Lord Wavell's Role In The Dying Days Of The Raj

Lord Wavell's Role In The Dying Days Of The Raj
While historians have extensively researched on the topics such as the Indian freedom movement, Muslim nationalism, Gandhi, Jawahar Lal Nehru, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the leaders of the Pakistan Movement, there has been a noticeable gap in the exploration of the plans and policies implemented by His Majesty's Government (HMG) in England through the Secretary of State and the Governor General of India. Lord Wavell, as Britain's second-to-last Viceroy in India (October 1943-1947), played a pivotal role during this crucial period of the 1940s, influencing both HMG's policies and the political development of Indians.

As such, Lord Wavell's viceroyalty significantly shaped the course of the Indian freedom movement and the Pakistan movement. His plans and actions subsequently paved the way for Indian independence and the creation of a truncated and fragmented Pakistan. Interestingly, Lord Wavell faced opposition from both Congress and the League, albeit for contradictory reasons. Mahatma Gandhi even wrote a letter to the British Prime Minister calling for Lord Wavell's removal, which was ultimately carried out, as he was replaced by Lord Mountbatten. Until Dr Iqbal Chawla decided to delve into, investigate, and analyse Lord Wavell's tenure as Viceroy, it had been overlooked by historians.

As mentioned earlier, the book being reviewed focuses on Lord Wavell, the penultimate Viceroy of colonial India. Lord Wavell's ideas, policies, and attitudes towards various communities in India played a crucial role in shaping the subsequent transfer of power to the Indian people. Prof Dr Mohammad Iqbal Chawla, an esteemed and renowned historian of Pakistan, has not only made significant contributions to the field by writing six books, but has also played a pivotal role in nurturing emerging historians globally through his writing, teaching and mentoring. His unwavering dedication to the advancement of the subject and his ability to set high standards in historical writings have been truly remarkable.

During the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, Oxford University Press released the second edition of a book authored by Dr Muhammad Iqbal Chawla. By incorporating an additional chapter on Wavell's Breakdown Plan and the response of His Majesty's Government to it, the author further reinforced his argument concerning Lord Wavell's ideas, policies and plans. This additional chapter provides a deeper exploration of Lord Wavell's initiatives and sheds light on the reactions and actions of the British government to his proposals. Dr Iqbal Chawla's publication on Lord Wavell was honored with the esteemed Best Book Award by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan in 2013.

Dr Chawla's primary argument, as highlighted in his study, centres around Lord Wavell's stance on Muslim politics in India during the 1940s. According to Prof Chawla, Lord Wavell held an opposing view to the partition of India and advocated for the preservation of a unified country. Lord Wavell regarded India as a cohesive geographical entity that should not be divided. In line with this commitment, he consistently advocated and supported proposals for the transfer of power that favoured a united India. Notable examples include Lord Wavell's Wavell Plan, the Cabinet Mission Plan, and the Breakdown Plan, all of which he presented and endorsed to realise his vision of a united India.

Dr Chawla's book is structured into six chapters, accompanied by an Introduction and Conclusion. The first chapter provides a comprehensive overview of the political landscape in India during Lord Wavell's tenure as Viceroy. It delves into the establishment of prominent political parties and their respective objectives. Chapter 2 thoroughly evaluates the Wavell Plan, which aimed to establish an executive council consisting of the major political parties. The focus of Chapter 3 is the Cabinet Mission Plan and its impact on Muslim politics in India. In Chapter 4, the book highlights Lord Wavell's endeavours in finalising the composition and strength of the Interim Government of 1946-47, as well as the response of the main political parties to Wavell's initiatives. Chapter 5 conducts an analysis of the relations between Delhi and London during Lord Wavell's viceroyalty. Finally, Chapter 6 centres around Lord Wavell's Breakdown Plan of 1945-47, which, if implemented, could have facilitated a peaceful British departure from India and the subsequent division of the country.

As a seasoned historian, Dr Chawla initiates the discussion by providing an overview of the Indian political landscape. This includes a summary of the British administration in India since 1935, as well as an insight into the dynamics of Muslim politics. By presenting this summary, even general readers can grasp the overall context of colonial politics during that time.

The book also touches upon the politics of nationalist Muslim parties such as the Unionist Party, Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind, Majlis-i-Ihrar-i-Islam, the Khudai Khidmatgar, the Khaksar Movement and Jamat-i-Islami. Understanding these parties and their challenges is crucial in comprehending the obstacles faced by the Muslim League during the final stages of the Pakistan Movement. Additionally, Hindu political parties like the Indian National Congress and Hindu Mahasabha, as well as Sikh groups, presented further challenges. India was experiencing a significant political divide during Lord Wavell's appointment as Viceroy.

At this critical juncture, the demand for a separate Muslim homeland emerged as the most significant development. This demand faced opposition from the British, Hindus, Sikhs, and even a small faction of Muslims led by nationalist political party leaders. In such a complex and divided scenario, Lord Wavell had to exercise utmost caution to maintain the existing state of affairs.

To address the administrative, political, and constitutional challenges prevailing in India, Lord Wavell presented a plan commonly known as the Wavell Plan. His objective was to ensure the smooth functioning of the government during the war and facilitate a peaceful transfer of power to the Indian people. To this end, he convened a conference in Simla in 1945, inviting influential Indian leaders, including Jinnah and Gandhi. While Professor Chawla sheds light on all three main factors contributing to the failure of the Simla Conference, he particularly emphasises the attendees' disregard for the demand for Pakistan as the primary cause of the conference's failure. This perspective is a valuable addition to the existing historiography on colonial India and the Pakistan movement.

