UPSC Exam Preparation: This Day in History – May 23

23 May 1947

The British Cabinet agreed to the partition of India


What happened?

The British Cabinet agreed to Lord Mountbatten’s plan of partitioning India into India and Pakistan on communal lines on 23 May 1947.

Partition of India Background

In today’s edition of This Day in History, you can read about the events that went behind the partition of the country and how the British Cabinet came to a conclusion on this. This is an important event in Indian history, and can help you in your understanding of modern Indian history for the IAS exam.

  • Muhammad Ali Jinnah gave a strong argument for the Two-Nation Theory in the 1940 Lahore session of the Muslim League.
  • Since then, the Muslim League was pressing for the partitioning of the country into two and the creation of a separate homeland for the subcontinent’s Muslims called Pakistan.
  • In August 1940, the then Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow assured that any new constitution would have due considerations for the rights of minorities along with his August Offer. This offer, however, was rejected by both the League and the Indian National Congress (INC).
  • After this, the government sent the Cripps Mission to India to work out a solution to the impasse and settle Indian ambitions favourably. However, this too failed as no party could reach a consensus. The British government was also desperate since it needed Indian support for its ongoing war efforts. The Mission had proposed a single unified India and this was rejected by the League who was now adamant on the demand for Pakistan.
  • In 1943, Lord Wavell was appointed the country’s Governor-General and Viceroy. The constitutional deadlock, owing to the League’s demand for Pakistan and the INC’s insistence on having a single country, was attempted to be resolved through the Wavell Plan.
  • As per this plan, the Viceroy’s Council was to have a balanced representation of Indians from different religions and classes. Each party would provide a list of members they recommend to the council and present it to the Viceroy in a conference. This was called the Shimla Conference.
  • The Conference took place on 25th June 1945 at Shimla. However, this was a failure since the League and the INC could not resolve their differences.
  • After the Second World War ended in August 1945, a new Labour government was elected in the UK, headed by Clement Atlee.
  • Atlee formed the Cabinet Mission to India comprising of three 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. Lord Wavell, although not officially a member, was also involved.
  • After the rejection of an initial plan proposed in May 1946 by the mission, a second June plan was proposed. This involved the division of the country into a Hindu-majority India and a Muslim-majority Pakistan. The princely states could either cede to the union or be independent.
  • This plan was rejected by the INC although it consented to be a part of the Constituent Assembly.
  • The Viceroy invited fourteen people to form the interim government. The INC nominated Zakir Hussain as one of the members. This move was objected to by the League which argued that Muslims were represented only by the Muslim League and the INC could not nominate a Muslim member. The League, therefore, was not a part of the Interim government.
  • Congress formed governments in most of the provinces and the League formed in Bengal and Sind after elections.
  • The League, which objected to the INC-led central government, called for ‘Direct Action Day’ on 16th August 1946. This irresponsible call led to the first partition-led riots in the country in Bengal. Riots soon spread to Bihar as well.
  • Now, with increasing accounts of riots and tension between the two communities, the partition of the country was becoming inevitable.
  • Lord Mountbatten was appointed India’s new Viceroy on 12th February 1947.
  • Even the INC reluctantly agreed to the partition of the country to stall the bloody riots.
  • On 23rd May, in a British Cabinet meeting, the plan to partition India was endorsed. On 3rd June 1947, the government announced to the Indian public as well as to the British Parliament what is now called the Mountbatten Plan. This plan involved the partition of the country into India and Pakistan, and each to be given dominion status. This was also called the 3 June Plan.
  • Accordingly, the Indian Independence Act 1947 was passed in the British Parliament and it received the royal assent on 18th July 1947.

See previous ‘This Day in History’ here.

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