• In 1939 the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, declared India a belligerent state on the side of Britain  in WW2 without consulting Indian political leaders or the elected provincial representatives.

CWC Meeting at Wardha (September 10-14, 1939):

Different opinions were voiced on the question of Indian support to British war efforts:

  • Gandhi advocated an unconditional support to the Allied powers as he made a clear distinction between the democratic states of Western Europe and the totalitarian Nazis.
  • Subhash Bose and the socialists argued that the war was an imperialist one since both sides were fighting for gaining or defending colonial territories. Therefore, the question of supporting either of the two sides did not arise. Instead, advantage should be taken of the situation to wrest freedom by immediately starting a civil disobedience movement.
  • Nehru made a sharp distinction between democracy and Fascism. He believed that justice was on the side of Britain, France and Poland, but he was also convinced that Britain and France were imperialist powers, and that the war was the result of the inner contradictions of capitalism maturing since the end of World War I.He, therefore, advocated no Indian participation till India itself was free. However, at the same time, no advantage was to be taken of Britain’s difficulty by starting an immediate struggle.

The CWC resolution condemned Fascist aggression. It said that:

  1. India could not be party to a war being fought ostensibly for democratic freedom, while that freedom was being denied to India
  2. if Britain was fighting for democracy and freedom, it should prove it by ending imperialism in its colonies and establishing full democracy in India;
  3. the Government should declare its war aims soon and, also, as to how the principles of democracy were to be applied to India.
  • The Congress leadership wanted to give every chance to the viceroy and the British Government.

Government’s Response:

  • The Government’s response was entirely negative. Linlithgow, in his statement (October 17, 1939), tried to use the Muslim League and the princes against the Congress.The Viceroy in statement claimed that Britain is waging a war driven by the motif to strengthen peace in the world. He also stated that after the war, the government would initiate modifications in the Act of 1935, in accordance to the desires of the Indians.
  • The Government:
  1. Refused to define British war aims beyond stating that Britain was resisting aggression;
  2. Said it would, as part of future arrangement, consult “representatives of several communities, parties and interests in India, and the Indian princes” as to how the Act of 1935 might be modified;
  3.  Said it would immediately set up a “consultative committee” whose advice could be sought whenever required.

Government’s Hidden Agenda:

  1. Linlithgow’s statement was not an aberration, but a part of general British policy “to take advantage of the war to regain the lost ground from the Congress” by provoking the Congress into a confrontation with the Government and then using the extraordinary situation to acquire draconian powers. Even before the declaration of the war, emergency powers had been acquired for the centre in respect of provincial subjects by amending the 1935 Act.
  2. Defence of India ordinance had been enforced the day the war was declared, thus restricting civil liberties. In May 1940, a top secret Draft Revolutionary Movement Ordinance had been prepared, aimed at launching crippling pre-emptive strikes on the Congress. The Government could then call upon the
  3. Allied troops stationed in India. It could also win an unusual amount of liberal and leftist sympathy all over the world by painting an aggressive Congress as being pro-Japan and pro-Germany.
  • British Indian reactionary policies received full support from Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the Secretary of State, Zetland, who branded the Congress as a purely Hindu organisation.
  • It became clear that the British Government had no intention of loosening its hold, during or after the war, and was willing to treat the Congress as an enemy. Gandhi reacted sharply to the Government’s insensitivity to Indian public opinion—” … there is to be no democracy for India if Britain can prevent it.” Referring to the minorities and other special interests, Gandhi said, “Congress will safeguard minority rights provided they do not advance claims inconsistent with India’s independence.”

On October 23, 1939, the CWC meeting:

  1. Rejected the viceroy’s statement as a reiteration of the old imperialist policy,
  2. Decided not to support the war, and
  3. Called upon the Congress ministries to resign in the provinces.
  • Gandhi’s reaction to Linlithgow’s statement of October 1939 was; “the old policy of divide and rule is to continue. The Congress has asked for bread and it has got stone.”
  • Congress Provincial Governments from eight provinces resigned .The resignation of the ministers was an occasion of great joy and rejoicing for leader of the Muslim League, Mohammad Ali Jinnah. He called the day of 22 December 1939 ‘The Day of Deliverance‘.
  • In January 1940, Linlithgow stated, “Dominion status of Westminster variety, after the war, is the goal of British policy in India.”

