The Indian National Congress’ Last Hurrah
by Radha Rajan on 14 Jul 2009 1 Comment

The Cabinet Mission – May, 1946
The timing of the Cabinet Mission was a clear sign of surrender by the British government to the inevitable: India could no longer be held by force. Within a month of ending the siege of Imphal, London sent the Cabinet Mission to India in March 1946. The Cabinet Mission came to India ostensibly to devise a mechanism for the smooth transfer of power. It comprised three members – Sir Pethick-Lawrence, Secretary of State for India, Sir Stafford Cripps, President, Board of Trade and AV Alexander, First Lord of the Admiralty.

The Mission had twin objectives: to devise a constitution for the independent Indian state, and the formation of an interim government or Executive Council to assist the Viceroy to administer the country until the making of the constitution, with the rider that the Viceroy would continue to enjoy overriding powers. The proposals were made public in what has come to be known as the Statement of May 16 or State Paper of May 16, 1946.[1]

The paper broadly set out the basis and mechanism of Constitution-making and the need for setting up an interim government until the process of Constitution-making was complete. India would be a free country after the Constitution was in place. The important features of the State Paper were –

- The British Government accepts the anxiety of Muslims to protect their religion, culture and language

- The British Government concedes fully the Muslim claim that they fear Hindu domination and hence cannot accept being ruled by Hindus

- The Cabinet Mission therefore provides for grouping of provinces into Groups A, B and C which permits grouping of provinces with sizeable Muslim population into Groups B and C allowing the Muslim League political control of sizeable territory

- The Cabinet Mission rules out a separate state of Pakistan not only to get the INC on board for the negotiations but also on the ground that the Pakistan of Jinnah’s demand would exist on two sides of partitioned India – Group B on India’s west and Group C on India’s east

- The Union of India would have only three subjects under its control – Foreign Affairs, Defense and Communications. All other subjects would vest with the provinces

- If any province wished to opt out of the Group into which it had been placed it could so at the time of the first general elections in independent India [2]

- No clause of the State paper could be modified or changed and nothing could be added or deleted without a majority of the representatives of the two major political formations, and a majority of the total representatives present in the Constituent Assembly, agreeing to it

Thus all subjects other than Foreign Affairs, Defense and Communications would vest in the provinces, and the provinces would be free to form larger groups, with their own executives and legislatures, with powers to deal with such subjects as the provinces within that group might assign to them. [3]

In this manner, the provinces that Jinnah claimed for Pakistan could form groups or sub-federations and enjoy a large measure of autonomy approximating to but not quite Pakistan. Notwithstanding Jinnah's repeated insistence on carving out the Muslim state of Pakistan, Viceroy Wavell's ultimatum that if Jinnah insisted on Pakistan he would get only a truncated Pakistan [4], ultimately persuaded Jinnah to accept the Mission's proposal for a three-tier Constitution which allowed maximum autonomy for all provinces within the Indian Union, including the Princely states, which would be prevailed upon to join the Union by sending their representatives into the Constituent Assembly.

The Cabinet Mission had provided for the Princes and rulers of the Indian States to send 93 delegates to the Constituent Assembly to participate in the making of the constitution. Jinnah’s, and subsequently the Muslim League’s acquiescence to accepting the Mission proposal for maximum autonomy without partition was a well-planned tactical gesture because Jinnah intended to water the seeds of Partition once the Muslim League came to power in these provinces and after the British quit India.[5] 

The State Paper dealt even-handedly with the INC and the Muslim League – it effectively averted the looming threat of vivisection and also gave enough to Jinnah and the Muslim League to force them to accept the proposals. It also issued a direct warning to both parties about the possible catastrophic consequences for the people if because of the intransigence on the part of one or other of the parties, the Mission were to fail in its objective.[6]

The Imperial Government had also sent the Cabinet delegation fully prepared with a back-up plan in the following circumstances –

- The INC or the Muslim League or both could reject the mechanism for the formation of the Interim Government

- Either or both political parties could refuse to participate in the making of the Constitution

- Either or both could reject the Mission proposals in toto 

The covert and undisclosed back-up plan, which manifested itself with unfolding events in the subsequent weeks, and which we now understand retrospectively, was as follows –

- If the INC and the Muslim League failed to come together to jointly decide on the composition of the coalition Interim Government, the Viceroy would nominate members from the INC and the Muslim League or from other parties which accepted the State Paper of May 16

- If the Muslim League refused to join the Interim Government, then the Viceroy would call upon the INC to form the government

- If however, the INC refused to form the government, the Muslim League would not be invited to form the interim government on its own, even if it accepted the State Paper of May 16

