Cabinet Mission Plan, Mountbatten Plan

Plan and India’s Independence Act

Describing the situation of the country in early 1946, Maulana Azad writes, “Anabolutely new India had been born. The people, whether officials or non-officials, were fired with a new desire for freedom. All the three branches of the Armed Forces-the Navy, the Army and the Air Force-were inspired by a new spirit of patriotism. They were in fact so full of enthusiasm that, at times, they could not conceal their feelings. Furthermore, the I.N.A. Trials in the Red Fort had awakened the sense of national prestige. The Labour party, accredited with its sympathy for the Indian cause, had won a sweeping victory in the British general elections and had succeeded Chruchills’s Government. In reply to Azad’s telegram of congratulations on their success, the Labour leaders, Mr. Attlee and Cripps had assured him of fulfilling the pledges that their party had given to India during the years it was in opposition. The Parliamentary Delegation which visited India in the winter of 1945-46 to collect first hand information about the political conditions in India had sensed the change of temper in the country. They were convinced that the Indian freedom could not be long delayed.

In accordance with the announcement of Mr. Attlee on February 14, 1946, a Cabinet Mission headed by Lord Pethick Lawrence (the Secretary of State for India) was sent to India in the next month. The other two members of the Mission were Stafford Cripps, the President of the Board of Trade and Mr. A.V. Alexander, the First Lord of Admiralty. The ‘three wise men’ arrived in Delhi on 24th  March and began a round of interviews with representatives of all political parties. Since negotiations with party leaders did not result in an agreed solution, the Cabinet Mission presented a scheme of its own which is known as Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946.

The Cabinet Mission proposals can be summarized as follows:

(a) Recommendations for a long-term settlement

  1. There should be Union of India embracing both British India and the States, which should deal with Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Communications, and should have the power necessary to raise finances required for these subjects.
  2. The Union should have an executive and a legislature constituting the British Indian provinces and the States’ representatives. Any question raising a major communal issue in the Legislature should require for its decision a majority of the representatives present and voting of each of the two major communities as well as a majority of all members present and voting.
  3. All subjects other than the Union subjects and all residuary powers should vest in the Provinces.
  4. The States will retain all subjects and powers other than those ceded to the Union.
  5. Provinces should be free to form groups with their own executives and legislatures and each group could determine the provincial subjects to be taken in common.
  6. The constitution of the Union and of the groups should contain a provision whereby any Province could by a majority vote of the Legislative Assembly call for a reconsideration of the terms of the constitution after an initial period of ten-years and at ten-yearly intervals thereafter.

Proposals for Constitution-making machinery

  1. To frame a constitution on these lines, a constitutionmaking body should be constituted immediately through indirect election. It was to consist of 389 members composed of 296 member from the provinces and 93 from the states. For the formation of this body, (a) Each Province was to be allotted a number of seats proportional to its population, roughly in the ratio of one to a million. (b) The total number of seats allotted to a Province on the above basis was to be divided among the main communities (General, Muslims and Sikhs) in proportion to their population and the representatives allotted to each community were to be elected by members of the same community in the Legislative Assembly. (c) The number of members allotted to the Indian States was also fixed on the basis of population but mode of choosing the representative was to be settled by consultation. At the preliminary stage, they were to be represented by a Negotiating Committee.
  2. The representatives so elected both from the Provinces and the States were to meet at New Delhi to constitute a constitution-making body. Then its members were to divide up into three sections: (a) Madras, Bombay, the United Provinces, the Central Provinces, Bihar and Orissa-provinces not claimed for Pakistan and representing Hindu majority regions; (b) Punjab, North West Frontier Province, Sind and British Baluchistan territories claimed for Pakistan and representing the North Western Muslim majority regions; (c) Bengal and Assam claimed for Pakistan, representing the North Eastern Muslim majority regions. (The word ‘Pakistan’ was, however, not used by the Cabinet Mission Plan)
  3. Each section was then to settle the constitutions of the Provinces included in it and also whether any constitution for the group as a whole to be set up and if so, the extent of its powers.
  4. After the group constitutions were settled, the groups were to assemble together to settle the Union Constitution. 5. After the first general elections under the new constitution it was to be open to any Province to come out of any group in which it was placed by a resolution of its Legislature


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