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The British Cabinet Mission of 1946 to India aimed to discuss and plan 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.


Purpose and proposals

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.[1] 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 16, 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 June 16, 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 16, 1946 was preceded by the Simla Conference of 1946 in the first week of May.

Reactions and acceptance

The approval of the plans would determine the composition of the new government. The Congress Working Committee had initially approved the plan. However, on 10 July, Jawaharlal Nehru, who later became the first prime minister of India, held a press conference in Bombay declaring that the Congress had agreed only to participate in the Constituent Assembly and "regards itself free to change or modify the Cabinet Mission Plan as it thought best."[2] The Congress ruled out the June 16 plan, seeing it as the division of India into small states. Moreover,the Congress was a Centralist party. Intellectuals like Kanji Dawarkadas criticized the Cabinet Plan. Congress was against decentralization and it hadbeen under pressure from Indian capitalists who wanted a strong Center. The plan's strongest opponent was the principal Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi, due to the reason that the territories had been grouped together on the basis of religion.

The Muslim League gave its approval to the plan. There was an impression that the Congress also had accepted the scheme and the Plan would be the basis of the future constitution of India. Jinnah, in his speech to the League Council, clearly stated that he recommended acceptance only because nothing better could be obtained. However, on declaration from the Congress President that the Congress could change the scheme through its majority in the Constituent Assembly, this meant that the minorities would be placed at the mercy of the majority. The Muslim League Council met at Bombay on 27 July. "Mr. Jinnah in his opening speech reiterated the demand for Pakistan as the only course left open to the Muslim League. After three days' discussion, the Council passed a resolution rejecting the Cabinet Mission Plan. It also decided to resort to direct action for the achievement of Pakistan."[2]

However, the plan had its advocates. Maulana Azad, a nationalist Muslim leader, said that while the groupings were a major concession to the theme of religious separatism, it would also force the League to accept a framework for a united India. While assuring minority rights and participation, an independent India would be free to do away eventually with the groupings arrangement. Gandhi criticized the Maulana's views for ignoring practical considerations and League ambitions.

Formation of a government

The Viceroy began organizing the transfer of power to a Congress-League coalition. But League president Muhammad Ali Jinnah denounced the hesitant and conditional approval of the Congress and rescinded League approval of both plans. Thus Congress leaders entered the newly styled Viceroy's Executive Council: Jawaharlal Nehru became the head - vice president in title, but possessing the executive authority. Vallabhbhai Patel became the Home member - responsible for internal security and government agencies. Congress-led governments were formed in most provinces - including in the NWFP, in Punjab (a coalition with the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Unionist Muslim League). The League led governments in Bengal and Sind. The Constituent Assembly was instructed to begin work to write a new constitution for India.

Coalition and breakdown

Jinnah and the League condemned the new government, and vowed to agitate for Pakistan by any means possible. Disorder arose in Punjab and Bengal, including the cities of Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta. On the League-organized Direct Action Day, over 5,000 people were killed across India, and Hindu, Sikh and Muslim mobs began clashing routinely. Viceroy Wavell stalled the Central government's efforts to stop the disorder, and the provinces were instructed to leave this to the governors, who did not undertake any major action. To end the disorder and rising bloodshed, Wavell encouraged Nehru to ask the League to enter the government. While Patel and most Congress leaders were opposed to conceding to a party that was organizing disorder, Nehru conceded in hope of preserving communal peace.

League leaders entered the council under the leadership of Liaquat Ali Khan, the future first Prime Minister of Pakistan who became the finance minister. But the council did not function in harmony - separate meetings were not held by League ministers, and both parties vetoed the major initiatives proposed by the other, highlighting their ideological differences and political antagonism. At the arrival of the new (and proclaimed as the last) viceroy, Lord Mountbatten of Burma in early 1947, Congress leaders expressed the view that the coalition was unworkable. This led to the eventual proposal, and acceptance of the partition of India.

See also

  • Prof. Mansgerh, The Transfer of Power 1942-7 [12 volumes]
  • H. M. Seervai, Partition of India: Legend and Reality [ed. 2005]
  • Rajmohan Gandhi, Patel: A Life
  • Robin James Moore, Escape from Empire
  • Zeigler, Mountbatten
  • Stanley Wolpert, Jinnah
  • Ayesha Jalal, The Sole Spokesman
  • V. P. Menon, Transfer of no Power


  1. ^ Seervai, H. M.: Partition of India: Legend and Reality, 2005. Intro: xxvi. ISBN 0-19-597719-X
  2. ^ a b Azad, Maulana Abul Kalam: India Wins Freedom, Orient Longman, 1988. p. 164-66. ISBN 81-250-0514-5

3. India's Constitutional Question - The Cabinet Mission Plan 1946


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