“The Cabinet Mission Plan‚ seemed to open an avenue for the reconciliation of a united India with Muslim autonomy’.” Comment. ©selfstudyhistory.com
Britain’s Prime Minister Clement Attlee announced on February 19, 1946 the dispatch of the Mission of three Cabinet Ministers – the Secretary of State for India, Pethic Lawrence, President of the Board of Trade, Sir Stafford Cripps, and the Lord of the Admiralty, A.V. Alexander. The announcement was accompanied by a statement of the terms of reference of the Mission “to promote in conjunction with the leaders of Indian opinion, the early realization of full self-Government in India.” The Cabinet Mission arrived in India in March 1946.
While making policy statement of the Cabinet Mission Plan, Prime Minister made a statement related to the question of minority: “We are mindful of the rights of the minorities and the minorities should be able to live free from fear on the other hand we cannot allow a minority to place their veto on the advance of the majority.”
The Cabinet Mission rejected the demand for Pakistan on several grounds:
- The Cabinet Mission argued that a separate sovereign state of Pakistan would not solve the communal problem because the percentage of non-Muslims living in the north-west zone of Pakistan would be 37.93% and those living in north-eastern zone 48.31% of the total population.
- There was no justification for including in Pakistan the predominantly non-Muslim districts of Bengal, Assam and the Punjab. According to them, every argument that could be used in favor of Pakistan could equally be used in favor of the exclusion of the non-Muslims areas from Pakistan.
- The Mission also considered whether a smaller Pakistan, involving a division of the Punjab and Bengal was possible. The objection to this option was that it would be against the wishes and interest of a large proportion of the inhabitants of these provinces and that in the West it would divide the Sikh community into two.
- These objections against the division of the country were further reinforced by administrative, economic and military considerations. For example, the communication system had been organized on an all-India basis; its break up would seriously hurt both the parts of the country. The division of the armed forces was even more difficult.
- The Princely States would find it difficult to join one or the other Union.
- There is the geographical fact that the two halves of the proposed Pakistan State are separated by some 700 miles and communication between them both in war and peace would be dependent on the goodwill of Hindustan.
In its Declaration of May 16, Cabinet Mission put forward the following proposals which seemed to open an avenue for the reconciliation of a united India with Muslim autonomy:
- Recommendations for the future constitution had elements of united India with Muslim autonomy:
- There should be a Union of India, embracing both British India and the states, which would deal with Foreign Affairs, Defense, and communications, and would have the power necessary to raise finance required for these subjects.
- The Union should have an Executive and Legislature constituted from British Indian and state representatives. Any question raising a major communal issue in the Legislature should require for this decision a majority of their representatives present and voting of the two major communities as well as a majority all members present and voting.
- The provinces would enjoy full autonomy, for all subjects other than the Union subjects and all residuary powers should vest in the provinces.
- The provinces should be free to form groups with executives and Legislatures and each group could determine the provincial subjects to be taken in common.
- The six Hindu majority provinces viz., Madras, Bombay, C.P., U.P., Bihar and Orissa would form Group A. The Muslim Majority provinces in the north-west (the Punjab, the N.W.F.P., Sind) would form Group B. Bengal and Assam would form Group C.
- The full autonomy of the provinces and the provision for grouping were meant to give the Muslim League if not the form, the ‘substance of Pakistan’. It was obvious that Group B and Group C would be under absolute control of the Muslims.
- Cabinet Mission Plan was ambivalent on weather grouping was compulsory or not. The Muslim League took the compulsory grouping of provinces to be the corner-stone of the whole edifice of these proposals and would even talk or think of a compromise on that issue. But the Congress thought that the making of groups was optional for the provinces, and the later was free to join or not to join any group. Finally, however, the British Government decided in favour of the League’s view on this point.
- Proposals for the Constitution-making Machinery:
- The plan also made provision for a constitution-making Assembly. The provinces were to send their representatives in the Constituent Assembly on the basis of their population. Roughly, one representative was to be sent for every one million people. The seats allocated to each province were to be divided into three sections – General, Muslim and Sikh-210 General, 78 Muslims and 4 Sikhs. The elected members of the communities in the Provincial Assemblies were to elect their representatives to the Constituent Assembly.
- The Constituent Assembly, thus formed, would be divided into three sections:
- Section A (corresponding to Group A): Representing Hindu-majority regions;
- Section B: Representing the north-western Muslim-majority region;
- Section C: Representing the north-eastern Muslim-majority region.
- These sections would settle provincial constitutions of the provinces included in the section and also decide whether any group constitution should be set up. The provinces would have the right to opt out of a group after the first election under the new constitution.
- The constitution of the Union and of the groups should contain a provision whereby any province could, by a majority vote of Its Legislative Assembly, call for a reconsideration of the terms of the constitution after an initial period of ten years and at ten-yearly intervals thereafter.