Indian History VI

Delhi Law Academy

Rajagopalachari Formula

•            Meanwhile, efforts were on to solve the ongoing constitutional crisis, and some individuals also tried to come up with constitutional proposals.

The Formula

•            C. Rajagopalachari (CR), the veteran Congress leader, prepared a formula for Congress-League cooperation in 1944.

•            It was a tacit acceptance of the League’s demand for Pakistan. Gandhi supported the formula.

The main points in the CR Plan were:

•            Muslim League to endorse Congress demand for independence.

•            League to cooperate with Congress in forming a provisional government at centre.

•            After the end of the war, the entire population of Muslim majority areas in the North-West and North-East India to decide by a plebiscite, whether or not to form a separate sovereign state.

•            In case of acceptance of partition, agreement to be made jointly for safeguarding defence, commerce, communications, etc.

•            The above terms to be operative only if England transferred full powers to India.


•            Jinnah wanted the Congress to accept the two-nation theory. He wanted only the Muslims of North-West and North-East to vote in the plebiscite and not the entire population. He also opposed the idea of a common centre.

•            While the Congress was ready to cooperate with the League for the independence of the Indian Union, the League did not care for independence of the Union. It was only interested in a separate nation.

•            Hindu leaders led by Vir Savarkar condemned the CR Plan.

Desai-Liaqat Pact

Efforts continued to end the deadlock. Bhulabhai Desai, leader of the Congress Party in the Central Legislative Assembly, met Liaqat Ali Khan, deputy leader of the Muslim League in that Assembly, and both of them came up with the draft proposal for the formation of an interim government at the centre, consisting of —

•            an equal number of persons nominated by the Congress and the League in the central legislature.

•            20% reserved seats for minorities.

No settlement could be reached between the Congress and the League on these lines, but the fact that a sort of parity between the Congress and the League was decided upon had far-reaching consequences.

Wavell Plan

•            Although the war in Europe came to an end in May 1945, the Japanese threat still remained. The Conservative government in Britain led by Churchill was keen to reach a solution on the constitutional question in India.

•            The viceroy, Lord Wavell was permitted to start negotiations with Indian leaders. Congress leaders were released from jails in June 1945.

Why the Government was Keen on a Solution Now

1.           The general election in England was scheduled for mid-1945. The Conservatives wanted to be seen as sincere on reaching a solution.

2.           There was pressure from the Allies to seek further Indian cooperation in the war.

3.           The government wanted to divert Indian energies into channels more profitable for the British.

The Plan

•            The idea was to reconstruct the governor-general’s executive council pending the preparation of a new constitution. For this purpose, a conference was convened by the viceroy, Lord Wavell, at Shimla in June 1945.

The main proposals of the Wavell Plan were as follows.

•            With the exception of the governor-general and the commander-in-chief, all members of the executive council were to be Indians.

•            Caste Hindus and Muslims were to have equal representation.

•            The reconstructed council was to function as an interim government within the framework of the 1935 Act (i.e. not responsible to the Central Assembly).

•            The governor-general was to exercise his veto on the advice of ministers.

•            Representatives of different parties were to submit a joint list to the viceroy for nominations to the executive council. If a joint list was not possible, then separate lists were to be submitted.

•            Possibilities were to be kept open for negotiations on a new constitution once the war was finally won.

Muslim League’s Stand

•            The League wanted all Muslim members to be League nominees, because it feared that since the aims of other minorities—depressed classes, Sikhs, Christians, etc.—were the same as those of the Congress, this arrangement would reduce the League to a one-third minority.

•            The League claimed some kind of veto in the council with decisions opposed to Muslims needing a two-thirds majority for approval.

Congress Stand

•            The Congress objected to the plan as “an attempt to reduce the Congress to the status of a purely caste Hindu party and insisted on its right to include members of all communities among its nominees”.

Wavells Mistake

•            Wavell announced a breakdown of talks thus giving the League a virtual veto.

•            This strengthened the League’s position, as was evident from the elections in 1945-46, and boosted Jinnah’s position; and exposed the real character of the Conservative government of Churchill.

The Indian National Army and Subhash Bose

•            Subhash Chandra Bose passed the Indian Civil Services examination securing fourth position but resigned from the service in 1921 to join the struggle for freedom by becoming a member of the Congress.

•            His political guru was Chittaranjan Das. He became mayor of Calcutta in 1923. He was jailed many times by the British. Once it became clear to Subhash Chandra Bose that he could not follow Gandhi’s way but that the Congress was determined to follow Gandhi, Bose decided to go his own way to fight for independence.

•            Bose was arrested in July when he protested and tried to launch a satyagraha against a proposed monument for Holwell in Calcutta. He was released from prison and placed under house arrest in December 1940 after a hunger strike. In January 1941, it was reported that Bose had escaped. On January 26, 1941, he reached Peshawar under the pseudo-name Ziauddin, helped by Bhagat Ram.

