Social Scientist. v 27, no. 314-315 (July-Aug 1999) p. 12.


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SOCIAL SCIENTIST

In this perspective the several extended periods of non-cooperation and civil disobedience - 1920-22, 1930-32, 1942-44, when the Congress entered into open defiance of the government and was repressed for its pains - suggest anomalies in the way the Congress leadership communicated with its followers and presented its case to India and the world. The last of these rebellions, from early August 1942 through September 1944, was the most serious: this was the so-called 'Quit India' movement, when, after much pushing and prodding from Gandhi, the Congress revolted against the continuance of British rule in the middle of the war.4 The demand made on August 8, 1942 that the British at once give up the Government of India, accompanied by the threat of a mass movement to secure the demand, was followed on August 9 by the arrest in Bombay of Gandhi and most of the top Congress leadership. The government moved almost simultaneously to sequester the files and funds of the national Congress offices. While the Congress as a whole was not outlawed, the national and provincial committees were banned and about 1,000 of their members were arrested within the week.5 Not only did internal communication within the Congress hierarchy abruptly cease, but the flow of directives from leadership levels of the organization to the mass of followers, regularly conducted through the medium of the nationalist press, was halted by severe censorship. Press ordinances, which had been prepared in advance of the August 9 raids and arrests, warned editors against publishing articles in support of the Congress's call for a mass movement; editors were also forbidden to report or comment on any of the measures taken by government to avert or repress the movement. These prohibitions were only the most recent in a series of wartime press controls already in effect. One of the first papers to be closed down was Gandhi's Harijan - the police seized every copy of the fiery issue of August 16, and only one other issue appeared a week later.6 In protest against the censorship, and in support of the Congress position and programme, 17 English and 67 vernacular papers around the country suspended publication for several weeks after August 16, and the Indian public was left in a state of eager ignorance about the movement, ignorant at least about the Congress perspective.7

In the face of strict press controls and the banning of major Congress meetings, an underground press immediately sprang up. In this essay I sketch the variety of these underground publications and then consider more closely one example of a rebel newspaper, Biplabi from south-western Bengal. There are two questions raised: first,



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