- In late 1939, World War II broke out. Germany had invaded Poland leading to Britain declaring war Germany. Without consulting Indians, Britain dragged India into the war irking India political groups.
- The Indian National Congress, the leading political force at the time, was expectedly not pleased; it condemned the unilateral decision, refused India’s cooperation in the war, and directed its party’s elected legislators to resign from provincial governments.
- The British knew that for it to acquire long term, stable and sustained cooperation from Indians towards the war effort, major political groups had to come on board. For this, it had to offer these groups something in return.
August Offer, 1940
- On 8 August 1940, Viceroy of India Lord Linlithgow made a statement of behalf of British parliament which came to be known as the ‘August Offer’, which:
- Proposed Dominion status as the objective for India
- Promised that a Constituent Assembly would be set up after the war to determine India’s constitutional future with a caveat: no future system of government would be instituted that did not have the support of minority political and religious groups
- Proposed to expand the Viceroy’s council to include a certain number of Indian political representatives, as a token towards Indian Self-Government
- The Offer was significant as this was the first time that the British acknowledged the demand for Constituent Assembly
- The Congress and other groups had made this a central plank of their political work for years
- Further, Dominion status was explicitly offered.
- In July 1941, the viceroy’s executive council was enlarged to give the Indians a majority of 8 out of 12 for the first time, but the British remained in charge of defence, finance and home.
- Also, a National Defence Council was set up with purely advisory functions
- The Congress rejected the Offer which it felt was another attempt by the British to ‘deny India her natural right of complete national freedom’.
- A decade has passed since Congress had replaced the relatively smaller demand for ‘dominion status’ with the more substantial ‘complete freedom’.
- Nehru said, “Dominion status concept is dead as a door nail.”
- The Muslim League termed the Offer as ‘progress’ but was not pleased with that the British did not consult Indian political groups with regards to the proposed expansion of the Viceroy’s council.
- The Hindu Mahasabha, that claimed to represent Hindu interests, was reasonably warm to the Offer, and even promptly nominated its members to the Viceroy’s council
- Unlike the Congress, the Mahasabha was fine with the Offer of dominion status but hoped that the British were sincere about it.
On the whole, the Offer was interesting in that most of its promises were amorphous, vague, lacked specific timelines and commitment
- As the months went along, it appears that Indian political groups, even those who were initially somewhat supportive of the Offer, felt that the British were evasive and not serious about constitutional and political reforms.
- By the end of the year, most political parties rejected the Offer.
- Thus, the British objective of garnering India’s cooperation in the war effort through the Offer was a spectacular failure.