The Cripps Mission was a failed attempt in late March 1942 by the British government to secure full Indian cooperation and support for their efforts in World War II. The mission was headed by a senior minister Sir Stafford Cripps. Cripps belonged to the left-wing Labour Party, traditionally sympathetic to Indian self-rule, but was also a member of the coalition War Cabinet led by the Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who had long been the leader of the movement to block Indian independence.
Cripps was sent to negotiate an agreement with the nationalist Congress leaders, who spoke for the majority Indians and Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League, who spoke for the minority Muslim population comprising 35% of the total population. Cripps worked to keep India loyal to the British war effort in exchange for a promise of elections and full self-government (Dominion status) once the war was over. Cripps discussed the proposals, which he had drafted himself with the Indian leaders, and published them. Both the major parties rejected his proposals, and they were also unacceptable to Churchill; no middle way was found and the mission failed. Congress moved towards the Quit India movement whereby it refused to cooperate in the war effort; in response, the British imprisoned practically the entire Congress leadership for the duration of the war. Jinnah and the Muslims, to whom Cripps had offered the right to opt out of a future Union, supported the war effort and gained in status in British eyes. He was surprised to see that the right to opt out of a Future Union was undertaken.
The Government of India Act 1935 - building on the Round Table Conferences, Simon Commission and the previous Government of India Act of 1919 - required the establishment of an All-India Federation, which would allow Indians to take a larger share of governance at the highest level. However deep difference between the princely states and the Congress, as well as between the Muslim League and Congress, had delayed progress. Instead, only the provincial portion of the Act was carried out.
Following Britain's declaration of war on Germany in September 1939, the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, responded by declaring India a belligerent state on the side of Britain without consulting Indian political leaders or the elected provincial representatives, sharply underlying the failure of progress to self-rule. This caused considerable resentment in the Congress Party, producing demands for an immediate transfer of power. The resulting standoff led to the en masse resignation of Congress Provincial Governments, giving rise to the prospect of public revolt and political disorder in India. The All India Muslim League, the Hindu Mahasabha as well as regional parties, gave their support to Britain and the war effort in exchange for various concessions. Negotiations continued between the Viceroy, Congress and Muslim League but their failure led to a political stalemate.
The Japanese declaration of war on the Dutch and British empires as well as the United States in December 1941 altered the political situation. Confidence in Britain was particularly low after the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942, Britain's greatest single defeat in the war, as fell as the retreat from Rangoon, with large numbers of Indian Army troops captured. The threat of an invasion of India was real, and there was anxiety about 'fifth columnists,' particularly Congress radicals working with Japan.
The British war cabinet, a coalition government of national unity, was divided on the question of compromise with the Congress. The Labour Party ministers and moderate Conservatives were keen to advance Indian progress to self-government in a way that would not endanger the war effort. Churchill was deeply opposed to any dismantling of the British Empire, regarding its non-white subjects as incapable of self-rule; in fact the stridency of his views, and his opposition to Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin's agreement to work with parties such as the Indian National Congress towards self-rule had contributed to his isolation within the Conservative Party for a decade. He was supported in his views by the Conservative Secretary of State for India, Leo Amery.
However, the United States, as Britain's principal ally saw things in even more urgent terms. The chief American strategic objective was aiding Chiang Kai Shek's physically isolated Nationalist China against the expanding Japanese Empire. The Japanese conquest of China's coastal areas meant that the US needed India to serve as a major logistical hub to funnel aid to China, and needed Indian military manpower to secure routes for supplies through Burma. American as well as Chinese leadership was convinced that this would not be possible without the full support of a mobilised Indian population, requiring a breakthrough with the Indian National Congress. In addition the Roosevelt administration which was busy formulating its vision for the post-war world order saw the decolonisation of Asia as a matter of US national interest for both ideological as well as commercial reasons.
