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Why was Cripps’ Mission sent to India?

On March 11, 1942, the British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill made an announcement in the House of Commons that a member of the War Cabinet, Sir Stafford Cripps, would go to India “to satisfy himself upon the spot by personal consultation that the declaration upon which we agreed, and which we believe represents a just and final solution, will achieve its purposes, Sir Stafford Cripps was a socialist. He was instrumental in persuading Russia to fight along with Allies in the Second World War. For his sterling services, he had been taken in the British I Cabinet. He had come to India twice before and was a friend of Jawaharlal Nehru. So it was hoped that some solution of the Indian political problem was in sight.

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Sir Stafford left for India on March 22. The Cripps’ Mission synchronized with the crisis of war in South-East Asia. A pertinent question arises here as to what were those compelling reasons which forced conservative Churchill to send Sir Stafford Cripps to have a dialogue with prominent political leaders of the various political parties. In fact, the following were the reasons due to which Churchill, who was reluctant to concede anything to Indians earlier, change his stand and sent Cripps to India.

Circumstances of Appointment

1. Non-co-operation of the Congress:

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Though Congress was opposed to Fascism, Nazism and Japanese militarism, yet it had refused to extend its active cooperation in the war efforts to British Government because the British Government had not fulfilled the demands of the Congress. So it was felt in British circles that without giving few rights to Indians, their active co­operation would not be forthcoming.

2. Pressure of Chiang Kaishek

In February 1942, Chiang Kaishek, President of China, visited India and met Mahatma Gandhi. In his farewell speech, he emphasized the need of granting actual political power to Indians.

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3. Pressure of Roosevelt

On August 14, 1941, President Roosevelt of U.S.A. and Prime Minister Winston Churchill of U.K. held a historic meeting on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean and issued a Declaration known as ‘Atlantic Charter’. The Declaration solemnly pledged to uphold the rights of man-liberty, equality and fraternity throughout the world. Indian opinion hailed the Atlantic Charter and urged for a definite statement pledging the British Government to declare India an independent state soon after the war. Churchill, on the other hand, stated that the Atlantic Charter applied only to Europe and not to Asia or Africa. On the contrary, President Roosevelt clarified that the Atlantic Charter would be applied throughout the world. So there was pressure on Churchill by the American President to resolve the political problem of India at the earliest.

Object of the Mission

The British Prime Minister in his statement in the House of Commons on March. 11, 1942 declared the object of the mission of Cripps in these words: “We will strive in their name to procure the necessary measure of assent not only from the Hindu majority but also from those great minorities amongst which the Muslims are most important.” It means that Cripps did not come to India as a plenipotentiary to negotiate the terms of an agreement; he came as a British Cabinet Minister just to persuade the Indian leaders to accept the Declaration whose terms were rigid and unalterable in substance.

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Object of the Declaration

In the preamble of the Declaration it was announced that the object was “the creation of a new Indian Union which shall constitute a Dominion, associated with the United Kingdom and the other Dominions by common allegiance to the Crown, but equal to them in every respect, in no way subordinate in any aspect of its domestic or external affairs.”

Post-War proposals

  • A constitution-making body would be set up immediately after the war.
  • Provision would be made for participation of Indian states in the constitution-making body.
  • There would be elections to the Provincial Assemblies at the end of the hostilities.
  • All the members of the Lower Houses of provincial Legislatures would form an.

4. Australian pressure

The Foreign Secretary of Australia, Mr.-Eratt, in a spirited debate on Indian problem in his Parliament, stressed the need of independence of India so that India might extend full co-operation to British Government in carrying out the war.

Danger of Japanese Invasion

The entry of Japan in the war in November 1941, posed a menace to India’s eastern frontiers for Japan was fighting against the British and her allies. Japan’s phenomenal success in the early stages of the war filled the minds of Indians with the hope that the days of the British imperialism in India were numbered. Japan had overrun Singapore, Malaya, Philippines, Indonesia and Andaman and Nicobar islands. Japanese ships were moving in the Bay of Bengal. By 8th March 1942, Japan had captured Rangoon, the capital of Burma. Now the British Government fully realized the gravity of the situation. Churchill admitted in his autobiography that after the capture of Rangoon it was felt by his colleagues that if India was to be protected properly, every possible effort would have to be made to resolve the political statement in India without any further loss of time. That is why Churchill, after three days of Japanese entry into Rangoon, decided to send Sir Stafford Cripps to India.

Cripps arrived in India on March 23, 1942 and brought with him a draft scheme for settling the political problem of India.