Beyond discussing India's political problems, Professor Chawla also addresses other pertinent aspects of Lord Wavell's administrative skills, such as his handling of the Bengal famine and efforts related to World War II. The discussion expands to encompass the overall political developments in India, covering topics such as the Rajagopalachari formula, Gandhi-Jinnah Talks, non-Party Conference, and the Desai-Liaquat Pact. Although Lord Wavell failed to bypass the demand for Pakistan, he began to recognise it as a serious issue that needed to be addressed sooner or later.

Lord Wavell played a significant role in initiating the Cabinet Mission Plan. The author not only examines the nature, character, and significance of the Cabinet Mission Plan but also analyses the reactions and responses of various political parties and leaders to it, as well as the reasons for its failure. Providing a broader background, the discussion includes the 1945-46 elections and their results, the parliamentary delegation's report, the arrival and deliberations of the cabinet delegation, and the Simla Conference in April 1946. After thoroughly examining the Cabinet Mission Plan, the responses of the Muslim League and Congress are analysed. The most relevant part of the discussion revolves around the Constituent Assembly and the interim government.

Lord Wavell strongly recommended making a final attempt to bring all parties into the Constituent Assembly before setting a date for the withdrawal of British authority. However, his endeavour to sidestep the partition of India while safeguarding the rights and interests of Muslims and other minorities through the Cabinet Mission Plan ultimately failed. Nonetheless, the failure of the plan accelerated the process of transferring power, resulting in the creation of two independent and sovereign states, India and Pakistan.

Professor Chawla aptly evaluates Lord Wavell's exceptional efforts and hard work in establishing and ensuring the smooth functioning of the Interim government. According to Prof Chawla, Lord Wavell aimed to bring the Congress and the Muslim League, representing the two prominent communities of India, together in a harmonious working relationship. By doing so, Lord Wavell sought to demonstrate that both communities could coexist peacefully within a united India and collaborate with perfect teamwork. He intended to diminish the demand for a separate homeland for Muslims. However, Lord Wavell's role, particularly his failure to maintain a necessary balance between the League and the Congress, ultimately led to the failure of the Interim government, among other contributing factors.

Chapter five of the book is truly fascinating and offers a significant contribution to colonial historiography. It delves into the relationship between Lord Wavell and the British policymakers in Great Britain, shedding light on the contrasting ideas, approaches and plans between Wavell and notable figures such as Winston Churchill, Sir Stafford Cripps, Leopold Amery, Lord Pethick-Lawrence and Clement Attlee. The actions of these individuals played a pivotal role in shaping the British government's policies toward British India.

While Lord Wavell advocated for an early transfer of power to the Indians, his superiors in London vehemently opposed such a course of action. This divergence in perspectives made him unpopular with both the Conservative and Labour governments. Lord Wavell firmly believed in the geographical unity of India and was therefore against the demand for Pakistan. To achieve his objectives, he proposed several ideas and plans, including the Wavell Plan, the Cabinet Mission Plan, and the Breakdown Plan. However, he was thwarted from implementing these plans by the opposition of His Majesty's Government.

Ultimately, Lord Wavell's unwavering belief in the correctness of his plans and his persistent insistence on their implementation led to his dismissal. Despite his dismissal, his ideas and contributions remain noteworthy, showcasing his determination to pursue his vision for India's future.

The final theme explored in the book is Lord Wavell's Breakdown Plan, designed to facilitate a safe British withdrawal from India while avoiding the partition of the country. Lord Wavell proposed a "phased withdrawal" strategy, beginning with the Hindu-majority provinces in the south. The plan included the partition of both Punjab and Bengal as a negotiating tool to dissuade the Muslim League from pursuing their objective of a separate Muslim-majority homeland based on religious grounds. Although Lord Wavell's comprehensive plan was ultimately rejected by His Majesty's Government in London, certain elements were incorporated into the final withdrawal plan formulated by Mountbatten, Lord Wavell's successor, known as the June 3 Plan. This plan involved the partitioning of both Bengal and Punjab, dealing a blow to Muslim interests in those provinces. Consequently, the parts of Lord Wavell's Breakdown Plan that were implemented ended up working against the Muslims, contrary to his original intentions.

It is noteworthy that while Lord Wavell's ideas were not fully realised, their influence persisted in shaping subsequent developments and decisions related to the partition of India.

Dr Muhaammad Iqbal Chawla convincingly substantiated his argument and effectively refuted the claim that the "demand for Pakistan" was merely a bargaining tool. In addition to exploring the freedom struggle of South Asian Muslims in the 1940s, the author has astutely analysed the roles played by various political parties, including the League, Congress, and the Unionists of Punjab, as well as other significant political entities in India. Furthermore, the book thoroughly examines Lord Wavell's tenure as Viceroy of India and dispels the allegation that the emergence of Pakistan was a British policy of divide and rule or their brainchild. It delves into His Majesty's policies aimed at addressing Indian affairs, with a specific emphasis on the protection of Muslim rights and the demand for Pakistan.

The author's expertise shines brightly throughout the book, as Dr Chawla adeptly tackles important themes and provides insightful commentary on the subject matter. The writing style is characterised by its simplicity and clarity, devoid of unnecessary jargon, which makes it accessible and engaging for readers. The expression employed in the book is straightforward, readable, and captivating, allowing readers to effortlessly comprehend the intricately woven narratives and well-crafted characters presented within the context of Lord Wavell's viceroyalty. A notable strength of the book lies in the extensive utilisation of multi-dimensional archival materials, as well as primary and secondary printed sources. This meticulous research enhances its value as a valuable addition to the existing literature on colonial India and the Pakistan movement.

This book is highly recommended for students and scholars of history, political science, and social sciences. It is also a must-read for anyone interested in gaining an authentic understanding of the Pakistan movement. The book offers valuable insights into the complexities of higher-level politics and colonial policies, particularly as they relate to the experiences of the colonised population.