The British Cabinet Mission of 1946 to India aimed to discuss and plan for the transfer of power from the British Government to Indian leadership, providing India with independence. Formulated at the initiative of Clement Attlee, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the mission consisted of Lord Pethick-Lawrence, theSecretary of State for India, Sir Stafford Cripps, President of the Board of Trade, and A. V. Alexander, the First Lord of the Admiralty. Lord Wavell, the Viceroy of India, did not participate.
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The Mission’s purpose
- 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.
- Set up a constitution body.
- Set up an Executive Council with the support of the main Indian parties.
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 planned to determine a power-sharing arrangement between Hindus and Muslims to prevent a communal dispute, and to determine whether British India would be better-off unified or divided. The Congress party under Gandhi-Nehru nexus wanted to obtain a strong central government with more powers compared to state governments.
The All India Muslim League under Jinnah wanted to keep India united but with political safeguards provided to Muslims such as ‘guarantee’ of ‘parity’ in the legislatures. This stance of the League was backed up by the wide belief of Muslims that the British Raj was simply going to be turned into a ‘Hindu Raj’ once the British departed; and since the Muslim League regarded itself as the sole spokesman party of Indian Muslims, it was incumbent up on it to take the matter up with the Crown.
The Cabinet Mission arrived in India on 23 March 1946 and in Delhi on 2 April 1946. The announcement of the Plan on 16 May 1946 was preceded by the Simla Conference of 1945 in the first week of May. The focal point of the plan was the preservation of the ‘single state’. It provided for a Union of India comprising both British India and the states. The Union was to deal with the subjects of foreign affairs, defence and communications. It envisaged the formation of three groups of provinces: Section A to comprise the six Hindu majority provinces of Madras, Bombay, U.P., Orissa, C.P., Bihar; Section B, the provinces of the Punjab, NWFP, Sind, and Baluchistan; while the provinces of Bengal and Assam were to form Section C.
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The plan also promised that the provinces and the states will be the basic units and all subjects other than the Union subjects and all residuary powers would vest in the provinces. Para 8 of the 16 June statement of the Cabinet Delegation and the Viceroy stated that: ‘In the event of the two major parties or either of them unwilling to join in the setting up of a coalition government on the above lines, it is the intention of the Viceroy to proceed with the formation of an interim government which will be as representative as possible of those willing to accept the statement of May 16.’ Jinnah interpreted it thus: ‘To me that if the Congress refuses to join an interim government composed as proposed in that statement while the League agreed to do so, then the Viceroy would go ahead and form the government as proposed but without the Congress representatives.’
The Mission and the Viceroy interpreted it differently. They considered that since both parties had now accepted the statement of 16 May, paragraph 8 required that fresh efforts should be made to form an interim government. Jinnah protested that this interpretation had been dishonestly concocted by the legalistic talents of the Cabinet Mission.’ Consequent upon this ‘breach of faith’ the All India Muslim League Council passed a resolution to withdraw its acceptance (6 June 1946) of the Cabinet Plan on 28 July 1946. The Viceroy later unilaterally invited Congress to form the government on 6 August 1946. The Muslim League later joined the government on 25 October 1946.