•            Later it was heard that he had left India “to supplement from outside the struggle going on at home”. He was reported to have approached Russia for help in the Indian struggle for freedom from Britain. But, in June 1941, Russia joined the Allies in the war, which disappointed Bose. He then went to Germany.

•            Bose met Hitler under the pseudo name, Orlando Mazzotta. With the help of Hitler, the ‘Freedom Army’ (Mukti Sena) was formed which consisted of all the prisoners of war of Indian origin captured by Germany and Italy. Dresden, Germany was made the office of the Freedom Army. Bose came to be called ‘Netaji’ by the people of Germany. He gave the famous slogan, ‘Jai Hind’ from the Free India Centre, Germany.

•            He began regular broadcasts from Berlin radio in January 1942, which enthused Indians. In early 1943, he left Germany and travelled by German and later by Japanese submarines to reach Japan and then Singapore in July of the same year.

•            He was to take over command of the Indian independence movement from Rashbehari Bose, but that was the second phase of the Indian National Army.

Origin and First Phase of the Indian National Army

•            The idea of creating an army out of the Indian prisoners of war (POWs) was originally that of Mohan Singh, an Indian army officer who had decided not to join the retreating British army in Malaya. He decided to turn to the Japanese for help. The Japanese had till then encouraged Indian civilians to form anti-British organisations. Mohan Singh asked for Indian prisoners of war.

•            The Japanese handed over the Indian prisoners of war to Mohan Singh who tried to recruit them into an Indian National Army. After the fall of Singapore, several POWs were ready to join Mohan Singh. By the end of 1942, 40,000 men were ready to join the INA.

•            It was intended that the INA would go into action only on the invitation of the Indian National Congress and the people of India. The move to form this army has been seen by many as a check against the misconduct of the Japanese against Indians in South-East Asia and as a bulwark against a possible future Japanese occupation of India.

•            The INA got a boost with the outbreak of the Quit India Movement in India. In September 1942, the first division of the INA was formed with 16,300 men. With the Japanese contemplating an Indian invasion, the idea of an armed wing of INA seemed more relevant to them.

•            But soon, serious differences emerged between the Indian Army officers led by Mohan Singh and the Japanese over the role to be played by the INA. Actually, the Japanese wanted a token force of 2,000 only while Mohan Singh wanted to raise a much larger army. Mohan Singh was taken into custody by the Japanese.

•            The second phase began with the arrival of Subhash Bose in Singapore. But before that in June 1943, Subhash Chandra Bose (under pseudo name Abid Hussain) reached Tokyo; met the Japanese prime minister, Tojo.

•            The role of Rasbehari Bose, another great freedom fighter, should also be acknowledged here. He had fled to Japan in 1915 following the failed revolutionary activities. In Japan, Rashbehari Bose eventually became a naturalised citizen. He made a lot of effort in getting the Japanese interested in the Indian independence movement. He became active in Pan-Asian circles, founded the Indian Club of Tokyo, and gave lectures on the evils of Western imperialism.

•            When Subhash Bose was sought by the Japanese to lead the INA, he was ready for it. He went to Singapore and met Rashbehari Bose, and the latter happily transferred the control and leadership of the Indian Independence League and the INA to Subhash in July 1943.

•            Subhash Bose became Supreme Commander of the INA on August 25. On October 21, 1943, Subhash Bose formed the Provisional Government for Free India at Singapore. The famous slogan—“Give me blood, I will give you freedom” was given in Malaya.

•            This provisional government declared war on Britain and the United States, and was recognised by the Axis powers. Recruits were trained and funds collected for the INA. A women’s regiment called the Rani Jhansi Regiment was also formed.

•            The INA headquarters was shifted to Rangoon (in Burma) in January 1944, and the army recruits were to march from there with the war cry “Chalo Delhi!” on their lips.

•            On November 6, 1943, Andaman and Nicobar islands was given by the Japanese army to the INA; the islands were renamed as Shahid Dweep and Swaraj Dweep respectively.

•            One INA battalion commanded by Shah Nawaz was allowed to accompany the Japanese Army to the Indo-Burma front and participate in the Imphal campaign. However, the Indians received discriminatory treatment from the Japanese, which included being denied rations and arms and being made to do menial work for the Japanese units, and this disgusted and demoralised the INA units.

•            The Azad Hind Fauz crossed the Burma border, and stood on Indian soil on March 18, 1944. The INA units subsequently advanced up to Kohima and Imphal. On April 14, Colonel Malik of the Bahadur Group hoisted the INA flag for the first time on the Indian mainland at Moirang, in Manipur (where the INA Memorial Complex stands today) to enthusiastic cries of “Jai Hind” and “Netaji Zindabad”. For three months the INA carried out military administration duties at Moirang but then the Allied forces reclaimed the territory. The INA met the same fate as the Japanese, and all brigades began their withdrawal on July 18, 1944.

