Updated: September 3, 2019 7:14:27 am
On this day in 1946, the interim government of India led by Jawaharlal Nehru was formed. It was the only such cabinet in India’s history in which arch-rivals Congress and the Muslim League shared power at the Centre. The interim government functioned with a great degree of autonomy, and remained in power until the end of British rule, after which it was succeeded by the Dominions of India and Pakistan.
What led to the formation of India’s interim government, who were its members, and what decisions did it take?
Starting with the Cripps mission in 1942, a number of attempts were made by colonial authorities to form an interim government in India.
In 1946, elections to the Constituent Assembly were held following the proposals of the British Cabinet Mission dispatched by the British Prime Minister Clement Attlee. In this election, the Congress obtained a majority in the Assembly, and the Muslim League consolidated its support among the Muslim electorate.
Viceroy Wavell subsequently called upon Indian representatives to join the interim government.
A federal scheme had been visualised under the Government of India Act of 1935, but this component was never implemented due to the opposition from India’s princely states. As a result, the interim government functioned according to the older Government of India Act of 1919.
The interim cabinet
On September 2, 1946, the Congress party formed the government. On September 23, the All-India Congress Committee (AICC) ratified the Congress Working Committee’s decision.
The Muslim League initially decided to sit out of the government, and three of the five ministries reserved for Muslims were occupied by Asaf Ali, Sir Shafaat Ahmad Khan, and Syed Ali Zaheer, all non-League Muslim representatives. Two posts remained vacant.
However, after Lord Wavell agreed to allot all five reserved portfolios to the Muslim League if it agreed to cooperate, the latter finally joined. In October, the cabinet was reshuffled to accommodate the new Muslim League members, and Sarat Chandra Bose, Sir Shafaat Ahmad Khan and Syed Ali Zaheer from the earlier team were dropped. Baldev Singh, C.H. Bhabha, and John Matthai continued to represent minority communities.
The cabinet after October 1946 was as follows:
Vice President of the Executive Council, External Affairs and Commonwealth Relations: Jawaharlal Nehru
Home Affairs, Information and Broadcasting: Vallabhbhai Patel
Agriculture and Food: Rajendra Prasad
Education and Arts: C. Rajagopalachari
Defence: Baldev Singh
Industries and Supplies: C. Rajagopalachari
Labour: Jagjivan Ram
Railways and Communications: Asaf Ali
Work, Mines and Power: C.H. Bhabha
ALL-INDIA MUSLIM LEAGUE
Commerce: Ibrahim Ismail Chundrigar
Finance: Liaquat Ali Khan
Health: Ghazanfar Ali Khan
Law: Jogendra Nath Mandal
Posts and Air: Abdur Rab Nishtar
Some of the decisions by the cabinet
On September 26, 1946, Nehru declared the government’s plan to engage in direct diplomatic relations with all countries and goodwill missions. He also expressed support for the independence of colonised nations.
In November 1946, India ratified the Convention on International Civil Aviation. In the same month, a committee was appointed to advise the government on nationalising the armed forces. In December, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was inducted into the cabinet.
The year 1947 saw the opening of diplomatic channels between India and many countries. In April 1947, the US announced the appointment of Dr. Henry F. Grady as its ambassador to India. Embassy level diplomatic relations with the USSR and the Netherlands also started in April. In May, the first Chinese ambassador Dr. Lo Chia Luen arrived, and the Belgian Consul-General in Kolkata was appointed Belgium’s ambassador to India.
On June 1, the Indian Commonwealth Relations Department and the External Affairs Department were merged to form the single Department of External Affairs and Commonwealth Relations.
After Partition was announced on June 3, a dedicated cabinet sub-committee was formed to deal with the situation on June 5, and consisted of Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Liaquat Ali Khan, Abdur Rab Nishtar and Baldev Singh.
Later, on June 16, a special cabinet committee aimed at tackling the administrative consequences of Partition was created. It included the Viceroy, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Liaquat Ali Khan, and Abdur Rab Nishtar. This committee was later replaced by a Partition Council.
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