- SURGE TOWARDS FREEDOM – 07
DAWN OF INDEPENDENCE
THE CABINET MISSION PLAN
SURGE TOWARDS FREEDOM – 07
The quick march of events hastened the termination of the constitutional deadlock in India. Britain was faced with the legacies of the war and in India, the urge for national independence had become irresistible. The Labour Government which had come to power in England in 1945, with Clement Attlee as the prime Minister, realized the gravity of the situation and took prompt steps to solve the Indian problem. On September 19, the British Prime Minister and Lord Wavell made simultaneous statements to the effect that fresh elections to the Central and provincial Legislatures would be held during the winter of 1945-46 that the Viceroy’s Executive Council would be reconstituted in consultation with the principal Indian parties immediately after the elections and that a constitution-making body would be convened as soon as possible. The elections were held early in 1946 and resulted in a sweeping victory of the Congress for the general seats and of the Muslim League for the Muslim seats.
National enthusiasm in India received much impetus on the occasion of the trial of a number of officers of the Indian national Army which had surrendered to the British after the fall of Japan. The revolt by the ratings of the Royal Indian Navy in February 1946 was a matter of grave concern for the British Government.
DAWN OF INDEPENDENCE
Already or February 19, 1946, the British Prime Minister had announced that a mission of three Cabinet members – Lord Pethick – Lawrence. Secretary of State for India, Sir Stafford Cripps, President of the Board of Trade and A.V. Alexander. First Lord of the Admiralty – would soon visit India. The Cabinet Mission reached India in March 1946. They had a series of discussions and conferences with the leaders of the Congress and the Muslim League but there was no agreement about the formation of an interim government and the machinery for constitution-making. Thereupon, the Cabinet Mission issued a statement, on May 16, 1946, formulating in it a plan for the future government of India. According to it, there was to be a Union of India embracing both British India and the Indian States, with control over Foreign Affairs, Defence and Communications and power to raise the money required for such purposes. All other subjects were to be vested in the provinces and the states but the provinces were to be free to form Groups for common action. India was to be divided into three Groups of provinces – Group ‘A’ consisting of Madras, Bombay, central Provinces, United Provinces, Bihar and Orissa; Group ‘B’ of the North-West Frontier Province, the Punjab, Sind and Baluchistan and Group ‘C’ comprising Bengal and Assam.
The Cabinet Mission also recommended a scheme for constitution making which provided that the Union Constitution was to be framed by a Constituent Assembly the members of which were to be elected on a communal basis by the Provincial Legislative Assemblies and the representatives of the states joining the Union. The constitution of the provinces in each Group was to be drawn up by the representatives of the three Groups of provinces meeting separately. The Cabinet Mission further suggested the establishment of an interim Government having the support of the major political parties by re-constitution of the Viceroy’s Executive Council ‘in which all the portfolios including that of ‘War Member’ were to be held by Indian leaders enjoying full confidence of the people.
THE CABINET MISSION PLAN
The Cabinet Mission Plan was not considered satisfactory by any section of the Indian people, but all sought to utilize it for their own interests. The Muslim League accepted it on June 6, 1946, ‘in as much as the basis and the foundation of Pakistan’ were inherent in the Mission’s plan by virtue of the compulsory grouping of the six Muslim majority provinces in Groups B and C. The Congress decided on June 25 to join the proposed Constituent Assembly with a view to framing the constitution, but did not agree to the proposal for interim Government. The Cabinet Mission left India on June 29 and the Viceroy formed a caretaker Government of nine officials.
The elections to the Constituent Assembly held in the month of July 1946, resulted in the return of an overwhelming majority of the Congress members which Jinnah described as ‘brute majority’. The Muslim League withdrew its assent to the Cabinet Mission’s plan and expressed determination ‘to resort to direct action to achieve Pakistan’ as and when necessary. This was not long delayed. On August 16, which was fixed as the day of ‘Direct Action’ by the Muslim League, Calcutta became the scene of an appalling carnage marked by the massacre of a large number of Hindus by a rowdy section of the Muslims and looting and burning of their houses and shops.