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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 33, August 9, 2014

The Unconquerable Spirit of 1942

Friday 8 August 2014, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

August 9 this year marks the 72nd anniversary of the ‘Quit India‘ movement also known as the August Revolution. On this occasion we reproduce the piece that N.C. wrote in Mainstream on the golden jubilee of the movement in August 1992.

Agrateful nation is celebrating the golden jubilee of the ‘Quit India’ movement which, fifty years ago, marked the final glorious phase of our freedom struggle.

With Gandhiji‘s clarion call of ‘Do or Die’, it was undoubtedly the most determined nation-wide upheaval in which not thousands but millions participated. When the historic ‘Quit India’ resolution was passed on August 8, 1942 by the AICC at its memorable session at Bombay’s Gowalia Tank Maidan, few could anticipate the tremendous momentum of mass action it would unleash in a few weeks—largely a spontaneous upsurge of unarmed people inspired by the mandate that the British Raj must end for good.

Those who were witness to those unfor-gettable days are now a fading generation: only a few are left of narrate their uplifting experience. It is only to be hoped that in the year-long celebrations of the golden jubilee, reminiscences of eye-witnesses would be forthcoming. In this context, one recalls that the fiery and striking beauty who hoisted the tricolour amidst police attack on August 9 is fortunately still in our midst. Aruna Asaf Ali, frail in body but finest tempered steel in courage and determination, became a legend as she eluded the police and moved in the underground for four long years.

There are countless heroes who are unknown to the present generation—the old village lady of Midnapore, Matangini Hazra, who fell to police bullets as she defied the ban and marched bravely with the Tricolour in hand. Satara, Ballia and Tamluk became household names of liberated pockets where the Raj had ceased to exist. And not these three alone, many more all over the country—where common humanity defied the foreign ruler. What was remarkable was that although most of the front-rank leaders were swiftly arrested, the British could not put down the massive movement. Men and women, unknown and untested, came forward to hold high the banner of freedom. As official reports, later disclosed, confessed, the writ of the Raj had ceased to run in many parts of the country as the mighty avalanche of people’s anger nearly overpowered the foreign regime. This way they fulfilled the sacred injunction of the ‘Quit India’ resolution:

Every Indian who desires freedom and strives for it must be his own guide urging him on along the hard road where there is no resting place and which leads ultimately to the independence and the deliverance of India.

The British desperately tried to keep open the life-line of the supplies so badly needed for the War which was nearing India’s eastern frontier. But there was little doubt that they got a beating they never had faced before. Had the Nazi divisions not been halted on the blood-soaked terrain of Stalingrad, the collapse of the British imperial power in India, then and there, would have been inevitable. It was, however, crippled sufficiently in 1942 never to recover.

Regrettably, the Communists in our country kept away from the August Revolution. Normally they belonged to the militant fringe of the broad national front that the Congress represented; but in 1942 the Communists—under the mistaken notion that any hampering of the War effort as a result of a mass movement against the British Raj at that particular moment would objectively help the fascist powers and endanger the Soviet Union—opposed the mighty movement and thereby engineered their own isolation from the national mainstream. This grievous mistake cost the Communists heavily as it tarnished their political credibility, and the price they had to pay for this in later years was not inconsiderable.

It is significant that in the years immediately following independence, many of the staunch stalwarts of the August Revolution were disillusioned with the new ruling establishment after independence, and veered over to the Left, searching for militant allies in the new struggle for the India of their dreams. It was no accident that most of the heroes who had held the cita-dels of the August Revolution—the same Tamluk, Ballia and Satara—counted the Communists as their close allies, and a number of them even joined their ranks. Aruna Asaf Ali herself spent the first decade of independence groping in the Left camp, and she was not the only one of the August heroes who did so.

As we fondly look back, those heroic days become alive and a sense of pride naturally overwhelms many of us. And with it comes the unanswered question: why and how has that unconquerable spirit of 1942 disappeared? In the building of free India, why can’t we revive that ‘Do or Die’ determination? We had great leaders amoung us, though the greatest of them all was slain by one of his countrymen in less than six months of independence. Gandhiji’s martyrdom symbolised, in a flash, the very tragedy that dogged our independence—namely, the blood-stained partition of our motherland. The tallest of our national leaders could not accept it, and yet, in one of the poignant ironies of history, he was killed by the bullet fired by a young man who in anger blamed him for the country’s partition.

And out of that partition was reborn in a more hideous from the demon of communalism. If the British engineered Hindu-Muslim animosity, they left by partitioning the country which sought to perpetuate that bitter animosity. How else can we explain the tussle over a mosque, which houses a Hindu deity, that rocks the nation on this day and age?

When the famished and the unlettered in thousands came out of their homes and joined the August Revolution, they had a vision of the motherland in which poverty would be chased away and the well-being of the common humanity would be ensured. But those very millions of our countrymen and women have seen in these fifty years that the wealth of the nation having grown many times over has helped the rich to become super-rich, while they, who have toiled to produce that wealth, are left in a state of penury and deprivation.

These are the twin curses that undermine today the very foundations of our Republic—horizonatally between the two major commu-nities, and vertically between the affluent and the deprived. Our democracy has certainly endured, but has yet to insure itself against petty politicians whipping up communal tension for narrow partisan ends. Our economy has advanced in strength but has provided no safeguard aginst the widening of disparities. Here lies the threats to the democratic fabric of our Republic.

During the coming months of the golden jubliee celebrations, there will of course be a spate of generous homages to those who had participated in the August Revolution. Many honours to the heroes would be announced and memorials set up. But the true homage to August 1942 shall come not by profusion of histrionics but through a detarmined nationwide struggle for cleansing our public life from cant and hypocrisy, from the pollution of the political process by greed and venality and narrow grooves of pettiness and caste and communal prejudices.

After fifty years, we have to fight for this second and more difficult war of liberation. Then and then only shall we be entitled to be the true heirs of the great August Revolution.

(Mainstream, August 8, 1992)