- If the Muslim League refused to enter the Constituent Assembly, the INC would go ahead with the formation of the Interim Government and proceed to constitute the Assembly which would get down to the business of Constitution-making for all groups and provinces

- If the INC refused to agree to participate in the Constituent Assembly then the six provinces assigned to Group A would be immediately declared by the Viceroy to be independent and the INC could then go ahead with forming an Interim Government to administer these provinces as it desired and set up its own constituent assembly, while groups B and C would continue to remain under the control of the Viceroy until such time each of the Provinces in the two groups decided upon their own mechanisms for governance and administration

The back-up plan was such that it would provoke the Muslim League to violence if pushed that far. The acceptance resolution of the Muslim League in fact declared unambiguously that the League would do everything in its means and power to eventually make Pakistan a reality.[7]

Viceroy invites Congress to form Interim Government and the Congress accepts – August 12, 1946  
• Muslim League declares Direct Action Day – August 16, 1946
• Communal riots in Bengal and Bihar
• Communal riots in Bombay – 1st September, 1946

The mind-games that Gandhi thought he was playing brilliantly with Jinnah and the British eventually boomeranged on the nation. Jinnah felt betrayed by Gandhi and the Viceroy when the League was not invited to form the interim government on its own as per Clause 8 of the statement of June 16 and the Muslim League rejected the Cabinet Mission proposals in toto making the threat of a violent eruption by the League very real. But contrary to what the British government wanted, the Muslim League did not unleash violence on the 29th of June even though they did reject the State Paper and refuse to co-operate with the Cabinet Mission. 

Almost as if they wanted to ignite the tinder-box of seething anger in the Muslim League, the Viceroy invites the Congress to form the interim government on the 12th of August. The stage had been set for the imperial government’s back-up plan to be unraveled with perfect timing. The Viceroy did not invite the Muslim League to form the interim government after the Congress rejected the interim government proposals but went ahead to invite the Congress to form the interim government after the League rejected the Mission proposals.

An enraged Jinnah declared ‘direct action’ on the 16th of August, with the sole objective of making the sovereign state of Pakistan a reality. Partition, which had been averted by the groupings clause in the State paper and the proposal to make a three-tier constitution, was now imminent – thanks to Gandhi’s megalomaniac insistence on disregarding the general view of the Congress Working Committee to accept the State Paper as a starting point for the transfer of power, and on being the only person to negotiate on behalf of the Congress and by extension, it is worth repeating, the whole nation barring the Muslims. Whose agenda was Gandhi really serving?

In August 1946 after Jinnah blamed Gandhi squarely for aborting the Cabinet Mission proposals for transfer of power, and to emphasize the point that Muslims were not only a separate nation but also hostile to all non-Islamic faiths, he called upon the Muslims to launch direct action, not against the British government, but going by the horrific numbers of Hindus killed in Calcutta on August 16th alone, against the Hindus. Additionally it also served to debunk Gandhi’s stubborn insistence that Muslims can and will live peacefully with Hindus if only the Hindus would serve them wholeheartedly and without political motives.[8] 

Habitual Muslim violence in the name of jihad, lasting for over a thousand years had claimed Hindu victims disproportionate to their actual numbers despite determined resistance from the Hindu community, only because jihad was abetted by Muslim state power. Loss of state power to European colonialists had dealt a severe blow to jihad against the Hindus which however received a fillip during the Gandhian years when Gandhi injected the slow poison of non-violence into Hindu-Muslim relations. The massacre of Hindus in the Malabar by the Mopla Muslims in 1921 saw jihad raising its head yet again only because Indian Muslims scented state power through the Khilafat agitation supported by Gandhi and Gandhi’s INC.

Having scented and tasted the blood of Hindus, Jinnah’s call for direct action to create the Islamic state of Pakistan enflamed the glowing embers of jihad burning in the heart of every true Muslim and Bengal witnessed the replay of the Mopla massacre which was now carried out over a much larger expanse of territory with little interference from the British government and administration and the active support of the Muslim League which was ruling the Bengal province.

The Hindus of Bihar took note of the events in Bengal and proceeded to demonstrate that they would seek revenge for the massacre of Hindus in those regions and would not be obstructed by Gandhian non-violence. The whole of North India was burning and the imperial government in London and the British government in India could have asked for nothing better. Vivisection of the nation was Britain’s exit policy and violent communal upheaval leading to vivisection of the nation was Britain’s exit strategy.