•            The steady Japanese retreat thereafter quashed any hopes of the INA liberating the nation. The retreat continued till mid-1945. On August 15, 1945 the surrender of Japan in the Second World War took place and with this the INA also surrendered.

•            On August 18, 1945, reportedly, Subhash Bose died mysteriously in an air-crash at Taipei (Taiwan).

•            But when the INA POWs were brought back to India after the war to be court-martialled, a powerful movement emerged in their defence.

Change in Government’s Attitude

•            When the government lifted the ban on the Congress and released the Congress leaders in June 1945, they expected to find a demoralised people.

•            Instead, they found tumultuous crowds impatient to do something. Popular energy resurfaced after three years of repression. People’s expectations were heightened by the release of their leaders.

•            In August 1945, elections to central and provincial assemblies were announced.

The government’s change attitude was dictated by the following factors:

1.           The end of the War resulted in a change in balance of global power—the UK was no more a big power while the USA and USSR emerged as superpowers, both of which favoured freedom for India.

2.           The new Labour government was more sympathetic to Indian demands.

3.           Throughout Europe, there was a wave of socialist- radical governments.

4.           British soldiers were weary and tired and the British economy lay shattered. (By 1945 the British government in London owed India £1.2 billion and was being drained by the US Lend-Lease agreement, which was finally paid off only in 2006.)

5.           There was an anti-imperialist wave in South-East Asia—in Vietnam and Indonesia—resisting efforts to replant French and Dutch rule there.

6.           Officials feared another Congress revolt, a revival of the 1942 situation but much more dangerous because of a likely combination of attacks on communications, agrarian revolts, labour trouble, army disaffection joined by government officials and the police in the presence of INA men with some military experience.

7.           Elections were inevitable once the war ended since the last elections had been held in 1934 for the Centre and in 1937 for the provinces.

The British would have had to retreat; the Labour government only quickened the process somewhat.

Congress Election Campaign and INA Trials

•            Elections were held in the winter of 1945-46.

Election Campaign for Nationalistic Aims

•            The most significant feature of the election campaign was that it sought to mobilise the Indians against the British; it did not just appeal to the people for votes.

•            The election campaign expressed the nationalist sentiments against the state repression of the 1942 Quit India upsurge. This was done by glorifying martyrs and condemning officials. The brave resistance of the leaderless people was lauded; martyrs’ memorials were set up; relief funds were collected for sufferers; the officials responsible for causing pain were condemned; and promises of enquiry and threats of punishment to guilty officials were spelt out.

•            The government failed to check such speeches. This had a devastating effect on the morale of the services. The prospect of the return of Congress ministries, especially in those provinces where repression had been most brutal, further heightened the fears of those in government services. A ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with the Congress seemed necessary to the government.

•            Mass pressure against the trial of INA POWs, sometimes described as “an edge of a volcano”, brought about a decisive shift in the government’s policy. The British had initially decided to hold public trials of several hundreds of INA prisoners besides dismissing them from service and detaining without trial around 7,000 of them.

•            They compounded the folly by holding the first trial at the Red Fort in Delhi in November 1945 and putting on dock together a Hindu, Prem Kumar Sehgal, a Muslim, Shah Nawaz Khan, and a Sikh, Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon.

•            Another issue was provided by the use of Indian Army units in a bid to restore French and Dutch colonial rule in Vietnam and Indonesia: this enhanced the anti-imperialist feeling among a section of urban population and the Army.

Congress Support for INA Prisoners

•            At the first post-War Congress session in September 1945 at Bombay, a strong resolution was adopted declaring Congress support for the INA cause.

•            Defence of INA prisoners in the court was organised by Bhulabhai Desai, Tej Bahadur Sapru, Kailash Nath Katju, Jawaharlal Nehru and Asaf Ali.

•            INA Relief and Enquiry Committee distributed small sums of money and food, and helped arrange employment for the affected.

•            Fund collection was organised.

The INA Agitation

•            The high pitch and intensity at which the campaign for the release of INA prisoners was conducted was unprecedented. The agitation got wide publicity through extensive press coverage with daily editorials, distribution of pamphlets often containing threats of revenge, grafitti conveying similar messages, holding of public meetings and celebrations of INA Day (November 12, 1945) and INA week (November 5-11).

•            The campaign spread over a wide area of the country and witnessed the participation of diverse social groups and political parties. While the nerve centres of the agitation were Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, United Provinces towns and Punjab, the campaign spread to distant places such as Coorg, Baluchistan and Assam.

•            The forms of participation included fund contributions made by many people—from film stars, municipal committees, Indians living abroad and gurudwaras to tongawallas; participation in meetings; shopkeepers closing shops; political groups demanding release of prisoners; contributing to INA funds; student meetings and boycott of classes; organising kisan conferences; and All India Women’s Conference demanding the release of INA prisoners.

