The Lohia Factor

Quit India Movement

Prem Singh

Dr Ram Manohar Lohia wrote a long letter to the Viceroy of India, Lord Linlithgow, on March 2, 1946. That letter is important and was appreciated by Gandhiji. The letter brings out the brutal and conspiratorial character of British imperialism. Lohia wrote that letter from jail. After playing an underground role for 21 months in the Quit India Movement, Lohia was arrested in Bombay on 10 May 1944. He was imprisoned first in Lahore Fort and then in Agra. He was given inhuman torture by the British police in Lahore Jail. After two years of imprisonment, Lohia was released in June 1946.

The Viceroy had accused the Congress leaders of planning armed uprising during the Quit India Movement. He also blamed that the people who took part in the movement were indulged in violent activities. In the midst of the intense global developments and debates at that time, the Viceroy was trying to show that British rule was a very just system and the Congress and the Indian people who opposed it were violent and autocratic. The Viceroy was pretending as if he had a birthright to rule India forever!

In the letter, Lohia, refuting the Viceroy's allegations, put forward the horrific atrocities of British rule on the unarmed people. He said that many JallianwalaBagh happened in the country while suppressing the movement, but the people of India, showing divine courage, fought non-violently for their freedom. Lohia also rubbished the Viceroy's statement in which he said that less than a thousand people were killed in the Quit India Movement. Lohia challenged the Viceroy that he had actually killed fifty thousand patriots.

Showing the Viceroy his barbaric face, Lohia wrote, “Your men have stripped Indian mothers naked, tied them up to trees, made play with their limbs and killed them. You talk of fascist reprisals; your men have raped and killed wives of patriots you could not seize. Yes, the time will soon be ripe for you and your people to face this evidence." The history of the unarmed common man begins from the Indian Revolution of 9 August.”

However, several prominent leaders of the Congress themselves remained indecisive till the end for troubling the ‘democratic’ England fighting against the ‘fascist’ forces in the war. Lohia has mentioned them in his letter. But Lohia himself was not in any dilemma over his decision to drive out the British from the country. Had he had the same dilemma as the ‘modernists’, he would not have been able to engage in the struggle of the people with full devotion and strength. He clarified, “We are curious about the future. Whether you win or the Axis, there will be gloom and darkness all around. There is a glimmer for hope. Free India might be able to bring this war to a democratic termination.” (See, Collected Works of Dr. Ram ManoharLohia, Vol. 9, Ed. Mastram Kapoor, pp. 176-181)

In fact, in 1939, Lohia had urged Gandhiji to start a Satyagraha movement in protest against the war, suggesting a four-point plan in order to establish lasting peace in the world: “1. All enslaved countries should be freed and should have governments elected on the basis of universal adult franchise and panchayat system; panchayats should formulate their constitutions according to the same principle. 2. All countries should be treated equal, no country should have special privileges and every individual should be free to travel and settle down anywhere in the world without prior permission. 3. If any country invests or starts industry in another country, the invested capital and other assets should be taken over. 4. Complete disarmament should be adopted only after every country accepts these principles.”

Indumati Kelkar, the biographer of Lohia, mentioned that in March 1939, in one of his articles in opposition to the war, Lohia clarified, “For enslaved India British imperialism is as sinful as German Hitlerism or Japanese imperialism. The world cannot be safe without ending imperialism; British imperialism is responsible for nurturing fascism. Therefore, India should fight against both fascism and imperialism. Only that will make it a real supporter of the world's enslaved nations.”)

The Quit India Movement, popularly known as the August Revolution in the history of India's independence movement, has a very important and complicated period of about three to four years. This movement was country-wide in which the people of India participated on a large scale and showed unprecedented courage and tolerance. Lohia, while quoting Russian revolutionary thinker Leon Trotsky, stated that in Russia's revolution one percent of the population took part, while in India's August Revolution, 20 percent of the country's people took part.

However, the revolt of the people took place rapidly for the first three to four months only. The lack of leadership and far-reaching planning and the repression of the British government suppressed the rebellion. 'Quit India' resolution was passed on 8 August 1942; Aruna Asaf Ali hoisted the tricolor at the Gowalia Tank Ground; and on the night of 9th August, top Congress leaders were arrested. Due to the arrest of the leaders, the definite action plan of the movement could not be prepared. The relatively young leadership of the Congress Socialist Party (CSP) was active, but they had to work underground. JP wrote two long letters from unknown places to guide and encourage the revolutionaries and to explain the character and mode of action of the movement. One aspect of the importance of the Quit India Movement is that the people themselves were their leaders during the movement.

