The British Cabinet Mission
of 1946 to India
aimed to discuss and finalize plans for the transfer of power from the British Raj
to Indian leadership, providing India with independence under Dominion
status in the Commonwealth of Nations
. Formulated at the initiative of Clement Attlee
, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
, the mission consisted of Lord Pethick-Lawrence
, the Secretary of State
for India, Sir Stafford Cripps
, President of the Board of Trade
, and A. V. Alexander
, the First Lord of the Admiralty
. It was also supplemented by Lord Wavell
, the Viceroy of India
at the time.
Purpose and proposals
The Mission purpose was:
- Hold preparatory discussions with elected representatives of British India and the Indian states in order to secure agreement as to the method of framing the constitution.
- Setting up of a constitution body.
- Setting up an Executive Council with the support of the main Indian parties.
The mission arrived in India on March 23, 1946. The mission arrived in Delhi on April 2, 1946.
The Mission held talks with the representatives of the Indian National Congress and the All India Muslim League, the two largest political parties in the Constituent Assembly of India. The two parties had planned on making an agreement over whether India should be unified or divided. The Muslim League wanted India to be divided between Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. After initial dialogue, the Mission proposed two plans over the composition of the new government:
Plan of May 16
Promulgated on 16 May 1946, the plan to create a united dominion of India as a loose confederation
of provinces came to be known its date of announcement:
- A united Dominion of India would be given independence.
- Muslim-majority provinces would be grouped - Baluchistan, Sind, Punjab and NWFP would form one group, and Bengal and Assam would form another (Assam was a Hindu-majority province, while both Punjab and Bengal consisted of large populations of Hindus and Sikhs).
- Hindu-majority provinces in central and southern India would form another group.
- The Central government would be empowered to run foreign affairs, defense and communications, while the rest of powers and responsibility would belong to the provinces, coordinated by groups.
Plan of June 16
An alternative plan proposed on 16 June 1946 was to arrange for India to be divided into Hindu-majority India and a Muslim-majority Pakistan
. The princely states of India
would be permitted to accede to either dominion or attain independence.
Reactions and acceptance
The approval of the plans would determine the composition of the new government. The Congress Working Committee had initially approved the plan. However, on 10 July, Jawaharlal Nehru, who later became the first prime minister of India, held a press conference in Bombay declaring that the Congress had agreed only to participate in the Constituent Assembly and regards itself free to change or modify the Cabinet Mission Plan as it thought best." While the Congress ruled out the June 16 plan - seeing it as the blatant division of India into small states - it also hesitated to accept the May 16 plan, which it saw as caving in to communal division by accepting the grouping of provinces on a communal basis - setting the stage for regional and religious separatism. It objected strongly to the inclusion of Assam, a Hindu-majority province with the Muslim-majority Bengal province which was to form the third group. It also objected to the inclusion of the Northwest Frontier Province
, which was a Congress-administered province and supportive of Indian unity, into a group dominated by League-ruled provinces. The Congress was certain that the League would use the groupings as a solid platform for to achieve a Muslim state - attributed by Jinnah's demand that the groups have the option of secession in five years. The plan's strongest opponent was Mohandas Gandhi
, the principal Indian leader.
The Muslim League gave its approval to the plan only under duress, as it was assured that the Congress also had accepted the scheme and the Plan would be the basis of the future constitution of India. Jinnah, in his speech to the League Council, clearly stated that he recommended acceptance only because nothing better could be obtained. However, on declaration from the Congress President that the Congress could change the scheme through its majority in the Constituent Assembly, this meant that the minorities would be placed at the mercy of the majority. The Muslim League Council met at Bombay on 27 July. "Mr. Jinnah in his opening speech reiterated the demand for Pakistan as the only course left open to the Muslim League. After three days' discussion, the Council passed a resolution rejecting the Cabinet Mission Plan. It also decided to resort to direct action for the achievement of Pakistan."
However, the plan had its advocates. Maulana Azad, a nationalist Muslim leader said that while groupings was a major concession to the theme of religious separatism, it would also force the League to accept a framework for a united India. While assuring minority rights and participation, an independent India would be free to do away eventually with the groupings arrangement. While Gandhi criticized the Maulana's views for ignoring practical considerations and League ambitions, other senior Indian leaders like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru were aware that if the Congress did not approve either plan, the entire government would be transferred to the League, which had approved both. Expressing strong reservations, the Congress approved the May 16 plan for a loose union of India.
Formation of a government
The Viceroy began organizing the transfer of power to a Congress-League coalition. But League president Muhammad Ali Jinnah denounced the hesitant and conditional approval of the Congress and rescinded League approval of both plans. Thus Congress leaders entered the newly styled Viceroy's Executive Council
: Jawaharlal Nehru became the head - vice president in title, but possessing the executive authority. Vallabhbhai Patel became the Home member - responsible for internal security and government agencies. Congress-led governments were formed in most provinces - including in the NWFP, in Punjab (a coalition with the Shiromani Akali Dal
and the Unionist Muslim League
). The League led governments in Bengal and Sind. The Constituent Assembly was instructed to begin work to write a new constitution for India.
Coalition and breakdown
Jinnah and the League condemned the new government, and vowed to agitate for Pakistan by any means possible. Disorder arose in Punjab and Bengal, including the cities of Delhi
. On the League-organized Direct Action Day
, over 5,000 people were killed across India, and Hindu, Sikh and Muslim mobs began clashing routinely. Viceroy Wavell stalled the Central government's efforts to stop the disorder, and the provinces were instructed to leave this to the governors, who did not undertake any major action. To end the disorder and rising bloodshed, Wavell encouraged Nehru to ask the League to enter the government. While Patel and most Congress leaders were opposed to conceding to a party that was organizing disorder, Nehru conceded in hope of preserving communal peace.
League leaders entered the council under the leadership of Liaquat Ali Khan, the future first Prime Minister of Pakistan who became the finance minister. But the council did not function in harmony - separate meetings were held by League ministers, and both parties vetoed the major initiatives proposed by the other, highlighting their ideological differences and political antagonism. At the arrival of the new (and proclaimed the last) viceroy, Lord Mountbatten in early 1947, Congress leaders expressed the view that the coalition was unworkable. This led to the eventual proposal, and acceptance of the partition of India.