•            Those who supported the INA cause in varying degrees, apart from the Congress, included the Muslim League, Communist Party, Unionists, Akalis, Justice Party, Ahrars in Rawalpindi, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Hindu Mahasabha and the Sikh League.

•            Pro-INA sentiments surfaced in traditional bulwarks of the Raj. Government employees collected funds. The loyalists—the gentlemen with titles—appealed to the government to abandon the trials for good Indo-British relations. Men of the armed forces were unexpectedly sympathetic and attended meetings, received those released (often in uniforms) and contributed funds.

•            The central theme became the questioning of Britain’s right to decide a matter concerning Indians. Britain realised the political significance of the INA issue, which with each day assumed more and more of an ‘Indian versus British’ colour.

Three Upsurges—Winter of 1945-46

•            The nationalist sentiment which reached a crescendo around the INA trials developed into violent confrontations with the authority in the winter of 1945-46.

There were three major upsurges—

1.           November 21, 1945—in Calcutta over the INA trials.

2.           February 11, 1946—in Calcutta against the seven- year sentence to INA officer Rashid Ali.

3.           February 18, 1946—in Bombay, strike by the Royal Indian Navy ratings.

Three-Stage Pattern

All three upsurges showed a similar three-stage pattern.

Stage I.              When a Group Defies Authority and is Repressed

•            In the first instance of this stage (November 21, 1945), a student procession comprising some Forward Bloc sympathisers, Student Federation of India (SFI) activists and Islamia College students, who had joined up with the League and the Congress, tied flags as a symbol of anti-imperialist unity, marched to Dalhousie Square—the seat of government in Calcutta.

•            These protestors refused to disperse and were lathicharged. They retaliated by throwing stones and brickbats. The police resorted to firing in which two persons died.

•            In the next step (February 11, 1946), the protest was led by Muslim League students in which some Congress and communist students’ organisations joined. Some arrests provoked the students to defy Section 144. There were more arrests and the agitating students were lathicharged.

Rebellion by Naval Ratings

On February 18, 1946 some 1100 Royal Indian Navy (RIN) ratings of HMIS Talwar went on a strike to protest against

*            racial discrimination (demanding equal pay for Indian and white soldiers)

*            unpalatable food

*            abuse by superior officers

*            arrest of a rating for scrawling ‘Quit India’ on HMIS Talwar

*            INA trials

*            use of Indian troops in Indonesia, demanding their withdrawal.

•            The rebellious ratings hoisted the tricolour, crescent, and the hammer and sickle flags on the mast of the rebel fleet. Other ratings soon joined and they went around Bombay in lorries holding Congress flags threatening Europeans and policemen.

•            Crowds brought food to the ratings and shop-keepers invited them to take whatever they needed.

Stage II. When the City People Join In

•            This phase was marked by a virulent anti-British mood resulting in the virtual paralysis of Calcutta and Bombay.

•            There were meetings, processions, strikes, hartals, and attacks on Europeans, police stations, shops, tram depots, railway stations, banks, besides stopping of rail and road traffic by squatting on tracks and barricading of streets.

Stage III. When People in Other Parts of the Country Express Sympathy and Solidarity

•            While the students boycotted classes and organised hartals and processions to express sympathy with other students and the ratings, there were sympathetic strikes in military establishments in Karachi, Madras, Visakhapatnam, Calcutta, Delhi, Cochin, Jamnagar, Andamans, Bahrain and Aden.

•            There were strikes by the Royal Indian Air Force in Bombay, Poona, Calcutta, Jessore and Ambala.

•            Patel and Jinnah persuaded the ratings to surrender on February 23 with an assurance that national parties would prevent any victimisation.

Evaluation of Potential and Impact of the Three Upsurges

The three upsurges were significant in many ways:

•            Fearless action by the masses was an expression of militancy in the popular mind.

•            Revolt in the armed forces had a great liberating effect on the minds of people.

•            The RIN revolt was seen as an event marking the end of British rule.

•            These upsurges prompted the British to extend some concessions:

(i)          On December 1, 1946, the government announced that only those INA members accused of murder or brutal treatment of fellow prisoners would be brought to trial.

(ii)         Imprisonment sentences passed against the first batch were remitted in January 1947.

(iii)        Indian soldiers were withdrawn from Indo-China and Indonesia by February 1947.

(iv)        The decision to send a parliamentary delegation to India (November 1946) was taken.

(v)         The decision to send Cabinet Mission was taken in January 1946.

Election Results

Performance of the Congress

•            It got 91 per cent of non-Muslim votes.

•            It captured 57 out of 102 seats in the Central Assembly.

