Britain to let India go?
The House of Commons
The question of India's independence has always been a widely discussed topic. How long will India stay a colony of Britain?
Today's discussion at the House of Commons included a debate on whether India should remain as a unified nation and be given the liberty of governing itself. The government formed by the Labour Party was for the idea of introducing self-governance in India. 'It would be better for Britain to leave India as a friend rather than garner more hostility from Indians and become a foe'. In the 1945 elections, India's freedom had been a campaign promise of the labour party, with its manifesto pledging "the advancement of India to responsible self-government". This promise was made to India after the failure of the Cripps mission in 1942 that granted the Indians dominion status. 'Britain will gain a better image if it is a peace-loving nation, rather than one controlling subordinate nations'. Says Prime Minister Clement Atlee of the Labour Party, "there is a very wrong assumption that for fulfilling a moral duty of granting independence to a nation, one needs to sacrifice the economic state of their own country".
Britain continuing to oppress others would lead to a downfall in their foreign relations. Britain simply didn't have the resources to support a country as vast as India, especially at a time right after the war when they were in debt.
United Nations, a part of which Britain was, had started a wave of decolonisation in 1945. Adhering to this would shed a good light on Britain, which would help garner international approval and seek trade relations helpful for either country. Another important point mentioned by the government was that relinquishing control over India would help Britain become a self-sustained country. A few critical arguments made by the opposition party, the Conservatives, to this proposition by the government were that India-as, a country with abundant resources, would work to the benefit of Britain, thus making it a precious asset. The loss of India as their colony would result in a considerable loss of their income, considering a significant portion of their monetary funds had a base in the Indian subcontinent. The status of Britain in the world would reduce considerably if an asset as prized as India were lost. Winston Churchill questioned the government, stating that the other colonies would protest if India were given self-governance. He wanted to know the government's plan with the other territories. The government, in response to this, was that they would eventually withdraw themselves from all colonies over some time because they could not afford to let all of them gain independence simultaneously. The next topic of discussion in the house was whether or not the partition of India and Pakistan should occur. As per the two-nation theory of 1930, the Muslim League demanded a separate nation. The government was firmly against the partition and suggested that India have a decentralised centre, with the government representing all country communities. It meant that the veto power be reconsidered. The government was against the communal bloodshed and violence that would occur if the Muslims were given their state.
The opposition, in response, said that Hindu-Muslim conflicts would reach a peak if the two-nation theory wasn't supported, which could lead to a potential civil war. The Labour Party contradicted, stating that communal riots could die down and be controlled. Still, if India was divided, it could lead to international conflicts and wars. The conservatives, in turn, stated that two countries, India and Pakistan, would have to be bound by international laws and have boundaries they would have to stay within.
When a crisis arose, the results of the 1946 provincial and central elections were revealed. Out of 102 seats at the centre, the Indian national congress(INC) had the majority-with 54 seats, followed by the All India Muslim League, which had made significant gains from past elections but hadn't managed to win all seats reserved for Muslims, as expected. Next in line was the AIMIM, who won 26 seats, followed by the Europeans with 15 seats- nearly all from Bengal. Lastly, the Akali dal surprisingly won 6 seats.
The topic of the partition was now even more crucial because the rest of India, apart from Bengal, was in favour of self-rule but bitterly divided on the question of partition. It seemed that more citizens stood with partition than against it. Jawaharlal Nehru then arrived in Britain to discuss what support he might get when pushing for the self-rule of a unified India.
The Labour Party, with this new information, believed that India was a diverse country and no same ideology could be found. They stated that the question of partition was more of a political ideology than a religious conflict, with Prime Minister Clement Attlee saying that this was all the politics of Muhammad Jinnah for a position of power. India was split, but not equally. There was a need for a federal structure with a decentralised government.
The house seemed to come to a common consensus that Britain would only remain mediators of peace and not get directly involved in the partition.
Amidst this, a shocking piece of news came to light, stating the death of Jawaharlal Nehru. It was rumoured that pro-partisan assassins killed him. The government recognised the need for partition, but the topic of self-governance was still under debate. None of the princely states were willing to come under the Union of India, and the threat of riots was widespread. The government agreed with the opposition that a bill would be drafted stating that the foreign secretary, E Bevin and undersecretary of India and Burma would visit India themselves to assess the situation and attempt to convince the princely states to come under the Union of India. If the citizens of the princely States were willing, then this council would try to hold a negotiation with the princes and the Union of India to put together a unified India. However, if the citizens weren't willing, the council was ready to bring in forces through the British Indian army to prevent riots and attempt to unify India. The house will finalise the bill's final draft in the coming days.