How (not) to commemorate the Quit India movement

No one remembers the golden jubilee celebrations of the Quit India Movement in 1992. The India Gate is still known as India Gate; no one calls it August Kranti Park. There is no statute of Gandhi. And even the one rupee coin that was issued by the then government in honor of the freedom fighters of 1942 is not in use

Written by Hilal Ahmed | Updated: August 9, 2017 7:38 am
Quit India movement, Quit India movement anniversary, August 15, 71st independence day, independence day celebrations, indian express news Narendra Modi is not the first political leader, who attempts to interpret the memories of Quit India movement in his own political context.

The Prime Minister makes an interesting observation in his Mann ki Baat program this month. Evoking the 75 th anniversary of the Quit India movement, he calls upon the Indian citizens to imbibe the message of this great political event. He says:

“….We should celebrate 15th August 2017 as the Sankalp Parva or the Day of Resolve….The need for today is not ‘Do or Die’, instead it is to resolve, to come together, persevere, and work relentlessly with our utmost strength towards the making of a new India. Let us live by and strive for this resolve. Come let’s launch a mega campaign, ‘Sankalp se Siddhi,’ Attainment through Resolve, from the 9th of this August.”

This is a very creative interpretation of the Quit India movement—the movement that transformed the nature of political negotiations with British Empire in mid-1940s. Narendra Modi, in this sense, is absolutely correct in describing the Quit India movement as a marker of “sankalp”, or resolve. His suggestion that 1942-1947 period could also be seen as Sankalp se Siddhi (Resolve to Attainment) underlines the historical trajectories that paved the way for India’s Independence.

Modi is not the first political leader, who attempts to interpret the memories of Quit India movement in his own political context. His appeal to reenact the spirit of 1942-1947 in 2017-2022 reminds us an interesting debate that took place in 1992 when the government decided to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Quit India movement by renaming the India Gate lawns as August Kranti Park.

The Story of the Golden Jubilee

The story began in 1991. After winning the election in 1991, the Congress government decided to celebrate August 9, 1992 as the most significant day to mark the final phase of India’s independence. An official committee was constituted for this purpose.

Although it was planned as a typical official government function, the initiative taken up by the All India Freedom Fighter Association (AIFFA) changed the course of events.

In a letter to the National Committee of the Golden Jubilee Celebrations, the AIFFA demanded that the main event be organised at the Red Fort in Delhi, the site which emerged as a symbol of anti-British sentiments. Besides, AIFFA wanted the India Gate Hexagon be named as ‘August Kranti Park’. The government accepted these suggestions and in July 1992, announced that on August 9, the India Gate Hexagon would be given its new name.

Everyone wasn’t happy with this proposal. INTACH and Delhi Conservation Society expressed reservations about this renaming project, arguing that the name Swaraj Chowk would be much better than August Kranti Park for two reasons. First, it is a combination of Hindi and English words and second, Kranti (or revolution) might be misunderstood by the younger generation in this age of political violence.

AIFFA responded to these reservations, particularly the use of the word Kranti. In a letter to INTACH, it says:

The resounding call given by Mahatma Gandhi in 1942 — Do Or Die — remains…the most revolutionary (‘krantikari’) slogan to this day. ….’SWARAJ’ came only after, and as a result of this ‘krantikari’ clarion call which roused the nation for final assault in our long drawn freedom struggle. ….French Revolution is called so even today…..It was one of the bloodiest revolutions that history has known but today it invokes not an image of violence and bloodshed but of Liberty, Fraternity, Equality.

This explanation persuaded the INTACH to rethink its position on the notion of revolution. In another letter to the Prime Minister, it suggested:

This stirring story [of events since the 1857] could be described as the story of a revolution, but not of an ‘August Revolution’ merely. The Hexagon could be called ‘Kranti Chowk’ (Revolution Square), resonant with the music of such names as Vijaya Chowk and Chandni Chowk. However, the mural representation of this freedom struggle within the Hexagon area, disposed around a statue of Mahatma Gandhi as proposed by INTACH ought to be called ‘Swaraj Darshan’

The description of Gandhi’s statue is not coincidental in this letter. There has been a long debate on the placing of Gandhi’s status in the central vista of New Delhi opposite India Gate since 1958. The INTACH actually took this opportunity to remind the government for a comprehensive reconstruction package of the India Gate.

Celebration in Congress Style

The official celebration of the golden jubilee of the Quit India movement was a predictably sarkari affair! Speeches delivered on the significance of freedom and freedom movement, promises were made and citizens were called upon to make the nation strong. On August 9, the ‘August Kranti Park’ at the India Gate was inaugurated by unveiling a granite-based plaque. And finally, the park was dedicated to the nation.

The opposition, particularly the socialist leaders alleged that the Congress used the celebration of Quit India for its own political benefits. In a Lok Sabha debate senior Janata Dal leader Chandrasekhar argued:

“….At India Gate…Hon’ble Minister addressed the prime minister as “The President of All India Congress Committee…I thought of leaving that place. If it was not the question of dignity of the martyrs of 1942 I would not have continued to sit over there. I would like to request you that no attempts should be made to change the History on such a big occasion.”

No one remembers the history of the golden jubilee celebrations of the Quit India Movement. The India Gate is still known as India Gate; no one calls it August Kranti Park. There is no statute of Gandhi. And even the one rupee coin that was issued by the then government in honor of the freedom fighters of 1942 is not in use!

The task for the BJP government is much more challenging. The legacy of 1942 is not simply about the “Do or Die” slogan. The Quit India is also a symbol of political betrayal. Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha, Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS) and even the undivided Communist party opposed Gandhi as well as his call for complete civil disobedience. Despite this overt political apathy of leading political forces of that time, Quit India was a successful people’s movement.

If the BJP led government really wants to commemorate the spirit of this movement, it should not follow the Congress style of commemoration. Instead, it must focus on people’s imagination of freedom struggle and national dignity.

Hilal Ahmed is an Associate Professor with the Centre of the Study of Developing Societies in New Delhi. He tweets @Ahmed1Hilal

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  1. G
    gudluk
    Aug 10, 2017 at 1:30 am
    Anyone who does not join/support MK Gandhi's ideas (which were always used by muslims to humiliate hindus) is a betrayer? Who gives this agent of islam the right to defame the hindus?
    Reply
    1. C
      Chandu Shah
      Aug 9, 2017 at 11:53 pm
      It was not JUST the congress in the quit movement. It was the people of India and if RSS and BJP had existed then they would have been there in the forefront
      Reply
      1. R
        raju
        Aug 10, 2017 at 1:09 am
        Rss was present at that time but did not parti te in the movement and so was Muslim league
        Reply
        1. A
          Amit
          Aug 10, 2017 at 5:34 am
          RSS WAS BORN IN 1925 AND IT ACTIVELY OPPOSED QUIT INDIA MOVEMENT BJPWAS EARLIER KNOWN AS JAN SANGH AND WAS BORN IN 1951 AFTER THE DEATH OF SARDAR PATEL ( SARDAR PATEL DIED ON 15 DECEMBER 1950 )WHO HAD EARLIER BANNED RSS ON 6TH FEBRUARY 1948 AND ITS GURUJI GOWALKAR WAS ALSO ARRESTED AND WAS RELEASED ONLY ON 19TH JULY 1949 AFTER HE GAVE UNDERTAKING TO SARDAR PATEL THAT RSS WILL NEVER TAKE PART IN POLITICS. JANSANJGH WAS STARTED IN 1951 BY A PERSON WHO WAS WORKING AS TRANSLATOR IN USIS. THE JANSANGH SUBSEQUENTLY MERGED IN JANTA PARTY IN 1977 .JANATA PARTY BROKE UP IN 1978 AND JNASANGH was reborn as BJP .
          Reply
        2. K
          Kamal Pasha
          Aug 9, 2017 at 10:07 pm
          Mahesh. Sorry . Your this comment does not apply to me at all.
          Reply
          1. B
            Bharat Pandit
            Aug 9, 2017 at 8:25 pm
            Excellent set of suggestions which I support whole heartedly.
            Reply
            1. S
              Seshubabu Kilambi
              Aug 9, 2017 at 7:58 pm
              Another quit India stared ..quit fascism and fanaticism and communal violence
              Reply
              1. H
                hbalakrishnan
                Aug 9, 2017 at 6:40 pm
                The famous historian Dr. R.C. Majumdar, in his excellent trilogy - " History of the Freedom Movement in India " recounts a conversation in the Raj Bhavan , Kolkata, in 1950, between the then Governor of West Bengal and Lord Clement Attlee, the British PM who granted us our Independence. To a query from the Governor , on the factors that caused Britain to grant Independent , Attlee stated that there were many factors. However , the chief reasons were the activities of Netaji SubhasBose and his INA, by which the British Govt. could no longer take for granted the LOYALTY to Her Majesty's Govt. Of the Indian soldier and sailor. And, in response to another query from the Governor on the role of Mahatma Gandhi in getting Independence, Lord Attlee, slowly and deliberately is reported to have stated : MI - NI - MAL. Time Indians learnt their true history and got away from MYTHS. Quit India 1942 was a failure with all leaders in jail and the Communists sabotaging the protests.
                Reply
                1. P
                  PMP
                  Aug 9, 2017 at 5:53 pm
                  The trilogy of books,Jewel in the crown aptly describes reasons for the British leaving India,which are not palatable to the Charkha Brigade.only visionary leaders like Deng who,post cultural revolution of Mao tse Tung single handedly transformed China to 3 trillion dollar economy,can do the miracle for our country mired in corruption,nepotism religious fanaticism.
                  Reply
                  1. M
                    Mohan Tvm
                    Aug 9, 2017 at 3:44 pm
                    Those who have parti ted in the Quit India movement were not just congress or Hindu Mahasabha, but millions of Indians who had joined it anti ting relief. The British punished the hostile freedom fighters like savarkar harshly, while the loyal ones like Gandhi, nehru received softer treatment with all sort of facilities in jail. QIM did not have any significant role in Indian independence because the movement that had started with great importance in August 1942 had started tapering, loosing much sheen and energy within days. The 1946 navy mutiny was the main compelling reason for the British to think of leaving India
                    Reply
                    1. A
                      Amit
                      Aug 10, 2017 at 5:40 am
                      SAVARKAR GOT OUT OF JAIL BY REQUESTING BRITISH GOVERNMENT FOR PARDON AND THUS BETRAYED FREEDOM MOVEMENT
                      Reply
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