Despite these conflicts of interests, Britain's reliance on the United States for Lend-Lease supplies for the war effort meant that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's pressure had to at least appear to be taken seriously, especially in light of the military disasters in South East Asia. As a result, the British cabinet by 9 March 1942 agreed to despatch a mission to India to discuss its offer, and Cripps' plane landed in Delhi on 22 March. By that time the British were willing to grant Indian independence at the conclusion of the war. Incidentally the next day was the second anniversary of the Lahore Resolution of 1940, so Cripps saw Muslims marching in the streets with green flags. Cripps stated that while he had been closer to the Congress he was open to other perspectives. Jinnah waited to find out what the proposals were and stated that the League would reject them if they were not in the interests of Muslims.
The Congress was divided upon its response to India's entry into World War II. Angry over the decision made by the Viceroy, some Congress leaders favoured launching a revolt against the British despite the gravity of the war in Europe, which threatened Britain's own freedom. Others, such as Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, advocated offering an olive branch to the British, supporting them in this crucial time in the hope that the gesture would be reciprocated with independence after the war. The major leader, Mohandas Gandhi, was opposed to Indian involvement in the war as he would not morally endorse a war and also suspected British intentions, believing that the British were not sincere about Indian aspirations for independence. But Rajagopalachari, backed by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Maulana Azad and Jawaharlal Nehru held talks with Cripps and offered full support in return for immediate self-government, and eventual independence.
The British anxiously tried to gain Muslim support during the war and for this purpose they included a clause that no province would be compelled to join the post war India. Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League, supported the war effort and condemned the Congress policy. Insisting on a Pakistan, a separate Muslim state, he resisted Congress's calls for pan-Indian cooperation and immediate independence.
Upon his arrival in India, Cripps held talks with Indian leaders. Cripps attempted to satisfy all communities through his proposals. He was a friend of Nehru and did his utmost to arrange an agreement. However, the distrust was too high and many people of influence did not want a settlement to be reached. There is some confusion over what Cripps had been authorised to offer India's nationalist politicians by Churchill and Leo Amery (His Majesty's Secretary of State for India), and he also faced hostility from the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow. He began by offering India full dominion status at the end of the war, with the chance to secede from the Commonwealth and go for total independence. Privately, Cripps also promised to get rid of Linlithgow and grant India Dominion Status with immediate effect, insisting only that the Indian Defence Ministry be reserved for the British.
However, in public, he failed to present any concrete proposals for greater self-government in the short term, other than a vague commitment to increase the number of Indian members of the Viceroy's Executive Council. Cripps spent much of his time in encouraging Congress leaders and Jinnah to come to a common, public arrangement in support of the war and government.
There was little trust between the British and Congress by this stage, and both sides felt that the other was concealing its true plans. The Congress stopped talks with Cripps and, guided by Gandhi, the national leadership demanded immediate self-government in return for war support. Gandhi said that Cripps' offer of Dominion Status after the war was a "post-dated cheque drawn on a failing bank".
The Muslim League rejected the Cripps proposal. Jinnah argued that the proposals were merely a draft declaration and did not meet the demand for Pakistan sufficiently and preferred a scheme of United India. At a press conference on April he argued that there was no clear concession for Pakistan in the proposals and he further expressed concern that the Muslim right to self-determination had been ignored. He also expressed criticism for the exclusion of the Muslim League from the later stage of negotiations.
When the British remained unresponsive, Gandhi and the Indian National Congress began planning a major public revolt, the Quit India movement, which demanded immediate British withdrawal from India. As the Imperial Japanese Army advanced closer to India with the conquest of Burma, Indians perceived an inability upon the part of the British to defend Indian soil. The invasion force contained elements of the Indian National Army, founded and led by Subhas Chandra Bose to end British control of India. It was composed of Indians, most being prisoners captured with the fall of Singapore in early 1942. The British response to the Quit India movement was to jail most of the Congress leadership.
Jinnah's Muslim League condemned the Quit India movement and participated in provincial governments as well as the legislative councils of the Raj. It encouraged Muslims to participate in the war. With this cooperation, the British were able to continue administering India for the duration of the war using officials and military personnel where Indian politicians could not be found. This would not prove to be feasible in the long term, however.