Debate on the Question of Immediate Mass Satyagraha:

  • After Linlithgow’s statement of October 1939, the debate on the question of immediate mass struggle began once again.
  • Gandhi and his supporters were not in favour of an immediate struggle because they felt that the:
  1. Allied cause was just;
  2. Communal sensitivity and lack of Hindu-Muslim unity could result in communal riots;
  3. Congress organisation was in shambles and the atmosphere was not conducive for a mass struggle; and
  4. Masses were not ready for a struggle.
  • They instead advocated toning up the Congress organisation, carrying on political work among the masses, and negotiating till all possibilities of a negotiated settlement were exhausted. Only then would the struggle be begun.
  • The views of the dominant leadership were reflected in the Congress resolution at the Ramgarh session (March 1940)—”Congress would resort to civil disobedience as soon as the Congress organisation is considered fit enough or if circumstances precipitate a crisis.”
  • A coalition of leftist groups—Subhash Bose and his Forward Bloc, Congress Socialist Party, Communist Party, the Royists—characterised the war as an imperialist war giving an opportunity to attain freedom through an all-out struggle against British imperialism.This group was convinced that the masses were ready for action, only waiting for a call from the leadership. They accepted hurdles, such as communalism and the shortcomings of the Congress organisation, but thought that these would be automatically swept away in the course of a struggle. They urged the Congress leadership to launch an immediate mass struggle.
  • Bose even proposed a parallel Congress to organise an immediate mass struggle if the Congress leadership was not willing to go along with them, but the CSP and CPI differed with Bose on this.
  • Nehru considered the Allied powers as imperialists and his philosophy and political perception leant towards the idea of an early struggle but that would have undermined the fight against Fascism. He finally went along with Gandhi and the Congress majority.

Pakistan Resolution—Lahore (March 1940):

  • The Muslim League passed a resolution calling for “grouping of geographically contiguous areas where Muslims are in majority (North-West, East) into independent states in which constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign and adequate safeguards to Muslims where they are in minority”.

Change of Government in England:

  • In the meanwhile, crucial political events took place in England. Chamberlain was succeeded by Churchill as the Prime Minister and the Conservatives, who assumed power in England, did not have a sympathetic stance towards the claims made by the Congress.

August Offer, 8 August 1940:

  • The fall of France temporarily softened the attitude of congress in India. Britain was in immediate danger of Nazi occupation. As the war was taking a menacing turn from the allied point of view congress offered to cooperate in the war if transfer of authority in India is done to an interim government. The governments response was a statement of the viceroy known as the august offer.
  • On 8 August 1940, early in the Battle of Britain, the Viceroy of India, Lord Linlithgow, made the so-called August Offer.The following proposals were put in:
    1. The establishment of an advisory war council
    2. After the war a representative Indian body would be set up to frame a constitution for India.
    3. Viceroy’s Executive Council would be expanded without delay.
    4. The minorities were assured 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.”
  • For the first time, the inherent right of Indians to frame their constitution was recognised and the Congress demand for a constituent assembly was conceded. Dominion status was explicitly offered.In July 1941, the viceroy’s executive council was enlarged to give the Indians a majority of 8 out of 12 for the first time, but the whites remained in charge of defence, finance and home. Also, a National Defence Council was set up with purely advisory functions.
  • The Congress rejected the August Offer. Nehru said, “Dominion status concept is dead as a door nail.” Gandhi said that the declaration had widened the gulf between the nationalists and the British rulers.
  • The Muslim League welcomed the veto assurance given to the League, and reiterated its position that partition was the only solution to the deadlock.
  • In the context of widespread dissatisfaction that prevailed over the rejection of the demands made by the Congress, Gandhi at the meeting of the Congress Working Committee in Wardha revealed his plan to launch Individual Civil Disobedience.

