CMP(8A) Meetings of the Simla Conference, 5 May 1946 - discussion of the powers of the Union

Documents included
  • Record of the first Meeting of Second Simla Conference held on Saturday, 5  May 1946 at 10 am (full text).
  • Record of the second Meeting of Second Simla Conference held on Saturday, 5  May 1946 at 4 pm (full text).
From 'The Transfer of Power 1942-7' Volume VII The Cabinet Mission 23 March 29 June 1946, Eds., Nicholas Mansergh and Penderel Moon, 1977.

Another sampling from the failed Simla Conference discussions[also see CMP(1), CMP(8), CMP(11), CMP(7), CMP(7A), CMP(7B) for additional material from the same time period and CMP(19) for related discussion].   The difference in Congress and Muslim League positions on the powers of the Union can be seen in these exchanges. 

The discussions were about  what  the Union's subjects should be; whether the Union should have the power to fund itself or alternately, solicit handouts from Groups;  on whether the Union subjects  defence and foreign affairs,  would be discussed at Union or Group level; whether a Union Legislature should exist at all; and if it did what its composition should be, and whether a  Federal Court was required.

One interesting exchange is on  powers of the Union with respect to defence and foreign affairs. These were to be Union subjects,  but Jinnah wanted  the Union to  wholly depend  on Groups and  have the funding, discussions and decision making  related to these subjects be carried out primarily at the Group level. This would effectively reduce defence and foreign affairs to Group subjects as  Nehru and the Secretary of State pointed out to Jinnah.

It is clear that the  two parties' positions  on the structure and powers of the Union were fundamentally opposed.  The Muslim League wanted  a minimal Union centre operating solely at the pleasure of the Groups and their respective legislatures.  If the Union had a legislature, the Groups should be equally represented in it. The Congress in contrast, wanted an effective  self-sustaining Union centre with decision making powers  independent and separate from those of the Groups.   The Muslim League wanted virtually sovereign Groups while the Congress wanted the Center to have over-riding sovereignty over Groups with respect to Union subjects. 

As neither  the Congress nor the Muslim League really yielded on their respective positions on the Union in these discussions,  it is difficult to imagine how such fundamental differences between them would have been bridged while writing a Constitution in a future Constituent Assembly.

194 page 425 (full text)
Record of the first Meeting of Second Simla Conference held on Sunday, 5 May 1946 at 10 am

The Secretary of State after welcoming the Party representatives said that the purpose of the Conference was to make a final attempt to reach agreement between the Parties. The basis of discussion was the form of solution given in his letter of invitation and the object was to clothe these bare bones with flesh and it see whether the result could be made acceptable. In the light of the discussions the Delegation had had with all Parties this seemed to them the most  hopeful approach.

The Delegation considered that there must be some form of Central Union for India to deal with certain compulsory subjects, but they thought that some system of grouping of Provinces provided the best hope of solving the communal problem. They had examined the alternative put forward by the Congress of one Federal Centre with compulsory and optional subjects, but it seemed to them impracticable. He thought that it might be taken for granted that everyone present was fully acquainted with one another's views and with the difference between them. If the Parties were not satisfied as to the sincerity of the Delegation's purpose no words would now convince them and the importance of reaching an agreement was so self-evident that there was no need to enlarge upon it. He proposed that the discussions should centre round the basis put forward in his letter of invitation and that the Conference should work as far as possible to a time-table and upon a definite agenda which would be laid before the meeting.

It was agreed that the Conference should met from 11-30 to 1-30 and from 4-6 daily. It was also agreed that Sir S. Cripps, Sardar Patel and Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan should meet each evening to agree on a short statement for the Press.

The Agenda S.C(46)-I was handed around. It was agreed to take the second item, the Union, first. Maulana Azad said that before the matters on the agenda were discussed the basic position of the Congress must be made clear, which was that they were proceeding on the basis of complete independence for India. The Secretary of State said that the Delegation were here to set up constitution-making machinery to create a constitution under which India would be independent if that was the wish of the Indian people. The Viceroy added that the issue of independence would be for decision by the Constituent Assembly. Maulana Azad said that the Congress were proceeding on the basis of complete independence which would involve the removal of British Forces from India at an early date though the physical withdrawal would naturally take time.

Maulana Azad referred to the position of the Congress as stated in the letter replying to the invitation. At Mr. Jinnah's request this letter and his own reply were read by the Secretary of State and copies were supplied to the Muslim League and Congress respectively.

Discussion then took place on the Union subjects. The Viceroy explained that it was proposed that these should be Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communications as a minimum. The Congress representatives said that in their view certain ancillary subjects must necessarily go with these and that the Centre must be self-sufficient in its own right in regard to finance and have under its control the ancillary subjects essential for this purpose. It would require close analysis to work out which of the existing subjects this would cover, but there might be subjects in the present list which were not necessary. They thought that direct sources of revenue were essential and that it would not be satisfactory for the Centre to be financed by contributions from the units.

The Muslim League said that the Congress President's letter accepting the invitation to the Conference contemplated not a Union but a Federal Government and it specified that Customs, Currency, Tariffs and other ancillary matters should be Central subjects. On the assumption that there were going to be two groups which would be Federations there should be a levy on the two Federations. The Union should submit to the Federations what amount is considered should be spent and the Federations must have a voice in the decision. The Union Government would be a sort of agency for the Federations.

