Cripps' mission

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Cripps mission was an 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 Sir Stafford Cripps, Lord Privy Seal which held the rank of a senior minister, and leader of the House of Commons. 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 Conservative Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Cripps was sent to negotiate an agreement with the nationalist leaders, speaking for the majority Hindu population, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, speaking for the minority Muslim population. Cripps worked to keep India loyal to the British war effort in exchange for a promise of full self-government after the war. Cripps promised to give dominion status after the war as well as elections to be held after the war. Cripps discussed the proposals with the Indian leaders and published them. Both the major parties, the Congress and the League rejected his proposals and the mission proved a failure. Cripps had designed the proposals himself, but they were too radical for both Churchill and the Indians; no middle way was found. Congress moved towards the Quit India movement whereby it refused to cooperate in the war effort, while the British imprisoned practically the entire Congress leadership for the duration of the war. Jinnah was pleased to see that the right to opt out of a future Union was included.[1][2]


The Government of India Act 1935 -building on the Round Table Conferences, Simon Commission and previous GOI 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 Germany's declaration of war on Britain 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.[3] 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 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 members and moderate Conservatives 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 they needed India to serve as a major logistical hub to funnel US 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 the 9th of March agreed to despatch a mission to India to discuss its offer, and Cripps' plane landed in Delhi on 22 March 1942. 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.[4]

Debate over cooperation or protest

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.

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.

Cripps in India

Cripps meeting Mahatma Gandhi during the Second World War

Upon his arrival in India, Cripps held talks with Indian leaders. 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, reserving only the Defence Ministry 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 crashing bank".

Quit India Movement

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.

Causes of failure

There are three main reasons behind the causes of the failure of the Cripps' mission. They are listed as follows: 1) Gandhi's opposition led the Indian National Congress to reject the British offer. 2) Cripps' modification of the original British offer, which provided for no real transfer of power. 3) the behind-the-scenes efforts of the Viceroy and Secretary of State for India to sabotage the mission. Gupta[5] 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 they deliberately undercut Cripps. While the British government utilized the Cripps Mission as evidence of its liberal colonial policy, personal and private correspondence reveals contempt for the mission and elation over its failure.[6]

Long-term impact

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.[7]


  1. ^ Paul Addison, The Road to 1945 (1975) p 201
  2. ^ William Roger Louis (2006). Ends of British Imperialism: The Scramble for Empire, Suez, and Decolonization. I.B.Tauris. pp. 387–400. 
  3. ^ Ayesha Jalal (1994). The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan. Cambridge U.P. p. 47. ISBN 9780521458504. 
  4. ^ Wolpert, Stanley (2006). Shameful Flight (The last years of British Empire in India). Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press. pp. 17–18. ISBN 978-0-19-906606-3. 
  5. ^ Shyam Ratna Gupta, "New Light on the Cripps Mission," India Quarterly, (Jan 1972), 28#1 pp 69-74
  6. ^ Shyam Ratna Gupta, "New Light on the Cripps Mission," India Quarterly, (Jan 1972), 28#1 pp 69-74.
  7. ^ Judith Brown Modern India. The making of an Asian Democracy (2nd ed. 1999) pp. 328–30.

Further reading

  • Clymer, Kenton J. "Franklin D. Roosevelt, Louis Johnson, India, and Anticolonialism: Another Look," Pacific Historical Review, (Aug 1988), 57#3 pp 261–284 in JSTOR
  • Gandhi, Rajmohan, Patel: A Life (2008)
  • Moore, R. J. Churchill, Cripps and India (Oxford) 1979 chapters 3-5
  • Moore, R. J. "The mystery of the Cripps mission," Journal of Commonwealth Political Studies Volume 11, Issue 3, 1973, pages 195-213 online doi:10.1080/14662047308447190

Primary sources

  • Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War: Volume IV, The Hinge of Fate, (1950) Book One, Chapter 12, "India—The Cripps Mission"; limited preview of the whole chapter at Google Books
  • Mansergh, Nicholas, ed., Constitutional Relations between Britain and India: The Transfer of Power.' Vol. 1: 'The Cripps Mission January–April 1942 (1970).
    • review in JSTOR

External links

  • Draft resolution
  • Indian History
  • Cripp's India Mission
  • October Offer regarding India’s constitution, of His Majesty's Government 18 October 1939
  • August Offer regarding India’s constitution, of His Majesty's Government 8 August 1940
Retrieved from ""
This content was retrieved from Wikipedia :'_mission
This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article "Cripps' mission"; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA