On this day 77 years ago, Mumbai became the scene of massive public demonstrations against colonial rule. The previous day, August 8, 1942, Mahatma Gandhi had given the clarion call of ‘Quit India’ at Gowalia Tank (now August Kranti Maidan). The Quit India movement, which subsequently spread to other parts of the country, is among the key moments of India’s freedom struggle.
After the movement was launched in Mumbai, residents belonging to diverse communities and political affiliations joined in, resisting harsh measures undertaken by the colonial government to muzzle dissent.
What was going on in Mumbai during the Quit India movement?
Leaders of the movement
There was Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, of course, one of the Congress’s tallest leaders, who attracted massive crowds to his Mumbai rallies. Among the key local leaders who assisted him were Achyut Patwardhan, B G Kher, Nagindas Master, and S K Patil. Shankarrao Deo and Yusuf Meherally organised support both from the city and neighbouring Pune.
The British government acted swiftly. Mahatma Gandhi was arrested from Birla House (now Gandhi Smriti) soon after he delivered the famous “Do or die” address, as were several regional Congress leaders. Gandhi was confined at the Aga Khan Palace in Pune and the latter at Yerwada Jail, also in that city.
Protests that rocked the city
The arrests of major Congress leaders failed to deter agitators’ grit. Protests around Dadar reached fever pitch, requiring both the military and police to be deployed. The situation also remained tense in a large stretch from Matunga to Kalbadevi and Thakurdwar in South Mumbai.
The Bombay Stock Exchange had to remain shuttered for a long period, as did the city’s premier industries, including Godrej, Lever Brothers (today’s Hindustan Unilever), General Motors, and Richardson Cruddas. The city’s mills also remained closed, as did Zaveri Bazaar and the cloth market.
Clashes with colonial authorities worsened when the latter began employing barbaric methods, such as whipping. Protesters consequently blocked public transport, police vehicles, and damaged telegraph cables and BEST bus stops.
The Congress Women’s Wing, also known as the Desh Sevika Sangh, led protests.
Quit India’s non-Congress participants, and opponents
Among the city’s Muslim community, while some followed the All-India Muslim League’s call to boycott the movement, others participated enthusiastically, such as the Jamiat-ul-Ulema and the All-India Azad Muslim Conference.
The Rashtriya Girni Kamgar Sangh ensured that the city’s mill workers joined the struggle. It also helped that many communist leaders at the time were also members of the Congress.
Student politics also played a key role. Youth activists from VJTI, Elphinstone, Grant Medical, Khalsa, Ruia, Sydenham, St. Xavier’s, and Wilson colleges worked together, taking out processions and paralysing communications.
However, moderate politicians including Sir Jamnadas Mehta and Sir Cowasjee Jehangir opposed joining the movement, expressing concern over its timing, which coincided with imperial Japan’s rapid advance from East Asia towards Indian frontiers.