In 1942 the Congress met in Bombay.
The nation was strife with rumours that a mega event of the freedom movement was in the offing and a nervousness on part of the colonial establishment was perceptible. Even the archbishop of Canterbury in his weekly prayer asked people to keep India in their prayers.
Gandhi maintained a façade of peace while holding out an unspoken threat to the rulers. “If this is our non-violence, imagine what our rage would be ?”
To the Indian, Gandhi said “Do or Die”. War had been declared!
The fear of the lathi should have made most Indian spines softer than jelly but their fury shocked the British. Surely, this wasn’t the nation of invertebrates they had captured.
While the British struggled to handle the fracas elsewhere, they weren’t too concerned with Madras. After all they knew it for 300 years. Exactly as they thought, four local forces opposed the movement in Madras- Justice party, communists, Muslim league and surprisingly a faction of the Congress itself.
Yes. Quit India had the most unexpected of critics. Rajaji asked citizens “not to participate in the Hooliganism”. Communists Mohan and Parvathi Kumaramangalam went from college to college to dissuade students from participating. Raja Annamalai Chettiar asked the police to put down the lawlessness with a stern hand.
The British too did shore up their resources. Cp Ramaswami the Diwan of Travancore was persuaded to move to Madras as member of information in the Viceroy’s council.
Police were posted in many stations to nab Kamaraj, Bakthavatsalam and Satyamurthi on their way back from the Bombay meeting. Kamaraj (dressed like a Musalman) alighted at Arakkonam and escaped. Others were arrested.
A communiqué was issued “Whereas the government of Madras are of the opinion that the association known as TNCC has for its object, interference in the maintenance of law and order…. His Excellency the Governor of Madras is
hereby pleased to declare it unlawful.”. Simultaneously under the defence of India act holding public assemblies was banned..
Gandhi’s arrest set the nation aflame. Even elsewhere in the presidency, courts were burnt in Devakottai and railway stations in Tenali. Madurai and Bhimavaram were aflame. But Madras city was largely peaceful. The city walls were scribbled with charcoal “Gandhiji has been arrested. Why?” Slogan writing over, the city went back to its silence.
However, the students of the city colleges and schools clad in Khadi and wearing Gandhi caps rose in indignation and were in the vanguard of protest.
Girls added colour and in many places like Pachaiyappas were in the forefront. The docile girls of Queen Mary’s without blush of embarrassment crowded the streets shouting “Inquilab Zindabad” and a few even got arrested.
When newspapers reported a two day hunger strike in Women’s Christian college , its principal Eleanor Rivet made it clear it was only a fast and not a hunger strike as if there was some difference.
Presidency students blocked roads with parked cycles locked to each other. Pachaiyappas undergraduates assembled near the Chetpet railway gate, threw stones and when lathi charged were taken to GH.
The students resorted to a novel protest. They started pulling the alarm chains in trains and when the already jittery drivers braked they jumped off and ran for cover. This put the entire railway system under disarray. The railways responded by disconnecting the alarm systems. Pelting of stones on the trains from inside the walls of Pachaiyappa’s college continued, requiring passengers to down their metal shutters.
Gandhi had already reminded the newspapers of their duties. “The press should discharge its duties fearlessly. Let it not be cowed down by the government “
Rajaji’s comments however made fodder for the administration . Cp Ramaswami justified the press restrictions by quoting Rajaji’s statement of hooliganism. Five newspapers including Indian express rather than be intimidated, suspended publication on August 19th and kept away for 3 months.
India was ablaze in the Quit India days and Gandhi had effectively conveyed to the British that their Indian days were numbered.But compared to the rest of the nation, Madras did lag behind. Without doubt the Quit India agitation was a damp squib in Madras. Rather a shameful session in her history.