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World War II and the National Movement – August Offer, 1940 – Cripps Mission, 1942

World War II and the National Movement

When war broke out in 1939 Mahatma Gandhi and his INC party initially offered moral support towards the British cause but when British Governor-General of India, Lord Linlithgow had India declare war without consulting any Indian politicians. The Indian Congressional leaders were outraged and resigned in mass.

This was a grave tactical blunder by the Congress leadership, whose government was in charge of many provinces of British- ruled India, after winning the 1937 elections. When they quit their political posts en-masse on 10th November 1939, they created an administrative vacuum which was automatically filled by leaders of the Muslim league with the blessings of the British Governor General. The Muslims League was merely a reactionary party till then with no mass support.

The Muslim league offered unconditional support to the British war effort and a lot of Muslims from the United Provinces and Punjab enlisted in the British Indian Army swelling its ranks. This sole factor started a growing friendship and partnership between Jinnah, the Muslim league and Churchill who in return promised the separatist Muslims of India, their pound of flesh from the Indian landmass in the form of the state of Pakistan after the war.

The Indian princely states also contributed immensely to the war effort in terms of funds, fighting men and provisions.

August Offer, 1940

In order to win over the sympathies of the Indian masses and political parties during the Second World War, the British Government issued a White Paper on August 8, 1940. The document promised for the establishment of an independent Indian Constituent Assembly with completely indigenous representation and a power to frame the future constitution of the country.

The offer also provided the option for the extension of the Viceroy’s Executive Council. Simultaneously, the August Offer talked about the rights of minorities, especially Muslims as it declared that the majority community will not be given the veto power and full weight would be given to the views of minorities in making of the Constitution.

However, the document made it clear that all the promises will be fulfilled after the conclusion of the war and that too if all the communities and political parties would help the British in their war efforts.
In order to discuss the August Offer, Jinnah held meetings with the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, on August 12 and 14. This was followed by the meeting of the Muslim League Working Committee on September 1 and 2. The Committee appreciated the clauses of the offer in which the British agreed to accept that no future constitution will be recognized by the Government without the approval and consent of the minority communities.

The Indian National Congress opposed the offer and their president, Abul Kalam Azad, even refused to discuss the formula with the Viceroy.

Cripps Mission, 1942

The British were alarmed at the successive victories of Japan during the 1940s. When Burma was turned into a battle field and the war reached the Indian borders, the British started feeling more concerned about the future of India.

The situation in the country was further complicated as the Congress wanted to take advantage of the situation by accelerating their efforts in their struggle for independence. Moreover the differences between the Congress and the Muslim League were widening fast and visibly there was no chance to bring both the parties on a common agenda.

In these circumstances, the British Government sent a mission to India in 1942 under Sir Stafford Cripps, the Lord Privy Seal, in order to achieve Hindu-Muslim consensus on some constitutional arrangement and to convince the Indians to postpone their struggle till the end of the Second World War.

Cripps arrived in Delhi on March 22, 1942 and had series of meetings with the leading Indian politicians. In the meetings Cripps tried to plead his case before these political leaders and tried to convince them to accept his following proposals:

  1. During the course of the war, the British would retain their hold on India. Once the war finished, India would be granted dominion status with complete external and internal autonomy. It would however, be associated with the United Kingdom and other Dominions by a common allegiance to the Crown.
  2. At the end of the war, a Constituent Assembly would be set up with the power to frame the future constitution of India. The members of the assembly were to be elected on the basis of proportional representation by the provincial assemblies. Princely States would also be given representation in the Constituent Assembly.
  3. The provinces not agreeing to the new constitution would have the right to keep itself out of the proposed Union. Such provinces would also be entitled to create their own separate Union. The British government would also invite them to join the commonwealth.
  4. During the war, an Interim Government comprising of different parties of India would be constituted. However, defence and external affairs would be the sole responsibilities of the Viceroy.

In fact the proposals Cripps presented were mainly consisted of the ideas which were discussed in a meeting between Nehru and Cripps in 1938.

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