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Cripps Mission (1942)
The British were alarmed at the successive victories of Japan during the 1940s. When Burma was turned into a battlefield and the war reached the Indian borders, the British started feeling more concerned about the future of India. The situation in the country was further complicated as the Congress wanted to take advantage of the situation by accelerating their efforts in their struggle for independence. Moreover, the differences between the Congress and the Muslim League were widening fast, and visibly there was no chance to bring both parties on a common agenda. In these circumstances, the British Government sent a mission to India in 1942 under Sir Stafford Cripps, the Lord Privy Seal, to achieve Hindu-Muslim consensus on some constitutional arrangement and to convince the Indians to postpone their struggle till the end of the Second World War.
Cripps arrived in Delhi on March 22, 1942, and had series of meetings with the leading Indian politicians including Jawaharlal Nehru, Abul Kalam Azad, Quaid-i-Azam, Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan, A. K. Fazlul Haq, Dr. Ambedkar, V.D. Savarkar and Tej Bhadur Sappru etc. In the meetings Cripps tried to plead his case before these political leaders and tried to convince them to accept his following proposals:
- During the war, the British would retain their hold on India. Once the war finished, India would be granted dominion status with complete external and internal autonomy. It would, however, be associated with the United Kingdom and other Dominions by a common allegiance to the Crown.
- At the end of the war, a Constituent Assembly would be set up with the power to frame the future constitution of India. The members of the assembly were to be elected based on proportional representation by the provincial assemblies. The Princely States would also be given representation in the Constituent Assembly.
- The provinces not agreeing to the new constitution would have the right to keep themselves out of the proposed Union. Such provinces would also be entitled to create their own separate Union. The British government would also invite them to join the commonwealth.
- During the war, an interim government comprising of different parties of India would be constituted. However, defense and external affairs would be the sole responsibility of the viceroy.
Quaid-i-Azam considered these proposals as “unsatisfactory” and was of the view that the acceptance of the Cripps proposals would “take the Muslims to the gallows.” He said that the proposals have “aroused our deepest anxieties and grave apprehensions, specially with reference to Pakistan Scheme which is a matter of life and death for Muslim India. We will, therefore, endeavour that the principle of Pakistan which finds only veiled recognition in the Document should be conceded in unequivocal terms.” The Quaid, however, was happy to know that in the Cripps proposals, at least the British Government had agreed in principle to the Muslim League’s demand of the partition of India. Yet, Quaid-i-Azam wanted the British Government and Cripps to thoroughly amend the proposals to make them acceptable for the Muslim League.
Quaid-i-Azam and other Muslim League leaders were convinced that Cripps was a traditional supporter of Congress and thus could not present an objective solution to the problem. On the arrival of Cripps, Quaid-i-Azam made it clear that he was a friend of Congress and would only support the Congress’ interests. Congress leaders themselves accepted that Cripps was their man. On his first visit to India, Cripps attended the meetings of the Congress Working Committee. He also visited Gandhi and was so much impressed by him that he wore a white khadi suit. He openly ridiculed the Muslim League’s demand for Pakistan when he said, “we cannot deny 25 crore Hindus desire of United India only because 9 crore Muslims oppose it.” The proposals Cripps presented mainly consisted of the ideas which were discussed in a meeting between Nehru and Cripps in 1938.