The riots which engulfed the country, particularly the riots in Bihar, following Jinnah’s call for direct action proved, if proof were indeed needed, two things to Gandhi; that the Muslims would never give up jihad against the kaffirs in their religious intent to establish Dar-ul-Islam and that Hindus could deal effectively with jihad if Muslims were denied the protection of Islamic or any other state power.


1] Statement of Cabinet Delegation and Viceroy, The Transfer of Power 1942-47, Vol. VII, pp. 582-91, CWMG Vol. 90, Appendix XX, pp 438-47

2] The State Paper is very clear on this and makes the point in simple language; yet Gandhi, realizing that he alone was responsible for the march of the Muslim League inexorably towards its goal of a separate Pakistan, latched on to this provision in a feeble attempt to retrieve the already lost situation   

3] Provinces should be free to form groups with Executives and Legislatures, and each Group could determine the Provincial subjects to be taken in common. (Clause 15 (5), Statement of Cabinet Delegation and Viceroy, May 16, 1946, Appendix XX, CWMG, vol. 90, pp 438-47) 

4] ‘Truncated Pakistan’ was the CR Formula (C Rajagopalachari, ‘Rajaji’ formula for partition) which demanded the partition of the Punjab and Bengal without ceding Assam while Jinnah’s Pakistan envisaged the whole of the Punjab, Sindh, the North-West Frontier province and the whole of Bengal and Assam. The CR formula also envisaged a total transfer of population in Bengal, the Punjab and the rest of India as the natural and desirable fallout of partition with the Gandhian, self-defeating rider of all such transfer being wholly voluntary.

5] “...the Muslim League having regard to the grave issues involved, and prompted by its earnest desire for a peaceful solution, if possible, of the Indian constitutional problem, and in as much as the basis and the  foundation of Pakistan are inherent in the Mission’s plan by virtue of the compulsory grouping of the six Muslim provinces, in sections B and C, is willing to co-operate the constitution-making machinery proposed in the scheme outlined by the Mission, in the hope that it would ultimately result in the establishment of complete sovereign Pakistan…” (Resolution of Muslim League Council, June 6, 1946, the Transfer of Power 1942-47, Vol. VII, pp 836-8, CWMG, Vol. 91, Appendix V, page 439) 

6] We ask you to consider the alternative to acceptance of these proposals. After all the efforts which we and the Indian Parties have made together for agreement, we must state that in our view there is a small hope for peaceful settlement by agreement of the Indian Parties alone. The alternative therefore would be a grave danger of violence, chaos and even civil war. The result and duration of such a disturbance cannot be foreseen; but it is certain that it would be a terrible disaster for many millions of men, women and children. This is a possibility which must be regarded with equal abhorrence by the Indian people, our own countrymen and the world as a whole.
We therefore lay these proposals before you in the profound hope that they will be accepted and operated by you in the spirit of accommodation and good-will in which they are offered. (Statement of Cabinet Delegation and Viceroy, May 16, 1946, The Transfer of Power, 1942-47, Vol. VII, pp 582-91, CWMG, Vol. 90, Appendix XX, page 447) 

7] In order that there may be no manner of doubt in any quarter, the Council of the All-India Muslim league reiterates that the attainment of the goal of a complete sovereign Pakistan still remains the unalterable objective of the Muslims in India, for the achievement of which they will, if necessary, employ every means in their power and consider no sacrifice or suffering too great. (Resolution of Muslim League Council, June 6, 1946, the Transfer of Power 1942-47, Vol. VII, pp 836-8, CWMG, Vol. 91, Appendix V, page 439) 

8] Hindu-Muslim unity can come only by selfless service of Muslims untainted by political motives. They (Muslims) are just like us and we must be friends with them. (Speech to Congress workers, Rampurhat, December 20, 1945, Amrita Bazar Patrika, 21-12-1945, CWMG vol. 89, pp 71-72)
Q. What could Congressmen do to draw Muslims to the Congress?
A. Gandhiji said that in the presence of the prevailing distrust there should be no attempt to enlist the Muslims or any other group or individuals. What however every Hindu could do was mutely to serve his Muslim or for that matter every non-Hindu neighbour as his blood brother. Such selfless service was bound to tell in the end. That was the way of non-violence, otherwise called love. (Discussion with political workers, Sodepur, December 23, 1945, Amrita Bazar Patrika, 25-12-1945, CWMG, vol.89, pp 89-91)

Excerpted from
Eclipse of the Hindu Nation: Gandhi and his freedom struggle
Radha Rajan
New Age Publishers (P) Ltd., Delhi, 2009
Price: Rs 495/-
ISBN 81- 7819 - 068- 0
The book may be ordered from the publishers at
or at 011-2649 3326/ 27/ 28

The author is editor,

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