Britain’s Prime Minister Clement Attlee announced on February 19, 1946 the dispatch of the Mission of three Cabinet Ministers – the Secretary of State for India, Pethic Lawrence, President of the Board of Trade, Sir Stafford Cripps, and the Lord of the Admiralty, A.V. Alexander. The announcement was accompanied by a statement of the terms of reference of the Mission “to promote in conjunction with the leaders of Indian opinion, the early realization of full self-Government in India.” The steps to be taken would include.
(1) Preparatory discussions with the elected representatives of -the departure of the Mission, the Prime Minister made a further statement of policy in which two points were especially important. The first was the reference to “independence” as a possible alternative to Dominion states which India might choose. “India herself must choose as to what will be her future constitution and her position in the world. I hope that India may elect to remain within the British Commonwealth. But if oft the other hand, she elects for independence, and in our view she has a right to do so, it will be for us to help make the transition as smooth and easy as possible.”
The second referred to the question of minorities:
“We are mindful of the rights of the minorities and the minorities should be able to live free from fear on the other hand we can not allow a minority to place their veto on .the advance of the majority.”
The reference to “independence” was widely acclaimed as a new departure of policy and evidence of a new spirit in the relations of Britain and India.
Proposals of the Cabinet Mission Plan
The Cabinet Mission arrived in India in March: 1946. In its Declaration of May 16, it put forward the following proposals:
1. Recommendations for the future constitution:
- There should be a Union of India and the states, which would deal with Foreign Affairs, Defense, and communications, and would have the power necessary to raise finance required for these subjects.
- The Union should have an Executive and Legislature constituted from British Indian and state representatives. Any question raising a major communal issue in the Legislature should require for this decision a majority of their representatives present and voting of the two major communities as well as a majority all members present and voting.
- All subjects other than Union subjects and all residuary powers should vest in the provinces.
- The states should retain all subjects and powers other those ceded to the union.
- The provinces should before to form groups with executives and Legislatures and each group could determine the provincial subjects to be taken in common.
- The constitution of the Union and of the groups should contain a provision whereby any province could, by a majority, vote of Its Legislative Assembly, call for a reconsideration of the ms the constitution after an initial period of ten years and at
ten-yearly intervals thereafter.
2. Proposals for the Constitution-making Machinery:
- The plan also made provision for a constitution-making Assembly. The Assembly was to consist of 389 members, 292 from the provinces of British India, 93 from the states, 3 from Chief Commissioner’s province and one from British Baluchistan. The provinces were to send their representatives in the Constituent Assembly on the basis of their population. Roughly, one representative was to be sent for every one million people. The seats allocated to each province were to be divided into three sections – General, Muslim and Sikh-210 General, 78 Muslims and 4 Sikhs. The elected members of the communities in the Provincial Assemblies were to elect their representatives to the Constituent Assembly.
- Division of provinces in to three sections.
- Representing Hindu-majority regions;
- Representing the north-western Muslim-majority region;
- Representing the north-eastern Muslim-majority region.
- In the preliminary meeting the Assembly would decide the order of business, elect “Chairman and other office-bearers, and an Advisory Committee to determine the rights of citizens, safeguards for minorities, and administration of tribal and excluded areas.
- The Assembly would then divide itself into three sections consisting of groups of provinces, namely, A, B and C.
- These sections would settle provincial constitutions of the provinces included in the section and also decide whether any group constitution should be set up. The provinces would have the right to opt out of a group after the first election under the new constitution.
- Then the sections would meet together and with the, states representatives proceed to prepare the Union constitution. The Advisory Committee’s recommendations would also be considered by the Union Constituent Assembly.
3. The states
The basis of cooperation of the states in the new Indian Union to be determined by negotiations. The states to be presented in their preliminary stages by a negotiating committee. Paramountcy to end with the attainment of independence by British India.
4. The British-Indian Treaty
A British-Indian Treaty to be negotiated between the Union Constituent Assembly and the United Kingdom.
