- In December 1941, Japan entered the war on the side of the Axis Powers and its spectacular successes during the early months of 1942 forced the British Government to make an earnest effort to resolve the deadlock and win over public opinion in India. On March 11, 1942, Mr. Winston Churchill announced that the War Cabinet had reached a unanimous decision on Indian policy, and that the leader of the House of Commons, Sir Winston ChurchillSir Stafford Cripps, would proceed to India as soon as possible to explain the decision and “to satisfy himself on the spot, by personal consultations, that the conclusions upon which we all are agreed and which we believe represent a just and final solution, will achieve their purpose.” Sir Stafford CrippsSoon after reaching India, Sir Stafford communicated the Draft Declaration to the members of the Executive Council (on March 23, 1942) and two days later to the Indian leaders. On March 29, these proposals were made public at a Press Conference. The subsequent negotiations took a fortnight to conclude unfruitfully, working as Cripps did against heavily odds. Gandhiji called the Declaration “a post-dated cheque” to which some one added the words, `on a failing bank.’
The causes to send Cripps Mission can be summed up as:
- The reverses that British forces suffered in the Far East—the fall of Singapore (15 Feb.), Malaya and Rangoon (17 Feb.) frightened the imperial rulers to a conciliatory mood.
- When Japanese invasion of India became a near reality, the rulers felt the need to win Indian support in the defence effort.
- British Government’s attempt to get Congress support through liberal constitutional proposals.
- President Roosevelt of the U.S.A. urged Churchill to settle matters with India and obtain India’s military participation against Japan.
Main Points in Cripps Proposals
The following proposals were published:
- Proposal to create a new Indian Union with the full status of Dominion.
- After end of the war to set up an elected body of provinces and Indian states to frame a new constitution.
- The British Government would accept the new constitution subject to two conditions:
(a) Any province(s) not willing to accept the new constitution could form a separate union and a separate constitution;
(b) the new constitution-making body and the British Government would negotiate a treaty to sort out matters arising out of transfer to power to Indian hands.
- In the meantime the British Government would be responsible for the defence of India.
Congress objections to Cripps Proposals
- Cripps made only long-term proposals to be operative after end of the war.
- The right of provinces to secede from the Indian Union would work against Congress demand for a united India.
- During the interim period Defence was to remain in British hands.
- Viceroy’s veto power was to remain intact.
Muslim League’s objections
- It opposed the idea of a single government for the whole of India.
- It demanded the right of self-determination for Muslims.
- It did not concede the Muslim League’s demand for Pakistan.
- The main features of the Draft Declaration so far as the future was concerned were: provision for Dominion Status with the right of secession for the provinces for a possible partition of the country and for a treaty providing for the transfer of power and safeguards for minorities.Until the new constitution could be framed defence was to be the sole concern of the British Government and the Governor-General was to continue with all his powers as before. As Jawaharlal Nehru put it:
- “The existing structure of Government would continue exactly as before, the autocratic powers of the Viceroy would remain and a few of us will become his liveried camp-followers and look after canteens and the like.”
- The Declaration marked a further not able advance, even over the August Offer, in so far as it
(a) granted the right of secession from the British Commonwealth;
(b) said that the making of the new constitution would be, now solely (and not only mainly as before) in Indian hands;
(c) proposed a plan for a Constituent Assembly;
(d) was an improvement in respect of the interim system of Central Government. Further, the people of India were asked to take part in the highest counsels not only of India, but of the Commonwealth and the United Nations also.
An Overview For
- The Indian demand for a Constituent Assembly conceded.
- Indian representatives alone would frame the new constitution/constitutions.
- Free India could withdraw from the British Commonwealth.
- Indians allowed a large share in administration in the interim period.
- Cripps’ stand not to accept any modifications in proposals showed a rigid attitude.
- It opened the possibility of partition of India.
- It was a propaganda device for American and Chinese consumption.
- The sudden withdrawal of the offer on the basis of ‘take it or leave it’ made British intentions suspect.