Cripps Proposals, 1942

In the beginning of the year 1942, the British Government felt it difficult to remain indifferent towards the Indian problem any longer. The turn of events rather obliged the authorities in England to effect an amicable settlement with the Indian leaders. Even Churchill, an advocate of imperialism, realised the urgency of making an effort to break the Indian deadlock. Consequently, the idea of sending a mission to India with fresh proposals found favour with the British Cabinet, and Cripps was considered the most suitable man to be entrusted with this job. Stafford Cripps was a socialist leader and had earned a great reputation for his successful handling of the most delicate mission in Moscow. Besides, he was accredited with sympathies for India and her demand for freedom. He was believed to be on friendly terms with Jawaharlal Nehru.

The other leaders of Indian national life were also known to him as he had already visited the country twice after the outbreak of war. Cripps arrived in Delhi on March 23, 1942 and left for England twenty days later. During his short stay in India, he had series of interviews with the Indian leaders. The Congress was represented by Nehru and Azad. Jinnah spoke for the Muslim League, Savarkar for the Hindu Mahasabha. Ambedkar and M.C. Rajah for the Untouchables, and Sapru and Jayakar for the Liberals. Other minorities and the Princes were also represented in the talks. The task of negotiations caused Cripps a great strain and he also strove hard to achieve success. But, unfortunately, his efforts came to nothing and he had to go back disappointed.

The proposal which Cripps brought with him were embodied in a Draft Declaration of British Government. It embodied both interim and long term settlements and hence can be studied under two heads:-

(a) Proposals relating to long term settlement (Post-war arrangements)

  1. The British Government proposed that India would be offered a full Dominion status after the war with the right of secession from the Commonwealth.
  2. On the cessation of hostilities, a constitution-making body would be set up to frame a new constitution of India.
  3. The constitution-making body was to consist of persons partly elected by the members of the Provincial Legislative Assemblies on the basis of proportional representation and partly nominated by the Princes in proportion to the population of their States.
  4. The British Government would accept the constitution framed by it provided:

(i) That any Province or Provinces which were not prepared to accept the new constitution, should be entitled to form a separate Union and that the States should be similarly free to adhere to the new constitution; and

(ii) that the treaty should be negotiated between the British Government and the constitution making body to cover all matters arising out of the complete transfer of authority by the British Government to the Indians.

(b) Proposals relating to the interim settlement (Immediate present)

In the interim period, the British Government would retain control of the Defence of India “as a part of their world wareffort.” But the task of organising the full military, moral and material resources of India would be the responsibility of the Indian Government in which it was hoped once again that the party leaders would join.

Almost all the political parties of India finally rejected the proposals, though with different reasons. The Congress, to its dismay, found in them the vicious seeds of the partition of India, the malicious designs of the British to the reactionary elements to stabilise the Britishers’ vested interests in India. The Muslim League welcomed the implied recognition of Pakistan but criticised the vague procedure of achieving it. It also condemned the rigid character of the offer, either to be accepted or rejected as a whole. Like the Congress, it termed the interim arrangements vague and refused to express an opinion untill the whole picture was clarified.

Other Political parties and groups were also dissatisfied with the Cripps Offer: the Sikhs because of the fear that a Muslim majority in Punjab who would opt out of the Indian Union; the Hindu Mahasabha because of the implied danger of partition; and the Untouchables on the ground that they would be at the mercy of the caste Hindus. Consequently, Tej Bahadur Sapru and M.R. Jaykar, the prominent leaders of the liberals, denounced the proposals as repugnant to the interests, integrity and security of the country. The Sikhs and the Hindu Mahasabhites described them as anti-national and undemocratic. The Cripps Offer, thus, had an unfavouable response from all quarters and met a tragic end. To quote, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad: ‘The only thing that Cripps offered was a promise which would be valid after the war. In the existing circumstances such a promise had little value because no body was certain about the consequences of war.’ Despite his friendship with Cripps, Nehru was too unhappy with the proposals. He said: “-that there were limits beyond which I could not carry the Congress and there were limits beyond which the Congress could not carry the people.” Gandhi is said to have described the Cripps proposals as “a post-dated cheque on a failing bank”.

