Journey of Indian Constitutional System: Pre-Independence Developments IV
The demand for Self-Governance was getting stronger. The Nehru Report(August 1928) was rejected in 1933 by the Joint Parliamentary Committee stating –
“a specific grant of constituent powers to authority in India is not at the moment a practicable proposition.”
But the Congress kept agitating for transfer of power. On the outbreak of Second World War, Congress got the opportunity to weaken the British rule in the country and new proposals and plans were made for Indian political system.
- August Offer, 1940: A statement regarding the new constitutional policy was made by Lord Linlithgo, the Governor-General, on 8th August 1940 which is known as August Offer. The main features were:
- The offer of Dominion Status was repeated which was made in October 1939.
- The Constitution was to be framed by Indians, by a body representing Indian national life, after the war.
- A War Advisory Council consisting of representatives of British India and the Indian States was to be established.
- Promise to secure the interests of religious and political minorities was made.
- Transfer of was to be made after the war, not in between.
However, all the Offers made by it were outrightly rejected by the Indian political groups which led to some subsequent proposals and plans.
- The Cripps Proposals, 1942: The Coalition Government in Britain felt the need of Indians to have a Constitution of their own and sent Sir Stafford Cripps in March 1942 with a Draft Declaration of the proposals of the British Government which was to be adopted after the end of the War. The main proposals were:
- The future Constitution was to be framed by an elected Constituent Assembly including the Indian States as well.
- The Constitution was for giving India a Dominion Status.
- It proposed for the One Indian Union including whole British India and the Indian States.
But the Congress and the Muslim League failed to reach consensus and the League urged for two autonomous States on Communal lines, and some provinces should form an independent Muslim State to be known as Pakistan. And there must be two separate Constituent Assembly for both Countries.
- Wavell Plan: Failure of Cripps Proposals brought into the Wavell Plan of 1945. It proposed:
- The Indians were to frame their own Constitution as a Dominion State.
- The Viceroy’s Executive Council which consisted the Viceroy, the Commander-in-Chief and other members were to have all Indians except the Viceroy.
- The unreasonable use of Veto power was not to be used again.
- A conference was convened by the Viceroy from 25th June to 14th July 1945 which failed due to the difference among political parties mainly between Congress and the Muslim League.
- Cabinet Mission Plan, 1946: The Mission consisted three Cabinet ministers- Lord Pethick Lawrence, Sir Stafford Cripps and A.V. Alexander arrived in New Delhi on 24th March 1946. By doing several discussions with Indian leaders and studying the alternative schemes to make a consensus between the Congress and the League, it presented a Plan known as ‘Cabinet Mission Plan’ of 1946. The main features of the Plan were:
Constitutional Set up-
- The unification of the territory was proposed as the Union of India embodying British India and the States. The Union was to deal with foreign affairs, defense, communication and financial issues.
- The union was to have an executive and legislature constituted from both British Indian and States’ representative.
- Residuary powers were to vest in Provinces.
- The Constitution of the Union was to have a provision where any Province could re-determine the terms of the Constitution by a majority vote of its Legislature after an initial duration of 10 years and at every interval of the same period.
- A Constituent Assembly was proposed having 389 members- 93 from States; 4 from Chief Commissioner’s Province and the remaining 292 from British India.
- The allocation of seats in the Provinces was to further allocated to the main community of the state in proportion to their strength. Every province was sent representative according to the proportion of the population in a ratio of One to a million.
- The Representatives were to be elected by members of that community in Legislative Assembly.
- The Mission recognized three types of electorates- General, Muslim, and Sikhs. General was to include Hindus, Parsees, and Anglo-Indians.
- After the election, the Assembly was to meet in New Delhi as a body and to elect a Chairperson. The Provincial Legislature was divided into three sections as follows:
Section A: Madras, Bombay, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Central Province and Orissa.
Section B: Punjab, North-West Frontier, and Sind.
Section C: Bengal and Assam.
- The Provinces had the power to withdraw from one Section and join another, by a decision of their new Legislature after the commencement of new Union Constitution.
- Till the Constitution was framed, the administration was to be governed by an interim government headed by Indians. Both the parties, Congress and the League, accepted the Plan hoping their own benefits as Congress wished for a united democratic Nation while the League was satisfied because the Plan gave a weak Centre and there was some scope for separate provinces in Muslim dominated territories like Punjab and Bengal.
The election took place in July 1946, Congress got a clear majority that disappointed the Muslim League. The Interim Government was announced on 24th August 1946. Jawaharlal Nehru was designated as the Vice-President and his Eleven colleagues took the oath of office on September 2, 1946.
Muslim League rejected the Constituent Assembly election and then, for the first time acknowledged the possibility of two Constituent Assembly.
The result was that the Muslim League members did not attend the first meeting of Constituent Assembly held on 9th December 1946, and the Assembly started functioning with non-Muslim members. The British Government made a statement on 20th February 1947 stating that the British rule in India would end by June 1948. The League kept on pressing for another Constituent Assembly for ‘Muslim India’ and did not join the elected Assembly.
to be continued….