In our last blog, we discussed the Constituent Assembly: Promulgation and Criticisms. But what led to the formation of the Constituent Assembly? Who initially raised the demand for an independent and sovereign Constituent Assembly and Constitution? What were the conflicts between the Muslim League and the Indian National Congress on this subject? And finally, what was the proposal according to which the Assembly was formulated? So, in this blog, we’d be answering all these questions with a special emphasis on the Cabinet Mission Plan 1946.
Cabinet Mission Plan 1946: Historical Background
India was under the control of the British Empire for over 200 years. And one thing that the people of India demanded was their sovereignty and independence. But what was the prerequisite for fulfilling this aspiration? A sovereign Constitution. And our leader didn’t let us down in that regard.
The idea and the demand for a sovereign Constituent Assembly were introduced by a pioneer communist leader in India, M.N. Roy, in 1934. And later on in 1935, the Indian National Congress gave official status to this demand, by officially demanding a sovereign Constituent Assembly to frame the Constitution of India. Making the demand more assertive in nature, Jawaharlal Nehru, in 1938 declared that the Constitution of free India must be framed, without outside interference, by a Constituent Assembly elected on the basis of adult franchise.
The demand was ultimately accepted by the British Government, with the August Offer of 1940. Sir Stafford Cripps, a member of the British Cabinet came to India in 1942 with the proposal of the British Government, which proposed the formation of an independent Constitution of India, which would be adopted after World War 2.
(The conflicts within)
However, the proposal of the British Cabinet was rejected by the Muslim League, as the Muslim League asserted their demand for the partition of India and the formation of two autonomous states of India and Pakistan, and subsequently, two separate Constituent Assemblies.
Cabinet Mission to India
Finally, a Cabinet Mission came to India, whose aim was to discuss and formulate a plan for transferring the powers of the British Government to Indian leaders. The Cabinet Mission was formulated by the proposal of Clement Attlee, the then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Members of the Cabinet Mission were-
- Lord Pethick-Lawrence, who was the Secretary of State for India
- Sir Stafford Cripps, President of the Board of Trade
- A.V. Alexander, first lord of the Admiralty
- Lord Wavell, then Viceroy of India (although not an official member, he was greatly involved in the proceedings)
The Cabinet Mission outrightly rejected the idea of the two autonomous states and two Constituent Assemblies but put forward a plan that ultimately satisfied the Muslim League. The Cabinet Mission Plan 1946 proposed the formation of the Constituent Assembly of (United) India, which was finally constituted in November 1946 along the lines suggested by the Cabinet Mission Plan 1946.
Provisions of the Cabinet Mission Plan 1946
- The total strength of the Constituent Assembly would be 389. Of these 389 seats, the British Indian Provinces were allotted 296 seats and the Princely States were allotted 93 seats. Of the 296 seats allotted to the British Indian provinces, 292 seats were allotted to the 11 Governors’ Provinces and 4 seats were allotted to the four Chief Commissioners’ Provinces.
- The British Indian provinces and the Princely States were allotted seats in proportion to their respective population, roughly in the ratio of 1:1 million (1 seat was allotted for every million population).
- In order to ensure the representation of all communities in the Constituent Assembly, the seats allotted to the British Indian provinces were divided among the three major communities, in proportion to their population- Sikhs, Muslims, and General (all except Muslims and Sikh).
- The Members of each community in the Provincial Legislative Assembly elected their own representative (to the constituent assembly) by the method of proportional representation with single transferrable votes.
- The representatives of the Princely States were nominated by the heads of the Princely States. However, the representatives of the Princely States (initially) did not join the Constituent Assembly.
It’s evident that the Constituent Assembly formed by the proposals of the Cabinet Mission Plan 1946 was not a representative body as it wasn’t directly elected by the people of India on the basis of universal adult franchise, but was rather indirectly elected by the members of the Provincial Legislative Assemblies, who themselves weren’t elected through direct elections.
Similarly, the representatives of the Princely States weren’t elected by the people but were rather nominated by the heads of the Princely States. So, the Constituent Assembly of India was partly elected and partly nominated body.
The elections of the 296 seats allotted to the British Indian provinces were completed by August 1946.
- The Indian National Congress won 208 seats
- The Muslim League won 73 seats
- The Unionist Party, Unionist Muslims, Unionist Scheduled Castes, Krishak- Praja Party, Scheduled Castes Federation, Sikhs (Non-Congress), Communist Party won 1-1 seats each.
- The Independent candidates won 8 seats.
(The Conflicts within)
The representatives of the Princely States remained away from the Assembly, leaving 93 vacant seats.
The members of the Muslim League, asserting their demands for the partition of India and the formation of two separate Constitution Assemblies of India and Pakistan, boycotted the meeting.
Finally, after the partition of India and the formation of India and Pakistan, representatives of the Muslim League from the areas included in Pakistan withdrew from the assembly, and the total strength, as fixed by the Cabinet Mission Plan 1946, was reduced to 299 from 389.
After the partition, the number of representatives of the Princely States was also reduced to 70 from 93 fixed by the Cabinet Mission Plan 1946, and they ultimately joined the Constituent Assembly.