(Online Course) GS Concepts : Mordern Indian History – Towards Partition and Independence

Subject : Modern Indian History

Topic: Towards Partition and

Question : Briefly discuss the Wavells plan and Shimla Conference.


Lord Wavells succeeded Lord Linlithgow as Governor General in
October 1943, when the people were in the grip of a grave economic crisis :
scarcity of essential commodities, increasing cost of living and Great Famine in
Bengal. Politically the country was much more divided than it was when
Linlithgow had taken charge (April 1936). The history of his long Viceroyalty
was ‘a cumbersome record of frustration and futility’. Linlithgow bequeathed to
his successor ‘an unenviable legacy’.

By the middle of 1945, the War was approaching its end, but
was still continuing in the East against Japan. To break the political deadlock
in India, since the resignation of the Congress ministries in 1939, Wavell
announced a new plan, through a Radio Broadcast. Main features of the Wavell
Plan were:

  1. to ease the political situation and to advance
    India towards her goal of self-government,

  2. to set up a new Executive Council which would be
    entirely Indian except for the Viceroy and the Commander-in-chief,

  3. caste Hindus and Muslims would have equal
    representation in the executive council,

  4. the executive council would work like a provisional
    national government,

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  6. (v) the new government would work under the
    Government of India Act, 1935

  7. (vi) the formation of interim government would in no
    way be prejudiced to the framing of a new constitution at some later stage
    by the Indians themselves,

  8. (vii) settlement of the communal issue which is the
    main stumbling block in the way of advance,

  9. (viii) the functions of the new executive council could

  10. (a to prosecute the war,

  11. (b) to carry on the government of India, and

  12. (c) to consider the mean by which a new permanent
    constitution could be agreed upon and a long term solution could be

  13. (ix) the portfolio of the member of external affairs
    which the Viceroy was holding would be transferred to an Indian member.

Simla Conference

To discuss the above Plan Viceroy Lord Wavell convened a
conference of various political and party leaders in Simla. The Conference
assembled at Simla on 25 June 1945. There were 21 invitees including Abul Kalam
Azad (Congress President), Jinnah, leaders of the Sikhs, Europeans and the
Scheduled Castes, as also some Premiers or ex-Premiers of provinces. The Hindu
Mahasabha was not invited. Gandhi did not attend the Conference, but he remained
at Simla during the discussion and was available for consultation by the
Congress leaders.

The deliberations of the Conference were held under the
presidentship of the Viceroy. There was general agreement on. three points : (1)
prosecution of war against Japan (Germany had already surrendered); (2) interim
administration of British India by an Executive Council ‘consisting of men of
influence and ability recommend by the conference of all portfolio in the
Executive Council, except the War portfolio which would be held by the
Commander-in-Chief.. But differences on two points remained unresolved; (1)
composition of the Executive Council; (2) the Viceroy’s veto which the Congress
wanted to be abolished, but the Muslim League wanted to be retained. The
Congress submitted a list which included two ‘Caste Hindus’, one Muslim, one
Parsi and one Indian Christian. This ‘proved, if proof were needed, that the
Congress was a truly national oranization’. The Premier of the Punjab, Khizr
Hyat Khan, claimed a seat for a Punjabi Muslim representing the Unionist Party
which was in power in that province. Jinnah did not submit any list, but he
objected to the inclusion of any non-League Muslim in the Executive Council.
Wavell himself prepared a list which gave the Muslims, who constituted only
about 25 per cent of the total population of India, 6 representatives in an
Executive Council of 14. This arrangement was rejected by the Congress as also
by Jinnah. Moreover, Jinnah demanded, in addition to the retention of the
Viceroy’s veto, some other safeguards for the Muslim Members of the Executive.
Council, e.g.; a provision requiring a clear two-thirds majority in case of
proposals objected to by the Muslim Members all of whom would be his nominees.

Wavell dropped the Plan; the deadlock continued. The Congress
complained that he ‘capitulated’ to Jinnah, for the Viceroy should have taken a
forward step as the Congress had agreed to join the Executive Council even
though the Muslim League had decided to keep out. The Congress, which claimed to
represent all the communities and the entire nation, could not have accepted
these intrasigent demands of the League. The failure of the Simla Conference
gave a veto power to the League that whatever is not acceptable to the League
could not be implemented. It was now clear that the Muslims League could make or
mar the fortunes of the Muslims, as the British Government gave it the power to
veto any constitutional proposal which was not to its liking. No Muslim outside
had, therefore, any chance of a political career in future.

1945-46 Elections and the Communal Divide

There was a remarkable change in the political situation in
the second half of 1945. At the international level, Nazi Germany had been
defeated and destroyed. Japan had surrendered after the nuclear bombing of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. In general elections held in England July
1945, Churchil’s Conservative Party was defeated and the Labour Party came into
power in England with Attlee as the new Prime Minister and Sir Pethick Lawrence
as the new Secretary of State. Both were anxious to get Britain out of India, as
rapidly as possible. The Labour Party professed radical and socialist principles
and had supported India’s aspirations for self-government. After the War,
Britain’s internal condition and world position had vastly deteriorated. Its
industry was chaotic, foreign trade dwindled; Britain was on the brink of
bankruptcy. The world situation was now becoming serious.

It was in this background that Viceroy Lord Wavell announced
general elections in the winter of 1945-46. It were these elections which sealed
the fate of the communities. It was here that religion was brought to the
forefront. Muslims were asked to vote for the League because “a vote for League
and Pakistan was a vote for Islam.” In 1937 the League won only 25 per cent of
Muslim seats, in 1946 it captured almost 90 percent. The most significant
feature of these elections was Muslim communal voting in sharp contrast to the
anti-British unity of the earlier days. The league held a convention of Muslims
legislators in April 1946 where Jinnah declared that there could be no
compromise on the issue of Pakistan as a fully sovereign state and warned the
British government that if they were going to sell 100 million Muslims for some
illusionary hope, it would be the greatest tragedy in the history of Great

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