The Cabinet Mission of 1946: Formation, Proposal and Failure

7 minute read

In 1946, India was on the brink of independence, and there was a need to create a political framework for a post-colonial India. The Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946 holds a significant place in the history of India’s struggle for independence. It was a pivotal moment that set the stage for the eventual partition of the subcontinent and the birth of two new nations, India and Pakistan. In this blog, we will explore the key points and delve into the details of the mission and its impact on the course of history.

Historical Background of the Cabinet Mission

  • The British forces were quick to realize that their temporary support of the Muslim League was clashing with the urgent need to unite India.
  • Somewhere around September 1945, the newly elected Labour government of British expressed its desire to create a Constituent Assembly for India. Additionally, it would be held responsible for creating India’s constitution.
  • Thereafter, the Cabinet Mission was sent to India in March 1946 to carry forward the plan.
  • However, members of the mission had to deal with several issues such as two diverse political parties with different interests.
  • While the Muslim League wanted an independent Muslim-majority province called Pakistan, the Congress wanted a united India.

Formation of the Cabinet Mission

The formation of the mission was a significant event as it was made with some objectives and proposals in place. Before reading further, it is necessary to remember that although Lord Wavell was actively involved in the Cabinet Mission, he was not a member.

  • The British Prime Minister Clement Atlee sent a delegation known as the Cabinet Mission to India.
  • They were sent to India in March 1946 by the British government.
  • It consisted of three prominent British cabinet ministers: Sir Stafford Cripps, A.V. Alexander, and Lord Pethick-Lawrence.
Stafford CrippsPresident of the Board of Trade
A.V. AlexanderFirst Lord of Admiralty
Pethick LawrenceSecretary of State for India
 Image Source – Al Hakam


Objective of the Mission Plan

The main objective of the mission was – 

  • To discuss and propose a plan for the transfer of power from British rule to Indian hands.
  • The mission aimed to find a constitutional solution and establish an executive council that would be acceptable to all major political groups in India.
  • To form the Constituent Assembly of India.

Also Read – Cripps Mission: Proposals, Significance & Failure

Proposals of the Cabinet Mission

The major proposals of the mission were – 

  • Federal Structure: The plan proposed a federal structure for India, dividing the country into three groups of provinces: Group A, Group B, and Group C.

The provinces would be divided into three groups/sections:

  1. Group A: Madras, Central Provinces, UP, Bihar, Bombay and Orissa
  2. Group B: Punjab, Sindh, NWFP and Baluchistan
  3. Group C: Bengal and Assam

 These groupings were designed to address the concerns of different communities.

  1. Hindu-majority provinces: This group included provinces where the Hindu population was in the majority. The provinces in this group were to have greater autonomy and control over their internal affairs.
  2. Muslim-majority provinces: Provinces where the Muslim population was in the majority were placed in Group B. Similar to Group A, these provinces were also granted autonomy but with provisions to protect minority rights.
  3. Princely States: They consisted of the princely states, which were semi-autonomous entities ruled by local monarchs. The Cabinet Mission proposed that these states could either join one of the groups or remain separate.
  • Division of Powers: The plan outlined a division of powers between the provinces and the center. Some subjects were designated as being within the exclusive authority of provinces, while others were under the jurisdiction of the center.
  • Advisory Councils:  Interim governments were to be formed in the provinces, and these governments would include members from various communities in advisory councils. This was an attempt to ensure representation and cooperation among different groups.
  • Constituent Assembly: A Constituent Assembly was to be established to draft the Indian Constitution. It would consist of representatives from all provinces and groups, working together to shape the future constitution of India.

Also Read – Constitutional Development of India (1946 – 1950)

While the proposals found some acceptance among Indian leaders, they were not without controversies. The Muslim League, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, accepted the Cabinet mission plan of 1946, seeing it as a step towards safeguarding Muslim interests and formation of the separate country of – PAKISTAN. The Indian National Congress, led by Jawaharlal Nehru, accepted it conditionally but had reservations about certain provisions.

Image Source – Quora


Why did the Cabinet Mission Fail?

Despite initial enthusiasm, the plan eventually failed to garner full support from all parties. The inability to reach a consensus on crucial issues, such as the composition of the constituent assembly and the distribution of seats, led to its breakdown.

  • Communal Differences: The most significant obstacle to the success of the plan was the communal differences between the Indian National Congress, which represented a predominantly Hindu population, and the Muslim League, which sought to safeguard the interests of Muslims. Despite efforts to find a compromise, these two major political entities could not agree on the terms of the plan.
  • Rejection by the Muslim League: The Muslim League, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, rejected the Cabinet Mission Plan primarily because it did not fully address their demand for a separate Muslim nation, Pakistan. The plan’s grouping of provinces did not align with the Muslim League’s vision of a separate Muslim state.
  • Differences in Interpretation: There were differences in the interpretation of key provisions of the plan. While the Congress saw it as a way to establish a united, self-governing India, the Muslim League perceived it as falling short of their goal of a separate Muslim state.
  • Inadequate Representation: Some groups and princely states felt that they were not adequately represented in the plan’s provisions. This led to concerns about the protection of minority rights and autonomy.
  • Lack of Consensus: Despite initial acceptance by the Congress, the plan failed to garner consensus among various political and communal groups. This lack of consensus undermined its implementation.
  • Mounting Tensions: The mounting tensions and violence between communities further complicated the situation. Riots and communal clashes escalated, making it increasingly challenging to find a peaceful resolution.
  • End of British Patience: The British government, frustrated by the inability of Indian political leaders to agree on the plan, eventually decided to move forward with partition and the transfer of power. This decision marked the end of the mission’s relevance.

In light of these factors, the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946 could not bridge the divide between India’s major political groups and communities. Instead, the failure of the mission paved the way for the Mountbatten Plan of 1947, which led to the partition of India into India and Pakistan on August 15, 1947. India and Pakistan became independent nations, marking the end of British colonial rule.

Also Read – Partition of India and Pakistan (1947)

The Cabinet Mission of Plan 1946 played a pivotal role in shaping the destiny of India and Pakistan. While it was a sincere attempt to find a constitutional solution to the issues of communal representation and self-governance, it ultimately fell short of achieving a consensus. Nevertheless, it remains a crucial chapter in the history of India’s struggle for independence, as it set the stage for the final steps towards freedom and the eventual birth of two nations.


What was the Cabinet Mission Plan?

The Cabinet Mission Plan was a proposal put forward by a British delegation in 1946 to provide a framework for the transfer of power from British colonial rule to Indian self-governance. The Cabinet Mission consisted of three prominent British Cabinet members: Sir Stafford Cripps, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, and A.V. Alexander.

What was the primary objective of the Cabinet Mission Plan?

The main objective was to create a federal structure for India that could accommodate the interests of various communities and pave the way for independence. The plan proposed the grouping of provinces into three categories: Group A (Hindu-majority provinces), Group B (Muslim-majority provinces), and Group C (princely states).

What was the main reason for its failure?

The Muslim League rejected the plan because it did not fully address their demand for a separate Muslim nation, Pakistan. They believed the plan fell short of safeguarding Muslim interests. The plan failed due to the inability of Indian political leaders, particularly the Congress and the Muslim League, to reach a consensus on its terms. Communal differences and conflicting interpretations played a significant role in its failure.

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