•            In the provincial elections, it got a majority in most provinces except in Bengal, Sindh and Punjab. The Congress majority provinces included the NWFP and Assam which were being claimed for Pakistan

Muslim League’s Performance

•            It got 86.6 per cent of the Muslim votes.

•            It captured the 30 reserved seats in the Central Assembly.

•            In the provincial elections, it got a majority in Bengal and Sindh.

•            Unlike in 1937, now the League clearly established itself as the dominant party among Muslims.

•            In Punjab A Unionist-Congress-Akali coalition under Khizr Hayat Khan assumed power.

Significant Features of Elections

The elections witnessed communal voting in contrast to the strong anti-British unity shown in various upsurges due to

1.           separate electorates and

2.           limited franchise—for the provinces, less than 10 per cent of the population could vote and for the Central Assembly, less than 1 per cent of the population was eligible

The Cabinet Mission

•            The Attlee government announced in February 1946 the decision to send a high-powered mission of three British cabinet members (Pethick Lawrence, Secretary of State for India; Stafford Cripps, President of the Board of Trade; and A.V. Alexander, First Lord of Admiralty) to India to find out ways and means for a negotiated, peaceful transfer of power to India.

Why British Withdrawal Seemed Imminent Now

1.           The success of nationalist forces in the struggle for hegemony was fairly evident by the end of the War. Nationalism had penetrated into hitherto untouched sections and areas.

2.           There was a demonstration in favour of nationalism among the bureaucracy and the loyalist sections; because the paucity of European ICS recruits and a policy of Indianisation had ended the British domination of the ICS as early as the First World War and by 1939, there existed a British-Indian parity.

•            The long war had caused weariness and economic worries.

•            Now only a depleted, war-weary bureaucracy battered by the 1942 events remained.

3.           The British strategy of conciliation and repression had its limitations and contradictions.

•            After the Cripps’ Offer there was little left to offer for conciliation except full freedom.

•            When non-violent resistance was repressed with force, the naked force behind the government stood exposed, while if the government did not clamp down on ‘sedition’ or made offers for truce, it was seen to be unable to wield authority, and its prestige suffered.

•            Efforts to woo the Congress dismayed the loyalists. This policy of an unclear mix presented a dilemma for the services, who nevertheless had to implement it.

•            The prospect of Congress ministries coming to power in the provinces further compounded this dilemma.

4.           Constitutionalism or Congress Raj had proved to be a big morale-booster and helped in deeper penetration of patriotic sentiments among the masses.

5.           Demands of leniency for INA prisoners from within the Army and the revolt of the RIN ratings had raised fears that the armed forces may not be as reliable if the Congress started a 1942-type mass movement, this time aided by the provincial ministries.

6.           The only alternative to an all-out repression of a mass movement was an entirely official rule which seemed impossible now because the necessary numbers and efficient officials were not available.

7.           The government realised that a settlement was necessary for burying the ghost of a mass movement and for good future Indo-British relations.

•            Now the overarching aim of the British policy-makers was a graceful withdrawal, after a settlement on the modalities of the transfer of power and nature of post-imperial India- Britain relations.

On the Eve of Cabinet Mission Plan

•            The Congress demanded that power be transferred to one centre and that minorities’ demands be worked out in a framework ranging from autonomy to Muslim-majority provinces to self-determination or secession from the Indian Union—but, only after the British left.

•            The British bid for a united and friendly India and an active partner in defence of the Commonwealth, because a divided India would lack in defence and would be a blot on Britain’s diplomacy.

•            The British policy in 1946 clearly reflected a preference for a united India, in sharp contrast to earlier declarations.

•            On March 15, 1946, the Prime Minister of Britain, Clement Attlee said: “…though mindful of the rights of minorities… cannot allow a minority to place their veto on advance of the majority.”

•            This was a far cry from the Shimla Conference where Wavell had allowed Jinnah to wreck the conference.

Cabinet Mission Arrives

•            The Cabinet Mission reached Delhi on March 24, 1946.

•            It had prolonged discussions with Indian leaders of all parties and groups on the issues of

(i)          interim government and

(ii)         principles and procedures for framing a new constitution giving freedom to India

•            As the Congress and the League could not come to any agreement on the fundamental issue of the unity or partition of India, the mission put forward its own plan for the solution of the constitutional problem in May 1946.

Mission Plan—Main Points

•            Rejection of the demand for a full-fledged Pakistan, because

(i)          the Pakistan so formed would include a large non-Muslim population—38 per cent in the North-West and 48 per cent in the North-East

(ii)         the very principle of communal self-determination would claim separation of Hindu-majority western Bengal and Sikh- and Hindu-dominated Ambala and Jullundur divisions of Punjab

(iii)        deep-seated regional ties would be disturbed if Bengal and Punjab were partitioned

(iv)        partition would entail economic and administrative problems, for instance, the problem of communication between the western and eastern parts of Pakistan and

(v)         the division of the armed forces would be dangerous

•            Grouping of existing provincial assemblies into three sections:

Section-A:        Madras, Bombay, Central Provinces, United Provinces, Bihar and Orissa (Hindu-majority provinces)

Section-B:         Punjab, North-West Frontier Province and Sindh (Muslim-majority provinces)

Section-C:         Bengal and Assam (Muslim-majority provinces).

