Advances Towards Transfer Of Power
August offer, 1940: On August 8, 1940 (on the eve of “the Battle of Britain”) the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow came out a new declaration of policy, called “the August Offer” which included the expansion of the Governor-General’s Executive Council and the establishment of a War Advisory Council composed of Indians the British Government concurred that the framing of the new constitution should be primarily the responsibility of Indians themselves After the War, dominion status would be given and a constituent Assembly would be set up for framing a Constitution.
This declaration marked an important advance over others as it recognised at least the right of the people of India to determine the form of their future constitution and explicitly promised Dominion Status. However, Congress rejected this offer. Cripps’ Mission, 1942: As pointed out earlier, Britain was in a delicate position in the war and in order to obtain Indian support, Stafford Cripps was sent to India to negotiate and get Indian support for the war.
An Indian Union with Dominion Status with the power to secede from the commonwealth after the war.
A Constituent Assembly to be set up after the War composed of elected members from British India and nominees of rulers from the Native States.
Provinces not accepting the constitution framed by the Constituent Assembly would be free to sign separate agreements with Britain and frame their own constitutions. Constituent Assembly to conclude a treaty with British guaranteeing protection to racial/religious minorities. The defence of India would be the responsibility of the British. An Interim Government based on the 1935 Act was to be formed after the war with representation from major parties.
Cripps’ Proposals – Response of the Congress
It objected to dominion status instead of complete independence, to the scheme of nominees of rulers from the Native States, to the clause providing for rejection of constitution by Provinces as this indirectly provides for secession and demanded that defence of India should be in the control of an Indian defence minister. After its rejection, Congress went ahead and launched the Quit India Movement.
The Wavell Plan, 1945
Lord Wavell who had succeeded Lord Linlithgow as Governor-General in October 1943, made an attempt to resolve the deadlock in India. On June 14, he made public the proposals of the British Government to resolve the deadlock in India. He proposed the reconstitution of the Governor-General’s Executive Council pending the preparation of a new constitution. With the exception of the Governor-General and the Commander-in-Chief, all other members of the Executive Council would be Indians who were to be nominated. This Council would have a balanced representation of the main communities, namely Muslims and caste Hindus. It would work, if formed, under the existing constitution.
Though the Governor-General’s veto would not be abolished, it would be used sparingly. A conference of representatives chosen by the Viceroy was to be convened with a view to obtaining from the leaders of the various parties a joint list, or, failing it, separate lists of worthy people to constitute the new Executive Council. The members of the Congress Working Committee were let out of jail, and invitations for the proposed Simla Conference were sent to the leaders, including Gandhiji. On June 25, 1945, the Conference was held and adjourned after three days of discussion.
On July 11th Jinnah had a short interview with the Viceroy, during which he made it clear to the latter that the League was to be regarded as the sole representative of Indian Muslims and there was to be no non-Leaguer Muslims in the Viceroy’s list. But the Viceroy could not agree to this point of view and Lord Wavell wound up the Conference by declaring a failure of the talks. The Cabinet Mission Plan, 1946: The Cabinet Mission was sent to India when an irreversible decline in government authority had taken place and it was realized that Britain could not hold on to India for long.
This was because Britain emerged a weak victor from the war and its soldiers were war-weary. Besides the Labour Party had come to power in England in 1946 which was committed to Free India. Besides, the superpowers also supported Indian independence. So a Cabinet mission which consisted of Lord Pethick Lawrence, Sir Stafford Cripps and A.V. Alexander came to India to hold discussions with the Indian leaders regarding the constitutional issue.
The Cabinet Mission reached Delhi in March 1946 and had prolonged discussion with Indian leaders of all parties and groups. 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 to solve this thorny problem. As regards the long-term scheme, they rejected the Muslim League’s demand for Pakistan on political, financial and security grounds and said that the unity of India should be maintained.
The Constitution of India should take the following basic forms: There should be a Union of India, embracing both British India and the States. The Union should have an Executive and a Legislature constituted by British India and States’ representatives. The provinces would enjoy full autonomy, for all subjects other than the Union subjects and all residuary powers should vest in the provinces. Moreover, “provinces should be free to form Groups with Executives and Legislatures, and each Group could determine the provincial subjects to be taken in common. The Hindu majority provinces viz., Madras, Bombay, Central Provinces, U.P., Bihar, and Orissa would form Group A. The Muslim Majority of provinces in the northwest (Punjab, the North-West Frontier Province and Sind) would form Group B. Bengal and Assam would form Group C.
Besides, it said that provinces can demand modification of group or provincial constitutions after ten years and a province allotted to a group can leave it after the first general elections.
The Response of the Congress
Congress accepted the plan on 25th June 1946. Congress considered grouping to be optional and hence provinces are free to leave the allotted group right from the beginning.
Response of the League
The Muslim League accepted the plan on 6th June 1946. It considered grouping to be compulsory since it contained the basis of Pakistan. It also said that the Provinces should have the right to modify the Union Constitution immediately and not wait for 10 years. But it withdrew from the plan on 29th July, after Congress declared that it is not bound by anything in the Cabinet Mission Plan except the Constituent Assembly, and also because Congress got the majority in elections to the Constituent Assembly held in June 1946 which was clearly against the League’s interests.
Indian Independence Act, 1947
The Indian Independence Bill was introduced in Parliament on July 4th, 1947, and the Indian Independence Act was enacted on July 18. The Act did not provide for any new constitution of India. It was only an Act “to enable the representatives of India and Pakistan to frame their own constitutions and to provide for the exceedingly difficult period of transition.” In other words, the Act merely gave legal effect to the Mountbatten Plan.
The Act provided for the Partition of India and the establishment of the two Dominions (India and Pakistan) from August 15th, 1947, and for the legislative supremacy of these Dominions. The British Government divested itself of all powers and control over the affairs of the Dominions after that date. Pending the adoption of a new constitution for each Dominion, both Dominions would be governed by the provisions of the Government of India Act, 1935.
The Act also terminated the suzerainty and paramountcy of the British Crown over the Indian States and all treaties, agreements, etc., between the two, were to lapse on August 15. The office of the Secretary of State for India was abolished. Both the Dominions would have full powers and the right to go out of the British Commonwealth of Nations should they so desire. In short, the Act converted India from a dependency of the Crown into two independent Dominions within the British Commonwealth of Nations.