Post-War Proposals:

  1. A constitution-making body would be set up immediately after the war.
  2. Provision would be made for participation of Indian states in the constitution-making body.
  3. There would be elections to the Provincial Assemblies at the end of the hostilities.
  4. All the members of the Lower Houses of Provincial Legislatures would form an electoral college and elect members of the constitution-making body by the system proportional representation. This new body would be in number about 1/10th of the number of the Electoral College.
  5. Indian states would be invited to appoint representatives in the same proportion as to their total population as in the case of representatives of British India as a whole and with the same powers of British Indian members.
  6. Any province of British India or any state would have the right to remain .outside the proposed Indian Union and either continue on existing basis or frame a new constitution as a separate Dominion with equal rights.
  7. A treaty could be signed between the British Government and the constitution making body. This treaty would cover all necessary matters arising out of the complete transfer of responsibility from British to Indian hands; it would make provision for the protection of racial and religious minorities but would not impose any restriction on the power of the Indian Union to decide in future its relationship to other member states of the British Commonwealth.

Immediate proposals during the war

The second part of the plan was concerned with the, immediate and interim arrangements during the period of the war. It contemplated no change in the existing situation. It was stated in the Declaration that during the period of the war His Majesty’s government must inevitably bear the responsibility for and retain the control and direction of the defense of India as part of their world-wide effort; but the task of organizing to the full the military moral and material resources must be the responsibility of the government of India with the cooperation of the people of India. It, therefore, invited the Indian leaders to the counsels of the country, of the Commonwealth, and of the United Nations. Thus, the Draft Declaration implicitly ruled out any major change in the form of the constitution during the war period.

Merit of the Declaration

The only merit of the Declaration was that self-determination, for the people of India had been accepted in principle. It was conceded Dominion status for a new Indian Union: with the power to secede if it chooses, from the British Commonwealth.

Defects of the Plan:

  1. The constitution-making body was so constituted that the people’s right to self determination was vitiated by the introduction of non-representative elements. Completely ignoring the 90 millions of people of the Indian states and their treatment as commodities at the disposal of their rulers was a negation-of both democracy and self-determination. The people of the states had no voice in choosing their representatives, nor were they to be consulted at any stage, while decisions vitally affecting them were being taken.
  2. The acceptance beforehand of the principle of non-accession for a province was a severe blow to the conception of Indian unity and an apple of discord likely to generate growing trouble in the provinces, and which might well lead to further difficulties in the way of the Indian states merging themselves in the Indian Union.
  3. The acceptance of the principle of non-accession would compel substantial. Non-Muslim groups to remain against their wishes in the predominantly Muslim-majority areas.
  4. The most serious defect of the plan was that the British government was not prepared to transfer power to India during the war. No vital changes in the existing structure were contemplated.

Failure of the Plan:

  1. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad has clearly explained the reasons for the failure of the plan in his autobiography, ‘India Wins Freedom’. He writes that the reaction of the Congress leaders to the plan was mixed. Gandhiji was against the acceptance of the proposals because of his opposition to war. “In fact,” writes Azad, “his judgment of the merits of the proposals was colored by his inherent and unchangeable aversion to anything which might involve India in war.” Jawaharlal Nehru was inclined to consider the proposals favorably because he “was deeply troubled by the developments in Europe and Asia, and was anxious concerning the fate of the democracies.
  2. There were prolonged negotiations between Cripps and the Congress President, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. From the observations and private conversations of Cripps, Azad was convinced that the British government was not averse to the transformation of the Viceroy’s Executive Council into a national government composed of Indian members with the exception of the Defense Member.
  3. Although the Congress had many objections to the proposals, they decided to keep the problem of future in abeyance, and having received satisfactory assurance on the formation of the national Government, felt that the only important matter which remained for adjustment related to the office of the Defense Member. National Defense in time of war covered very large ground comprehending or impinging upon every national activity. Therefore, the non-transfer of Defense would leave a very truncated sphere of authority, for the administration of other departments. The Congress which demanded control over the whole field of government could not be satisfied with such attenuated authority.
  4. But even on Defense the Congress did not adopt an uncompromising attitude. They went to considerable lengths of concessions in the hope of reaching a positive settlement. They offered to serve under a British Viceroy and to accept a British Commander-in-Chief not only for the control of military operations, but as a member of the Cabinet. But they were told that British power during the war must remain absolute and dictatorial. When they tried to negotiate in order to narrow the margin on disagreement, they were told: “Take it or leave it.”
  5. The British Cabinet told -Cripps that there could be no surrender of authority of the Viceroy conferred by the Act of 1935. It showed that the assurances that Cripps had given the Maulana Azad were illusory. Naturally, the Congress rejected the proposals. They said in their resolution. “Any proposal concerning the future of India must demand attention and scrutiny, but in today’s grave crisis, it is the present that counts and proposals for the future are important in so far as they affect the present.”
  6. Thus the Cripps’ Plan failed because the British government was not prepared to part with even an iota of power during the period of the war.
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