Independence and Partition of India

Cabinet Mission

Cabinet Mission which arrived on 24th March 1946 was mainly aimed at devolution of power from the British crown to India giving India independence under Dominion Status in the Commonwealth of Nations. On 28th January 1946, the Viceroy, announced in the legislative Assembly, his intention to establish a new executive council with political leaders and to create a constitution -making body in India. Plans were finalised and devised with the sole enterprise of Clement Attlee, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. On 19th February 1946, in Parliament, the British Government announced the forwarding of a team of three Cabinet Ministers to India to seek agreement on how to enact self-determination and Independence with the Indian political leaders. The Cabinet Mission included Lord Pethick Lawrence (1871-1961) the Secretary of State for India, Sir Stafford Cripps (1889- 1952), President of the Board of Trade and A.V.Alexander (1885-1965), First Lord of the Admiralty. Cabinet Mission also received the boost of Lord Wavell, the Viceroy of India during the time.

Meetings held by the Cabinet

On its arrival on 24th march 1946 the mission aimed at having talks with all the major parties of India who had marked themselves on the political canvas of Indian politics. This included parties like Indian National Congress, Muslim League, The Sikhs, scheduled Casts and liberal leader Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru. All the members surrounded around 472 members in total. The cabinet began its discussion on 16th to 18th April when it met Muslim League leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah to outline two plans, comprising a small Pakistan with sovereignty or a big Pakistan in an All India Union. Jinnah avoided making a choice. Further, in the days of 5th to 12th May 1946, in Shimla, the Cabinet Mission convened a conference, including four members each from the Congress Party and Muslim League. They included for the Congress: Nehru, Chandra Shekhar Azad, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Abdul Ghaffar Khan and for the Muslim League: Jinnah, Liaqat Ali Khan, Ismail Khan and Abdur Rab Nishtar. The Government of India invited Mahatma Gandhi to come and stand by if needed for consultation. The agenda treated the grouping of provinces, nature of a union and the constitution making process. Cripps` Union of All-India Plan failed to win the acceptance of either the Congress or Muslim League. On May 12th, it became evident that no solution was possible and the Mission announced the failure of the conference.

Proposals made by Cabinet Mission

Cabinet Mission, on its arrival in India, aimed at fulfilling three wide spectrum issues. Firstly, it came to hold a preparatory discussion with the elected members of British India and the Indian states in ordered to secure maximum agreement over the issue of framing a new constitution; secondly, to set up a constitution -making body; and thirdly, to establish a full self-government in India. Along with this regarding the minorities it claimed that they had full knowledge of the minorities but could not allow the minorities to place veto on the advance of majority party. The cabinet then sought to answer some of the vital questions which were engulfing Indian politics for long. On the issue of accepting an independent Pakistan, the Cabinet Mission completely rejected the idea on communal grounds and claimed that it would not solve the problem. As the committee estimated that the Hindu and Muslim population on the western zone were at a ratio of 62:38 and on the eastern zone it was 51.7:48.3.On the basis of these calculations the Cabinet came to a conclusion that a separate state of Pakistan was not viable. Secondly, the mission also raised question regarding the level of communication to be established with the new state falling under Pakistan .Even in case of distribution of Army also it will turn out to be a trouble. On a positive side the mission suggested creation of a federal Union consisting of British India and Indian states. The union will deal with the foreign affairs, defense and communication and authority to raise finances for these subjects

Reaction of the All India Parties to Cabinet Mission

The Cabinet Mission was received with a multiple reaction. As the Mission announced on16th May its three tier scheme for forming a Union of All-India consisting of Hindu-majority provinces, Muslim majority Provinces and the Indian States. On 25th June, the Congress Working Committee passed a resolution to accept the Cabinet Mission`s plan and to enter the Constituency Assembly. The Sikhs on other side were in favour of a united India. The scheduled castes were against the partition and wanted to guarantees of their human rights. The Hindu Mahasabha insisted on the favour of immediate transfer of power and indivisible India. Thus, the Cabinet Mission can be regarded as the most effective step adopted by the British government to reach India towards Independence. The mission for the first time made a public declaration of its intension to grant India free from subjugation. Though this mission only talked of an interim government with a dominion status it was later on condemned for this. Nevertheless it paved the way for the Indian leaders to experience the running of a nation as a whole.

