The Dawn Of Indian Independence
- Part 1 -


The arduous struggle for India's independence was about to be crowned with success. The struggle in the real sense of the term began with the struggle against the Partition of Bengal in 1905. Before this, in 1904 in Manipur there was the Civil Disobedience movement against British imperialism. It was successful; but because of the British policy of Political isolation of Indian States, the news of this non-violent Civil Disobedience movement did not spread beyond the borders of this small state on the eastern frontier of India.

Labour Government

At the end of the Second World War, general elections in the United Kingdom swept the Labour Party to power. The Labour Government decided to grant Independence to India and persevered with a commendable political will to translate this decision into action. Granting independence to India is easier said than done. It was a complex problem. The Mission of Sir Stafford Cripps was not very successful. The crux of the problem was: Whether India should or should not be partitioned.

The greatest political party, the Indian National Congress firmly stood for Akhanda Bharat i.e. Undivided India; but a communal party of Indian Muslims -the Muslim League - wished to get a separate sovereign state to be carved out of India. Learned and liberal Muslims like Moulana Abul Kalam Azad were in the Congress but the majority of Indian Muslims of the time supported the Muslim League.

The stand of the Muslim League was:
1. India should be partitioned, on communal lines, into two sovereign states. This should be effected by constituting provinces earmarked by Mr. Jinnah into a sovereign Muslim state to be called Pakistan.

2. Instead of one Constituent Assembly there should be two Constituent Assemblies -one for India and the other for Pakistan.

Under instructions from the British Government, the then Governor General, Lord Wavell, brought the Congress and the Muslim League together to see whether they could reach a compromise on the issue of Pakistan. In what was then called Simla Conference, Gandhijee and Mr. Jinnah met in 1944 but no compromise could be reached on this issue.

Cabinet Mission

When Lord Wavell's attempts proved unsuccessful. His Majesty's Government sent Lord Louis Mountbatten to India as the last Viceroy. Britain was determined to transfer power to India. Lord Mountbatten's main duty was to reconcile the claims of the Congress and the Muslim League. In August 1 946, His Majesty's Government sent three Cabinet Ministers on a mission to India to help solve the vexed India question.

They were: Lord Patrick Lawrence, Sir Stafford Cripps and AV Alexander. The Cabinet Mission announced their proposals which would serve as the formula for the Transfer of Power. The salient features of their proposals were:
1 . There should not be partition of India.
2. There should be an elected Constituent Assembly to make the Constitution of India without outside interference.
3. There should be an Interim Government pending the installation of a regular government under the new Constitution.
4. The proposed federal government should deal with Foreign Affairs, Defence and Communication only.
5. The provinces should be grouped on the lines already demanded by the Muslim League.

The Cabinet Mission made it clear that these proposals were not mandatory but only recommendatory. These proposals were on the whole good. The ideal of undivided India is dear to every Congressman. Regarding an elected constituent assembly making the constitution of India without any outside interference it is what Gandhijee had been demanding since 1 922. The Congress also had been demanding it since 1 935. The installation of an interim government was also a move in the right direction.

The proposal to make the federal government deal with Foreign Affairs, Defence and Communication only would make the central government very weak. But it was only a recommendatory proposal. The Constituent Assembly might, if the Congress commanded majority, assign more subjects to the federal list. The grouping of provinces on communal lines as desired by the Muslim League would be a dangerous step leading to frequent communal riots all over India. However, here also there was a silver lining.

This proposal of the Cabinet Mission was recommendatory. Moreover in a negotiated settlement, you cannot expect to get all you want. You must give something to the other side also. The Cabinet Mission had rejected the demand of the Muslim League viz. partition of India. Its proposal for grouping of provinces was a measure to console the Muslim League. As the proposals of the Cabinet Mission were good on the whole, the Congress accepted them.

The Constituent Assembly

In 1946, elections to the Constituent Assembly were held. The Muslim League joined the election, set up candidates and some of its candidates were returned. The Interim Government contemplated in the proposals of the Cabinet Mission was also set up. The Muslim League was not satisfied with the manner in which this Interim Government was formed. Jawaharlal Nehru was appointed to head the Interim Government. Akhanda Bharat (Undivided India) was moving smoothly and speedily towards Swaraj (Independence). The dream of Pakistan was beginning to disappear like a thin mist on the distant horizon. The Muslim League was now desperate. In sheer desperation it started what it called Direct Action.

After the elections to the Constituent Assembly, a controversy arose between the Congress and the Muslim League regarding the interpretation of the Cabinet Mission's plan for grouping of provinces. The British Government declared that the interpretation of the Muslim League was the correct interpretation. Moreover, on 6 December 1 946 the British Government issued a statement in a very cautiously worded diplomatic language. In plain English the statement means: If a constitution came to be made by the Constituent Assembly in which a large section of the Indian population was not represented His Majesty's Government would not force such a constitution on any unwilling part of the country.

