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Interim Government (1946-47)
Lord Wavell wrote letters to Nehru and Jinnah on July 22, 1946, and invited them to join an “Interim Coalition Government.” He suggested that there would be 14 members in the cabinet: 6 of them from Congress, 5 from the Muslim League, and the other 3 would represent the minority parties and the important portfolios would be divided equally to the Congress and the League. He made it clear that neither Congress nor Muslim League would be entitled to object to the names submitted by the other party, provided they were acceptable to the Viceroy. Both Nehru and Jinnah rejected the proposal in their letters to Wavell written on July 23 and July 31 respectively. This created a complete deadlock.
To break the deadlock, the Secretary of State for India asked the Viceroy to contact Nehru and to offer him to form the Government. The Muslim League was completely ignored. On August 6, Wavell in a letter to Nehru invited him to form the Government. Congress held its Working Committee session on August 8 and authorized Nehru to negotiate the terms and Conditions for joining the Interim Government. On August 17 Nehru asked the Viceroy to allow him to form a full-strength Ministry by filling the 5 Muslim seats with non League Muslims. This idea was, however, not acceptable to the Viceroy and asked to leave the Muslim seats vacant. The differences were resolved and on August 24 a communiqué was issued from Delhi, declaring that the new Executive Council would take charge on September 2.
On September 2, the Congress joined the Interim Government. Their leaders declare, “Muslim League may come or not. That would make no difference. The caravan will move on.” Congress nominated Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Sarat Chandra Bose, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, and Jagjivan Ram as the nominee of the party in the Cabinet. Three minority positions were filled by Sardar Baldev Singh (Sikh), C.H. Bhabha (Parsee), and Johan Matthai (Indian Christian). Three Muslims, Asaf Ali, sir Shafaat Ahmad Khan and Syed Ali Zaheer were also included in the Government, while two Muslim seats were left vacant. Muslim League rejected the idea of installing a one-party Government. Jinnah declared the Viceroy’s decision against his earlier assurance and commitments with the Muslim League. The Muslim League observed September 2 as a black day and throughout India, they flew black flags on their houses and shops.
As time passed the British realized that the Interim Government cannot deliver unless and until the Muslim League send its representatives to the Cabinet. They persuaded Jinnah to join the Interim Government. On the other hand, Muslim League also comprehended that its exclusion from the Government was playing havoc with the interests of the Muslims. Jinnah realized that he could protect the interests of the Indian Muslims more if his party joins the Interim Government. A series of meetings took place between Jinnah and Wavell and ultimately Muslim League joined the Interim Government on October 25, 1946. To create space for the Muslim League Ministers, Sarat Chandra Bose, Shafaat Ahmad Khan, and Syed Ali Zaheer had to quit.
Congress was not satisfied with the way Muslim League was included in the Interim Government. Nehru in a letter to the Viceroy on October 26 wrote, “The choice itself indicated a desire to have conflict rather than to work in co-operation.” Gandhi considered that the League’s entry into the Government was not straight. They felt hurt by the fact that Jinnah decided to enter Interim Government at the request of Wavell and not on Nehru’s request. Furthermore, Jinnah made it clear that the Muslim League members of the cabinet will not be directly answerable to Nehru. Congress leadership was also annoyed because Muslim League nominated a scheduled cast Hindu, Jogendra Nath Mandal, as a cabinet member. This act could challenge the Congress claim of being the sole representative of the deprived class. Though the Viceroy wanted to give one of the three important departments, i.e. External Affairs, Home, or Defence to the Muslim League, Nehru straight away rejected the idea. Following portfolios were allocated to the different parties:
- Jawaharlal Nehru External Affairs and Commonwealth Relations
- Vallabhbhai Patel Home, Information and Broadcasting
- Rajendra Prasad Food and Agriculture
- Rajgopalacharia Education and Arts
- Asaf Ali Transport and Railways
- Jagjivan Ram Labour
- Liaquat Ali Khan Finance
- I. Chundrigar Commerce
- Abdur Rab Nishtar Communications
- Ghazanfar Ali Khan Health
- N. Mandal Legislature
- John Matthai Industries and Supplies
- H. Bhabha Works, Mines, and Power
- Baldev Singh Defence
The Interim government remained in place till the independence of Pakistan and India. Besides other duties, it assisted the British Government in the process of transferring the power to the local people. The Viceroy Executive Council served as the executive branch of an interim government. Although it was originally headed by the Viceroy of India, it was transformed into a council of ministers with the powers of a Prime Minister bestowed on the vice president of the Council, a position held by Jawaharlal Nehru. Except for the Viceroy, who would hold only a ceremonial position, and the commander in chief of the Indian army all members of the council were Indians.