Assess the role of British imperial power in complicating the process of transfer of power during the 1940s. (15 Marks)

Mentor’s comment

  • The question is straight forward.
  • In intro briefly state the conditions in which the British reluctantly started the process of power transfer against the backdrop of World War 2.
  • In the body elaborate the various Missions and offers made by the British to transfer power like August offer, Cripps Mission, Cabinet Mission. Elaborate on the reasons for each of these failures. Like the difference between the demands and what the British were willing to give i.e. dominion status, exploiting the differences between the Muslim League and Congress, etc. can be cited.
  • Conclude by stating some inherent differences that had emerged on India’s political landscape that also played the role in complicating the process of power transfer.

Answer:

The 1940s represent the most turbulent period of the Indian National Movement. With the imperative to seek Indian cooperation in WW2, and at the same time unwilling to transfer any real power to India’s hands, British Imperial Power had moved pawns to make the transfer of power anything but a smooth affair.

 Role of British imperialists in complicating transfer of power – Major events from 1940-1947:

 

  • The August Offer 1940- announced by the then Viceroy Linlithgow, the offer sought to gain India’s support to the war by proposing- expansion of viceroy’s executive council with mainly Indians, a constituent assembly post-war with mainly Indians.

 

      • But the terms of the offer were unacceptable to Indians as by not allowing full powers in Indian hands and making future constitutions dependent on the consent of minorities. Mainly, the dominion status offered was rejected by Indian leaders as dead as doornail.
    • Cripps Mission 1942: Constituted by an uneasy coalition government of conservatives and liberals of Britain, the mission proposed inflexible offers that are again majorly dissatisfying for the Indians.
      • The terms- Dominion status, constituent assembly with partly elected and partly nominated members, provision for provinces to have a separate constitution different from that of the Union if they wish to, and defense portfolio remaining in British hands.
      • These provisions again are objected by Indians. The failure of the Cripps mission only proved that the British had sent this mission to pretend they are interested in Indian Independence.

 

  • Wavell Plan and Shimla Conference: Proposed by Viceroy Lord Wavell in 1945 o resolve the deadlock in India – its proposals were

 

      • Formation of a new Executive Council at the center in which all the members except the Viceroy and the Commander in Chief would be Indian.
      • All portfolios except Defence were to be under the control of Indian members.
      • In the Proposed Executive Council which was to have 14 members, the Muslims who constituted only about 25 % of the total population were given the right to be over-represented by selecting 6 representatives.

 

  • Congress while objecting the demand asserted its rights to select the representative of any community, including Muslims, as the Congress nominees to the Council.
  • The Cabinet Mission 1946- Aim of the mission was to form an interim government and formation of the constituent assembly. 
  • The contentious issue of the mission’s proposal was to have a grouping of provinces that is compulsory. 
  • While congress interpreted it to be optional, the Muslim League wanted it to be compulsory. 
  • This made Congress reject the offer gain, while the Muslim League complicated the situation by announcing “direct action”.
  • Even the award of the Radcliffe Commission was released one day after Indian independence to indemnify the British from any future complications.

 

All these complications created by the British ultimately flamed communal sentiments which eventually led to the partition of India. Thus, it is observed that the British tried to delay independence deliberately in order to prevent the imminent fall of their empire. Thus the 40s turned out to be a period of instability that gave rise to a new world, where the British lost their glory permanently.

 

 

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