 (when elections were declared in India) in spite of British repression. Its activities included nyayadan mandals (peoples’ courts) and some armed attacks too. The prati sarkar’s activists eluded arrest till 1944, when a few hundred turned themselves in on Gandhi’s advice and a few others were captured. However, the majority were never caught. Unlike other movements in different parts of India, the prati sarkar flourished till Independence and its last armed encounter with the police took place after the naval mutiny of 1946. (For more, see stories on the prati sarkar on PARI)

Focus by Aditi Chandrasekhar.


Editor: Gyanendra Pandey

Contributors: David Arnold, David Hardiman, Chandan Mitra, Gail Omvedt, Gyanendra Pandey, Biswamoy Pati and Hitesranjan Sanyal


Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta

Published by K.P. Bagchi & Company, Calcutta and Delhi


01 Jan, 1988