The Cabinet Papers banner

Indian independence

End of the war and independence

The British government could no longer ignore nationalist aspirations. The new Government of India Bill in 1935 virtually removed provincial government from imperial authority. The bill provided for a legislative assembly, comprising provincial representatives and unelected delegates from the princely states. This was unsatisfactory to the nationalists, because of the over-representation of unelected members and because the Viceroy continued to control foreign affairs, the army and some aspects of finance. Reforms seemed to be effective in satisfying Indian political aspirations, but this changed with the outbreak of the Second World War.

British rule in India, however, was plagued by crises during the Second World War. Indian support was essential to the British cause and the demands of the war effort put great strain on India. The Indian National Congress opposed the war during the early 1940s. In 1942 Stafford Cripps offered the choice of Dominion status or secession after the war in exchange for Indian cooperation. This offer failed to evoke cooperation and the British suppressed further civil disobedience.

By the end of the Second World War, a number of factors had weakened Britain's will and ability to sustain its Indian Empire. The cost of the war had reduced Britain's military and economic power, while defeat at Singapore in 1942 had undermined its strategic position in the east. The war had also reversed the traditional economic relationship between imperial power and colony - the British government was now India's debtor.

By 1945 the British government's aim was to leave India as peacefully as possible. The great problem was the conflict between Congress, who wanted a single Indian state, and the Muslim League, which sought a separate Pakistan. Political violence escalated in northern India. The partition of India and Pakistan, which was negotiated by Lord Mountbatten in August 1947, proved traumatic and was soon followed by war between the two newly independent countries. Both countries remained within the Commonwealth.

Content