Revisiting the last years of Independence struggle


Quaid-i-Azam, the Cabinet Mission Plan and the Muslim cause

Even after the lapse of 67 years the Cabinet Mission Plan is a controversial document, with historians having contradictory opinions about it. This piece of writing attempts to challenge the theory propounded by one group of historians like Penderel Moon and Ayesha Jalal et al that Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s Lahore Resolution was a bargaining chip, and that he was never serious in getting Pakistan on the premise that the Cabinet Mission Plan presented him the best constitutional package for the Indian Muslims. That was why he accepted it, and by extension that meant surrendering the demand for Pakistan.

This scribe wants to argue that Jinnah did not make any compromises in his demand for Pakistan – a separate homeland for the Indian Muslims on the basis of two-nation theory on 23rd March, 1940. He also claimed that the Muslim League was the sole authoritative representative body of the Muslims of India. Both the British and the Congress had rejected this claim, and as a result all attempts to arrive at some political and constitutional agreement between them had failed.

Even Lord Wavell refused to entertain Jinnah’s claim of Muslim League solely representing the Indian Muslims, prompting the Quaid to ask him to verify the claim through electoral process. Thus the general elections of 1945-1946 were held mainly to ascertain Jinnah’s claim. The Congress stood for a united post-independence India but the Muslim League had fought the elections on the basis of its aspirations for a separate entity for the Indian Muslims. The election results vindicated the Muslim League’s demand because an overwhelming majority of the Indian Muslims voted for it.

The elections had forced the British to tread a winding political path. Thus a three-member Cabinet Mission reached India from England in March 1946 to try to resolve the political deadlock in India and to maintain Indian unity. This Mission gave a plan that is known as the Cabinet Mission Plan.

When the pro-Congress press and the Hindus came to know that Jinnah had accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan, they were overjoyed. They thought that with this sugarcoated pill in the shape of Cabinet Mission Plan, the claim for Pakistan had been abandoned. But there was so little sugar that within a short time the pro-Congress elements in the press declared it ‘as a sugarcoated pill minus the sugar’. Similarly, a superficial reading led many, including Ayesha Jalal and Penderal Moon, to conclude that the demand for Pakistan was buried for good. However, Jinnah, clarifying the rationale for the Pakistan demand stated, “The Lahore Resolution, which embodied the Pakistan demand, did not mean that when Muslims put forward their demand, it must be accepted at once. It is a struggle and a continued struggle… Acceptance of the Cabinet Mission’s proposals was not the end of their struggle for Pakistan. They should continue their struggle till Pakistan was achieved”.

The Congress was conscious of the implications inherent in the Cabinet Mission Plan as it contained the seeds of Pakistan. They were in a state of confusion; they were neither ready to accept it nor reject it in its entirety and they did not want the League to take the lead in the decision-making process in the final years of the British Raj. They also could not afford to annoy the British Labour government which had been their friend for decades and had now put forth a plan which could have helped the Congress to preserve its dream of independence maintaining Indian unity. However, the Congress accepted the Plan on June 25, 1946. In order to thwart the League and to keep the attention focused on it, the Congress soon began to twist and distort the provisions of the Plan, particularly the all-important feature, the ‘grouping scheme’.

All these political moves very simply meant that the Congress and Gandhi had no intention of letting Jinnah get away with a Pakistan comprising of six provinces by disguising them as ‘groups of provinces’, in the first instance. It was in these circumstances that the League Council met at Bombay on 27-29 July, 1946, and resolved to withdraw its earlier acceptance of the Cabinet Mission Plan.

In fact, Jinnah had never once tried to bargain or to compromise on his demand for Pakistan. That said, he however wanted to achieve his objective through peaceful and constitutional means. He never shirked from engaging in talks with the Hindu, Sikh and the British leaders to explore the ways to the partition of India. Therefore, he took part in talks in the lead up to the Independence on the Cripps Proposals (1942), the Rajagopalachari Formula (1944), the Gandhi-Jinnah parley (1944) and the Simla Conference (1945).

Indeed Jinnah had found in the Cabinet Mission Plan the seeds and substance of his demand for Pakistan and believed that it could become a reality after 10 years. He had been a constitutionalist throughout his life and believed in negotiated settlements. He, therefore, was fully conscious of the growing Hindu-Muslim divide which might lead to a civil war and he wanted to avoid that eventuality at all costs. Quite surprisingly, initially the pro-Congress press and politicians thought that in the Cabinet Mission the idea of Pakistan was spurned but some close reading subsequently made them aware of its implications and they changed their mind. After Lord Cripps and Lord Pethick-Lawrence’s persuasion, the Congress accepted the Plan with the aim to completely disregard the Pakistan issue. The British wanted a peaceful exit from India and therefore had drafted the Cabinet Mission Plan making it attractive both for the Congress and the League.

The Viceroy Lord Wavell was successful in avoiding the partition of India at least for the time being. But his successor Lord Mountbatten tried to carry on with the Cabinet Mission Plan but was soon exhausted. Having found Jinnah uncompromising in his demand for Pakistan, Mountbatten in his 3rd June 1947 Plan murdered not only the spirit of the Cabinet Mission but also brought about a speedy transfer of power to India that caused migration and bloodshed of millions of innocent people. Pakistan nevertheless was carved out of India, making the Quaid achieve his objective.

The writer is the Dean, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, and Chairman Department of History and Pakistan Studies, University of the Punjab. He is also the author of “Wavell and the Dying Days of the Raj”, published by Oxford University Press.