Individual Satyagraha 1940-41:

  • Towards the end of 1940, the Congress once again asked Gandhi to take command. Gandhi now began taking steps which would lead to a mass struggle within his broad strategic perspective
  • After the August Offer, disappointed radicals and leftists wanted to launch a mass Civil Disobedience Movement, but here Gandhi insisted on Individual Satyagraha.
  • The Individual Satyagraha was not to seek independence but to affirm the right of speech. The other reason of this Satyagraha was that a mass movement may turn violent and he would not like to see the Great Britain embarrassed by such a situation.
  • This view was conveyed to Lord Linlithgow by Gandhi when he met him on September 27, 1940.
  • The aims of launching individual satyagrahas were:(i) To show that nationalist patience was not due to weakness; (ii) to express people’s feeling that they were not interested in the war and that they made no distinction between Nazism and the double autocracy that ruled India; and (iii) to give another opportunity to the Government to accept Congress’ demands peacefully.
  • The non-violence was set as the centerpiece of Individual Satyagraha. This was done by carefully selecting the Satyagrahis.
  • The first Satyagrahi selected was Acharya Vinoba Bhave, who was sent to Jail when he spoke against the war.
  • Second Satyagrahi was Jawahar Lal Nehru.
  • Third was Brahma Datt, one of the inmates of the Gandhi’s Ashram. They all were sent to jails for violating the Defense of India Act.
  • This was followed by a lot of other people. But since it was not a mass movement, it attracted little enthusiasm and in December 1940, Gandhi suspended the movement. The campaign started again in January 1941, this time, thousands of people joined and around 20 thousand people were arrested.On 3 December 1941, the Viceroy ordered the acquittal of all the satyagrahis.
  • The British feared the destabilizing of India might encourage a Japanese invasion, and would reduce the number of men who volunteered to fight the war. Japan in 1942 had overrun Malaya and was into Burma; the threat of an invasion of India was real. London wanted the cooperation and support of Indian political leaders in order to recruit more Indians into the British Indian Army, which was fighting in the Middle East theatre.

Cripps Mission:

  • In March 1942, a mission headed by Stafford Cripps was sent to India with constitutional proposals to seek Indian support for the war.
  • Stafford Cripps was a left-wing Labourite, the leader of the House of Commons and and government minister in the War Cabinet of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. who had actively supported the Indian national movement.

Why Cripps Mission was sent:

  1.  To secure full Indian cooperation and support for their efforts in World War II, because of the reverses suffered by Britain in South-East Asia, the Japanese threat to invade India seemed real now ‘and Indian support became crucial.
  2. There was pressure on Britain from the Allies (USA, USSR, and China) to seek Indian cooperation.
  3. Indian nationalists had agreed to support the Allied cause if substantial power was transferred immediately and complete independence given after the war.
  • The Congress was divided upon its response to India’s entry into World War II. Angry over the decision made by the Viceroy, some Congress leaders favoured launching a revolt against the British despite the gravity of the war in Europe, which threatened Britain’s own freedom. Others, such as Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, advocated offering an olive branch to the British, supporting them in this crucial time in the hope that the gesture would be reciprocated with independence after the war. The major leader, Mohandas Gandhi, was opposed to Indian involvement in the war as he would not morally endorse a war and also suspected British intentions, believing that the British were not sincere about Indian aspirations for independence. But Rajagopalachari, backed by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Maulana Azad and Jawaharlal Nehru held talks with Cripps and offered full support in return for immediate self-government, and eventual independence.
  • Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League, supported the war effort and condemned the Congress policy. Insisting on a Pakistan, a separate Muslim state, he resisted Congress’s calls for pan-Indian cooperation and immediate independence

Main Proposals:

  1.  An Indian Union with a dominion status; would be set up; it would be free to decide its relations with the Commonwealth and free to participate in the United Nations and other international bodies.
  2.  After the end of the war, a constituent assembly would be convened to frame a new constitution. Members of this assembly would be partly elected by the provincial assemblies through proportional representation and partly nominated by the princes.
  3. The British Government would accept the new constitution subject to two conditions: (i) any province not willing to join the Union could have a separate constitution and form a separate Union, and (ii) the new constitution- making body and the British Government would negotiate a treaty to effect the transfer of power and to safeguard racial and religious minorities.
  4. In the meantime, defence of India would remain in British hands and the governor-general’s powers would remain intact.

