Congress predictably opposed all proposals for partition and advocated a united India with a strong center and a fully responsible parliamentary government. To many, notably to Jawaharlal Nehru, the idea of a sovereign state based on a common religion seemed a historical anachronism and a denial of democracy. From 1940 on, reconciliation between Congress and the Muslim League became increasingly difficult, if not impossible.
During World War II, the Muslim League and Congress adopted different attitudes toward British rule. British priorities were driven by the expediencies of defense, and war was declared abruptly without any prior consultation with Indian politicians. Congress ministers in the provinces resigned in protest. As a consequence, Congress, with most of its leaders in jail for opposition to the Raj, lost its political leverage over the British. The Muslim League, however, followed a course of cooperation, gaining time to consolidate. The British appreciated the loyalty and valor of the British Indian Army, many of whose members were Punjabi Muslims. The Muslim League's success could be gauged from its sweep of 90 percent of the Muslim seats in the 1946 election, compared with only 4.5 percent in the 1937 elections. The 1946 election was, in effect, a plebiscite among Muslims on Pakistan. In London it became clear that there were three parties in any discussion on the future of India: the British, Congress, and the Muslim League.
Spurred by the Japanese advance in Asia and forceful persuasion from Washington, British prime minister Winston Churchill's coalition war government in 1942 had dispatched Sir Stafford Cripps to India with a proposal for settlement. The plan provided for dominion status after the war for an Indian union of British Indian provinces and princely states wishing to accede to it, a separate dominion for those who did not, and firm defense links between Britain and an Indian union. Cripps himself was sympathetic to Indian nationalism. However, his mission failed, and Gandhi described it as "a post-dated check on a crashing bank."
In August 1942, Gandhi launched the "Quit India Movement" against the British. Jinnah condemned the movement. The government retaliated by arresting about 60,000 individuals and outlawing Congress. Communal riots increased. Talks between Jinnah and Gandhi in 1944 proved as futile as negotiations between Gandhi and the viceroy.
In July 1945, the Labour Party came to power in Britain with a large majority. Its choices in India were limited by the decline of British power and the necessity of retaining Indian links in imperial defense. General unrest in India spread, and, when a naval mutiny in Bombay broke out in 1945, British officials came to the conclusion that independence was the only alternative to forcible retention of control over an unwilling dependency. The viceroy, Lord Wavell, met with Indian leaders in Simla in 1945 to decide what form of interim government would be acceptable. No agreement was reached.
New elections to the provincial and central legislatures were ordered, and a three-man team came from Britain to discuss plans for self-government. The Cabinet Mission Plan, proposed by Cripps, represented Britain's last, desperate attempt to transfer the power it retained over India to a single union. The mission put forward a three-tier federal form of government in which the central government would be limited to power over defense, foreign relations, currency, and communications; significant other power would be delegated to the provinces. The plan also prescribed the zones that would be created: northeastern Bengal and Assam would be joined to form a zone with a slight Muslim majority; in the northwest, Punjab, Sindh, North-West Frontier Province, and Balochistan would be joined for a clear Muslim majority; and the remainder of the country would be the third zone, with a clear Hindu majority. The approximation of the boundaries of a new Pakistan was clear from the delineation of the zones. The mission also suggested the right of veto on legislation by communities that saw their interests adversely affected. Finally, the mission proposed that an interim government be established immediately and that new elections be held.
Congress and the Muslim League emerged from the 1946 elections as the two dominant parties, although the Muslim League again was unable to capture a majority of the Muslim seats in the North-West Frontier Province. At first, both parties seemed to accept the Cabinet Mission Plan, despite many reservations, but the subsequent behavior of the leaders soon led to bitterness and mistrust. Nehru effectively quashed any prospect of the plan's success when he announced that Congress would not be "fettered" by agreements with the British, thereby making it clear that Congress would use its majority in the newly created Constituent Assembly to write a constitution that conformed to its ideas. The formation of an interim government was also controversial. Jinnah demanded equality between the Muslim League and Congress, a proposal rejected by the viceroy. The Muslim League boycotted the interim government, and each party disputed the right of the other to appoint Muslim ministers, a prerogative Jinnah claimed belonged solely to the Muslim League.
When the viceroy proceeded to form an interim government without the Muslim League, Jinnah called for demonstrations, or "Direct Action," on August 16, 1946. Communal rioting broke out on an unprecedented scale, especially in Bengal and Bihar. The massacre of Muslims in Calcutta brought Gandhi to the scene, where he worked with the Muslim League provincial chief minister, Hussain Shahid Suhrawardy. Gandhi's and Suhrawardy's efforts calmed fears in Bengal, but rioting quickly spread elsewhere and continued well into 1947. Jinnah permitted the Muslim League to enter the interim government in an effort to stem further communal violence. Disagreements among the ministers paralyzed the government, already haunted by the specter of civil war.
In February 1947, Lord Mountbatten was appointed viceroy with specific instructions to arrange for a transfer of power by June 1948. Mountbatten assessed the situation and became convinced that Congress was willing to accept partition as the price for independence, that Jinnah would accept a smaller Pakistan than the one he demanded (that is, all of Punjab and Bengal), and that Sikhs would learn to accept a division of Punjab. Mountbatten was convinced by the rising temperature of communal emotions that the June 1948 date for partition was too distant and persuaded most Indian leaders that immediate acceptance of his plan was imperative.
On June 3, 1947, British prime minister Clement Attlee introduced a bill in the House of Commons calling for the independence and partition of India. On July 14, the House of Commons passed the India Independence Act, by which two independent dominions were created on the subcontinent; the princely states were left to accede to either. The partition plan stated that contiguous Muslim-majority districts in Punjab and Bengal would go to Pakistan, provided that the legislatures of the two provinces agreed that the provinces should be partitioned--they did. Sindh's legislature and Balochistan's jirga (council of tribal leaders) agreed to join Pakistan. A plebiscite was held in the Sylhet District of Assam, and, as a result, part of the district was transferred to Pakistan. A plebiscite was also held in the North-West Frontier Province. Despite a boycott by Congress, the province was deemed to have chosen Pakistan. The princely states, however, presented a more difficult problem. All but three of the more than 500 states quickly acceded to Pakistan or India under guidelines established with the aid of Mountbatten. The states made their decisions after giving consideration to the geographic location of their respective areas and to their religious majority. Hyderabad, the most populated of the princely states, was ruled by a Muslim but had a Hindu majority and was surrounded by territory that would go to India, and Junagadh (a small state with a Muslim prince but a Hindu majority) presented a problem. Both hesitated but were quickly absorbed into India. The accession of the third state, Jammu and Kashmir, could not be resolved peacefully, and its indeterminate status has poisoned relations between India and Pakistan ever since.
Throughout the summer of 1947, as communal violence mounted, preparations for partition proceeded in Delhi. Assets were divided, boundary commissions were set up to demarcate frontiers, and British troops were evacuated. The military was restructured into two forces. Law and order broke down in different parts of the country. Civil servants were given the choice of joining either country; British officers could retire with compensation if not invited to stay on. Jinnah and Nehru tried unsuccessfully to quell the passions of communal fury that neither fully understood. On August 14, 1947, Pakistan and India achieved independence. Jinnah the first governor general of the Dominion of Pakistan.
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