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Insights into Editorial: By agreeing to Partition, Congress kept India united


Brief History about Cabinet Mission Plan:

On 22nd January 1946, the decision to send Cabinet Mission was taken and on 19th February 1946, the British PM C.R Attlee Government announced in the House of Lords about the mission and the plan to quit India. A high-powered mission of three British Cabinet members- Lord Pethick-Lawrence, the Secretary of State for India, Sir Stafford Cripps, President of the Board of Trade, and A. V. Alexander, the First Lord of the Admiralty reached Delhi on 24th March 1946.

Need and Necessity for Cabinet Mission Plan:

  1. To resolve political deadlock between the Indian National Congress and the All-India Muslim League at their stance to prevent a communal dispute whether British India would be better-off unified or divided.
  2. The Congress party wanted to obtain a strong central government with more powers as compared to state governments.
  3. All India Muslim League under Jinnah wanted to keep India united but with political safeguards provided to Muslims such as ‘guarantee’ of ‘parity’ in the legislatures.
  4. On 16 May 1946, this plan was announced and preceded by Shimla Conference of 1945.

Recommendations of Cabinet Mission Plan:

  1. The unity of India had to be retained.
    1. There should be a Union of India, embracing both British India and the States which should deal with the following subjects: Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Communications; and should have the powers necessary to raise the finances required for the above subjects.
  2. It proposed a very loose union of all the Indian territories under a centre that would control merely defence, the Foreign Affairs and the Commucation. The Union would have the powers necessary to raise the finances to manage these subjects.
  3. All subjects other than Union subjects and residuary power would vest in the provinces of British India.
  4. The Princely Legislatures would then elect a Constituent Assembly or a Constitution making body with each province being allotted a specified number of seats proportionate to its population.
  5. The proposed Constituent Assembly was to consist was to consist of 292 member from British India and 93 from Indian States.
  6. The Mission proposed an immediate formation of Interim Government at the centre, enjoying the support of major political parties and with the Indians holding all the portfolios.

Cabinet Mission Plan for Muslim League and Congress:

Moreover, documentary evidence, especially the resolution of the Muslim League Council in June 1946 that accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan, proves that the Muslim League’s acceptance was premised on the belief that the Plan was a stepping stone towards the ultimate formation of Pakistan, which to quote the resolution was its “unalterable objective”. The League inferred this from the Cabinet Mission Plan’s provision that said that “any Province by majority vote of its Legislative Assembly could call for a reconsideration of the terms of the Constitution after an initial period of ten years and at ten-yearly intervals thereafter.” Hence the Plan did not rule out the dissolution of the Union if provinces made a demand.

Historical Reasons behind the acceptance of Cabinet Mission plan:

  1. In his own famous words, “In order to keep India united it must be divided.” It was Patel who convinced Nehru that Partition was better than an eternally fragmented India.
  2. Nehru, whose opposition to Partition was based on his unstinted commitment to secularism, which refused to encounter the idea of India bring divided on communal lines, finally realised that his vision of a modern and strong Indian state could not be achieved with the Muslim League, in power in Bengal and Punjab, thwarting it at every step.
  3. With Patel and Nehru convinced of the necessity for Partition, the rest of the Congress Working Committee, except Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who voted against it, and Maulana Azad, who abstained, accepted the plan.
  4. Historical evidence based on impartial scholarship demonstrates that had the Congress Party not accepted the Partition plan, India today would have been a weak state and a divided polity barely able to keep itself together and constantly teetering on the brink of collapse.
  5. The Congress did a favour to the country by accepting its division in order to save it from collapse or dismemberment. This is a historically verifiable fact that cannot be refuted by partisan propaganda.


The Cabinet Mission Plan is critical to scholarly works that engage with various aspects of Indian constitutionalism, law, politics and history, particularly on partition and federalism. Recent work has paid close attention to British perspectives as well: Walter Reid in Keeping the Jewel in the Crown emphasises the British self-interest behind the setting up of the Cabinet Mission: ‘to secure Britain’s defence interests in India and the Indian Ocean Area’. Other scholars have taken to evaluating the Cabinet Mission and its Plan: Granville Austin argues that the Cabinet Mission (‘non-Indians’) should have never attempted to mediate between the Congress and the Muslim league: ‘it was foredoomed to failure’. The Cabinet Mission Plan continues to be relevant to scholars and the general public in understanding and making sense of not only the origins of the Indian Constitution, but also the future of the Indian republic. The main objective of Cabinet Mission was to find out ways and means for the peaceful transfer of power in India, to suggest measures for the formation of a Constitution making machinery and also to set up the Interim Government.