Departures from the Past and Implications:

  1. The making of the constitution was to be solely in Indian hands now (and not “mainly” in Indian hands—as contained in the August Offer).
  2.  A concrete plan was provided for the constituent assembly.
  3. Option was available to any province to have a separate constitution—a blueprint for India’s partition.
  4. Free India could withdraw from the Commonwealth.
  5. Indians were allowed a large share in the administration in the interim period.

Why Cripps Mission Failed:

(a)The Cripps Mission proposals failed to satisfy Indian nationalists and turned out to be merely a propaganda device for US and Chinese consumption. Cripps had designed the proposals himself, but they were too radical for Churchill and the Viceroy, and too conservative for the Indians; no middle way was found. Congress moved toward the Quit India movement whereby it refused to cooperate in the war effort. Various parties and groups had objections to the proposals on different points.

The Congress’s objections:

  1. The offer of dominion status instead of a provision for complete independence
  2. Representation of the states by nominees and not by elected representatives
  3. Right to provinces to secede as this went against the principle of national unity
  4. Absence of any plan for immediate transfer of power and absence of any real share in defence; the governor- general’s supremacy had been retained, and the demand for governor-general being only the constitutional head had not been accepted.                                                  Nehru and Maulana Azad were the official negotiators for the Congress.

The Muslim League’s objections:

  1. Criticised the idea of a single Indian Union.
  2. Did not like the machinery for the creation of a constituent assembly and the procedure to decide on the accession of provinces to the Union.
  3. Thought that the proposals denied to the Muslims the right to self-determination and the creation of Pakistan.

Other groups’ objections:

  1. The Liberals considered the secession proposals to be against the unity and security of India.
  2. The Hindu Mahasabha criticised the basis of the right to secede.
  3. The depressed classes thought that partition would leave them at the mercy of the caste Hindus.
  4. The Sikhs objected that partition would take away Punjab from them.

(b)The explanation that the proposals were meant not to supersede the August Offer but to clothe general provisions with precision put British intentions in doubt.

(c) There was confusion over what Cripps had been authorised to offer India’s nationalist politicians by Churchill and Leo Amery (His Majesty’s Secretary of State for India), and he also faced hostility from the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow.The incapacity of Cripps to go beyond the Draft Declaration and the adoption of a rigid “take it or leave it” attitude added to the deadlock. Cripps had earlier talked of “cabinet” and “national government” but later he said that he had only meant an expansion of the executive council.

(d), in public, he failed to present any concrete proposals for greater self-government in the short term, other than a vague commitment to increase the number of Indian members of the Viceroy’s Executive Council. Cripps spent much of his time in encouraging Congress leaders and Jinnah to come to a common, public arrangement in support of the war and government.

(d)The procedure of accession was not well-defined. The decision on secession was to be taken by a resolution in the legislature by a 60% majority. If less than 60% of” members supported it, the decision was to be taken by a plebiscite of adult males of that province by a simple majority. This scheme weighed against the Hindus in Punjab and Bengal if they wanted accession to the Indian Union.

(e)It was not clear as to who would implement and interpret the treaty effecting the transfer of power.

(f)Churchill (the British prime minister), Amery (the secretary of state), Linlithgow (the viceroy) and Ward (the commander-in-chief) consistently torpedoed Cripps’ efforts.

(g)Talks broke down on the question of the viceroy’s veto.

(h)Gandhi described the scheme as “a post-dated cheque drawn on a crashing bank”; Nehru pointed out that the “existing structure and autocratic powers would remain and a few of us will become the viceroy’s liveried camp followers and look after canteens and the like”.

(i)Stafford Cripps returned home leaving behind a frustrated and embittered Indian people, who, though still sympathising with the victims of Fascist aggression, felt that the existing situation in the country had become intolerable and that the time had come for a final assault on imperialism.


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