How Cabinet Mission Plan could have changed the history of the world

The Cabinet Mission Plan was a plan to keep British India united. It provided a federal system of governance for the country.

The Cabinet Mission Plan was a plan to keep British India united. It provided a federal system of governance for the country. It aimed to accommodate all the major parties of India i.e. The Indian National Congress and All India Muslim League. The Muslim League’s demand was to establish an independent state in North West and North East of India namely Pakistan. While Congress wanted an independent India with no partition. On the other hand, the British had their own wishes. The plan kept the balance of demands of all the parties.

The making of the Cabinet Mission

The British government amid unprecedented international situation sent India a commission to resolve the problems of Indians with regard to the form of self-rule. This was the time of Britain coming victoriously out of the Second World War but was shacked to the core due to effects of war. The world war had also shifted the power dynamics; Britain was no longer a superpower but the United States and the Soviet Union were.

The two parties of Britain were also divided on the future of India. Conservatives led by Sir Winston Churchill aimed to revive the empire and rule India itself. While the Labor government under Prime Minister Clement Atlee wanted to transfer power to India due to Britain’s economic plight after the war. Clement Atlee sent three members of his cabinet to India: Lord Pethick Lawrence, Secretary of India; Richard Stafford Crips, the President of Board of Trade; and Albert Alexander, the First Lord of Admiralty.

To whom should power be transferred?

The opinion was divided on the question of who would hold the power? For the Labor government, the power should be transferred to Congress. For the Conservatives, the minority and prices must be given due importance. Sir Winston Churchill said that “The word ‘minorities’ had no relevance or sense when applied to masses of human beings numbered in many scores of millions.” Undoubtedly, he was recognizing 90 million Muslims of India that it was a large community and a minority.

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The Viceroy Wavell desired a united India as it would serve the interests of Britain. He was also aware that Congress did not represent the Muslims. He wanted to give safeguards to Muslims in the constitution. He also believed that Muslims can be protected in a federation with a weak center. The Congress, on the other hand, believed that the safeguards were unnecessary and India must remain united. Finally, Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s demand was to secure a separate independent state for the Muslims. The question of power was to be recommended by the Cabinet Mission.

The proposal of Cabinet Mission

The Cabinet Mission started meeting the leaders of India. Mr Jinnah first denied meeting but finally agreed to cooperate because PM Atlee had warned that if no agreement is reached the power would be transferred to the Congress party. The Muslim League was offered two options:

  1. A Pakistan with six provinces part of a common union with India and with no sovereignty.
  2. A fully sovereign Pakistan with the partition of Bengal and Punjab.

Mr Jinnah considered both options. He knew an autonomous Pakistan would keep Muslims intact, but a sovereign Pakistan would mean a large chunk of Muslims will be left over in central India. He was also told by Chief of General Staff Arthur Smith that the division would endanger the Indian security. Mr Jinnah proposed that both countries can sign a military pact. What Mr Jinnah really wanted was that the Muslim-Hindu parity within India and he saw that possibility in the plan.

The Muslim provinces, grouped together, would derive maximum autonomy. Thus he started favouring the plan. However, the leading Congress figure Mr Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi rejected the plan by saying that grouping was worse than a sovereign Pakistan.

The response of the Muslim League

The Muslim League sent a proposal of the union that may retain subjects of defence and foreign affairs at the centre but no power of legislation or taxation. It would consist of a Pakistan group of provinces and a Hindustan group. Both would contribute to the union’s expenditure.

The Cabinet Mission Plan of 16 May

The Cabinet Mission published its own plan on the 16th of May 1946. It proposed a three-tier administration. First, a union with a legislature; subjects of foreign affairs, defence; and communication for defence; and power of taxation.

Second, India would be grouped into three zones namely, Group A containing Hindu majority provinces; Group B, North-Western Muslim majority provinces; and Group C, North West Muslims majority provinces. The plan also envisaged an option of opting out of the group after the first elections. It provided that the constitution for the union would be enacted at the next stage.

This plan was followed by a short term planning that provided for the formation of an interior government; interim would be set up by a party which accepts the plan.

Who accepted the plan?

The Muslim League was divided on the plan so was the Congress. Mr Jinnah favoured its acceptance while Mr Liaquat Ali Khan raised objections over the Congress dominance which would swipe safeguards. However, ML accepted the plan saying that it was a stepping stop to Pakistan. On the other flank, Mr Gandhi wrote in a Harijan Journal that “There was no take it or leave it business about the plan and the provinces were free to reject the very idea of grouping.” It transpired that the Congress was allowed to modify the plan.

The Congress accepted the plan with its own interpretation saying that grouping was not necessary. It said, “While adhering to our views we accept your proposals and are prepared to work with them with a view to achieving our objective.” The Muslims smelled a conspiracy; Lord Wavell said it was not a genuine acceptance.

On the 29th of July, Jawaharlal Nehru held a presser and declared that they do not accept the grouping. The London Statement of December 6 contraindicated with Congress interpretation and said that the grouping was the key point of the plan. Abdul Kalam Azad of Congress believed that the plan would have solved the communal problem but Mr Nehru destroyed all the hopes.

Direct Action Day

The Muslim League reacted to these developments and immediately backed off from the plan. Mr Jinnah called for ‘direct action’ on August the 16th. The day passed peacefully across India except in Calcutta where riots erupted between Hindus and Muslims. Mr Kazmi writes “Riots were started by Hindu and the Muslims retaliated fiercely.

The collapse of the Cabinet Mission Plan

On the 2nd of September, Congress formed the interim government. Muslim League led by Mr Khan joined the government and presented a ‘people-friendly budget.’ The tussle between two parties swelled in the government after the introduction of this budget which aimed to win the hearts of the poor. The Congress continued to oppose the grouping and finally, the 16 May Plan collapsed when it accepted the creation of Pakistan. Perhaps they thought partition would be temporary as it had no industries to sustain economically. The rest is history.

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