•            Three-tier executive and legislature at provincial, section and union levels.

•            A constituent assembly was to be elected by provincial assemblies by proportional representation (voting in three groups—General, Muslims, Sikhs).

•            This constituent assembly would be a 389-member body with provincial assemblies sending 292, chief commissioner’s provinces sending 4, and princely states sending 93 members.

•            In the constituent assembly, members from groups A, B and C were to sit separately to decide the constitution for provinces and if possible, for the groups also.

•            Then, the whole constituent assembly (all three sections A, B and C combined) would sit together to formulate the union constitution.

•            A common centre would control defence, communication and external affairs.

•            Communal questions in the central legislature were to be decided by a simple majority of both communities present and voting.

•            Provinces were to have full autonomy and residual powers.

•            Princely states were no longer to be under paramountcy of the British government. They would be free to enter into an arrangement with successor governments or the British government.

•            After the first general elections, a province was to be free to come out of a group and after 10 years, a province was to be free to call for a reconsideration of the group or the union constitution.

•            Meanwhile, an interim government was to be formed from the constituent assembly.

Different Interpretations of the Grouping Clause

Each party or group looked at the plan from its own point of view.

Congress:          To the Congress, the Cabinet Mission Plan was against the creation of Pakistan since grouping was optional; one constituent assembly was envisaged; and the League no longer had a veto.

Muslim League:            The Muslim League believed Pakistan to be implied in compulsory grouping. (The Mission later clarified that the grouping was compulsory.)

Main Objections

Different parties objected to the Plan on different grounds:


•            Provinces should not have to wait till the first general elections to come out of a group. They should have the option of not joining a group in the first place. (Congress had the Congress-ruled provinces of NWFP and Assam in mind which had been included in groups B and C respectively.)

•            Compulsory grouping contradicts the oft-repeated insistence on provincial autonomy.

•            Absence of provision for elected members from the princely states in the constituent assembly (they could only be nominated by the princes) was not acceptable.


•            Grouping should be compulsory with sections B and C developing into solid entities with a view to future secession into Pakistan.

•            The League had thought that the Congress would reject the plan, thus prompting the government to invite the League to form the interim government.

Acceptance and Rejection

•            The Muslim League on June 6 and the Congress on June 24, 1946 accepted the long-term plan put forward by the Cabinet Mission.

•            July 1946: Elections were held in provincial assemblies for the Constituent Assembly.

•            July 10, 1946: Nehru stated, “We are not bound by a single thing except that we have decided to go into the Constituent Assembly (implying that the Constituent Assembly was sovereign and would decide the rules of procedure). The big probability is that there would be no grouping as NWFP and Assam would have objections to joining sections B and C.”

•            July 29, 1946: The League withdrew its acceptance of the long-term plan in response to Nehru’s statement and gave a call for “direct action” from August 16 to achieve Pakistan.

Communal Holocaust and the Interim Government

•            From August 16, 1946( Direct Action Day), the Indian scene was rapidly transformed. There were communal riots on an unprecedented scale, which left around several thousands dead.

•            The worst-hit areas were Calcutta, Bombay, Noakhali, Bihar and Garhmukteshwar (United Provinces).

Changed Government Priorities

•            Wavell was now eager to somehow get the Congress into the Interim Government, even if the League stayed out (a departure from Wavell’s stand during the Shimla conference).

•            This attitude was against the League’s insistence that all settlements be acceptable to it and also against earlier government postures of encouraging communal forces, of denying the legitimacy of nationalism, and of denying the representative nature of Congress.

•            Thus, continuance of British rule had demanded one stance from Britain, and the withdrawal and post-imperial links dictated a contrary posture.

Interim Government

•            Fearing mass action by the Congress, a Congress-dominated Interim Government headed by Nehru was sworn in on September 2, 1946 with Nehru continuing to insist on his party’s opposition to the compulsory grouping.

•            Despite the title, the Interim Government was little more than a continuation of the old executive of the viceroy (Wavell overruled the ministers on the issue of the release of INA prisoners in his very last cabinet meeting in March 1947).

Wavell quietly brought the Muslim League into the Interim Government on October 26, 1946. The League was allowed to join

•            without giving up the ‘direct action’

•            despite its rejection of the Cabinet Mission’s long-term and short-term plans and

•            despite insistence on compulsory grouping with decisions being taken by a majority vote by a section as a whole (which would reduce the opponents of Pakistan in Assam and NWFP to a position of helpless minority)

Obstructionist Approach and Ulterior Motives of the League

•            The League did not attend the Constituent Assembly which had its first meeting on December 9, 1946. Consequently, the Assembly had to confine itself to passing a general ‘Objectives Resolution’ drafted by Jawaharlal Nehru stating the ideals of an independent sovereign republic with autonomous units, adequate minority safeguards and social, political and economic democracy.