The die is cast. Everything was clear by 6 December 1946. The Cripps' Offer rejected the demand for Pakistan. The original Cabinet Mission plan rejected the demand for Pakistan; but now, the British Government came round to the view that Pakistan should be conceded. The statement of 6 December 1946 made by His Majesty's Government, inspite of its cautious wording, was a broad hint that the Muslim League members need not attend the Constituent Assembly.

The first meeting of the Constituent Assembly was held on 9 December 1 946. The Muslim League boycott it. Undaunted by the tense political situation and the boycott call of the Muslim League, the Constituent Assembly went on with its business. We particularly remember the. speech of Sarvapalli Radha Krishnan in this first sitting of the Constituent Assembly.

After boycotting the Constituent Assembly, the Muslim League now demanded its dissolution. Brushing aside this demand of the Muslim League, the historic Objective Resolution of Jawaharlal Nehru was introduced into the Constituent Assembly on 1 3 December 1946 and it was passed on 22 January 1947. We quote below the first two paragraphs of this important resolution:
This Constituent Assembly declares its firm and solemn resolve to proclaim India as an Independent Sovereign Republic and to draw up for her future governance a Constitution:
(2) WHEREIN the territories that now comprise British India, the territories that now form the Indian States, and such other parts of India as are outside British India and the States as well as such other territories as are willing to be constituted into the Independent Sovereign India shall be a Union of them all;

This Objective Resolution is a very courageous and far-seeing resolution. Cripps Offer promised only Dominion Status. The Cabinet Mission did not promise Purna Swaraj. British statesmen of the time were not thinking of giving India more than Dominion Status; but Dominion Status falls short of Purna Swaraja. A certain section of Indians was rioting. It was against this backdrop that the Constituent Assembly declared its firm and solemn resolve to proclaim India as a Sovereign Republic. The India of those days had four distinct political entities viz. (1) British India (2) Indian States (3) French India and (4) Portuguese India.

French India was ruled by France and Portuguese India was ruled by Portugal. By this resolution the Constituent Assembly declares its solemn resolve to draw up a Constitution. In this Constitution, British India, Indian States, French India, Portuguese India as well as other territories as are willing to accede to Sovereign India will be members of a Union. This Union shall be a Union of them all.

A Secret British plan

The Constituent Assembly was thus moving in the right direction. Then on 20 February 1947 the British Government issued another statement. Its gist is this:
1. British Rule in India would in any case end by June 1948 after which authority would certainly be transferred to Indian hands.
2. If a fully representative Constituent Assembly failed to draw up a Constitution in accordance with the proposals of the Cabinet Mission, His Majesty's Government would consider to whom the powers of the Central Government should be handed over, whether as a whole to some form of Central Government for British India or in some areas to the existing Prominal Governments or in such other ways as seemed most reasonable and in the best interests of the Indian people.

This statement of 20 February 1 947 made it quite clear that transfer of power by Britain to Indian hands was now a certainty. June 1948 was not a distant date either. What worried India most at this stage was: Would Britain fragment India before the promised transfer of power. The Muslim League desired partition of India into two parts only, Hindustan and Pakistan. Would Britain do much worse? Did this statement drop a hint? Lord Louis Mountbatten assumed office on 20 February 1947. The Congress still stood for Undivided India and the Muslim League still persisted in demanding partition of India. What would the newly appointed Viceroy do?

In the meantime, Sardar Ballabhbhai Patel, the Iron Man of India, discovered a secret plan of the British Government. It was this: If the Congress still insisted on Undivided India, the British Government would fragment India into hundreds of tiny independent sovereign states. How would this be effected? The British Parliament while passing an Act to grant freedom to India would give sovereignty to every Governor's Province, to every Chief Commissioner's province and to each of the 600 Indian States. These hundreds of small and tiny sovereign states would be independent of one another. This immediate prospect of fragmentation of India into countless pieces was more worrying than the Muslim League demand of partitioning India into Hindustan and Pakistan.

Sardar Patel revealed this secret British plan to Jawaharlal Nehru. With his characteristic sharp intellect, Nehru at once graped the gravity of the situation. Sardar Patel and Nehru went to Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhijee sadly listened to their story. Nehru and Patel were asking for Gandhijee's consent to the partition of India. He had long since ceased to be even a Primary Member of the Congress but, by common consent, he was the permanent super-president of the Congress. Gandhijee said that he was now too old to launch another all-India agitation.

In his younger days, Gandhijee had successfully launched three all-India agitations - the Non-Cooperation Movement, the Civil Disobedience Movement and the recent Quit India Movement. As a result of all these. Independence was now coming to the doorstep of every Indian. But India was now facing the prospect of fragmentation into pieces. To lead an all-India agitation to compel the British to abandon their plan would require much energy mental and physical. Gandhijee was now physically weak.

Had William Shakespear lived in India at this hour he would exclaim "Weakness is thy name. Old Age!".Gandhijee sadly agreed to the partition of India. Would this consent of Gandhijee avert fragmentation of India

To be continued...

* This is an article published by DIPR (Department of Information and Public Relations) Manipur in their Journal "Manipur Today" on the eve of Independence Day , 15 August 2010
This article was webcasted on August 27 2010.

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