The Cripps mission
was an attempt in late March of 1942 by the British government to secure Indian cooperation and support for their efforts in World War II
. The mission was headed by Sir Stafford Cripps
, a senior left-wing politician and government minister in the War Cabinet of Prime Minister Winston Churchill
With the Battle of Britain
and the entry of the U.S.
, World War II
was becoming increasingly grave and critical for the future survival of Britain and European nations. The British government desired to enlist the full cooperation and support of Indian political leaders in order to recruit more Indians into the British Indian Army
, which fought Imperial Japan
in South East Asia
and Fascist Italy
and Nazi Germany
and North Africa
alongside the British Army
and its Australian, New Zealander, and American allies. In 1939 the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow
, had declared India a belligerent state on the side of the allies without consulting Indian political leaders or the elected provincial representatives. This caused considerable resentment in India and provoked the resignation en masse
of elected Congress Party
Provincial Governments, giving rise to the prospect of public revolt and political disorder in India. The British feared a destabilizing revolt in India which could be fatal to their campaign against the Japanese, as well as detrimental to obtaining much-needed resources and manpower to fight the war in Europe as well.
Debate over cooperation or protest
The Congress was divided upon its response to India's entry into World War II
. Angry over the decision made by the Viceroy of India
, some Congress leaders favored launching a popular revolt against the British despite the gravity of the war in Europe, which threatened Britain's own freedom. Others, such as Chakravarti Rajagopalachari
advocated offering an olive branch to the British - supporting them in this crucial time in hope that the gesture would be reciprocated with independence after the war. India's and Congress' major leader, Mohandas Gandhi
, was opposed to Indian involvement in the war as he would not morally endorse a war - he also suspected British intentions, believing that the British were not sincere about Indian aspirations for freedom. But Rajagopalachari, along with support from Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel
, Maulana Azad
and Jawaharlal Nehru
held talks with Cripps and offered full support in return for immediate self-government, and eventual independence.
The leader of the Muslim League, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, supported the war effort and condemned the Congress policy. Insisting on a separate Muslim state, he resisted Congress calls for pan-Indian cooperation and immediate independence.
Failure of the mission
Upon his arrival in India
, Cripps held talks with Indian leaders. There is some confusion over what Cripps had been authorised to offer India's nationalist politicians by Churchill and Leo Amery
(His Majesty's Secretary of State for India
), and he also faced hostility from the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow
. He began by offering India full Dominion
status at the end of the war, with the chance to secede from the Commonwealth and go for total independence. Privately, Cripps also promised to get rid of Linlithgow and grant India Dominion Status with immediate effect, reserving only the Defence Ministry for the British. However, in public he failed to present any concrete proposals for greater self-government in the short-term, other than a vague commitment to increase the number of Indian members of the Viceroy's Executive Council. Cripps spent much of his time in encouraging Congress leaders and Jinnah to come to a common, public arrangement in support of the war and government; however, the Congress leaders felt that whatever Cripps might say, his political masters were not interested in granting the complete Indianisation of the Viceroy's Executive Council, its conversion into a Cabinet with collective responsibility, or Indian control over Defence in wartime. They were also suspicious of an opt-out clause which Amery was rumoured to have offered the Muslim League in any putative Dominion arrangement. There was too little trust between the British and Congress by this stage, and both sides felt that the other was concealing its true plans.
The Congress stopped talks with Cripps and, guided by Mohandas Gandhi, the national leadership demanded immediate self-government in return for war support. When the British remained unresponsive, Gandhi and the Congress began planning a major public revolt, the Quit India movement, which demanded immediate British withdrawal from India. As the Imperial Japanese Army advanced closer to India with the conquest of Burma, Indians perceived an inability upon the part of the British to defend Indian soil. This period concurred with the rise of the Indian National Army, led by Subhas Chandra Bose. The British response to the Quit India movement was to throw most of the Congress leadership in jail.
Jinnah's Muslim League condemned the Quit India movement, participating in provincial governments as well as the legislative councils of the British Raj, and encouraging Muslims to participate in the war. With this limited cooperation from the Muslim League, the British were able to continue administering India for the duration of the war using officials and military personnel where Indian politicians could not be found. This would not prove to be feasible in the long-term, however.
The long-term significance of the Cripps Mission only really became apparent in the aftermath of the war, as troops were demobilised and sent back home. Even Churchill recognised that there could be no retraction of the offer of Independence which Cripps had made, although by the end of the war Churchill was out of power and could only watch as the new Labour government gave India independence. This confidence that the British would soon leave was reflected in the readiness with which Congress politicians stood in the elections of 1945-6 and formed provincial governments. In retrospect, this unsuccessful and badly-planned attempt to placate the Congress in return for temporary wartime support was the point at which the British departure from India became inevitable at the war's end.
- Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War: Volume IV, The Hinge of Fate, [Cassell, London, England, 1951 and Houghton Mifflin, Boston, Massachusetts, 1950, 1986: ISBN 978-0-39-541058-5; also Bantam Books, New York City, 1962 and Penguin Books, London, England, 2005: ISBN 0141441755 (pbk.) ], Book One, Chapter 12, "India—The Cripps Mission"; limited preview of the whole chapter at Google Books