•            The League refused to attend informal meetings of the cabinet to take decisions.

•            The League questioned the decisions and appointments made by the Congress members.

•            Liaqat Ali Khan as the finance minister restricted and encumbered the efficient functioning of other ministries. The League had only sought a foothold in the Government to fight for Pakistan. For them, it was a continuation of the civil war by other means. The Congress demand that the British get the League to change its attitude in the Interim Government or quit was voiced ever since the League joined the Interim Government.

•            In February 1947, nine Congress members of the cabinet wrote to the viceroy demanding the resignation of League members and threatening the withdrawal of their own nominees.

•            The last straw came with the League demanding the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly. A crisis seemed to be developing rapidly.

Attlee’s Statement of February 20, 1947

•            Clement Attlee, the British prime minister, sensing the trouble all around, made an announcement on February 20, 1947.

•            The British House of Commons declared the British intention of leaving the Indian subcontinent.

Main Points of Attlee’s Statement

•            A deadline of June 30, 1948 was fixed for transfer of power even if the Indian politicians had not agreed by that time on the constitution.

•            The British would relinquish power either to some form of central government or in some areas to the existing provincial governments if the constituent assembly was not fully representative, i.e., if the Muslim majority provinces did not join.

•            British powers and obligations vis-a-vis the princely states would lapse with transfer of power, but these would not be transferred to any successor government in British India.

•            Mountbatten would replace Wavell as the viceroy.

•            The statement contained clear hints of partition and even Balkanisation of the country into numerous states and was, in essence, a reversion of the Cripps Offer.

Why a Date Fixed by Government for Withdrawal

•            The government hoped that a fixed date would shock the parties into an agreement on the main question.

•            The government was keen to avert the developing constitutional crisis.

•            The government hoped to convince the Indians of British sincerity.

•            The truth in Wavell’s assessment could no longer be denied—that an irreversible decline of the government’s authority had taken place.

Congress Stand

•            The provision of transfer of power to more than one centre was acceptable to Congress because it meant that the existing assembly could go ahead and frame a constitution for the areas represented by it, and it offered a way out of the existing deadlock.

•            But the illusory hopes of a settlement were soon shattered as the statement proved to be a prelude to the final showdown.

•            The League launched a civil disobedience movement to overthrow the coalition government in Punjab, as it felt emboldened by the statement.

Independence and Partition

•            The communal riots and the unworkability of the Congress- League coalition compelled many in early 1947 to think in terms of accepting the so far unthinkable idea of partition.

•            The most insistent demand now came from the Hindu and Sikh communal groups in Bengal and Punjab who were alarmed at the prospect of compulsory grouping which might find them in Pakistan.

•            The Hindu Mahasabha in Bengal was assessing the feasibility of a separate Hindu province in West Bengal.

•            On March 10, 1947, Nehru stated that the Cabinet Mission’s was the best solution if carried out; the only real alternative was the partition of Punjab and Bengal.

•            In April 1947, the Congress president, Kripalani, communicated to the viceroy—rather than have a battle, we shall let them have their Pakistan provided you allow Bengal and Punjab to be partitioned in a fair manner.”

Mountbatten as the Viceroy

•            Mountbatten proved more firm and quick in taking decisions than his predecessors because he was informally given more powers to decide things on the spot.

•            He also had the advantage of the firm decision of the British government to quit at the earliest. His task was to explore the options of unity and division till October 1947 and then advise the British government on the form of transfer of power.

•            But he soon discovered that the broad contours of the scenario to emerge were discernible even before he came to India. The Cabinet Mission Plan was a dead horse and Jinnah was obstinate about not settling for anything less than a sovereign state.

•            But a serious attempt at unity would involve supporting those forces which wanted a unified India and countering those who opposed it. Mountbatten preferred to woo both sides.

Mountbatten Plan, June 3, 1947

•            The freedom-with-partition formula was coming to be widely accepted well before Mountbatten arrived in India.

•            One major innovation (actually suggested by V.P. Menon) was the immediate transfer of power on the basis of grant of dominion status (with a right of secession), thus obviating the need to wait for an agreement in the constituent assembly on a new political structure.

Main Points

The important points of the plan were as follows.

•            Punjab and Bengal Legislative Assemblies would meet in two groups, Hindus and Muslims, to vote for partition. If a simple majority of either group voted for partition, then these provinces would be partitioned.

•            In case of partition, two dominions and two constituent assemblies would be created.

•            Sindh would take its own decision.

