CMP(15) Viceroy Wavell tried to strong-arm Gandhi and Nehru into accepting compulsory grouping but they stood their ground. August-September 1946.

Documents included
  • Note of Interview between the Viceroy, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Mr. M.K. Gandhi on 27th August 1946(full text)
  • Letter from Pandit Nehru to Viscount Wavell 28 August 1946(full text)
  • Letter from Mr Gandhi to Viscount Wavell 28 August 1946(full text)
  • Telegram from Viscount Wavell to Lord Pethick-Lawrence 28 August 1946(excerpts)
  • Telegram from Lord Pethick-Lawrence to Viscount Wavell 28 August 1946(excerpts)
  • Lord Pethick-Lawrence to Mr Attlee  13 September 1946(excerpts)

From 'The Transfer of Power 1942-47' Vol VIII The Interim Government 3 July- 1 November 1946, Nicholas Mansergh and Penderel Moon,1979

205 page 312(full text)
Note by Field Marshal Viscount Wavell 27 August 1946
Note of Interview between his Excellency the Viceroy, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Mr. M.K. Gandhi on 27th August 1946, at 7.00 pm

I said I had asked them to come and see me because I had just returned from Calcutta. I gave a description of what I had seen in Calcutta; and said that the only way to avoid similar trouble all over India on an even larger scale was by some lessening of communal tension and settlement between Hindu and Muslim. I stressed the importance of coalition Governments, both in Bengal and at the Centre.

2. I said that while I recognised the difficulty in reopening negotiations with the Muslim League, I felt sure that the country expected it as a result of what had happened in Calcutta[on Direct Action Day]. The crux of the whole matter lay in the doubt about the Congress interpretation of the Grouping in the Constituent Assembly.

I said that I thought I had been quite clear in my mind that Congress had now agreed to abide by the Statement of May the 16th, and to me this had meant the acceptance of the Grouping arrangements. When I made my broadcast a few nights ago, the draft of which I had shown to Nehru, I had been quite convinced that this was the intention and that it was on this understanding that I had said what I did in my broadcast.

I said that I thought the only chance of a peaceful transfer of power in India was if the Congress made a categorical statement that they would accept the position that the Provinces must remain in their sections, as intended by the Mission, until after the first elections under the new Constitution. I said that I could not undertake the responsibility of calling together the Constituent Assembly until this point was settled.

I handed to Gandhi and Nehru the draft of a statement which I asked them to make, as follows:

"The Congress are prepared in the interests of communal harmony to accept the intention of the Statement of May 16th that Provinces cannot exercise any option affecting their membership of the Section or of the Groups if formed until the decision contemplated in paragraph 19(viii) of the Statement of 16th May is taken by the new Legislature after the new constitutional arrangements have come into operation and the first general elections have been held".

3. Gandhi began by saying that he thought it was a matter for the Interim Government. I said that it was a matter for Congress who had challenged the interpretation of the Mission. He then went off into long legalistic arguments about the interpretation of the Mission's Statement. I said I was a plain man and not a lawyer, and that I knew perfectly well what the Mission meant, and that the compulsory Grouping was the whole crux of the Plan.

4. The argument went on for some time, and we did not make much progress. Nehru at one time got very heated and said that this was simply "bullying" by the Muslim League. Gandhi said that if a blood bath was necessary, it would come about in spite of non-violence. I said that I was very shocked to hear such words from him. In the end they took away the formula, but I do not think there is much hope of their accepting it.

5. The interview lasted about forty minutes.

211 page 326(full text)
Pandit Nehru to Field Marshal Viscount Wavell
18 Hardinge Avenue, New Delhi, 28 August 1946

Dear Lord Wavell,

I received your letter of today's date suggesting that I might consult the Working Committee about the proposal that you made to Mr. Gandhi and me yesterday evening. As a matter of fact I placed this proposal before our Committee this afternoon. They were considerably surprised that this should be made, more especially at the present moment when we are supposed to be on the eve of the Provisional Government. There appeared to be a rather sudden change in your approach to the question.