5. The Interim Government
An interim government having the support of the major political parties to be formed by the Viceroy on the basis of reconstitution of his Executive Council.
Appraisal of the Plan
Demand for Pakistan Rejected:
The Cabinet Mission rejected the demand for Pakistan. It was estimated that in the western zone consisting of Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sindh and non-Muslims 38 percent. In the north-eastern region 51.7 percent were Muslims and 48.3 percent non-Muslims. On the basis of these figures, the Cabinet Mission argued that a separate sovereign state of Pakistan would not solve the communal problem. There was no justification, it pointed out, for including in a sovereign Pakistan those districts of Punjab, Bengal and Assam in which the population was predominantly non-Muslim. The Mission also considered whether a smaller Pakistan, shorn of non-Muslim majority area, was feasible. The objection to this option was that it would be against the wishes and interest of a large proportion of the inhabitants of these provinces and that in the West it would divide the Sikh community into two.
These objections against the division of the country were further reinforced by administrative, economic and military considerations. For example, the communication system had been organized on an all-India basis; its break up would seriously hurt both the parts of the country. The division of the armed forces was even more difficult. It was pointed out that if the country was divided, Pakistan would have no elbow room to defend herself.
Merits of the Plan
The Plan represented a skillful attempt to break the deadlock which during the preceding years had held up any constitutional development in India. It presented a basis for reconciling the view points of both, the Congress and the Muslim League. It held out an offer of future independence. By providing for Union of India and rejecting the demand for a separate sovereign state of Pakistan, it met the Congress point of view. Similarly, it conceded to the Muslims all the advantages of Pakistan without the danger of partitioning the country. It granted them the right to form autonomous groups in the north western and north-eastern regions of the country. It further safeguards the Muslims by providing that any question raising a major communal issue in the Legislature would require for its decision a majority of the representative present and voting of each of the two major communities as well as a majority of all members present and voting. The plan also proposed the formation of an interim Government based on the main parties. The plan carried a step further the lines of Cripps’ offer of 1992.
Defects of the Plan:
- The offer of future choice between Dominion status and independence was very far from the immediate declaration of independence demanded by all Indian Political Organizations. The All-India Congress Committee declared on June 1, 1946. “The independence that has been promised is so hedged in with restrictions that it is a misnomer to call it by that name.”
- The composition of the Constituent Assembly was undemocratic. Its election was not based on a universal suffrage. It was indirectly elected from Provincial Assemblies, based on an electorate representing 11 percent of the princes representing one-fourth of the whole.
- No provision was made for democracy in the territory of the princes. Arrangements with the princes were left entirely too voluntary negotiations, including those with regard to the matter of their representation in the constituent Assembly. Paramountcy was to end with the attainment of independence by British India. By the ending of paramountcy, if no agreement was reached in the interval with the states, they would be legally and diplomatically- independent sovereign states.
- The plan arbitrarily partitioned the country into four zones-one Hindu-majority zone, two Muslim-majority zones and the Fourth zone of the princely states. The inhabitants of the country as a whole or of the zones separately were not-consulted over this partition. Thus, the principle of self-determination was flouted.
- Under the plan the centre was left with very weak and limited powers; it lacked powers for economic planning and social reform; it would make progressive democratic advance and economic reconstruction impossible.
- Military occupation would continue during the interim period so that the Constituent Assembly would have to function under the shadow of military occupation.
- During the interim period no transfer of power was proposed. The constitution of 1935 would continue. The interim government would only be a re-constituted Viceroy’s Council, and the Viceroy would continue to enjoy veto and overriding powers.
- The Constituent Assembly would not be sovereign; it would have the semblance but not the reality of a sovereign body, The new constitution framed by it would not be valid until approved by the British Governments and the approval of the British Government would be subject to two conditions : (a) adequate provision for the protection of minorities, and (b) willingness on the part of the Constituent Assembly to conclude a treaty with the British Government over matters arising out of the transfer of power.