There are three main reasons behind the causes of the failure of the Cripps' mission. They are listed as follows:
Gupta concludes that documents released in 1970 support the third interpretation. Messages between Viceroy Lord Linlithgow and Secretary of State L. S. S. Amery reveal that both opposed the Cripps Mission and that they deliberately undercut Cripps. While the British government used the Cripps Mission as evidence of its liberal colonial policy, personal and private correspondence reveals contempt for the mission and elation over its failure.
The long-term significance of the Cripps Mission really became apparent only in the aftermath of the war, as troops were demobilised and sent back home. Even Churchill recognised that there could be no retraction of the offer of independence which Cripps had made, but by the end of the war, Churchill was out of power and could do nothing but watch as the new Labour government gave India independence. This confidence that the British would soon leave was reflected in the readiness with which Congress politicians stood in the elections of 1945–1946 and formed provincial governments.
Cripps' proposals also included a proviso that no part of India would be forced to join the post-war arrangements, and though the mission ended in failure, the Muslim League emerged with its prestige and standing further enhanced. Indeed, Jinnah at the time of his interview with Cripps had been 'rather surprised' to see how far his declaration went 'to meeting the Pakistan case'.
By the time of the flying visit of Sir Stafford Cripps to Delhi in April 1942, the British were willing to offer India independence, by the convening of a constituent assembly, at the end of the war, but with the important proviso that no unwilling portion of the country should be forced to join the new state.
Sir Stafford arrived in India on 23 March 1942 and gave a statement saying that he had been more associated with his friends in the Congress party but also indicating that he was opened to all other points of view. In the meantime, the Muslim League was celebrating its Pakistan day celebrations. Jinnah in his speech, referred to the Cripps mission advising Muslims to be patient until his proposals were put forward officially. He indicated that the League will not accept his proposals if it were detrimental to Muslim interest; he also mentioned that he will resist and if needed, the Muslims would die fighting for the creation of Pakistan.
The British, in their anxiety to secure Muslim support during the war, helped it along by such acts as the provision in the Cripps proposals that allowed provinces to 'opt out' of any independent India.
Cripps tried to accommodate all the communities in his proposals.
A leftist member of the Labour Party and a friend of Nehru, Cripps did his best to contrive an agreement. But the level of suspicion was simply too high, and too many influential figures did not want the negotiations to succeed.
The Congress on 2 April 1942 signalled its opposition to the Cripps Proposals. The Congress and Sikhs rejected these proposals due to the possibility of the India's partition with the provision that provinces could opt out of a future Indian Constituent Assembly while the League rejected it finding no clear-cut acceptance of Pakistan. Quaid-i-Azam expressed his dismay at the refusal to recognise the right of Muslim self determination while addressing the annual session of the All India Muslim League at Allahabad: '...the Musalmans feel deeply disappointed that the entity ad integrity of the Muslim nation has not been expressly recognised...Muslim India will not be satisfied unless the right of national self determination is unequivocally recognised. It must be realised that India was never a country or a nation....It has roused our deepest anxieties and grave apprehensions, especially with reference to the Pakistan scheme, which is a matter of life and death for Muslim India...'
On 29 March, Cripps released his documents and held a press conference. On 4 April, in his presidential address to the Muslim League, Jinnah pointed out that Cripps proposals were only a draft declaration. He also said that creation of Pakistan was a remote possibility and there was a definite preference for a new Indian Union which was the main objective and suggestion and the draft declaration interviews and explanations of Sir Stafford were going against Muslim interests and the League was called upon to play the game with a loaded dice. He asked Cripps to make adjustments in order to give real effect to the Pakistan demand. On 13 April 1942, at a press conference, he pointed out that Pakistan demand was not conceded clearly and the right of Muslims to self determination was also denied. These proposals were therefore rejected by the Muslim League. Jinnah criticized the British Government and Congress party for another round of negotiations, ignoring the Muslim League at a later stage.
Provincial option, he argued, was clearly an insufficient security. An explicit acceptance of the principle of Pakistan offered the only safeguard for Muslim interests throughout India and had to be the precondition for any advance at the centre. So he exhorted all Indian Muslims to unite under his leadership to force the British and the Congress to concede 'Pakistan'. If the real reasons for Jinnah's rejection of the offer were rather different, it was not Jinnah but his rivals who had failed to make the point publicly.