•            Referendums in NWFP and Sylhet district of Bengal would decide the fate of these areas.

Since the Congress had conceded a unified India, all their other points would be met, namely,

(i)          independence for princely states ruled out—they would join either India or Pakistan

(ii)         independence for Bengal ruled out

(iii)        accession of Hyderabad to Pakistan ruled out (Mountbatten supported the Congress on this)

(iv)        freedom to come on August 15, 1947 and

(v)         a boundary commission to be set up if partition was to be effected

•            Thus, the League’s demand was conceded to the extent that Pakistan would be created and the Congress’ position on unity was taken into account to make Pakistan as small as possible.

•            Mountbatten’s formula was to divide India but retain maximum unity.

Why Congress Accepted Dominion Status

The Congress was willing to accept dominion status despite its being against the Lahore Congress (1929) spirit because

(i)          it would ensure a peaceful and quick transfer of power

(ii)         it was more important for the Congress to assume authority to check the explosive situation and

(iii)        it would allow for some much needed continuity in the bureaucracy and the army

•            For Britain, the dominion status offered a chance to keep India in the Commonwealth, even if temporarily, considering the economic strength, defence potential and greater value of trade and investment in India.

Rationale for an Early Date (August 15, 1947)

•            Britain wanted to secure Congress’ agreement to the dominion status. At the same time, the British could escape the responsibility for the communal situation.

•            The plan was put into effect without the slightest delay. The legislative assemblies of Bengal and Punjab decided in favour of partition of these two provinces.

•            Thus, East Bengal and West Punjab joined Pakistan; West Bengal and East Punjab remained with the Indian Union.

•            The referendum in Sylhet resulted in the incorporation of that district in East Bengal.

•            Two boundary commissions, one in respect of each province, were constituted to demarcate the boundaries of the new provinces.

•            The referendum in NWFP decided in favour of Pakistan, the Provincial Congress refraining from the referendum.

•            Baluchistan and Sindh threw in their lot with Pakistan.

Indian Independence Act

•            On July 5, 1947 the British Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act which was based on the Mountbatten Plan, and the Act got royal assent on July 18, 1947.

•            The Act was implemented on August 15, 1947.

•            The Act provided for the creation of two independent dominions of India and Pakistan with effect from August 15, 1947.

•            Each dominion was to have a governor-general to be responsible for the effective operation of the Act.

•            The constituent assembly of the each new dominion was to exercise the powers of the legislature of that dominion, and the existing Central Legislative Assembly and the Council of States were to be automatically dissolved.

•            For the transitional period, i.e., till a new constitution was adopted by each dominion, the governments of the two dominions were to be carried on in accordance with the Government of India Act, 1935.

•            As per the provisions of the Indian Independence Act, 1947, Pakistan became independent on August 14 while India got its freedom on August 15, 1947.

•            M.A. Jinnah became the first Governor-General of Pakistan.

•            India, however, decided to request Lord Mountbatten to continue as the Governor-General of India.

Problems of Early Withdrawal

The breakneck speed of events under Mountbatten caused anomalies in arranging the details of partition and totally failed to prevent the Punjab massacre, because

•            there were no transitional institutional structures within which partition problems could be tackled

•            Mountbatten had hoped to be the common Governor- General of India and Pakistan, thus providing the necessary link, but Jinnah wanted the position for himself in Pakistan

•            there was a delay in announcing the Boundary Commission Award (under Radcliffe); though the award was ready by August 12, 1947 Mountbatten decided to make it public after August 15 so that the British could escape all responsibility of disturbances

Integration of States

•            During 1946-47 there was a new upsurge of the State’s representation in the Constituent Assembly.

•            Nehru presided over the All India State People’s Conference sessions in Udaipur (1945) and Gwalior (April 1947).

•            He declared that the states refusing to join the Constituent Assembly would be treated as hostile.

•            In July 1947, Vallabhbhai Patel took charge of the new States Department. Under Patel, the incorporation of Indian states took place in two phases with a skilful combination of baits and threats of mass pressure in both.

Phase I

•            By August 15, 1947, all states except Kashmir, Hyderabad and Junagarh had signed an instrument of accession with the Indian government, acknowledging central authority over defence, external affairs and communication.

•            The princes agreed to this fairly easily because

  • they were ‘surrendering’ only what they never had (these three functions had been a part of the British paramountcy) and
  • there was no change in the internal political structure.

Phase II

•            The second phase involved a much more difficult process of ‘integration’ of states with neighbouring provinces or into new units like the Kathiawar Union, Vindhya and Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan or Himachal Pradesh along with internal constitutional changes in states which for some years retained their old boundaries (Hyderabad, Mysore, Travancore- Cochin).

•            This phase was accomplished within a year. The principal bait offered was a generous privy purse while some princes were made governors and rajpramukhs in free India.

•            This rapid political unification of the country after independence was Patel’s greatest achievement.