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Anthony Massini

India Congress Heads Reject Cripps’ Plan

“Dominion Status” Offer Is Fraudulent; Would Leave British Rulers in Control

(1 April 1942)

From The Militant, Vol. 6 No. 14, 4 April 1942, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

April 1. – British imperialism’s hope that its offer of dominion status for India after the war would succeed in mobilizing the Indian masses for support of Britain’s war appeared to be dashed to the ground today by reports that the All-India Congress Party and other Indian groups would reject the plan presented by Sir Stafford Cripps on behalf of the British War Cabinet.

Dispatches from India Indicated that the Congress Party objected chiefly to the demand in Cripp’s plan for Britain to “retain control and direction of the defense of India.” It may be that the Congress leaders themselves have little confidence in the kind of war that Britain would conduct. But undoubtedly their decision was influenced primarily by the unyielding attitude of the Indian masses who ape so embittered by British rule that even the prospect of a change in masters has not induced them to want to fight for Britain.

The Congress leadership, which represents the interests of the Indian capitalist class, has shown by its compromises and capitulations in the past that it cannot be depended on to lead the struggle against the imperialists. In fact, the Congress leaders, while they desire the opportunity to replace the British as the dominant force in India, fear more than anything else the independent steps that the Indian masses will try to take to solve their economic and political problems once the British yoke is removed.

Pressure From Masses

The rejection of Cripps’ plan by the Congress leaders, therefore, must be viewed as the expression of tremendous pressure on them from the masses. These leaders realize that they would be thoroughly discredited; in the eyes of the peasants and workers if they accepted the plan. As Jawarharlal Nehru put it in an interview with Leland Stowe (New York Post, March 28): “Suppose we did come to an agreement with Britain, short of independence. Various political groups (Nehru means the masses) would immediately say that the Congress was selling out.”

The completely anti-democratic character of the whole British plan, symbolized by the undemocratic manner in which the proposal was discussed, is another sign of the attitude of the masses, Churchill and Cripps presentea their plan to the Indian leaders, – with whom there was at least a chance of acceptance. The 400,000,000 Indian people – whose fate is at stake – were not consulted at all. But that is not surprising – British imperialism knows what their answer would be.

For the last few weeks editorials in the American press have been singing songs about how “the old type of British imperialism is forever gone,” but the plan brought by Cripps – designed to frustrate independence for India – is a sign that British imperialism, while weaker than it was three years ago, is just as reactionary as ever.

Another Promise

The plan, so carefully concocted and so ballyhooed as the sign of a new era, turned out to be the same as the offers of the past – a promise of “dominion status” for the future, after the war. For the present, from now until after the war, it offered India nothing, absolutely nothing. In essence, it was a repetition of the same “dominion status” promise that Britain made India in 1917 – and never kept.

This time, of course, the promise was freshened up by the addition of a few “precise and clear” details. But an analysis of. these details shows that fundamentally Cripps’ offer was as fraudulent as those made by Britain in the past.

The plan called for the creation after the war of “an elected body” to be “charged with the task of, framing a new constitution” for a “new Indian Union” which would receive the status of a dominion in the British Empire.

On the surface, this may appear to be similar to the demand raised by the Indian masses for the convocation of a Constituent Assembly by universal, suffrage. Actually, it is an evasion of that demand, twisted around by certain “provisions” to achieve not a free India, but an India so divided that whatever its formal status, it would still remain in effect a colony of Britain.

Masses Would Have No Voice in Constitution

The plan provided for the election of only part of the “constitution-making body” – but even that part was not to be elected by the masses. The masses were asked to die in the war in return for a constitution to be drawn up by a body which the masses were not to be permitted to elect.

One part of this body was to be elected by the members of the lower houses of the legislatures of the 11 provinces of British India – who themselves are elected under limited suffrage – on the basis of proportional representation for various political groupings. The constitution-making body would thus be twice removed from the control of the voters, and in this case the voters would by no means be synonymous with the masses.

(In this country United States Senators used to be elected by state legislatures; the experience always was that such Senators were, far to the right of Senators elected directly, because they were further removed from the control of the voters).

Strong Representation for British Partners

The second part of the constitution-making body was to be chosen to represent the Indian native states, which constitute from one-fourth to one-third of the total population of India. These representatives would not be elected – they would be appointed by the despotic native princes and feudal lords. The exploited peasant masses were to have nothing at all to say about who would represent these states. It can be taken for granted that this large section of the population would not have had its interests represented when the constitution was drawn up.

These native princes are the agents and partners of British imperialism; they remain in power only by the support of Britain and realize that without the aid of British bayonets they would be overthrown by the peasant masses. As recently as March 22, a New York Times story from Bombay reported that “The Princes fear that if the British-Indian link is broken, they will ultimately be swept away.”

Thus, in the person of the princes’ representatives and the representatives of reactionary minorities in some of the provinces, Britain was providing for itself a strong minority of British agents in the constitution-making body.

The Club of a Walk-Out Threat

This was not all. Cripps’ plan contained an even stronger club to force the writing of constitution which would be acceptable to British capitalist interests. And that was the provision that any of the provinces or native states which did not like the constitution after it was drawn up, could withdraw from the “new Indian Union” and be granted by Britain the “same full status as the Indian Union.”

What would this mean? That Britain’s most direct agents in the constitution-making body would be able to walk out of it if they didn’t get what they wanted for themselves and for Britain.

The result would have been in effect the establishment of a number of Indian Ulsters. Such a set-up would have placed Britain in the position where it could maintain its rule in an India divided into two or more parts; it could play one part against the other, and use the British-inspired demands of a minority to thwart the will of the majority as they do in Ireland.

The mere threat of such a step by Britain’s agents in the constitution-making body would have strengthened their influence there all out of proportion to their size, and undoubtedly would have resulted in the adoption of various provisions – subservience to British capital, maintenance of feudal regimes, etc. – which British imperialism and the most reactionary elements in India would want adopted.

Also Demanded Signing of Treaty

Reactionary and anti-democratic as these features of the plan were, British imperialism was not willing to stake its future on the effectiveness of them alone. It further demanded the “signing of a treaty which shall be negotiated between His Majesty’s Government and the constitution-making body.”

This treaty would “make provisions in accordance with undertakings given by His Majesty’s Government for the protection of racial and religious minorities.” That is, Britain intended to use its tools who represent only a minority of a minority – the Moslem League, for example, does not represent the majority of the Moslems – to maintain its hold on India.

Through this treaty and through the provisions permitting the partition of India, Britain would have retained what amounted to veto power. In this way British imperialism expected to preserve its power to exploit India and to guarantee the continuance of the whole present economic structure of India.

The Indian masses are concerned with solving their own social, economic and political problems – not with winning the war for a Britain which refuses to grant them the democracy in whose name they are expected to fight and die. They will not be satisfied with any fraudulent plan – whether it comes from Cripps or Nehru – they will not be satisfied with anything short of the immediate convocation of a constituent assembly, directly elected by universal suffrage.

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