The interim government of India

The interim government of India, formed on 2 September 1946 from the newly elected Constituent Assembly of India, had the task of assisting the transition of India and Pakistan from British rule to independence. It remained in place until 15 August 1947, the date of the independence of the two new nations of India and Pakistan.


After the end of the Second World War, the British authorities in India released all political prisoners who had participated in the Quit India movement. The Indian National Congress, the largest Indian political party, which had long fought for national independence, agreed to participate in elections for a constituent assembly, as did the Muslim League. The newly elected government of Clement Attlee dispatched the 1946 Cabinet Mission to India to India to formulate proposals for the formation of a government that would lead an independent India.

The elections for the Constituent Assembly were not direct elections, as the members were elected from each of the provincial legislative assemblies. In the event, the Indian National Congress won a majority of the seats, some 69 per cent, including almost every seat in areas with a majority Hindu electorate. The Congress had clear majorities in eight of the eleven provinces of British India. The Muslim League won the seats allocated to the Muslim electorate.

Viceroy’s Executive Council

The Viceroy’s Executive Council became the executive branch of the interim government. Originally headed by the Viceroy of India, it was transformed into a council of ministers, with the powers of a prime minister bestowed on the vice president of the Council, a position held by the Congress leader Jawaharlal Nehru. After independence all members would be Indians, apart from the Viceroy, in August to become the Governor-General, Lord Mountbatten, who would hold only a ceremonial position, and the Commander-in-Chief, India, Sir Claude Auchinleck, replaced after independence by General Sir Rob Lockhart. The senior Congress leader Vallabhbhai Patel held the second-most powerful position in the Council, heading the Department of Home Affairs, Department of Information and Broadcasting. The Sikh leader Baldev Singh was responsible for the Department of Defence and Chakravarthi Rajagopalachari was named to head the Department of Education and arts. Asaf Ali, a Muslim Congress leader, headed the Department of Railways and Transport. Scheduled Caste leader Jagjivan Ram headed the Department of Labour, while Rajendra Prasad headed the Department of Food and Agriculture and John Mathai headed the Department of Industries and Supplies.

Upon the Muslim League joining the interim government, the second highest-ranking League politician, Liaquat Ali Khan, became the head of the Department of Finance. Abdur Rab Nishtar headed the Departments of Posts and Air and Ibrahim Ismail Chundrigar headed the Department of Commerce. The League nominated a Scheduled Caste Hindu politician, Jogendra Nath Mandal, to lead the Department of Law.


Although until August 1947 British India remained under the sovereignty of the United Kingdom, the interim government proceeded to establish diplomatic relations with other countries, including the United States. Meanwhile, the Constituent Assembly, from which the Interim Government was drawn, struggled with the challenging task of drafting a constitution for independent India.

Wavell Plan, 1945

In October, 1943 Lord Wavell who had succeeded Lord Linlithgow as Governor General, made an attempt resolve the stalemate the deadlock in India. He went to England for consultations in March 1945.The result of Governor`s consultations was soon revealed. He broadcast to the people of Indian the proposals of the British Government to resolve the deadlock in India on 14th June.

Mr. Amery, he was the Secretary of State for India. On 14th June made a similar statement in the House of Commons: “The offer of March 1942 stands in it’s entirely without change and qualification.” He also proposed the renovation of the Governor General`s Executive Council pending the preparation of a new constitution. With the expectation of the Governor-General and the Commander-in-chief all other member of the Executive Council would be nominated from amongst leaders of Indian Political life. This Council would have “a balanced representation of the main communities, including equal proportions of Muslims and caste Hindus. It would work, if formed, under the existing constitution. Though the Governor-General`s veto would not be abolished, it would not be used unnecessarily. The portfolio of external Affairs was to be transferred from the Governor-General to an Indian member of Council. A Conference of representatives chosen by the Viceroy was to be convened with a view to obtaining from the leaders of the various parties a joint list or failing it, separate lists of worthy people to constitute the new Executive Council”. It was also expected “that provincial ministers in Section 93 Province would resume office and that there would be coalition.”

