The Quit India Movement of Mahatma Gandhi sounded the death-knell of British Empire in India. All efforts of the British authority for compromise with the Indian Nationalists proved futile. Cripps Mission of 1942 was rejected both by the Congress and the Muslim League.
During the Second World War when Japan knocked at the door of India to smash the British Empire in India, Gandhiji asked the British through the ‘Quit India Movement’ to leave India forthwith. The British reaction to it resulted in a country-wide revolution of the people.
With the close of the World War II in 1945 a great change took place in the British politics. There was a change of Government in England. Sir Winston Churchill, a great opponent of the Indian nationalists, was replaced by Clement Atlee, the leader of the Labour Party, in a fresh election.
The attitude of the British towards the Indian people then began to change. Atlee, the new Prime Minister of England, was a shrewd statesman. He was fully consciuos about the new change that had end to Fascism and Nazism. The existence of political imperialism also became a remote possibility. Under these circumstances the Labour Government of England under the leadership of Atlee saw no other way out than to favour Indian independence.
Thus, the British decided to hold fresh election of Indian Councils, both central and provincial, to reconstitute the Viceroy’s Executive Council immediately after the elections, and to summon a constitution-making body as soon as possible. The election was held in the beginning of 1946 and was resulted in a sweeping victory for Congress in respect of the general seats and for the Muslim League in respect of Muslim seats.
The Indian National Army organised by Subhas Chandra Bose surrendered to the British after the fall of Japan and a number of its officers were tried in India for treason. A wave of enthuasism swept the country.
Demonstartions were held in a number of cities in India. On 18th February 1946 an open mutiny broke out in the Royal Indian Navy. Though it was supressed, it alarmed the British Government to a great extent. Widespread discontent and strikes in the Indian Air Force, a strike by the Indian Signal Corps at Jabalpur had proved Indians had been aroused and if the nationalist demands were not adequately met the situation would become explosive.
Even the police and the bureaucracy had begun to reveal nationalist leanings. Besides, Strikes, hartals and demonstrations were increasing all over British-India. The British Government, therefore, decided to transfer power to the Indian in no time.
The Labour Party was all along sympathetic towards the national movement in India. Mr. Clement Atlee declared his friendly attitude towards India by making a statement in the House of Commons that Britain was prepaired to grant freedom to India within a short period.
On the 19th February 1946 he announced that a three-member Committee, otherwise known as the Cabinet Mission, would goes to India to seek an agreement with Indian leaders on the principles and procedure relating to the constitutional issue.
Accordingly the Cabinet Mission consisting of Lord Pethick Lawrence, Sir Stafford Cripps and Mr. A.V. Alexander, was soon despatched to India. Lord Pethick Lawrence was the Secretary of State for India interest British Cabinet; Sir Stafford Cripps was the Presisdent of the Board of Trade in London and Mr.A.V. Alexander was the first Lord of Admiralty. The Mission reached Delhi on 24th March 1946.
The Mission came to settle dual problem- the problem how to offer independence to the Indians through a peaceful transfer of power and the problem how the Indians themselves would frame their own constitution.
The Congress under the presidentship of Muslim League under its leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah demanded the partition of India and formation of Pakistan. The Mission made a series of discussions with the Viceroy and the Indian leaders of all parties and groups.
But no compromise was possible between the views of the Congress and the Muslim League. In this critical juncture Gandhiji advised the mission to announce its own proposal regarding the future of India. At last the Cabinet Mission announced it long-term plan of constitutional settlement for Indian on 16 May, 1946.
The following were the plans and proposals of the Cabinet Mission:
(1) A federal type of Government was to be established in the center for the whole of India embracing both the British India and the Princely States. (2) The central Government was to deal with foreign affairs, defence and communication; and other powers were to be vested in the provinces and states.
The British Indian territories were to be divided into three groups. The first group was to contain Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sindh and Baluchstan. The second was to contain Bengal, and Assam, and the third group to contain the rest of the provinces.
Thus, the first two groups contained Muslim majority areas where as the third groups contained the Hindu majority areas. (3) The Union constitution was to be framed by a Constituent Assembly of 296 members elected on a communal basis by the Provincial Legislative Assemblies and the representetives of States which joined the Union.
The representatives of three groups of provinces were to meet separately to draw upon the constitution of the provinces in each group. (4) Every province was to have the right to leave the union in future, if it is so liked after election under its new constitution.(5) An interim Government was to be set upon until the formation of the constitution.
The interim Government was to consist of fourteen members, out of whom six belonged to Congress, five to Muslim League, one to Indian Christian Community. One to Sikh and one to Parsi.