Between the Two Missions: Quit India Movement, C.R. Formula, Wavell Plan

The years intervening the departure of the Cripps Mission in April, 1942 and the advent of the Cabinet Mission in March, 1946 constituted a significant period in the history of freedom movement in India. It was marked by thrilling developments like the ‘Quit India’ campaign, August Revolt, Wavell Plan etc. etc.

The failure of the Cripps Mission led to widespread disappointment and anger in the country. Many Indians felt that the British Cabinet had sent Stafford Cripps only because of the American and Chinese pressure, but that Churchill had no intention of recognizing the Indian freedom. The long drawn-out negotiations with many parties were intended merely to prove to the world outside that the Congress was not the true representative of India and that disunity of the Indians was the real reason why the British Cabinet could not hand over power to Indian hands. A sense of indignant frustration seized many millions in our country. In utter anguish Gandhiji wrote : “Leave India to God and if that be too much leave her to anarchy.”

The atmosphere, on the whole, was gloomy, and the future, dark. But one thing was certain. The situation could not be allowed to drift. Total inaction was suicidal, both for the war efforts and the struggle for independence. Therefore on July 14, 1942, the Congress Working Committee at Wardha passed a resolution which was termed as “Quit India Resolution”. The resolution was ratified and endorsed by the Bombay resolution of All India Congress Committee held on 7th  and 8th  August, 1942. The resolution demanded the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal by the British regardless of the consequences. It was, however made clear that the intent was not to embarrass the war efforts of Britain and the Allies nor to encourage the Japanese. If these proposals were rejected “the Congress will then be compelled to utilize all the non-violent strength it might have gathered since 1920.”

Much against Gandhi’s expectation, the Government of India reacted within a few hours. On the morning of August, 9, 1942 (the day after the Congress Working Committee concluded its session), Gandhiji and all members of the Congress Working Committee were arrested. The Congress High Command members were bundled into a special train for journey to prison. Gandhiji was detained at the Aga Khan’s Palace in Poona, while the Committee members (viz. Jawaharlal, Sardar Patel, Abul Kalam Azad, Asaf Ali, G.B. Pant, Pattabhi Sitaramya, Syad Mahumd, Acharya Kripalani and Profulla Ghosh) were taken to Ahmednagar fort, a Mughal relic in a remote corner of Bombay Province. Rajan Babu was also a member of the Working Committee. As he did not attend the meeting at Bombay, he was arrested in Patna and detained there. All the Congressmen had to remain in the prison until June 15, 1945.

The arrest of the Congress leaders set off a nationwide political explosion. As the news spread over, the rank and file rose in fury against the Government. There was no need for directives and planning. People at large were galvanized into immediate and spontaneous action. For more than a week, business life was paralysed in Ahmedabad, Bombay, Delhi, Madras, Bangalore and Amirtsar. In almost every major city, mass demonstration mushroomed from the bazaars. Students and workers, and shopkeepers and housewives marched through the streets, singing nationalist songs and demanding the release of Gandhi and the Working Committee. The movement was peaceful in the beginning.

At the sight of this peaceful but nationwide campaign, the authorities became nervous and adopted the policy of repression. In Delhi the police fired on 47 separate occasions during 11 and 12 August. In U.P. they fired 29 times between 9 and 21 August. Other Provinces and places also witnessed the dreadful scenes of firing. According to the Secretary of State for India, the casualties from 9 August to 30 November, 1942 were 1,028 killed and 3,215 seriously injured. These figures were almost certainly an underestimate, because according to Congress account of August Movement, about 600 men were killed by police firing during the first few days. The total amount of collective fines exceeded ` 28 lakhs. Worse still, the brutality with which vengeance was taken passed all beliefs. Men were tortured to death, women were dishonoured and propetty was confiscated.

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