The Congress Working Committee members were let out of jail. Their high hopes prevailed on all sides as invitations for the planned Simla Conference went out to the leaders including Gandhiji. The conference was adjourned after three days of discussion and the meeting was held on June 25, 1945. Mr. Jinnah had a short interview with the Viceroy on 11th July. In this interview he seems to have made it clear to the latter that the league, wishing to be regarded as the sole representative of Indian Muslims. That was firmly opposed to the inclusion of any long league Muslims in the Viceroy`s list. But the Viceroy could not agree to this point of view. Lord Wavell wound up the Conference by declaring a failure of the talks. The responsibilities for the failure lie partly on Lord Wavell himself and partly on Mr.Jinnah. Mr. Maulana Azad, the Congress President put the blame for the break down directly on the shoulders of Mr. Jinnah. Lord Wavell should have taken the leaders into confidence as regards the composition of his own list of members of the Executive Council. Possibly the Congress leaders might have been persuaded to accept that list either as a whole, or with minor modifications mutually agreed upon. He should not have allowed the league practically to veto the whole plan and thus alone to block the path of progress.

It must be noted in this connections that the Viceroy had assured the Congress President that “no party to the conference could be allowed to obstruct settlement out of wilfulness”, but it seems that as in the parallel case of Cripps, Wavell`s hands were stayed at the last moment. The tangible result of the failure of the Simla Conference was to strengthen the position of Mr.Jinnah and the Muslim League Which was clearly manifested in the elections of 1945-46.

Direct Action Day (1946)

Direct Action Day hartal called by the Muslim League on August 16, 1946 to get rid of ‘British slavery and contemplated future caste-Hindu domination’. The  backdrop of the Direct Action Day was not only the Muslim League’s acceptance of the cabinet mission plan, but also the loss of face it had to experience because of the plan’s rejection by the Congress. The ‘British betrayal’, as the Muslim League branded the Cabinet Mission’s successive failed proposals to placate the obstinate Congress, made Jinnah bid good-bye to constitutional methods and resort to a programme of ‘direct action for the achievement of Pakistan’, to quote a resolution of the Muslim League Council meeting (27-29 July 1946) in Bombay.

On the heels of this resolution the League Working Committee declared 16 August as ‘Direct Action Day’. Directives were issued to League leaders and the Muslim masses of the provinces to suspend all business on the 16 August and observe complete hartal on that day. As the architect of the reorganised Muslim League in Bengal, huseyn shaheed suhrawardy, the Chief Minister, felt that the Bengal hartal of the Day ought to be the most effective one. His immense preparations to make the Day a success led to communal carnage, something that he perhaps never intended to happen. But things went beyond his control and brutal communal violence ensued. A great portion of Calcutta was on fire for a couple of days. ‘The Direct Action’ riot in Calcutta soon spread throughout the country, and was particularly destructively in Bihar and Noakhali. Both Hindus and Muslims fought each other more or less evenly in Calcutta, but the encounter was mostly one sided elsewhere. In Bihar, mostly Muslims were killed and in Noakhali, Hindus. But on the whole Muslim casualties were heavier. Ironically ‘Direct Action Day’ had a direct result. The fate of India was decided on that day, and on that day was sealed the fate of the united Bengal. Direct Action Day made the partition of Bengal inevitable.

Inshort, following continued rejection by the Indian Congress of the proposal to divide India, the Muslim League planned a protest which began with a “Day of Direct Action”(16th August 1946) to assert the right of the Muslims to a separate homeland. The protests triggered riots in Calcutta in which 4,000 people lost their lives (known as the “great Calcutta Riots”).

Mountbatten plan

The British government sent a Cabinet Mission to India in March 1946 to negotiate with Indian leaders and agree to the terms of the transfer of power. After difficult negotiations a federal solution was proposed. Despite initial agreement, both sides eventually rejected the plan. An interim government with representatives of all the Indian parties was proposed and implemented. However, it soon collapsed through lack of agreement. While the Muslim League consented to join the interim government the Indian National Congress refused. By the end of 1946 communal violence was escalating and the British began to fear that India would descend into civil war. The British government’s representative, Lord Wavell, put forward a breakdown plan as a safeguard in the event of political deadlock. Wavell, however, believed that once the disadvantages of the Pakistan scheme were exposed, Jinnah would see the advantages of working for the best possible terms inside a united India. He wrote:  ‘Unfortunately the fact that Pakistan, when soberly and realistically examined, is found to be a very unattractive proposition, will place the Moslems in a very disadvantageous position for making satisfactory terms with India for a Federal Union.’ This view was based on a report, which claimed that a future Pakistan would have no manufacturing or industrial areas of importance: no ports, except Karachi, or rail centres. It was also argued that the connection between East and West Pakistan would be difficult to defend and maintain. The report concluded: ‘It is hard to resist the conclusion that taking all considerations into account the splitting up of India will be the reverse of beneficial as far as the livelihood of its people is concerned’.

