The Interim Government in India in 1946-1947: A Fresh Light

By Chawla, Muhammad Iqbal | Pakistan Historical Society. Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society, April-June 2014 | Go to article overview

The Interim Government in India in 1946-1947: A Fresh Light


Chawla, Muhammad Iqbal, Pakistan Historical Society. Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society


Introduction

Vijai Shankar Rai observes that "The elections to the Central and Provincial legislatures were fought not over independence but on the issue of a united or divided India."1 In the polls for the Central Assembly and Provincial Assemblies (1946) the Muslim League proved itself as the overwhelming political party of Muslims of India who wanted the establishment of Pakistan. These election results sent the All India Muslim League's* political stock soaring high in India and abroad. The British had to bring about an agreement amongst Indian leaders on the principles and procedure to be followed in framing a constitution for an independent united India, a goal for which they had struggled hard. Therefore, the British Government sent a Mission in 1946 that is known as the Cabinet Mission to make efforts in this regard.

The Cabinet Mission, after its failure to convince the Indian political parties to arrive at an agreed constitution for India, put forth a plan which is called the Cabinet Mission Plan. In fact, their experiences and observations about the Indian situation, before and after the talks with the Indian leaders including Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah,2 enabled them to formulate this plan.3 The plan had two parts: long-term and short term. The long-term plan was announced on 16 May 1946. This plan envisaged a three-tier plan, visualizing autonomous provinces and groupings of such provinces that wanted to take certain subjects in common and a Federal Centre or Union. However, the essence of the scheme was its three tier grouping-scheme, placing predominantly Muslim-majority provinces in the North-West and North-East in Groups B and C, respectively, whereas the predominantly Hindu-majority provinces, i.e., Bombay, United Provinces (U.P.), Madras, Central Provinces, Orissa and Bihar were placed in Group A. Every Province or a combined Group of Provinces (sub-unions) was given the right to opt out (secede) from its group union or from the proposed All Indian union. Under the short-term scheme, it was laid down that an interim government would be constituted immediately.

Elaborating on the Mission's intentions and views as outlined in his inaugural broadcast, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, Secretary of States for India, said that they had prepared a method to make a new constitution of India which would provide a smooth and rapid transition. He reiterated that the British Government under the Labour Party wanted to transfer power as early as possible and they wanted it in a peaceful and friendly manner.4

Since 1937 the British authorities in India had been hoping that formation of an Interim Government composed overwhelmingly of the two leading political parties would foster a team spirit among them which would bring forth their working together to sort out the country's outstanding constitutional, administrative and communal problems. They hoped that it would solve Hindu-Muslim tangle in India including the demand for Pakistan.

Three differing points of view dominate the writings on the failed episode of the Interim Government:- the first blames the League; the second school of thought holds the British government primarily responsible for the failure of the Interim Government; the last one holds both Nehru and Jinnah chiefly responsible for this political setback. However, the author of the present study feels that none of the above viewpoints can be characterized as representing the full picture; the present author instead, will like to highlight the role of the Indian National Congress* which by its conscious and deliberate policy of ruling India, independently and single-handedly brought about the failure of the Interim Government. Labour Government's role, due to its undue support of the Congress and neglect of the other political parties, especially the League, is also put into focus. This paper will investigate why the League was not given an opportunity to form the Government when it deserved to be, and why the Congress alone was given the right to form the Interim Government? …

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