The socialist freedom fighter was Mumbai’s mayor when the Congress intensified the freedom movement 75 years ago on this day.
Who coined the iconic slogan “Quit India”, the rallying cry of a movement for freedom launched this day 75 years ago? Contrary to popular belief, it was not Mohandas Gandhi.
Gandhi kick-started the Quit India movement on August 8, 1942, at the All India Congress Committee meeting in Mumbai’s Gowalia Tank Maidan. He also infused it with the spirit of his phrase “do or die”. Over the following few months, freedom fighters across India responded with waves of civic rebellion, despite the arrest of Gandhi and other leaders, and violent backlash from the British authorities.
But the “Quit India” slogan is credited to another Congress leader, Yusuf Meherally, who is said to have come up with the phrase at a meeting of Gandhi’s close associates in Mumbai some time before the launch of the movement. At the time, 39-year-old Meherally was the mayor of Bombay – the first socialist to be elected to the post. He would be imprisoned eight times during the freedom struggle.
In his book Gandhi and Bombay, K Gopalaswami describes how “Quit India” came to be adopted as the slogan that would dominate the last years of India’s independence movement:
“Shantikumar Morarji has recorded that Gandhi conferred with his colleagues in Bombay on the best slogan for independence – when this was is not stated. One of them suggested ‘Get out’. Gandhi rejected it as being impolite. Rajagopalachari mentioned ‘Retreat’ or ‘Withdraw’. That too did not find favour. Yusuf Meherali presented Gandhi with a bow bearing the inscription ‘Quit India’. Gandhi said in approval, ‘Amen’.”
According to his biographer Madhu Dandavate, Meherally published a booklet titled “Quit India” on the eve of the 1942 movement. It was sold out in a matter of weeks. “He also popularised the slogan by getting over a thousand ‘Quit India’ badges printed before the All India Congress Committee meeting began on August 7,” said GG Parikh, one of the co-founders of Yusuf Meherally Centre, a non-profit organisation set up in Mumbai to honour Meherally’s socialist and Gandhian legacy.
‘Simon Go Back’
Meherally’s talent for coining catchy slogans had been proven even before the Quit India movement. In 1928, he came up with the catchphrase “Simon Go Back” in protest against the all-British Simon Commission appointed by the imperial government to recommend improvements to British governance in India.
“In February 1928, when the commission arrived at the Bombay port, Meherally had organised a protest,” said GG Parikh. “He and his colleagues had dressed up as coolies to get access, and then greeted the commission with the slogan ‘Simon Go Back’.”
Meherally’s role in the freedom movement was not restricted to just coining slogans. In his book Yusuf Meherally: Quest for New Horizons, Dandavate notes that Meherally was responsible for mobilising his socialist colleagues – including Rammanohar Lohia, Aruna Asaf Ali and Achyut Patwardhan – and ensuring they took the Quit India movement forward while hiding underground after the arrest of the Congress leaders. Meherally was, in fact, one of the senior leaders arrested along with Gandhi and others on August 9, 1942.
He was released from prison in 1946 and went on to become an MLA in Independent India and founder of the Congress Socialist Party. He died in July 1950, in Mumbai.