Lord Mountbatten replaced Lord Wavell as Viceroy of India in 1947. Mountbatten’s first proposed solution for the Indian subcontinent, known as the ‘May Plan’, was rejected by Congress leader Jawaharlal Nehru on the grounds it would cause the ‘balkanisation of India’. The following month the ‘May Plan’ was substituted for the ‘June Plan’, in which provinces would have to choose between India and Pakistan. Bengal and Punjab both voted for partition. On 3 June 1947, Lord Mountbatten announced his plan. The salient features were:- Mountbatten’s formula was to divide India but retain maximum unity. The country would be partitioned but so would Punjab and Bengal, so that the limited Pakistan that emerged would meet both the Congress and League’s position to some extent. The League’s position on Pakistan was conceded to the extent that it would be created, but the Congress position on unity would be taken into account to make Pakistan as small as possible. Whether it was ruling out independence for the princes or unity for Bengal or Hyderabad’s joining up with Pakistan instead of India, Mountbatten firmly supported Congress on these issues. The Mountbatten Plan sought to affect an early transfer of power on the basis of Dominion status to two successor states, India and Pakistan. For Britain, Dominion Status offered a chance of keeping India in the commonwealth for India’s economic strength and defense potential were deemed sounder and Britain had a greater value of trade and investment there.

The rationale for the early date for transfer of power was securing Congress agreement to Dominion status. The additional benefit was that the British could escape responsibility for the rapidly deteriorating communal situation. A referendum was to be held in NWEP to ascertain whether the people in the area wanted to join India or not. The princely states would have the option of joining either of the two dominions or to remain independent. The Provinces of Assam, Punjab and Bengal were also to be divided. A boundary commission was to be set up to determine the boundaries of these states.

Reasons for the acceptance of “Partition” by the Congress

By accepting the Mountbatten Plan/Partition, the Congress was only accepting what had become inevitable because of the long-term failure of the Congress to draw in the Muslim masses into the national movement and stem the surging waves of Muslim communalism, which, especially since 1937, had been beating with increasing fury. The Congress leaders felt by June, 1947 that only an immediate transfer of power could forestall the spread of Direct Action and communal disturbances. Sardar Patel rightly said, “a united India even if it was smaller in size was better than a disorganised and troubled and weak bigger India.” Difficulties created by the obstructionist policies and tactics of the League proved to the Congress that the leaders of the Muslim League were concerned only with their own interests and the future of India would not be safe with them in the government. They would act as a stumbling block in the path of India’s progress. The Congress leaders also felt that the continuance of British rule never was and never could be in the good interest of Indians. Sooner they quit, the better it would be.

Partition of India

Partition of India was one of the historical steps taken on the basis of religion dividing the nation into two parts namely Union of India (also known as Republic of India) and Dominion of Pakistan (further divided into Islamic Republic of Pakistan and Peoples` Republic of Bangladesh) on 14th and 15th of August 1947. With the dissolution of British India the Partition of India was incorporated through the division of two provinces of Bengal and Punjab as Bengal was divided into East Pakistan and West Bengal and Punjab was further divided into West Punjab and East Punjab.

Origin of Partition of India

The partition of India had been the real instance of peoples` demand through their representatives. The initial demand for a separate state was made by an eminent writer and philosopher Allama Iqbal who raised his voice for a separate electorate for the less represented group of Muslim Communities. With the passage of time this claim became the base of the newly emerging state of Pakistan. Among other reasons division of Indian subcontinent was important for various reasons. One such reason had been the old British policy of divide and rule which came into action in case of division of India and Pakistan. Also with the communal awards the hatred rather differences increased on both sides which could only be pacified through division of state. It was further claimed that the British wanted to make the Muslims their allies to oppose the apparent threat of the Hindu educated class. In order to gain support from the Muslims, the British supported the All-India Muslim Conference. They infused the notion that the Muslims were a separate political entity. In addition to that the Muslims were given separate electorates in local government all over British India by 1900s. With such moves the British followed a divide-and-rule policy in India. Hindus and Muslims were two separate identities which needed to be separated. All this growing anxiety only brought India closer to division. As a result such demand got its shape in the 1935 session when a formal resolution was passed claiming the separation.

