The Cabinet Mission, composed of three British Cabinet Minister-Sir Pethick Lawrence, the Secretary of State for India, Sir Stafford Cripps, President of the Board of Trade and A. V. Alexander, First Lord of the Admiralty—arrived in New Delhi on March 24, 1946. Sir Pethick Lawrence, while announcing the appointment of the Mission had made it clear that its objective was to set up sickly a machinery for drawing up the Constitution for independent India and to make necessary arrangements for an Interim Government. Thus the appointment of the Cabinet Mission was a virtual declaration of India’s independence. Its most important task was to devise the mode or methods for the transfer of power, to Suggest measures for the formation of a Constitution-making machinery and also to set up an Interim Government. The Cabinet Mission spent the first three weeks in discussions with the leaders of various political parties, members of the Viceroy’s Executive Council, the rulers of Princely States, etc.
The Congress reaction to the Cabinet Mission was that independence for the whole of India be embodied in a constitution made by the constituent assembly. Its plan consisted of a Federal government with a limited number of subjects- compulsory and optional. The provincial governments would have all the powers including residuary powers. After the completion of the work of the constitution making, the provinces would have a right to
- stand out of the constitution,
- to enter the federation for the compulsory subjects, or
- to federate for compulsory and optional subjects.
For the provisional government, the Congress did not agree for parity of Hindu and Muslim members. For the election of members of the constituent assembly, the Congress suggested that the provincial legislatures should be taken as electoral colleges. The states representatives could be chosen by the Praja Mandals.
The Sikh leaders were in favour of a united India. The Scheduled Castes were against partition and wanted guarantees of human rights and protection of their special interests. The Hindu Mahasabha insisted upon immediate transfer of power and integrity and individubility of the country. The British were also in favour of a united India, friendly with Britain and an active partner in the Commonwealth defence. It believed that a divided India would lack depth in defence and be a blot on Britain’s diplomacy. The Muslim League organized a conference from 7 to 9 April to frame its strategy. Jinnah, who presided over the conference, declared that ‘there can be no compromise on the issue of Pakistan as a totally sovereign state’. The conference passed a resolution demanding Pakistan and the delegates took the solemn pledge in the name of Allah affirming their willingness to undergo any danger, trial of sacrifice which might be demanded of them.
The Cabinet Mission and the Viceroy tried to find a solution acceptable to both sides without giving up the unity of India but at the same time securing the essence of Muslim demand. On 16 April, the Mission offered Jinnah two alternatives: either accept Pakistan with areas limited to Muslim majority or a federation of autonomous provinces as part of union of India. The Congress through Azad put forth the view that it was in favour of complete independence and a constitution framed by a Constituent Assembly.
In the background of these conflicting demands made by different political parties, the Cabinet Mission announced its own recommendations on May 16, 1946.
Its main recommendations were :
- The unity of India had to be retained.
- The demand for Pakistan, as demanded by the Muslim League, was rejected on the ground that it would not solve the communal minority problem. In addition, partition would create many serious problems in defence, communications and other areas.
- There was to be a Union of India, consisting of the British Provinces and the Princely States. The Union Government and its Legislature were to have limited powers, dealing with only defence, foreign affairs, and communications. The Union would have the powers necessary to raise the finances to manage these subjects.
- All subjects other than the Union subjects and all residuary powers would vest in the Provinces.
- The Princely States would retain all subjects and all residuary powers other than those ceded to the Union.
- The Constitution-making body or the Constituent Assembly would be formed of representatives of Provincial Assemblies and the Princely States. Each Province was to be allotted a total number of seats in proportion to its population, roughly in the ratio of one representative to a million population. The Constituent Assembly was to consist of 293 members from the British Provinces and 93 members from the Princely States.
- The Provinces were grouped into three categories — A, B and C. Group A was to consist of Madras, United Provinces, Bihar, Central Provinces and Orissa; Group B was to comprise (the Muslim-majority areas) of the Punjab, Sind, NWFP and Baluchistan; Group C was to include Bengal and Assam (where the Muslims had small majority over the rest). This measure of the Cabinet Mission was unique and also the most controversial. The grouping of Provinces was devised to satisfy the Muslim League, so as to give it a “substance of Pakistan” to exercise almost complete autonomy in the Muslim-majority provinces.
The Congress agreed to the proposals relating to the Constituent Assembly, but rejected the proposal regarding the formation of an Interim Government, because the Muslim League had been given disproportionate representation. The Muslim League at first accepted the Cabinet Mission plan on June 6, 1946, but on July 29 withdrew its acceptance and called upon Muslims “to resort to Direct Action to achieve Pakistan”.
Attitude of the Various Political Parties to the Cabinet Mission Plan
The reaction of various political groups to the plan was favourable in the beginning. The Muslim League accepted it on 6th June and the Congress on 25 June, 1946. The Sikhs at first refused to send their representatives to the Constituent Assembly but they changed their policy on the assurances given by the Congress and the Secretary of State. The Hindu Mahasabha denounced the compulsory grouping of provinces in three sections. The Communist Party objected to the restrictions imposed on the powers of the constitution-making body. The Congress decided to join the Constituent Assembly with’ a view to framing the constitution of a free, united and democratic India’. The League saw its dream of Pakistan inherent in the Plan. Both fell out on the point whether the grouping of provinces was voluntary or compulsory.
Election to the Constituent Assembly
Elections to the Constituent Assembly were held in July, 1946. Out of 210 general seats allotted to the British Indian Provinces, the Congress captured 199. Out of 78 Muslim seats, the League got 73. It meant that in a House of 296 members the Congress enjoyed the support of 212 members whereas the League commanded a group of 73 members. The remaining 11 members were uncertain in their loyalties.
Rejection of the Plan by Muslim League
The thumping majority of the Congress in the Constituent Assembly both disappointed and irritated the Muslim League. Its bitterness also sprang from the Viceroy’s refusal to form a provisional interim Government with League’s help when the Congress was unwilling to join. Mr. Jinnah was further hurt when Lord Lawrence and Sir Cripps in a statement questioned and rejected League’s sole right of nominating Muslim Members in the Interim Cabinet. According to Maulana Azad; ‘Nehru (the Congress President at that time told the press representative; at Bombay that congress had agreed only to participate in the Constituent Assembly and regarded itself free to change or modify the Cabinet Mission Plan. This statement of the Congress President was his greatest mistake. Jinnah exploited this statement in his favour and withdrew the acceptance of League’. Nehru said that he was hopeful that there would be no grouping of Provinces. Jinnah reacted promptly. He accused the Congress of running down the scheme of Interim Government. He feared that the Congress would exercise its brute majority to bypass the interests of the Muslims. He intimated the Government of League’s decision to boycott the plan and launch direct action to realise his goal of Pakistan.