80 years after the 'Quit India' movement, a ‘Bharat Jodo' Yatra to unite India

‘Bharat Jodo’ rhymes well with ‘Bharat Chhodo’. But it’s more than just their surface resemblance that makes the two movements alike

A large crowd gathered in Gowalia Tank Maidan in Bombay (now Mumbai) on August 8, 1942 where Mahatma Gandhi first raised the slogan 'Do or Die'. The government crackdown began the next day. (Photo: Getty Images)
A large crowd gathered in Gowalia Tank Maidan in Bombay (now Mumbai) on August 8, 1942 where Mahatma Gandhi first raised the slogan 'Do or Die'. The government crackdown began the next day. (Photo: Getty Images)

GN Devy

Yusuf Meherally was not even 40 when he wrote and circulated the booklet titled ‘Quit India’ in August 1942. By then, he had already been imprisoned several times for embracing independence. He was the youngest Mayor of Bombay and immensely popular for his administrative efficiency and welfare measures. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel himself had thought of nominating young Yusuf as a candidate for the mayoral elections. On 14 July, at a meeting of the Congress in Wardha, four resolutions were passed:

1. An immediate end to British colonial rule over India

2. Free India’s declaration of commitment to defend itself against all types of fascism and imperialism

3. The decision to form a provisional government of India after the British withdrew

4. A civil disobedience movement against the British rule

A name, a catchphrase had to be found for the movement envisioned in the fourth resolution, something that captured the spirit of the resolutions. More than all other options discussed, Yusuf Meherally’s suggestion to call it ‘Quit India’ got Gandhi’s nod.

The movement was launched on 8 August 1942. It was suppressed brutally by the colonial government. A hundred thousand were arrested; people were ‘lathi-charged’; huge fines were imposed; and the Indian National Congress (INC) was declared an unlawful association. Within hours of Gandhi’s ‘Do or Die’ speech, almost the entire leadership of the INC was arrested—without any trial. The rest, as they say, is history.

The ‘Quit India’ cry resonated with India’s teeming millions. People translated the phrase in their own languages—‘Chale Jaav’ (literally, get lost) in Marathi and ‘Bharat Chhodo’ in Hindi. The intent was the same, the determination equally strong, whether articulated in Tamil or Asamiya or Gujarati. It gave pithy expression to what everyone felt—everyone had had enough.

Bharat Jodo rhymes well with ‘Bharat Chhodo’. But it’s more than just the rhyme or rhythm of the two, their surface resemblance, that makes the two movements alike. There are very many reasons why Bharat Jodo might revive memories of Bharat Chhodo and indeed become Bharat Chhodo 2. As the movement unfolds, so will its possibilities. ‘Bharat Jodo’ too may eventually be translated into India’s many languages and perhaps become ‘Connect India’ in English, ‘Samparkisalu Bharata’ in Kannada, ‘Inaikka Natu’ in Tamil, ‘Desh Jodishu’ in Gujarati, and so on. Once again, it will resonate with the feelings of millions of gagging, suffocating Indians. The spirit of the movement is the same. The same faith underpins it: that India is a Union of states, and it survives if our diversities are respected and allowed to thrive; we are one because we are many. Bharat Jodo is, therefore, a movement to remind people that we are a nation because we are founded upon our Constitution, which defines us as a union of states—both geographical as well as ‘mental states’—including people of widely varied cultural practices, theological affiliations and linguistic identities. In the simplest terms, the objective of the Innaika Natu or Desh Jodishu movement is to reconnect Indians to their Constitution, to bridge the emotional gulf between the idea of India and its people whose minds have been bombarded with divisive sentiment.

The Bharat Jodo movement, like Bharat Chhodo, is about all Indians, not just people who live in cities nor only those who pay taxes; not just productive agers nor just voters: it is about every last Indian, regardless of age, gender, caste, religion and economic status. It is about the India that has been and the India people want to see—a civilised nation, a vibrant democracy, a federation of states, based on mutual respect. In its highest horizon of expectations, it is about the idea of India held in regard by Indians since civilisation sprung in South Asia several millennia ago.

If the July 1942 resolutions that formed the backdrop of the ‘Quit India’ movement were to be drafted today, for the present context, they might have read remarkably similar:

1. An immediate end to communally divisive politics

2. Twenty-first century India’s declaration of commitment to defend itself against all kinds of fascism and crony-capitalism

3. After the defeat of the communal forces, to form governments that will provide a healing touch and bring back the rule of law and the primacy of the Constitution

4. A civil movement to reaffirm mutual respect for diversity, federalism and democracy

If these are the resolutions propelling the ‘Bharat Jodo’ yatra, its nature is manifestly different from many others organised in recent decades. It will most certainly be a complete antithesis of the rath yatra that slowly pushed India down the path of communal strife and majoritarian nationalism.

It was with a sense of the possibilities that the ‘Bharat Jodo’ yatra brings to mind that civil society participated in the conclave in Delhi on August 22.

80 years after the 'Quit India' movement, a ‘Bharat Jodo' Yatra to unite India

The spirit of the conclave was truly democratic. Tough questions were put to Rahul Gandhi and Digvijaya Singh, who held the consultations. Most participants were from an ideological background not always in sync with the Congress. Yet, the strength of the ‘Jodo’ idea had brought them together. Everyone knew that this was a moment to join hands in a united fight against hatred, fascism and forces that divide them.

The Bharat Jodo yatra will have a single symbol—the national flag. No party banners, no sectarian symbols. It will promote no party, no political formation. It will focus its entire attention on listening to people, understanding their dreams for the future, gathering and celebrating their memories of Indian independence and assuring everyone that people can indeed raise their voices when they are fearlessly determined to do so. The yatra is to dispel fear and to awaken in the minds of Indians the belief that India belongs to them, irrespective of who they are and where they came from in the storied history of the country.

The Jodo andolan is also a tribute to all those people who shaped India as a tolerant nation, people who sacrificed their lives so that Indians could live as free and equal citizens. The Bharat Jodo yatra is a freedom movement, nothing less, launched in a country once freed from its colonial masters but again shackled by prejudices. To see it as anything less is to misjudge its purpose and potential.

(G.N. Devy is a cultural activist and one of the hosts of the preparatory Bharat Jodo conclave)

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