The Quit India Movement has several characteristics. The underground revolutionary movement that passed through many phases and leadership and the non-violent movement of the people led by Gandhiji united in the Quit India Movement. The threads of the Quit India Movement can also be linked with the first freedom struggle of 1857 regarding the points of similarity and difference between the two. There has been a lot of debate about whether the Quit India Movement was violent or non-violent. Gandhiji, who gave the slogan 'Do or Die' and who was arrested the same night, had called on the public for a non-violent movement. This was a unique non-violent call from Gandhiji when the world was engulfed in the violence of the Second World War.

JP wrote two letters 'to the soldiers of freedom' from secret places in December 1942 and September 1943 respectively. In both his letters, especially in the first, he raised the question of violence-non-violence at length. Gandhiji and Congress have different views on the issue of violence-non-violence, he said in his letter. He slammed the British government that it did not have the right to tell what method the people of India used to fight for their freedom. He said that at the core of Quit India Movement has been the resolve not to kill and not to hurt.

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's struggle to oust the British by forming the Azad Hind Fauj also comes under the scope of Quit India Movement. The work of placing checkerboard for the partition of the country by the British and the domestic divisive forces was also completed during this period. JP has thrown light on all these aspects in his letters. Hence, those letters should be looked at once again.

The Quit India Movement was the decisive conclusion of the overall national movement for the country's independence; it was the gateway to India's independence. The will to freedom and the strength to achieve it built in India from various sources, was finally demonstrated in the Quit India Movement. The Quit India Movement decided that even if the leaders shared the will to freedom, the power to achieve it was decisively with the people. However, the elements who considered the British rule as divine blessing and served their self-interests were fully active even during the Quit India Movement. Who were they, this information is found in the letters of JP?
When Soviet Russia joined the Second World War, the Marxist leadership of India decided to oppose the Quit India Movement and support the British. Not only did it become the cause of bitter confrontation between the Congress Socialists and the Marxists, due to that decision the Marxist activists had become confused about the definition and criteria of patriotism and sedition.

In the last months of the underground phase during the Quit India Movement, Lohia wrote his long essay 'Economics after Marx'. Indumati Kelkar writes, "In spite of the instability of underground life, continuous police pursuit, worry about the fate of the movement, lack of relevant literature, that thesis of Lohia has been considered a major contribution to the world on economics and to the views of Socialist movement. In his thesis he has interpreted Marxian economics in an original and novel way."

Indumati Kelkar quotes Lohia about the purpose of this article: “In 1942-43 when the movement against the British was on, the socialists were either in jail or were being pursued by the police. That was also the time when communists, following their foreign masters, had given the slogan of 'People's War'. I was totally confused by the spectacle of Marxism in all its contradictions. Then I decided that I would discover the essential truth of Marxism and purge it from falsehood. Economics, politics, history and philosophy have been the four main facets of Marxism and I deemed it necessary to analyse all these. But as I was in the midst of analysis of its Economics I was arrested.”

Obviously, this comment of Lohia and the article 'Economics after Marx' must have proved distasteful to the party communists of India at that time, who considered Marxism to be an irrevocable universal philosophy.

Whatever the developments, impact and controversies of the Quit India Movement, its core was the explosion of the long cherished will to freedom of the people of India. Under the pressure of the Quit India Movement, from the modernist middle class of India to the feudal kings, it was felt that the British would now have to leave India. Therefore, they felt concerned about protecting and strengthening their class-interest. Not only iron-screw of the bureaucracy/administration and the language that governed it remained of the British; the model of development was also kept the same. The 'democratic, socialist and secular' Constitution of India too could not completely escape the shadow of the nexus of capitalism and feudalism. The legacy of British glory and coercion, which instilled fear in the hearts of the people of India, was retained by the ruling-class of India. It also went on to strengthen it gradually.


Back to Home Page

Vol 56, No. 9, Aug 27 - Sep 2, 2023