We have repeatedly made our position clear in regard to the Constituent Assembly and the question of grouping. I would like you to refer to the resolution we passed at our Wardha meeting about two weeks ago.

In this resolution it was stated that they accepted the scheme contained in the Cabinet Mission's Statement of May 16th in its entirety. "They interpreted it so as to resolve the inconsistences contained in it and fill the omissions in accordance with the principles laid down in that Statement. They hold that provincial autonomy is a basic provision and each Province has the right to decide whether to form or join a group or not."

But, they further added, that "questions of interpretation will be decided by the procedure laid down in the Statement itself, and the Congress will advise its representatives in the Constituent Assembly to function accordingly". This resolution, so far as I know, was not misunderstood by any one, and even in your broadcast of August 24th it was correctly interpreted.

In our public statements and in our private talks with you we made it clear that any dispute as to the interpretions of the clauses relating to grouping might be referred to the Federal Court and we would abide by its decision. I can imagine nothing fairer than this and it does away with the fear of a majority overriding a minority in a matter of interpretation to which so much importance has been attached.

In your broadcast on August 24th you refer to the Constituent Assembly and the question of grouping as follows:

"It is desirable also that the work of the Constituent Assembly should begin as early as possible. I can assure the Muslim League that the procedure laid down in the Statement of May 16th regarding the framing of Provincial and Group Constitutions will be faithfully adhered to; that there can be no question of any change in the fundamental principles proposed for the Constituent Assembly in paragraph 15 of the Cabinet Mission's statement of 16th May or of a decision on a main communal issue, without a majority of both major communities; and that the Congress are ready to agree that any dispute of interpretation may be referred to the Federal Court".

Thus what you said in your broadcast in this respect was in conformity with what we have ourselves said. What you now suggest is at variance with both and means that there should be no reference to the Federal Court of this particular matter, and that we should accept the interpretation put upon it by the Cabinet Mission and you as distinguished from the legal interpretation which may by put upon it by the Federal Court.

You stressed this and the need for communal harmony presumably because of what has happened in Calcutta. This approach is new. The Calcutta occurences had taken place before your broadcast in which you have referred to the Federal Court deciding questions of interpretation.

All of us are extremely anxious to do everything in our power to promote communal harmony, but the way you suggest seems to us to lead to a contrary result. To change our declared policy, which is generally acknowledged to be fair, because of intimidation is surely not the way to peace but is an encouragement of further intimidation and violence. We are therefore unable to accept your proposal.

I should like to add that we have been considerably perturbed at this new approach and its implications. If we are to form the Provisional Government, we must necessarily shoulder great responsibilities for the peace and progress of our people. No Government can function if it is treated as if responsibility lay elsewhere and it had to submit in vital matters to proposals with which it was in disagreement.

Your reference to the non-summoning of the Constituent Assembly, unless the course suggested by you was adopted by us, seemed to us extraordinary and this produced a feeling of resentment in my colleagues. If this is your view and is going to be acted upon by you then the whole structure built up during recent months falls to the ground.

We are clearly of opinion that it is both a legal and moral obligation now to go on with the Constituent Assembly. It has already been elected and though it has not met, it exists already and must start functioning at an early date.

It cannot be held up because some people do not choose to join it and disturbances take place in a country. We agree that it would be desirable for all concerned to join it and we shall make every effort to win the cooperation of others. But if they refuse to join, then the Constituent Assembly must proceed without them.

Yours sincerely,
Jawaharlal Nehru

Earlier that day, Gandhiji had written Viceroy Wavell a real stinker.

207 page 322(full text)

Mr Gandhi to Field Marshal Viscount Wavell
"Valmiki Mandir", Reading Road, New Delhi, 28 August 1946

Dear Friend,
I write this as a friend and after deep thought.
Several times last evening you repeated that you were a "plain man and a soldier" and that you did not know the law. We are all plain men though we may not all be soldiers and even though some of us may know the law. It is our purpose, I take it, to devise methods to prevent a repetition of the recent terrible happenings in Calcutta. The question before us is how best to do it.

