At the outbreak of war in 1939 between Britain and Germany, India was also declared to be at war with Germany as it constituted part of the British empire. The Congress took the view that while it opposed fascism, it could render no support to the British either: there was little to choose between the totalitarianism of the Nazis and the colonialism of the British. It was not with the consent of the Indian people that India was dragged into the war, nor was this India’s war; moreover, the Congress expected, but could not procure, an unconditional offer of British withdrawal from India as a condition of its support. Consequently, neutrality was the official policy of the Congress. In an effort to bring the British to the negotiating table, Gandhi launched his ‘Quit India’ movement in August 1942, and issued from a large meeting ground in Bombay (since re-named August Kranti [revolution] Maidan) the famous call to ‘do or die’: Indians were to wage one last struggle to achieve independence, or die in that attempt. Elaborate plans were made to offer non-violent resistance; however, almost the entire Congress leadership, and not merely at the national level, was put into confinement less than twenty-four hours after Gandhi’s speech, and the greater number of the Congress leaders were to spend the rest of the war in jail.

T he ‘Quit India’ movement was followed, nonetheless, by large-scale violence directed at railway stations, telegraph offices, government buildings, and other emblems and institutions of colonial rule. There were widespread acts of sabotage, and the government held Gandhi responsible for these acts of violence, suggesting that they were a deliberate act of Congress policy. Gandhi resolutely denied these charges, but the deadlock was not to be resolved. It has been suggested by other scholars that though Gandhi himself did not authorize violence, he had grown skeptical of the efficacy of non-violence, and that he had arrived at the point in his life where he was determined to see India attain independence during his lifetime. However attractive this line of reasoning might appear, it has little support in Gandhi’s voluminous writings. Others have suggested that the ‘Quit India’ movement was a failure in that it invited the government to unleash repression, and therefore led to the incarceration of the Congress leadership. Consequently, it has been argued, the Muslim League, which declared its support to the British, was to grow in strength during the war, while the Congress languished. Though the Muslim League failed to secure support even among Muslim voters before the war, elections in 1946 suggested that it had the loyalty of the majority of Muslims in many Muslim-dominant areas. On these lines, then, it is suggested that the ‘Pakistan movement’ developed when there were no countervailing forces to check it, and that Gandhi played into the hands of both Muslim communalists and British imperialists. The ‘Quit India’ movement remains, in any event, among the most controversial episodes in Gandhi’s life and modern Indian history.