How British Imperial Power Complicated the process of Transfer of Power During 1940’s?

Updated August 6, 2022

British Imperial, in reality, did not want to transfer the power into the hands of Indians but due to the obstacle or challenges made them transfer the power. World War II was one of the major challenges for the British. During the world war, British economy suffered more which make them handicapped and were not in a position to fund the overseas expansion or holdings. Even, WW-II resulted in the emergence of two power Soviet Union and the USA. Britain was not in a position to engage in any battle as maintaining the overseas colonies meant more chances of engaging with other power.

Increase in the nationalist movements or freedom struggles were also the major hurdles for the British to control over the colonies. Nationalist, radicals and other groups uniformly asserted the quest of Transfer of power in the 1940s. It seemed that the “Quit India Movement” was an effective one against the Britishers in crushing their power. With the launch of ‘Quit India Movement’ the pressure on British Imperial Power to exist India was initiated that led a gradual change in the process of transfer of power which finally ended up with the complete transfer of power in 1947. Due to the above challenges, British Imperials have to provide Independence. But the British reluctancy in transferring the power made them to adopt complicated policy such as:

August Offer (08th August, 1940)

Despite British was convinced to give importance to the demands of Indian, they placed a dominion Status and Veto Power to the Muslim League which make them anguish. In totality, British Imperial put the hurdles in power transfer. The Britishers brought the proposal of “August Offer” for the cooperation in the war effort.

Britain was very keen to get support from the Indian in the War. Actually, Britain found herself in danger as of fear of being occupied by Nazis. In this light, Indian National congress softened its stand and offered that Indian would support in war if the power was transferred to an interim government. Then, Viceroy Linlithgow made a set of proposals called the ‘August Offer’. It was the first time when the right of Indians was taken into consideration to frame their own constitution.

The terms of the August Offer

(a) After the war a representative Indian body would be set up to frame a constitution for India.

(b) The Viceroy’s Executive Council would be expanded without any delay, it was the first time to include more Indians than whites. However, defence, finance and home portfolios were to remain with the British.

(c) It was given assurance to minorities that the government would not transfer power “to any system of government whose authority is directly denied by large and powerful elements in Indian national life.

The Congress Working Committee rejected this offer in its meeting at Wardha on 21 August 1940. They asserted its demand for complete freedom from the colonial rule. Jawahar Lal Nehru was against the Dominion status, according to J.L. Nehru the concept of Dominion Status was dead as a doornail. Even, the Muslim League was not satisfied with the Viceroy Linlithgow proposal and rejected this offer. On obvious, the British government had balled up the process of transferring power.

Cripps Mission (1942)-

After the failure of the August Offer, British sent the Cripps Mission with subsequent changes in a bid to garner the Indian support in the war. Indian nationalists had agreed to support the Allied as they hoped for immediate transfer of substantial power and complete independence after the war. Of course, even in this proposal, you can acknowledge that the British Imperial balled up the transferring of power.

This proposal was sent by the British government because Britain was facing pressure from the US and other allied leaders over its own imperial policies in India and also to secure Indian cooperation for the Allied war effort. Even, Japan threaten to invade India and seemed that it could be real for them.

Proposals of Cripps Mission-

(a) In this proposal, it pertained of granting India Dominion Status with immediate effect. With this Dominion Status, India would have the power to remain with the British Commonwealth or to withdraw from it.

(b) It included that India would have a Constituent Assembly to frame a new constitution for the country. The members of the Assembly would be elected by the provincial assemblies and also nominated by the princes.

(c) Any province unwilling to join the Indian dominion could form a separate union and have a separate constitution.

The rights of minorities would be safeguarded by negotiations between the Constituent Assembly and the British government.

(e) In the meantime, until this new constitution came into force, India’s defence would be controlled by the British and the powers of the Governor-General would remain unaltered.

The Cripps Mission was failed to garner the support of Indian. Indian National Congress rejected the proposal because INC was against the right of Provinces to separate from the union as it would damage the national unity, they were against the Indian Defence Ministry be reserved for the British or the unaltered of powers of the Governor-General. Even, they have no concrete plan for immediate transfer of power, this became one of the reasons for the rejection of the proposal by INC.

Muslim league rejected the proposal because the proposal would not fulfil the idea of the league. They did not like the idea of a single union of India. They protested against the method for the Constituent Assembly’s creation and also against the procedure to decide on the provinces’ accession to the Indian union.

It seemed that this proposal had a complication in transferring the power, which finally led to the failure of the mission. After Cripps being returned to England, the Mahatma Gandhi started the “Quit India Movement” in August 1942.

Balkanisation Plan (Wavell Plan) (1945)- 

Wavell Plan was brought by Lord Wavell, who became the Viceroy in 1943. He was charged with the responsibility to resolve the political deadlock of existing India. Lord Wavell was considered an apt person for this task as he had been the head of the Indian Army and thus had a better understanding of the Indian situation. But the Wavell plan could not eliminate the differences between Indian National Congress and the Muslim League and became the major reason for the failure.

Proposals of Wavell Plan-

(a) Wavell proposed to give all post of govt. to Indians except for commander in chief of the army and governor-general.

(b) All portfolios except Defence were to be under the control of Indian members.

(c) The Viceroy/Governor-General would still have the power of veto but its use would be minimal

(d) In the Proposed Executive Council, which was to have a ‘balanced representation’ of all Indians including ‘caste-Hindus’, Muslims, Depressed Classes, Sikhs, etc. Muslims were given 6 out of 14 members which accounted for more than their share of the population (25%).

Wavell Plan was constituted to resolve the political deadlock of existing India but he dropped the plan due to disagreement between leaders of Muslim League and Congress, and finally the Wavell plan was dissolved at the Shimla Conference and with it the last chance to avoid partition was failed.

Cabinet Mission (1946)-

Clement Atlee (British Prime Minister) decided to send a mission to India for the transfer of powers from the British Indian government to Indian leaders. The mission was proposed to resolve the political deadlock between the Indian National Congress and Muslim League so as to stop the communal riots, to provide strong power to the central government as compared to the provinces etc. However, this mission had complicated the power transfer by grouping the provinces into three sections A, B, C. The Muslim majority provinces were grouped into two groups and the remaining Hindu-majority in one of the groups.

Boundary Line-

The commission was constituted for demarcating the boundary Cyrill Redcliff. He was a lawyer and had never been visited India before. Even, He was unaware of the social and political issues of India. This had caused the most contentious issue between Pakistan and India i.e. Kashmir Issue

The Independent Princely States

The Princely States were given the autonomy to merge either with India or Pakistan. Even after a great effort of Mountbatten, J.L. Nehru, Sardar Patel few princely states convince to merge with India and some of them produced great challenges- Kashmir, Hyderabad, Junagarh.

Above points shows that from early 1940 many factors led to an acceptance of Indian’s demand by British Imperial but in hurry, ignorance to take responsibility have led to complications of Transfer of Power and deaths of many along with the division of the country.

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