Your language last evening was minatory. As representative of the King, you cannot afford to be a military man only, nor to ignore the law, much less the law of your own making. You should be assisted, if necessary, by a legal mind enjoying your full confidence. You threatened not to convene the Constituent Assembly if the formula you placed before Pandit Nehru and me was not acted upon by the Congress.

If such be really the case, then you should not have made the announcement you did on 12 August[announcing Lord Wavell's invitation to Pandit Nehru to make proposals for the formation of an Interim Government]. But having made it you should recall the action and form another ministry enjoying your full confidence. If British arms are kept here for internal peace and order your Interim Government would be reduced to a farce. The Congress cannot afford to impose its will on warring elements in India through the use of British arms.

Nor can the Congress be expected to bend itself and adopt what it considers the wrong course because of the brutal exhibition recently witnessed in Bengal. Such submissions would itself lead to an encouragement and repetition of such tragedies. The vindictive spirit on either side would go deeper, biding for an opportunity to exhibit itself more fiercely and more disgracefully when occasion occurs. All this will be chiefly due to the continued presence in India of a foreign power strong and proud of its arms.

I say this neither as a Hindu nor as a Muslim. I write only as an Indian. Insofar as I am aware, the Congress claims to know both the the Hindu and Muslim more than you and any Britisher can do. Unless, therefore, you can wholly trust the Congress Government which you have announced, you should reconsider your decision, as I have already suggested.

You will please convey the whole of this letter to the British Cabinet.
I am,
Yours sincerely,
M.K. Gandhi

Field Marshal Viscount Wavell to Lord Pethick-Lawrence(excerpts)


New Delhi, 28 August 1946, 5:15pm Received 28 August, 4:10 pm

I have repeated to you in my 1800-S f today Gandhi's letter.

2. The strong reaction by Gandhi to my suggestion that Congress should make their assurance about the Grouping categorical shows how well justified Jinnah was to doubt their previous assurances on the subject.[blogger's comment:which assurances?] It is to my mind convincing evidence that Congress always meant to use their position in the Interim Government to break up the Muslim League and in the Constituent Assembly to destroy the Grouping scheme which was the one effective safeguard for the Muslims.

3. Though the consequences may be serious I think it is as well that things have come to a head. Calcutta with its 4,400 dead, 16,000 injured and over 100,000 homeless showed that a one party Government at the Centre was likely to cause fierce disorders everywhere. Far from having any sobering effect it has increased communal hatred and intransigence. If Congress intentions are as Gandhi's letter suggests the result of their being in power can only be a state of virtual civil war in many parts of India while you and I are responsible to Parliament.

4. Provided we are firm over this we may still have an outside chance of getting a coalition Government and of working the Constituent Assembly.

213 page 332(excerpts)

Lord Pethick-Lawrence to Field Marshal Viscount Wavell

India Office, 28 August 1946, 9 pm

..We have also just received your telegrams 1800-S and 1804-S.

2. I have discussed position with Prime Minister[Attlee]. We fully appreciate gravity of the danger of serious and widespread communal trouble unless Congress come to terms with the League and we agree with you that determined effort must be made to get them to do so.

At the same time we must ask you not to take any steps which are likely to result in a breach with the Congress without prior consultation with us, as the consequences of such a breach would also be very grave.

If we had had the time to reply to your 1796-S before your interview with Gandhi and Nehru we should have asked you not to say that you would not convene the Constituent Assembly until the point about grouping was settled, but only that you would have to postpone it further.

3. Moreover, we do not share your view expressed in your 1804-S that it is well things have come to a head or that Gandhi's letter proves "that Congress always meant to use their position in the Interim Government to break up Muslim League and in the Constituent Assembly to destroy the grouping scheme".

We feel that it is desirable to play for time in order that the effect of responsibility may make its full impression on the members of your new Government and for this reason, if for not other, we should be opposed to the retention of Caretaker Government. We should therefore like you to avoid pressing the grouping question to a final issue before the Interim Government takes over and has had a period of office.

