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Role of British Imperial Power in Complicating the Process of Transfer of Power During 1940s

  • Last Updated : 12 Jan, 2022

The 1940s was a very complicated year for the Britishers in India. In order to seek India’s support in World war II, it came up with a number of plans and policies, clearly depicting their actual motives behind the transfer of power. India had declared “Purna Swaraj” as the goal of the congress in the 1929 Lahore session and would not subside anything less than that.

August Offer of 1940

The British government was eager to ask India for help in the war and for that reason, Viceroy Linlithgow made a series of proposals by his “August Offer“. For the first time, the right of Indians to make their constitution was recognized.

Features

  • After the war, a representative body of India would be formed to draft the Indian Constitution and state the goal of India as ‘dominion status‘.
  • The Viceroy’s Executive Council would be immediately enlarged, and for the first time, more Indians than whites would be welcomed. However, the defense, finance, and interior ministries remained with the British.
  • A military advisory council was to be created.
  • Minorities have received assurances that power “will not be transferred to any system of government without their consent.

At the Wardha session in August 1940, the INC rejected this proposal as Congress demanded complete freedom from colonial rule. Jawaharlal Nehru said that ‘the dominance status concept is dead as a doornail’. The league also rejected the offer, stating that only a country’s division would be acceptable to them. After the failure of the august offer, the Britishers came up with the Cripps Mission in the year 1942. 

Cripps Mission of 1942

By early 1942, Japan had made progress in Southeast Asia and was on the border of India. The British government has sought to ensure India’s full cooperation against Japan, China and the United States, which entered the war, were also interested in India’s full participation in the war. Increasing pressure from China and the United States, and the British Labor Party has prompted Prime Minister Winston Churchill to send Stafford Cripps to India in March 1942.

Features: 

  • Establishment of Indian Estates. This rule would give the right to stay or leave within the British Commonwealth. Participation in international organizations will also be free.
  • A Constituent Assembly would be formed to draft a new constitution for the country. The assembly would  include members elected by the provincial legislatures and appointed by princes.
  • Any province that did not wish to be included in the Indian rule could form a separate federation and a separate constitution.
  • The transfer of power and minority rights are guaranteed by negotiations between the Constituent Assembly and the British government.
  • In the meantime, the defense of India would remain in British hands and governor- general’s powers would remain intact.

The failure of the Cripps mission can usually be attributed to several factors, most notably the limits within which Cripps was to operate. Some analysts see the mission as allaying China and America’s concerns about British imperialism. Gandhi seized on the mission’s failure and called the British from India. This gave rise to the Quit India Movement.

Shimla Conference of 1945

World War II caused many socio-economic problems in the British Empire, particularly concerning the maintenance of their overseas colonies. Thus, the British government thought it appropriate to give India the freedom it had sought for so long.

Features:

  • The Viceroy’s Executive Council consisted of all Indians except the Viceroy and the Commander-in-Chief.
  • The council was to have a “balanced representation” of all Indians, including the people belonging to different castes like Hindus, Muslims, depressed classes, Sikhs, etc.
  • The Viceroy/Governor would still have the veto, but its use would be minimal.
  • The Ministry of External Affairs will pass from the Governor-General to the Indian Member.
  • The Vice-King shall convene a conference to obtain a list of all the members recommended to the Council from all interested parties. If one list was not agreed upon, a separate list was added from the parties. There should have been a conference in Shimla.
  • If this plan works, similar councils will emerge from local leaders in each province.

Cabinet Mission of 1946

The cabinet mission was sent to India in Feb,1946 to transfer the power from the British to Indian leaders. Its major aim was to establish a constituent assembly that could form its own constitution. This mission also failed to transfer complete powers to the Indian leaders.

Features: 

  • The Refusal of the demand for a full-fledged Pakistan because Pakistan so formed would include a large non-Muslim population 38% in the NW and 48% in the NE.
  • The provinces would be divided into three groups namely: Group A: ‘Madras, Central Provinces, UP, Bihar, Bombay and Orissa'(Hindu- majority provinces); Group B: ‘Punjab, Sindh, NWFP and Baluchistan'(Muslim majority province); Group C: ‘Bengal and Assam'(Muslim majority province).
  • A federal structure was envisaged and Defence, communication, and external affairs would be controlled by the common centre.

This plan was not accepted by Muslim League and Congress. The mission was against the creation of Pakistan, which the Muslim League did not like. The Congress did not like the idea of ​​grouping provinces based on a Hindu-Muslim majority and rivalry for control at the centre. It also opposed the idea of ​​a weak centre. 

Conclusion:

Due to the failure of the cabinet mission, the last viceroy of the British India, Lord Mountbatten came up with the Indian Independence Act, 1947, which ultimately transferred the powers to the Indian leaders. In order to attain India’s support for the war, the British came up with the above plan, which did not satisfy the Indian and just delayed the process of Independence.

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