The Cabinet mission plan proposed to keep British India united. It provided a federal system of governance for the country. It aimed to accommodate all major Indian parties, namely the Indian National Congress and the All India Muslim League. The Muslim League’s request was to establish an independent state in the northwest and northeast of India, namely Pakistan. While Congress wanted an independent India without partition. On the other hand, the British had their own wishes. The plan kept the demands of all parties balanced.
Making the Cabinet Mission
English government in the midst of an unprecedented international situation sent a commission to India to resolve the problems of the Indians regarding the form of autonomy. It was the time when Britain emerged victoriously from World War II, but she was deeply moved by the effects of the war. The world war had also changed the dynamics of power; Britain was no longer a superpower, but the United States and the Soviet Union were.
The two British parties were equally divided over the future of India. Conservatives led by Sir Winston Churchill aimed to revive the empire and rule India itself. While Prime Minister Clement Atlee’s Labor government wanted to transfer power to India due to Britain’s post-war economic situation. Clement Atlee sent three members of his cabinet to India: Lord Pethick Lawrence, Secretary of India; Richard Stafford Crips, President of the Chamber of Commerce; and Albert Alexander, First Lord of the Admiralty.
Who should the power be transferred to?
Opinions were divided on the question of who will hold power? For the Labor government, power should be transferred to Congress. For the conservatives, the minority and the prices must be taken into account. Sir Winston Churchill said that “the word ‘minorities’ has no relevance or meaning when applied to masses of human beings numbering in the tens of millions. Without a doubt, he recognized that 90 million Muslims in India were a great community and a minority.
Read more: Did the mullahs oppose Jinnah’s Pakistan?
Viceroy Wavell wanted a united India because it would serve the interests of Great Britain. He also knew that Congress did not represent Muslims. He wanted to give guarantees to Muslims in the constitution. He also believed that Muslims could be protected in a federation with a weak center. Congress, on the other hand, felt that safeguards were unnecessary and that India should stand united. Finally, Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s request was to guarantee a separate independent state for Muslims. The question of power was to be recommended by the Cabinet mission.
The proposal of the Cabinet Mission
The Cabinet mission has started to meet with the leaders of India. Mr Jinnah initially denied meeting, but eventually agreed to cooperate because Prime Minister Atlee warned that if no deal was reached power would be transferred to the Congress party. The Muslim League was offered two options:
- A Pakistan with six provinces forming part of a common union with India and without sovereignty.
- A fully sovereign Pakistan with the partition of Bengal and the Punjab.
Mr. Jinnah considered both options. He knew that an autonomous Pakistan would keep the Muslims intact, but a sovereign Pakistan would mean that a large part of the Muslims would remain in central India. Chief of Staff Arthur Smith also told him the division would endanger the safety of the Indians. Mr. Jinnah proposed that the two countries could sign a military pact. What Mr. Jinnah really wanted was parity between Muslims and Hindus in India and he saw that possibility in the plan.
The Muslim provinces, grouped together, would benefit from maximum autonomy. So, he began to promote the plan. However, the main congressman, Mr. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, rejected the plan, saying that the regroupment was worse than a sovereign Pakistan.
The Muslim League’s response
The Muslim League has sent a union proposal that can keep defense and foreign affairs matters at the center but no legislative or fiscal power. It would be made up of a Pakistani group of provinces and a Hindustan group. Both would contribute to the expenses of the union.
The May 16 Cabinet Mission Plan
The Cabinet Mission published its own plan on May 16, 1946. It proposed a three-tier administration. First, a union with a legislature; subjects of foreign affairs, defense; and communication for defense; and the power to tax.
Second, India would be grouped into three zones, namely Group A containing the Hindu majority provinces; Group B, predominantly Muslim provinces in the north-west; and Group C, predominantly Muslim provinces in the Northwest. The plan also included an option to withdraw from the group after the first elections. He anticipated that the constitution of the union would be promulgated at the next stage.
This plan was followed by short-term planning which included the training a government of the interior; the interim would be put in place by a party that accepts the plan.
Who accepted the plan?
The Muslim League was divided on the plan, as was the Congress. Mr. Jinnah favored its acceptance while Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan raised objections to the domination of Congress which would flout the guarantees. However, ML accepted the plan saying it was a step to Pakistan. On the other side, Mr. Gandhi wrote in a Harijan Journal that “there was nothing to take or leave about the plan and the provinces were free to reject the very idea of regroupment.” It turned out that Congress was allowed to change the plan.
Congress accepted the plan with its own interpretation saying the regrouping was not necessary. He said: “While adhering to our views, we accept your proposals and are ready to work with them towards achieving our goal.” The Muslims sensed a conspiracy; Lord Wavell said it was not a true acceptance.
On July 29, Jawaharlal Nehru held a press conference and said they did not accept the reunification. The London declaration of 6 December contraindicated the interpretation of Congress and declared the regroupment to be the key point of the plan. Abdul Kalam Azad of Congress believed the plan would have solved the communal problem but Mr. Nehru destroyed all hopes.
Direct action day
The Muslim League reacted to these developments and immediately withdrew from the plan. Mr. Jinnah called for “direct action” on August 16. The day passed peacefully across India except in Calcutta where riots broke out between Hindus and Muslims. Mr Kazmi writes: “The riots were started by Hindus and Muslims responded violently.
Read more: Presidential address by Mr. Jinnah to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, August 11, 1947
The collapse of the Cabinet mission plan
On September 2, Congress forms the interim government. The Muslim League led by Mr. Khan joined the government and presented a “budget friendly”. The standoff between the two parties swelled within the government after the presentation of this budget, which aimed to win the hearts of the most disadvantaged. Congress continued to oppose the grouping and ultimately the May 16 Plan collapsed when it accepted the creation of Pakistan. Perhaps they thought the partition would be temporary because the new Muslim country had no industry to support economically. The rest is history.