The Second World War and National Movement
In 1937 elections were held under the provisions of the Government of India Act of 1935. Congress Ministries were formed in seven states of India.
On 1 September 1939, the Second World War broke out. The British Government without consulting the people of India involved the country in the war. The Congress vehemently opposed it and as a mark of protest, the Congress Ministries in the Provinces resigned on 12 December 1939.
The Muslim League celebrated that day as Deliverance Day. In March 1940 the Muslim League demanded the creation of Pakistan.
During the course of the Second World War in order to secure the cooperation of the Indians, the British Government made an announcement on 8 August 1940, which came to be known as the ‘August Offer’.
The August Offer envisaged that after the War a representative body of Indians would be set up to frame the new Constitution. Gandhi was not satisfied with his offer and decided to launch Individual Satyagraha.
Individual Satyagraha was limited, symbolic, and non-violent in nature and it was left to Mahatma Gandhi to choose the Satyagrahis. Acharya Vinoba Bhave was the first to offer Satyagraha and he was sentenced to three months imprisonment.
Jawaharlal Nehru was the second Satyagrahi and was imprisoned for four months. The individual Satyagraha continued for nearly 15 months.
Cripps Mission (1942)
In the meantime, the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow expanded his Executive Council by including five more Indians into it in July 1941.
However, in the midst of the worsening wartime international situation, the British Government in its continued effort to secure Indian cooperation sent Sir Stafford Cripps to India on 23 March 1942.
This is known as Cripps Mission.
The main recommendations of Cripps were:
The promise of Dominion Status to India, Protection of minorities, setting up of a Constituent Assembly with representatives from the Princely States along with those of the British Provinces.
Also, there would be provision for any Province of British India not prepared to accept this Constitution, either to retain its present constitutional position or frame a constitution of its own.
The major political parties of the country rejected the Cripps proposals. Gandhi called Cripp’s proposals a “Post-dated Cheque”.
They did not like the rights of the Princely States either to send their representatives to the Constituent Assembly or to stay out of the Indian Union.
The Muslim League was also dissatisfied as its demand for Pakistan had not been conceded in the proposal.
Quit India Movement (1942-1944)
The failure of the Cripps Mission and the fear of an impending Japanese invasion of India led Mahatma Gandhi to begin his campaign for the British to quit India.
Mahatma Gandhi believed that an interim government could be formed only after the British left India and the Hindu-Muslim problem was sorted out. The All India Congress Committee met at Bombay on 8 August 1942 and passed the famous Quit India Resolution. On the same day, Gandhi gave his call of ‘do or die’.
On 8th and 9th August 1942, the government arrested all the prominent leaders of Congress.
For once, this pre-planned action of the government left the Indian people without leadership. Mahatma Gandhi was kept in prison at Poona. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Abul Kalam Azad, and other leaders were imprisoned in the Ahmednagar Fort.
At this time, leadership was provided by Ram Manohar Lohia, Achyuta, and S.M. Joshi. The role of Jayaprakash Narain in this movement was important. A large number of students also left their schools and colleges to join the movement.
The youth of the nation also participated in this movement with patriotism. Strikes, demonstrations, and public meetings were organized in various towns and cities. Slowly the movement reached the rural areas. In 1943, as the movement gained further momentum, there were armed attacks on government buildings in Madras and Bengal.
In 1944 Mahatma Gandhi was released from jail. The Quit India Movement was the final attempt for the country’s freedom. The British Government ordered 538 rounds of firing. Nearly 60,229 persons were jailed. At least 7,000 people were killed.
This movement paved the way for India’s freedom. It aroused among Indians feelings of bravery, enthusiasm, and total sacrifice.
Indian National Army
During the course of the Second World War, armed revolutionary activities continued to take place. The role of Subhas Chandra Bose towards such activities is incomparable.
On 2 July 1943, Subhas Chandra Bose reached Singapore and gave the rousing war cry of ‘Dilli Chalo’. He was made the President of the Indian Independence League and soon became the supreme commander of the Indian National Army.
He gave the country the slogan of Jai Hind. The names of the INA’s three Brigades were the Subhas Brigade, Gandhi Brigade, and Nehru Brigade.
The women’s wing of the army was named after Rani Laxmibai. The Indian National Army marched towards Imphal after registering its victory over Kohima. After Japan’s surrender in 1945, the INA failed in its efforts. Under such circumstances, Subhas went to Taiwan. Then on his way to Tokyo, he died on 18 August 1945 in a plane crash.
The trial of the soldiers of INA was held at Red Fort in Delhi. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhulabhai Desai, and Tej Bahadur Sapru fought the case on behalf of the soldiers.
Cabinet Mission (1946)
After the Second World War, Lord Atlee became the Prime Minister of England. On 15 March 1946 Lord Atlee made a historic announcement in which the right to self-determination and the framing of a Constitution for India were conceded.
Consequently, three members of the British Cabinet – Pathick Lawrence, Sir Stafford Cripps, and A. V. Alexander – were sent to India. This is known as the Cabinet Mission. The Cabinet Mission put forward a plan for a solution to the constitutional problem. Provision was made for three groups of provinces to possess their separate constitutions.
The Cabinet Mission also proposed the formation of a Union of India, comprising both British India and the Princely States. The Union would remain in charge of only foreign affairs, defense, and communications leaving the residuary powers to be vested in the provinces.
A proposal was envisaged for setting up an Interim Government, which would remain in office till a new government was elected on the basis of the new Constitution framed by the Constituent Assembly.
Both the Muslim League and Congress accepted the plan. Consequently, elections were held in July 1946 for the formation of a Constituent Assembly. The Congress secured 205 out of 214 General seats. The Muslim League got 73 out of 78 Muslim seats.
An interim government was formed under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru on 2 September 1946.
Mountbatten Plan (1947)
On 20 February l947, Prime Minister Atlee announced in the House of Commons the definite intention of the British Government to transfer power to responsible Indian hands by a date not later than June 1948.
Thus, to effect the transference of that power Atlee decided to send Lord Mountbatten as Viceroy to India. Lord Mountbatten armed with vast powers became India’s Viceroy on 24 March 1947. The partition of India and the creation of Pakistan appeared inevitable to him.
After extensive consultation, Lord Mountbatten put forth the plan of partition of India on 3 June 1947. Congress and the Muslim League ultimately approved the Mountbatten Plan.
Indian Independence Act 1947
The British Government accorded formal approval to the Mountbatten Plan by enacting the Indian Independence Act on 18 July 1947. The salient features of this Act was:
The partition of the country into India and Pakistan would come into effect from 15 August 1947. The British Government would transfer all powers to these two Dominions. A Boundary Commission would demarcate the boundaries of the provinces of the Punjab and Bengal.
The Act provided for the transfer of power to the Constituent Assemblies of the two Dominions, which will have full authority to frame their respective Constitutions. The Radcliff Boundary Commission drew the boundary line separating India and Pakistan.
On 15th August 1947 India, and on the 14th August Pakistan came into existence as two independent states. Lord Mountbatten was made the first Governor-General of Independent India, whereas Mohammad Ali Jinnah became the first Governor-General of Pakistan.
The most tragic incident occurred on 30 January 1948, when Mahatma Gandhi – the father of the nation- on his way to a prayer meeting was assassinated by Nathuram Godse.