For this purpose some postponement of Constituent Assembly may be necessary. Gandhi's letter is, of course, his personal reaction to the interview and reply of Congress will no doubt contain some counter-suggestions...
(end excerpts)

It wasn't as if British officialdom was entirely clueless about the realities underlying the Congress position. This is seen below.

317 page 500(excerpt)
Lord Pethick-Lawrence to Mr Attlee
India Office, 13 September 1946
The Indian Political Situation
Note by the Secretary of State for India
"24. At every important stage in the negotiations Congress have reiterated their own view and they can legitimately say that their acceptance has always been subject to their right to urge that interpretation. They have never modified their position until Nehru's broadcast of the 8th[7th] September quoted in paragraph 21 above.* The fullest statement of their position, and the reasons for it, is that in the Congress resolution of 24th May, quoted in paragraph 7[6]...and the Congress President's original letter...The contention is that Provincial representatives can refrain from going to Section meetings or can refuse to accept the decisions of the Section meeting and withdraw at any stage and not only by opting out under paragraph(viii) of the Statement after the new constitution for the Province has taken effect.

25. I feel convinced that there are two distinct reasons for the Congress adopting this idea. The first is their strong dislike of the whole idea of grouping as being a development which would facilitate a later creation of Pakistan by a Group, already closely integrated, breaking away from the Union.

This fear is not entirely without foundation since the Muslim League in their resolution of 6th June accepting the Statement of May 16th said that the League were willing to co-operate with the constitution-making machinery proposed in the interests of a peaceful solution and "inasmuch as the basis and foundation of Pakistan are inherent in the Mission's plan by virtue of compulsory grouping of the six Muslim Provinces in Section B and C", in the hope that it would ultimately result in the establishment of complete sovereign Pakistan.

Secondly, however, there is the objection vociferously raised by the Congress supporters in Assam and North-West Frontier Province that if the Provincial constitution is framed by majority vote of the Section the constitutions of those Provinces will be determined by the votes of Bengal, and of Sind and the Punjab respectively.

Consequently, as pointed out in Azad's letter.. the Provincial constitutions for these Provinces might be framed against the wishes of the inhabitants and it is even possible that rules for elections and otherwise might be laid down which would nullify an effective expression of the wishes of the population of the Province in regard to opting out of the Group.

26. The Muslim League accepted the Statement of May 16th and are only asking that it shall be enforced in accordance with the expressed intentions of the Cabinet Mission. Sir Stafford Cripps and I interviewed the Muslim League representatives just before the publication of the Statement in order to elucidate any points which the League representatives found difficulty in understanding. In reply to their questions..


On the question of interpretation we said that if the question arose we presumed that the Viceroy would be the deciding authority, acting in consultation with H.M.G when necessary. The Muslim League were allowed to see the official record of the meeting and to take their own notes from it. ..

The Viceroy has reported that Liaquat Ali Khan in conversation with one of his staff said that the League wanted assurances-
(a) that Sections would sit as such and frame the Group and Provincial constitutions;
(b) that there would be no opting out except as provided in paragraph 19(viii)
(c) that the Union Assembly would have no power to alter Group or Provincial constitutions except to prevent overlapping with the Union constitution, on the scope of which the Federal Court might decide.

(c) is a new point which is not specifically dealt with in the Statement of May 16th though it is clearly in accordance with our intentions. [blogger's comment: obviously! ]

*[Nehru had said "We are perfectly prepared to, and we have accepted the position of, sitting in Sections which will consider the question of the formation of Groups.. We do not look upon the Constituent Assembly as an arena for conflict or for the forcible imposition of one viewpoint over another. That would not be the way to build up a contented and united India. We seek agreed and integrated solutions with the largest measure of goodwill behind them."]
Update in 08/09: is closing down in end-October 2009. The new location of this website is:


Page 2

Secondary sources on Page 3

CMP(1) - From Ayesha Jalal's 'The Sole Spokesman'<

CMP(2) - The Congress League positions on 12 May 11946

CMP(3) - The Cabinet Mission Plan 16 May 1946<

CMP(4) - Jinnah's and Muslim League's responses too the Cabinet Mission Plan 22 May  and June 6 1946

