The British Cabinet Mission Arrives in India

The British Cabinet Mission of 1946 to India aimed to discuss and plans for the transfer of power from the British Raj to Indian leadership, providing India with independence under Dominion status in the Commonwealth of Nations.

Formulated at the initiative of Clement Attlee, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the mission consisted of Lord Pethick-Lawrence, the Secretary of State for India, Sir Stafford Cripps, President of the Board of Trade, and A. V. Alexander, the First Lord of the Admiralty. It was also not supplemented by Lord Wavell, the Viceroy of India at the time.

The Mission purpose was:

1. 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.
2. Setting up of a constitution body.
3. Setting 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 had planned on coming to terms of power-sharing between Hindus and Muslims to prevent a communal fall-out as well as to determine British India would be better-off unified or divided. The Congress party under Gandhi-Nehru nexus wanted to obtain absolute power for their party, having the discretion to deal with Muslim League and Muslims in general at their discretion after the British departed. 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 in to a 'Hindu Raj' once the British departed; and since the Muslim League was the sole spokesman party of Indian Muslims, it was incumbent up on it to take the matter up with the Crown. After initial dialogue, the Mission proposed its plan over the composition of the new government on May 16th, 1946:

Plan of May 16

Promulgated on 16 May 1946, the plan to create a united dominion of India as a loose confederation of provinces came to be known by the date of its announcement:

1. A united Dominion of India would be given independence.
2. Muslim-majority provinces would be grouped - Baluchistan, Sind, Punjab and NWFP would form one group, and Bengal and Assam would form another.
3. Hindu-majority provinces in central and southern India would form another group.
4. The Central government would be empowered to run foreign affairs, defence and communications, while the rest of powers and responsibility would belong to the provinces, coordinated by groups.

Plan of June 16

The plan of May 16th, 1946 had envisaged a United India in line with Congress and Muslim League aspirations. But that was where the consensus between the two parties ended since Congress abhorred the idea of having groupings of Muslim majority provinces and that of Hindu majority provinces with the intention of 'balancing' each other at the Central Legislature. The Muslim League could not accept any changes to this plan since the same 'balance' or 'parity' that Congress was loathe to accept, formed the basis of Muslim demands of 'political safeguards' built in to post-British Indian laws so as to prevent absolute rule of Hindus over Muslims.

Reaching an impasse, the British proposed a second, alternative plan on 16 June 1946. This plan sought to arrange for India to be divided into Hindu-majority India and a Muslim-majority Pakistan; since Congress had vehemently rejected 'parity' at the Centre. A list of princely states of India that would be permitted to accede to either dominion or attain independence was also drawn up.

It should be noted that the The Cabinet Mission arrived in India on March 23, 1946 and in Delhi, on April 2, 1946. The announcement of the Plan on May 16th, 1946 was preceded by the Simla Conference of 1946 in the first week of May.

A conference at Simla failed to resolve the Congress-League differences. The Cabinet Mission then offered a compromise plan in their statement of May 16,1946. They sketched a three-tier constitutional structure for India. On the top was to be a Union of India embracing British India as well as the Indian States, but dealing only with foreign affairs, defence and communications. The bottom tier was to consist of Provinces and States in which were to vest all residuary powers. The intermediate tier was to comprise "groups" to be formed by Provinces (if they chose) to deal with certain common subjects. The Muslim League avowed its acceptance of the Cabinet Mission Plan, but this acceptance was more apparent than real, The League and its leaders made no secret of their hope and design that the new constitution would be used to effect a partition of the country. "Let me tell you," Jinnah told the Muslim League Council on June 5, 1946 "that Muslim India will not rest content until we have established full, complete and sovereign Pakistan." It was this apparent contradiction in the League’s stand, which made Gandhi and his colleagues in the Congress uneasy about the "grouping of provinces", which the League wanted to make compulsory and a stepping-stone to Pakistan. The controversy on this issue wrecked the Cabinet Mission Plan.