Wavell Plan and Simla Conference

After the Cripps Offer of 1942, there was little left to be offered as a concession except transfer of power- full freedom itself. At the end of Second World War, and after the failure of Gandhi-Jinnah talks based on the C.R. Formula, Lord Wavell, the Viceroy released Congress leaders from jail and invited them to Simla in 1945 to work out an interim political agreement. The conference called by Lord Wavell at Shimla for negotiations is called the Simla Conference and the proposals of Lord Wavell are popularly known as the Wavell Plan.

Photo showing Mahatma Gandhi in Shimla to attend the Simla Conference in 1945 called by the Viceroy, Lord Wavell

Photo showing Lord Wavell greeting Indian leaders who have come to attend the Simla Conference in 1945

File photo of Lord Wavell

 

Although the Second World War in Europe came to an end in May, 1945, the Japanese threat still remained. The Conservative Government in Britain led by Churchill was keen to reach a solution on the constitutional question in India. The Viceroy, Lord Wavell was permitted top start negotiations with Indian leaders.

The British rulers had won the war against Hitler, but lost one in India!

 

Wavell Plan:

  • Executive Council will be of all Indian members except the Governor General and the Commander in Chief.
  • Equal representation will be given to the Muslims and Hindus.
  • The recognised Council was to function as an interim government within the framework of the Government of India Act, 1935.
  • The Governor General was to exercise his veto on the advice of ministers.
  • Representatives of different parties were to submit a joint list to the Viceroy for nominations to the Executive Council. If a joint list was not possible, then separate lists were to be submitted.
  • This was to be an interim arrangement till a new constitution was drafted for India.

Muslim League's Stand

The Wavell Plan ended in a failure due to Jinnah's demand of veto power, that is, Muslim League alone would chose the Muslim members of the Executive Council.

The Muslim League wanted all Muslim members to be League nominees, because it feared that since the aims of other minorities- depressed classes, Sikhs, Christians, etc. were the same as those of the Congress, this arrangement would reduce the Muslim League to a one-third minority. Wavell wanted Khizr Hyatt Khan as the Muslim representative from Western Punjab. The Muslim League claimed some kind of veto in the Council with decisions opposed to Muslims needing a two-thirds majority for approval.

Congress Stand

The Congress objected to the plan as an attempt to reduce the Congress to the status of a purely caste Hindu party and insisted on its right to include members of all communities among its nominees.

Lord Wavell's mistake

Lord Wavell, the Viceroy announced a breakdown of talks thus giving the Muslim League a virtual veto. This strengthened the Muslim League's position, as was evident from the elections in 19450-46, and boosted Jinnah's position, and exposed the real character of the Conservative Government of Churchill.

Further reading on Wavell Plan:

Lord Wavell who had succeeded Lord Linlithgow as Governor General in October 1943 now made an attempt to resolve the deadlock in India. In March 1945, he went to England for consultations. The result of his consultations was soon revealed. On June 14, he broadcast to the people of India the proposals of the British Government to resolve the deadlock in India. On the same day, Leo Amery, Secretary of State for India, made a similar statement in the House of Commons: " The offer of March 1942 stands in its entirety without change or qualification." He proposed the reconstruction of Governor General's Executive Council pending the preparation of a new constitution. With the exception of the Governor General and the Commander in Chief, all other members of the Executive Council would be nominated from amongst leaders of Indian Political life. This Council could have " a balanced representation of the main communities, including equal proportions of Muslims and caste Hindus. It would work, if formed, under the existing constitution. Though the Governor General's veto would not be abolished, it would not be used unnecessarily. The portfolio of External Affairs was to be transferred from the Governor General to an Indian member of the council. A conference of representatives chosen by the Viceroy was to be convened with a view to obtaining from the leaders of the various parties a joint list, or failing it, separate lists of worthy people to constitute the new Executive Council.

The members of the Congress Working Committee were let out of jail, and high hopes prevailed on all sides as invitations for the proposed Simla Conference went out to the leaders including Gandhiji. Meeting on June 25, 1945, the Conference was adjourned after three days of discussion. On July 11, Jinnah had a short interview with the Viceroy, during which he seems to have made it clear to the latter that the Muslim League, wishing to be regarded as the sole representative of Indian Muslims, was firmly opposed to the inclusion of any non-Leaguer Muslims in the Viceroy's list. But the Viceroy could not agree to this point of view. Three days later Lord Wavell wound up the Conference by declaring a failure of the talks.

The responsibility for the failure lies partly on Lord Wavell himself and partly on Jinnah. The Congress President, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad put the responsibility for the breakdown squarely on the shoulders of Jinnah. Lord Wavell, however, cannot escape the responsibility either. Lord Wavell's procedsure could have been easily improved upon. He should have taken the leaders into confidence as regards the composition of his own list of members of the Executive Council. possibly the Congress leaders might have been persuaded to accept that list either as a whole, or with minor modifications mutually agreed upon. Then, he should not have allowed the Muslim League practically to veto the whole plan and thus alone to block the path of progress. It must be noted in this connection that the Viceroy had assured the Congress President that "no party to the conference could be allowed to obstruct settlement out of wilfulness", but it seems that as in the parallel case of Cripps, Lord Wavell's hand were stayed at the last moment. One tangible result of the Simla Conference was to strengthen the position of Jinnah and the Muslim League which was manifested in the elections of 1945-46.

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