Cabinet Mission: Critical Overview, Proposals and Failure (1946)


Cabinet Mission: Critical Overview, Proposals and Failure (1946)

Cabinet Mission
Cabinet Mission

Cabinet Mission 1946, proposed by A.V. Alexander, Pethick Lawrence and Stafford Cripps, attempted to solve the internal problems between the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League at the earliest so that Britishers can hurriedly quit India and focus on reconstructing Britain that had lost its political strength during Second World War.” This article critically delineates the recommendations proposed by Cabinet Mission for resolving the communal deadlock between Muslim League and Congress and the reasons why they were first accepted and then rejected.

Cabinet Mission attempts to solve communal deadlock in India
Cabinet Mission attempts to solve communal deadlock in India

In July 1945, the Labour Party proved victorious in the elections. Unlike Churchill, they were extensively enthusiastic in finding the solution to the complicated constitutional tussle in India as soon as possible because the nationalist forces seemed transparently successful and invigorating. Consequently, they instantly dispatched the Cabinet Mission to India on 24 March 1946 that yearned to immediately transfer the powers from the British Government to Indian leadership without hampering Indian integrity. For the purpose, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, the Secretary of State for India, Sir Stafford Cripps, President of the Board of Trade, and A.V. Alexander, the First Lord of the Admiralty, advised the following proposals in May 1946, which was popularly called “Cabinet Mission”:

  • Refusal of demand of full-fledged feasible “PAKISTAN” because the Muslim majority regions that were supposed to be constituting separate sovereign states for Muslims would also accommodate a large magnitude of Non-Muslim population, almost 38% in North West and 48% in North East.
  • Reorganization of Provincial Assemblies into three sections:
  1. Section A: HINDU MAJORITY PROVINCES: Madras, Bombay, Central Provinces, United Provinces, Bihar and Orissa
  2. Section B: MUSLIM MAJORITY PROVINCES: Punjab, NWFP and Sindh
  3. Section C: MUSLIM MAJORITY PROVINCES: Bengal and Assam
  • Three-tier legislative and executive system at 3 levels: provinces, provincial groupings and union level
  • Recommended the democratic elections for creating a 389-membered Constituent Assembly by providing proportional representation to Provincial Assemblies who would suggest 292 members and out of remaining 97, princely states will send 93 representatives while 4 will be sent by Chief Commissioner’s Provinces.
  • Suggested separate constitution at provincial and sectional level but the union constitution will be framed by all three sections A, B, and C on mutual consensus.
  • The powers of defence, communication and foreign affairs were provided to the centre while the residuary powers were vested in the hands of the provincial government.
  • Proposed the liberation of princely states from the paramountcy of the British Government to allow them to enter into the defined arrangement of government according to their will.
  • Formation of Interim Government from the Constituent Assembly.
  • After the first General elections, a province could depart from a provincial grouping and after 10 years, a province could urge reconsideration of a group of the union constitution.
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Cabinet Mission

Originally, the Cabinet Mission looked satisfactory to both Congress and League but the translucency on the subject of “the optionality or compulsion on the provinces to join provincial grouping” re-escalated the political dissension between them and when the British Government favoured League’s standpoint, the communal struggle resumed. According to Congress, the provinces should have the autonomy to willingly participate in the provincial groupings that they desire and shouldn’t have to wait till the first general elections for exiting the grouping since the Congress-supported regions NWFP and Assam were kept under Section-B and C that were Muslim Majority Sections while League agreed for compulsory provincial groupings for the vision of a future Pakistan.

Amidst political frictions, Muslim League and Congress approved the Cabinet Mission on 6 June and 24 June of 1946 for avoiding Partition. By July 1946, the procedures for the formation of Constituent Assembly commenced but within no time, the communal controversies resurfaced when Mr Nehru declared:

The big probability is that there [in Constituent Assembly] would be no grouping as NWFP and Assam would have objections to sections B and C.

Nehru’s speech was exemplified as an instance of treachery by Jinnah who eventually withdrew his assistance from the Cabinet Mission by the end of July 1946 and called for “Direct Action” from 16 August for achieving the dream of Pakistan. The last opportunity for preventing the acrimonious geopolitical division of India was forfeited and the bloodshed of Partition now proved unavoidable.


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