There was sharp difference between the Muslim League and the Congress over the interpretation of the Cabinet Mission Plan. The objection of the Congress to the Plan was mainly its grouping; where as the League’s objection to the Plan was its rejection of the demand for establishment of a separate state of Pakistan.
However, the Plan had at least the merit of offering a United India. It also satisfied the aspiration of the Muslims to some extent to have separate provinces. It recognised the rights of the Indian States to maintain their separate identity. But it gave a blow to the principle of provincial autonomy.
Under these circumstances Wavell, the Viceroy, was anxious that an interim Government should be set up as soon as possible. But the Congress rejected the Viceroy’s proposal for an interim Government, and agreed to participate in the Constituent Assembly in order to frame the constitution.
The Cabinet Mission left India on 29th June 1946. By the approval of the Mission a general election was held all over the country in July 1946. In this election Congress came out with sweeping majority. Out of 296 seats Congress got 212 where as Muslim league got 73 only. Rest eleven seats were won by the other smaller parties.
Thus, the result of the election came just like a bolt from the blue for Mahammad Ali Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League. All his hope for creating a separate state for Muslims ended in smoke at least for the time being.
After a controversy the Muslim League formally withdrew its acceptance of the Cabinet Mission Plan. The Viceroy there upon reconstituted his Executive Council without any representative of the league. This complete triumph of the Congress provoked a violent reaction among the separalist Muslims.
As a result the Muslim League fixed up the 16th August 1946 as the day of “Direct Action”. Jinnah asked the Muslims to show their determination for forming a separate state called Pakistan through processions and meetings. As the procession started in the streets of Calcutta, violence occurred. It immediately turned into a communal riot. The people of both the communities started killing each other.
There was a terrible bloodshed in the streets of Calcutta. At first a number of Hindus were killed and their houses were looted and burnt. Soon the Hindus retaliated, and for a number of days the streets of Calcutta saw the scenes of communal riots of the worst type. Bengal was then under the Muslim League, because the administration of the province was led by the ministry of Saheed Suhrawarthy.
The communal riots did not remain confined to Bengal only. It spread to other parts of India like wild fire. Bihar, Lahore and Rawalpindi soon fell victim to those bloody communal riots. The Muslims threatened to revive the days of Chengiz Khan.
At this critical juncture the Viceroy invited the president of the Congress Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on 2nd September 1946 to form the Interim Government.
The Muslim League did not join the Interim Government. So, this Government constituted of the Congress nominees only like Pandit Nehru, Sardar Patel, Dr.Rajendra Prasad, Mr. Rajgopalachari, Dr. John Mathai, Sardar Baldev Singh, Sir Shafaat Ahmad Khan, Mr. Jagjivan Ram, Syed Ali Zaheer, Mr. C.H. Bhabha, Mr. Asaf Ali and Mr. Sarat Chandra Bose.
Though Mr.Jinnah had refused to court-operate, the Viceroy resumed negotiations with him. As a result, the Muslim League decided to join the Interim Government on 13th October 1946 to safeguard the interests of the Muslims. The new Interim Government was like a house divided against itself.
The main aim of the league was to oppose every work of the Government.Nehru openly declared the League as “the King’s Party”. The difference between the Congress and the League could not be patched up.So communal struggle continued to spread.
Many Hindus in large number of villages of Noakhil district of East Bengal were tortured and killled by the Muslims. This provoked the Hindus of Bihar where a large number of Muslims received the sametreatment at the hands of the Hindus. Nehru flew to Bihar, and the Congress Ministry there took vigorous steps to supress the distrubance.
The constituent Assembly met in New Delhi on 9th December 1946 with Rajendra Prasad as its president to prepare a constitution for India.
The League boycotted the Constituent Assembly totally. So, the Congress demanded resignation of the League from the Interim Government too. Nehru moved his famous resolution on 11th December 1946 which declared to make India an independent sovereign republic.
The Muslim League continued to keep away from the Congress. It created a deadlock from inside the Government. The Congress- League difference became so acute that the Interim Government under the Prime Ministeriship of Pandit Nehru could not function properly. The Hindu-Muslim deadlock continued to aggravate the political situation of the country. Everywhere there was anarchy and uncertainty.
Clement Atlee, the Prime Minister of England, realised that there would be no end to bloodshed unles some decision was taken immediately. He was always in favour of transfer of power to Indians. So he fixed upon a date for the withdrawl of British power from India and transfr of power and authority to a responsible Indian Government.
The date was fixed at 3rd June 1948. Je also clearly stated that in case of the Muslim League and not join the Interim Government for the Constituent Assembly; transfer of power would be affected to a suitable authority. He further announced that Admiral Mountabatten would assume the Indian Viceroyalty to fulfil this great task.