CMP(5) - Jinnah's meeting with Mission Delegation on 4 April 1946

CMP(6) -  Jinnah's meeting with Mission Deleggation on 16 April 1946

CMP(7A) -  Maulana Azad's meeting with Missionn Delegation on 17 April 1946

CMP(7) - The Congress unease with parity- it's excchanges with the Mission  8-9 May 1946

CMP(7B) Jinnah and Azad's responses to the Cabinet Mission's preliminary proposals 8-9 May 1946

CMP(8A) Simla Conference meetings on 5 May 1946 on the powers of the Union

CMP(8) - More exchanges on parity during Simla Connference meeting  11 May 1946

CMP(9)- Jinnah's Conversations with Major Wyatt(1) on Pakistan and the Cabinet Mission Plan , 8 January and 25 May 1946

CMP(10) - Jinnah's Conversations with Major Wyatt(22) on the interim government, 11 June 1946

CMP(12)- Congress Working Committe resolutions, May-June 1946

CMP(12A) Congress and the Cabinet Mission's arguments over inclusion of a Congress Muslim in the Interim Government June 12 and June 23 1946

CMP(13)- Jawaharlal Nehru's press conference on the Plan, 10 July 1946

CMP(14) - League withdrew from Plan, called Direct Action, Viceroy Wavell talked to Nehru, July-August 1946

CMP(15) - The Viceroy tried to strong-arm Nehru andd Gandhi on compulsory grouping, Pethick Lawrence to Attlee, August-September 1946

CMP(16)- Intelligence assessment on Jinnah's options and threat of civil war, September 1946

CMP(17)- The League's boycott of the Constituent Assembly, Jinnah and Wavell, Mission insisting on compulsory grouping, etc October 1946-January 1947
CMP(17A) Congress "climbdown" on grouping and Jinnah's rejection, January 1947

CMP (A1) - Additional material - Some Plain speaking from Sir Khizr Hayat, Abell on the Breakdown plan, Viceroy to Jinnah

CMP(A2) North West Frontier Province, October-November 1946 and February-March 1947

CMP(A3) Bengal and Bihar, August - November 1946

CMP(A4) Punjab, February - March 1947

CMP (18) - My take

CMP (19) - What did parity and communal veto mean in numbers?

CMP(20) Another summary /take on the Cabinet Mission Plan-with links to the above reference material

CMP(21) Mountbatten discusses the Cabinet Mission Plan with Sardar Patel and M. A. Jinnah, 24-26 April 1947

CMP(22) A reply on the Cabinet Mission Plan

Extra(1) - Speech by Jinnah in March 1941 outlining the case for an independent sovereign Pakistan 

Extra(1A) Jinnah's Speeches and Statements from 1941-1942

Extra(1B) Jinnah's Speeches and Statements from 1938-1940

Extra(1C) Jinnah's speeches and Statements from 1943-45

Extra(2) -  Jinnah's letter to Gandhi during Gaandhi-Jinnah talks in 1944 on defining Pakistan

Extra(3)- B.R. Ambedkar quoted from his book 'Pakistan or the Partition of India'  

Extra(4) Congress and Muslim parties' positions on the Communal question 1927-1931

Extra(4A) Excerpts of Motilal Nehru Committee Report 1928

Extra(4B) Nehru, Bose, Jinnah Correspondence 1937-38

Extra(6) Gandhiji's scheme of offering the Prime Ministership to Jinnah in 1947

Extra(6A) Jinnah on Congress's offers of Prime Ministership 1940-43 and Gandhi's 1943 letter to Jinnah from jail

Extra (6B) April-July 1947  Negotiations on Pakistan between Mountbatten and Jinnah

Extra(7) M.A.Jinnah and Maulana Azad on two nation theory

Extra(8) Comments on Separate electorates, Joint electorates and Reserved constituencies

Extra(9) Links to a selection of cartoons on Indian constitutional parleys published in the Daily Mail, UK, in 1942 and 1946-1947, by L.G. Illingworth, from National Library of Wales' online Illingworth exhibition