Collaborators in 1942, rulers in 2020: Quit India Movement betrayed by RSS & Hindu Mahasabha

Public documents lay bare great betrayal of ‘August Kranti’ in 1942 by Hindu Mahasabha, which joined hands with Muslim League to oppose Quit India Movement called by Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress

Photo Courtesy: Twitter/@dhami_raja
Photo Courtesy: Twitter/@dhami_raja

Shamsul Islam

On the eve of the 78th anniversary of the Quit India Movement, how do we evaluate the role of the votaries of Hindutva in India's anti-colonial freedom struggle?

The Quit India Movement, also known as ‘August Kranti' (August Revolution) was a nation-wide Civil Disobedience Movement for which a call was given on August 7, 1942 by the Bombay session of the All-India Congress Committee. It was to begin on August 9 as per Gandhi's call to 'Do or Die' in his Quit India speech delivered in Mumbai at the Gowalia Tank Maidan on August 8. Since then August 9 is celebrated as August Kranti Divas.

The British swiftly responded with mass detentions on August 8 itself. Over 100,000 arrests were made which included the top leadership of the Congress including Gandhi, mass fines were levied and demonstrators were subjected to public flogging. Hundreds of civilians were killed in violence, many shot by the police and the army.

Many national leaders went underground and continued their struggle by broadcasting messages over clandestine radio stations, distributing pamphlets and establishing parallel governments. Innumerable patriotic Indians were shot dead for the crime of holding the Tricolour in public.

Even before that, a terrible massacre took place in Mysore where the armed forces of Mysore Raja, who was very close to Hindu Mahasabha and RSS, shot dead 22 Congress activists for saluting the Tricolour.

It is to be noted that after declaring Congress as an anti-national and unlawful organisation, the British masters allowed only Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League to function.

Most of us know that the then Communist Party of India opposed the Quit India Movement, thus betraying a great mass upsurge in the history of the freedom struggle. But it is well documented that despite CPI’s call for keeping aloof from the Movement, large number of Communist activists participated in it. Moreover, CPI later offered an unconditional apology for opposing it.

However, what role did the then Hindutva camp—consisting of the Hindu Mahasabha and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh —play is still under wraps for reasons unknown.

The Hindutva camp not only opposed the Quit India Movement but also provided multi-faceted and multi-dimensional support to the British colonial rulers in suppressing this historic upsurge. In this connection, several shocking documents are available; they should be read to be believed.


While addressing the 24th session of the Hindu Mahasabha at Cawnpore (now Kanpur) in 1942, Savarkar outlined the strategy of the Hindu Mahasabha of co-operating with the rulers in the following words:

“The Hindu Mahasabha holds that the leading principle of all practical politics is the policy of Responsive Co-operation [with the British].”

The policy of responsive co-operation which covers the whole gamut of patriotic activities from unconditional co-operation right up to active and even armed resistance, will also keep adapting itself to the exigencies of the time, resources at our disposal and dictates of our national interest.

This ‘Responsive Cooperation’ with the British masters was not only a theoretical commitment. It soon got concretised in the ganging up of Hindu Mahasabha with the Muslim League. Hindu Mahasabha led by ‘Veer’ Savarkar ran coalition governments with Muslim League in 1942. Savarkar defended this nexus in his presidential speech in the same session of Hindu Mahasabha at Kanpur, in the following words:

“In practical politics the Mahasabha knows that we must advance through reasonable compromises. Witness the fact that only recently in Sind, the Sind-Hindu-Sabha on invitation had taken the responsibility of joining hands with the League itself in running coalition Government. The case of Bengal is well known. Wild Leaguers whom even the Congress with all its submissive-ness could not placate grew quite reasonably compromising and sociable as soon as they came in contact with the Hindu Mahasabha and the Coalition Government, under the premiership of Mr. Fazlul Huq and the able leadership of our esteemed Mahasabha leader Dr Syama Prasad Mookerji, functioned successfully for a year or so to the benefit of both the communities.”

Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim League beside Bengal and Sind ran coalition government in NWFP also during this period.


Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee had assured the British masters of cooperation in a letter dated July 26, 1942. Shockingly, it read:

“Let me now refer to the situation that may be created in the province as a result of any widespread movement launched by the Congress. Anybody, who during the war, plans to stir up mass feeling, resulting in internal disturbances or insecurity, must be resisted by any Government that may function for the time being”

Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the deputy chief minister in Bengal Muslim league ministry in a letter to Bengal governor on behalf of Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim League made it clear that both these parties looked at the British rulers as saviours of Bengal against Quit India Movement launched by Congress.

In this letter, he mentioned item wise the steps to be taken for dealing with the situation. It read:

· “The question is how to combat this movement (Quit India) in Bengal? The administration of the province should be carried on in such a manner that in spite of the best efforts of the Congress, this movement will fail to take root in the province.

  • It should be possible for us, especially responsible Ministers, to be able to tell the public that the freedom for which the Congress has started the movement, already belongs to the representatives of the people.
  • Indian have to trust the British, not for the sake for Britain, not for any advantage that the British might gain, but for the maintenance of the defence and freedom of the province itself."


The other flag-bearer of Hindutva, the RSS, was not different in its attitude towards the Quit India Movement. It openly sided with its mentor ‘Veer’ Savarkar against this great revolt. The RSS’ attitude towards the Movement becomes clear from the following utterances of its second chief and most prominent ideologue till date, M.S. Golwalkar. While talking about the outcome of the Non-Cooperation Movement and the Quit India Movement, he said:

“The boys became unruly after the 1920-21 movement. The matter is that we could not properly control these results. After 1942, people often started thinking that there was no need to think of the law.”

Thus, the prophet of Hindutva, Golwalkar, wanted Indians to respect the draconian and repressive laws of the British rulers! Curiously, he admitted that this kind of negative attitude towards the Quit India Movement did not go well even with RSS cadres:

“In 1942 also there was a strong sentiment in the hearts of many. At that time too the routine work of Sangh continued. Sangh vowed not to do anything directly. However, upheaval (uthal-puthal) in the minds of Sangh volunteers continued. Sangh is an organisation of inactive persons, their talks are useless, not only outsiders but also many of our volunteers did talk like this.”

It would be interesting to note what Golwalkar meant by ‘routine work of Sangh’. It surely meant working overtime to widen the divide between Hindus and Muslims thus serving the strategic goal of the British rulers and Muslim League.

In fact, the contemporary reports of the British intelligence agencies clearly describe the collusion. One such report stated, “the Sangh has scrupulously kept itself within the law, and in particular, has refrained from taking part in the disturbances that broke out in August 1942”.

Shockingly, these collaborators of 1942 are ruling India today and preening as bearers of Indian nationalism.

RSS leaders like Golwalkar, Deendayal Upadhyaya, Balraj Madhok, LK Advani and KR Malkani did not participate in the Quit India Movement. But BJP and RSS are busy doing today what they did 78 years ago.

(The author taught History in Delhi University. Opinions expressed are personal.)

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