The partition took place at the midnight of 14th and 15th August 1947. Mainly based on Famous Mountbatten Plan, the partition included division of geographical areas, population exchange, administrative structure and army, navy and air force as well. The main affected areas were Bengal, Punjab, Sindh and Jammu & Kashmir. Geographically the division included the division of rivers as well as land areas; the exchange of population meant movement of 14.5 million people crossing the borders with a total of 7,226,000 Muslims and 7,249,000 Hindus from each side. At the midnight of 14th august the ceremony of independence was organized a day after the birth of new state of Pakistan with New Delhi as India`s capital.

Impact of Partition of India

On 7th August Mohammad Ali Jinnah along with his old associations went to Karachi. The Constituent Assembly of Pakistan met on 11th August and elected Jinnah as its President. Lord Mountbatten went to Karachi on 13 August and on the following day addressed the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. He attended the inauguration ceremony at Karachi. The birth of Pakistan was an eventful occasion in history. Officially, Pakistan became a Dominion on 15 August 1947, Jinnah was sworn in as Governor-General and Liaqat Ali Khan was sworn in as the new Pakistan Cabinet. The effect of Partition was deep rooted which raised some major issues of the day. One such issue had been the issue of refugees which remained the most painful result of Partition for both the nations. The city of Delhi received the maximum numbers of refugees and overall 35000 refugees landed up in the northern part of India including areas of Panipat and Kurukhshetra which were further used as camps for them. Huge expansion of cities took place which brought new areas in every city of northern India. Thus, the Partition of India did not remain a historical event only but came out as the most painful event of passed history. It affected not only the physical location of people but their psychology as well. Ending up into brutal riots all over the country the partition of India is regarded the bitterest experience of modern India.

Indian Independence Act, 1947

The Indian Independence Act 1947 was the legislation passed and enacted by the British Parliament that officially announced the Independence of India and the partition of India. The legislation of Indian Independence Act was designed by the Prime Minister Clement Attlee as Indian Political Parties agreed on the transfer of power from the British Government to the independent Indian Government and the Partition of India. This act received royal assent on 18th July, 1947.The Agreement was made with Lord Mountbatten, which was known as the 3 June Plan or Mountbatten Plan. Indian Independence Act was passed in June 1947, which specified the follows:

* The British rule of India should be over on the midnight of August 15, 1947.

* An independent dominion of India shall be created out of the United Provinces, Central Provinces, Bombay Presidency, Madras Presidency, the Carnatic, East Punjab, West Bengal, Assam and the Northeast Frontier Agency. The territories of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Lakshadweep Islands are also turned over to the Indian Dominion.

* An independent dominion of Pakistan shall be created out of the provinces of West Punjab, North West Frontier Province, Sindh and East Bengal.

* The all Princely states that were officially related to British Empire were made free from all the treaties and relationships and they could decide which dominion to join. Lord Mountbatten thought that if the princely state remained independent within the dominion that may lead to chaos and thus made their accession a necessity of the Indian Independence Act.

* Both the Indian and Pakistan Dominions would be members of the British Commonwealth and was allowed to leave whenever they pleased.

* Both Dominions of India and Pakistan were completely self-governing in their internal affairs, foreign affairs and national security but the British monarch will continue to be their head of state, represented by the Governor-General of India and a new Governor-General of Pakistan. Both Dominions shall convene their Constituent Assemblies and write their respective constitutions.

* The British monarch shall be permitted to remove the title of Emperor of India from the Royal Style and Titles. King George VI subsequently removed the title by Order in council on June 22, 1948.

Lord Mountbatten was the last Viceroy of India under British rules and became the Governor General of Independent India. Jawaharlal Nehru became the Prime Minister of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad was the President and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was the Deputy Prime minister of India. Five hundred and sixty princely states were annexed with India, among which Junagadh and Hyderabad was took over after military action.

After-effects of Indian Independence Act

After passing the act some religion based riots were there. The situation was much violent. The Muslims had to migrate from the `Would be India` and Hindus had to migrate from the `Would be Pakistan`. All of their possessions and properties were left behind.

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