The British Embassy to the Department of State 1

top secret
The objective of United Kingdom policy in India has for many years past been, through a process of gradually developing the transfer of authority, ultimately to hand over power to a Federal system of Government commanding at least the assent of all the important elements in the Indian population and in which the Indian States would be co-operating parties. The unity of India which is the greatest single achievement of our rule would thus be preserved.
The policy of the present British Government has been in line with this tradition. Its main principles were stated in the Prime Minister’s speech in Parliament on the 15th March2 and developed in detail in the proposals of the Cabinet Mission. If operated wholeheartedly in a spirit of co-operation these proposals should make it possible for Indians to frame a Constitution which would both preserve the unity of India and meet the real and legitimate fears of the Muslim community and of other minorities. The intention was that formal and final transfer of authority would not take place until a Constitution framed in accordance with the Mission’s proposals, or otherwise [Page 145] by agreement between the major communities, could be brought into operation. In this way the broad objective referred to in paragraph (1) above would have been realized, and United Kingdom responsibility in India have been terminated by an orderly and peaceful transition. In the meantime it was hoped that an interim government representative of all parties would operate harmoniously under the existing Constitution. Although the broad responsibility of the United Kingdom Government and Parliament for Indian affairs would continue, this Government would in practice have a wide measure of autonomy. Obviously great difficulties were to be expected in this interim period, which it was hoped would be not more than two years, unless there were mutual forbearance between ourselves and Congress Party, and a real spirit of compromise and co-operation between the Congress Party and the Muslim League.
Unfortunately these conditions have not been realized. The following is a broad assessment of events since the mission. After the mission left India the Congress Party interpreted the provisions of the mission’s proposals regarding the procedure in sections in a way contrary to the mission’s intention, as clearly explained to them. An essential element of the mission’s proposals was that sections of the Constituent Assembly should decide by majority vote the constitutions of the provinces and whether groups of provinces should be formed subject to the right of provinces to opt out of a group by decision of the legislature under the new Constitution. The Congress Party argued that decisions on these questions should require a majority of representatives of each province within the section. This would almost certainly result in no group constitution being framed by sections B and C. Thus the Congress Party interpretation removed the basis of the compromise which is the whole basis of the proposals. The League reacted by withdrawing their acceptance of the mission’s proposals, by reverting to the advocacy of the full Pakistan claim in provocative form, and by threatening direct action. Six months have passed without any substantial progress in drawing up the constitution and the Constituent Assembly is meeting without Muslim League representatives. Although the recent Congress Party resolution modified their position, there are still certain ambiguities in the acceptance by the Congress Party of our statement of December 6th. Certain rules of procedure have been framed by the Constituent Assembly which can hardly be reconciled with the principle of our statement that provincial constitutions and the decision whether there shall be a group shall be taken by sections of the Constituent Assembly by a majority vote. This has led the Muslim League again to refuse co-operation in the Constituent Assembly by their resolution of January 31st. These events have rendered the relations of the two parties in the Cabinet increasingly difficult and the Congress Party have now demanded that the [Page 146] Muslim League members should resign from the government. We are being pressed to wind up the Secretary of State’s services and to withdraw British troops from India. Although, in individual cases the Congress Party are putting strong pressure on Indian States whom we are bound by our existing relationship to protect from external interference from British India, recent conversations between the States’ representatives and representatives of the Constituent Assembly were amicable and there seems a reasonable prospect that the States will enter the Constituent Assembly.
The communal situation deteriorated seriously between August and November and over 10,000 persons have been killed and many more injured. Since the London Conference3 the situation has improved but the tension is still high. Any open and irrevocable breach between the parties might lead to a widespread recrudescence amounting almost to unorganised and spontaneous civil war. In this event the Indian army might disintegrate and take sides.
We have made every effort to bring the Indian parties together by negotiations and there is not much more that we can do without some move from them. The alternatives therefore are to place the responsibility for finding a solution, or for the consequences of failure to do so, finally and solely upon Indian leaders; or to reassert British authority and govern India for a substantial period. The latter course could only be feasible if we resorted to widespread and extreme measures of repression and publicly declared an intention to retain our authority in India for a substantial period of years. We do not consider that this course would be likely to lead to any solution of the Indian problem. In the long run it would lead rather to a spread of revolutionary extremism, probably in a communist form.
We have therefore come to the conclusion set out in the statement announcing our intention to hand over authority in India not later than June 1948. We are hopeful that the prospects of a settlement between the Congress Party and the Muslim League will be increased if it is clearly stated that we shall withdraw at a definite date and definite steps are taken to implement this decision. At present both sides hope to produce a situation in which we shall be forced to assist them in securing their own political objective and this fact impedes a settlement between them.
We, therefore, think that the statement provides the best prospect of being able to hand over the functions of the existing central government to a single government having the support of both major parties. But if, when the date for withdrawal is reached, this is not possible we shall have to hand over to whatever constituted authorities seem most representative of the different parts of the country when the [Page 147] time comes. Paragraph 10 of the statement is designed to avoid, on the one hand, a commitment to create Pakistan (which would encourage the League to be obstructive), and on the other, any indication that we should, whatever happens, hand over to one authority only (which would encourage the Congress Party to be uncompromising).
We realize, of course, that we are running the risk that no settlement will be arrived at and that as the date for our withdrawal draws near, the communal situation will deteriorate seriously. But this is just as likely to happen if we make no statement because both sides will hope that we shall assist them against the other. We believe, therefore, that the right course is for us to be definite as to our intentions.
It may be felt that a definite partition of India before our departure would, if there is no agreement, be preferable, in the last resort, to withdrawal in the way we propose. Cogent reasons were given in the opening paragraphs of the Cabinet mission’s statement of the 16th May against any form of Pakistan because the area claimed by the Muslim League would contain far too great a minority of non-Muslim population while a smaller area having a substantial Muslim majority could not be capable economically of survival as an independent State. Partition would be violently resented by a large part of the Indian population including substantial elements in the areas affected. The equitable demarcation of the areas to be separated would be a matter of extreme difficulty but it is not totally excluded by Paragraph 10 of the statement if it is found to be inevitable at the latest stage.
  1. This memorandum, attachment No. 2 to the memorandum of conversation, supra, was handed to the Secretary of State by the British Ambassador, Lord Inverchapel, on February 20.
  2. March 15, 1946. For substance of Mr. Attlee’s words, as he intervened in a House of Commons debate on the Cabinet Mission’s imminent visit to India, see Menon, The Transfer of Power in India, pp. 234–235.
  3. December 3–6, 1946; attended by Nehru Jinnah, Sardar Baldev Singh and Liaquat Ali Khan. Singh and Khan held the portfolios of Defense and Finance, respectively, in the Indian Interim Government.