Sir S. Cripps pointed out that there would be a third party to the Union, namely the Indian States, and the Secretary of State said that the Union Government would be dependent on and formed by the Groups unless there was direct election to the Union Legislature. If it was indirectly based in this way it did not seem to be necessary to give the Federations the power which Mr. Jinnah thought they should have.

Mr. Jinnah said that his conception was that a minimum defence budget would be fixed by agreement between the Groups after a review of defence expenditure for a past period of years. If more was required the Union would prepare a budget of the additional amount and would have to request the Groups for additional contributions.

It was pointed out that this would mean that there would be discussion of Defence and Foreign Affairs in the Group Legislature[s] and that, in effect, the Union subjects would not have been delegated to the Centre at all. If the Union were composed of Group representatives this seemed unnecessary and also undesirable. The object of the Centre was to enable decisions to be taken on these all-India subjects. If matters relating to them were referred back to two Federal Legislatures, different decisions might be reached by those two bodies.

Mr. Jinnah said that the League considered that there should be no independent power of levying direct finance vested in the Union and that the Central Authority should not have power to levy unlimited amounts from the units by contribution. The Groups must have a check on any additional expenditure over an agreed sum.

Pandit Nehru said that the discussion seemed to him to be proceeding on the basis of mistaken assumptions. Was there only to be an Executive at the Union level? If so, who was going to discuss Defence or Foreign Affairs. If the Groups could discuss and decide these matters they were not Central subjects.

The Secretary of State said that all the topics on the agenda were inevitably interlocked and it seemed now desirable to turn to the question of the Union constitution. This raised very large issues, for example, there was room for difference of opinion as to whether there should be a Legislature and how it should be chosen.

Sir S. Cripps said that it seemed desirable to discuss this on the basis of how the Executive of the Union was to be made responsible to the people of India in respect of expenditure. There could be a legislative body formed by indirect election from the units either by Groups or by Provinces or, alternatively, there could be direct election. The Groups could be represented equally in the Legislature and although theoretically there could be a deadlock through a fifty-fifty vote, this was unlikely after full discussion. If we were proceeding on the assumption that there was to be a common policy for the whole of India in these minimum Central subjects, then there must be a common forum for discussion and agreement of the policy.

Mr. Jinnah said that the forum for discussion should be the two Group Legislatures. If the representatives of the two Groups were agreed in the Executive that they wanted more finance, there was no reason to think that the Group Legislatures would be unreasonable about it. The Secretary of State pointed out that in each of the three subjects contemplated for the Union, policy questions would arise continuously from day to day. These matters would have to be discussed and they would have to be decided. There was bound to be more than one opinion about them. If they were discussed in two or three separate Legislatures there would be an unending source of disagreement. It was surely reasonable that the two Legislatures should appoint persons to meet and discuss these matters to whom the Executive would be responsible.

Pandit Nehru said that the Congress considered that there was obvious difficulty in having a vague and airy Centre with no effective powers. Suppose that there were war or threat of war, it was inconceivable that there should be  two or three separate forums for deciding what should be done. It was essential there should be a legislative forum at the Centre and the necessary financial apparatus. It was true there must be checks all around but if it was all checks there would be no motive power. The Centre must be strong and efficient though it might be limited. There was otherwise a danger that foreign powers might intrigue with the Groups. Naturally, if the Centre adopted policies which offended the Groups there would be trouble and that would be contrary to the interest of the Centre.

Pandit Nehru's personal view was that there should be a directly elected Central Legislature but to meet the anxieties of certain people there might be a second Chamber indirectly elected. This would provide the check to which Mr. Jinnah and Sir S. Cripps had referred. The Viceroy said that the Executive would presumably be small. It might be reasonable for it to be appointed for a term of years as in the Swiss system and not responsible from day to day. Pandit Nehru said that India was accustomed to the Parliamentary system but a permanent Executive of this sort might be considered. He thought there was danger of it being inactive as a result of internal disagreement. The Central Executive might not be so small as was expected.

The Secretary of State pointed out that if there were direct election there would be enormous constituencies unless the Legislature were very large. The subject-matter of the Centre would not be appropriate for electioneering and indirect election from the Groups would seem a more manageable arrangement. Pandit Nehru said that the Congress had not reached any definite conclusion about this. There might be indirect election at some lower stage, e.g., in the village.

The Secretary of State said that it seemed to him that a Foreign Minister for India must be required to justify his policy. He would belong to an Executive composed from the Groups and would come from one or the other. If there were no Central Legislature his foreign policy would have to be accepted by two or three Group Legislatures. He would like to know whether the Muslim League contemplated that this Minister would go to all the Legislatures and justify his policy and, if so, whether they do not think it likely that in one or other of them he would be turned down.

Mr. Jinnah pointed to the analogy of the foreign policy of the British Commonwealth and the Secretary of State said there was no common foreign policy. The United Kingdom conducted its policy in consultation with the Dominions who could associate themselves with it or take an independent line. Sir S. Cripps pointed out the essential necessity of a public forum for the discussion of foreign affairs, and Mr. Alexander emphasized the necessity for some form of popular control. Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan said that joint sessions of the Group Legislatures might provide a suitable forum.

The meeting adjourned until 4 p.m.

195 page 429 (full text)
Record of second Meeting of Second Simla Conference held on Sunday, 5 May 1946 at 4 pm

The Secretary  of State said the discussion might be resumed on the point about the relationship between the Groups and the Union in the absence of a Union Legislature.

Mr. Jinnah said that a joint session of the Group Legislatures would take place in order to provide a forum. No decisions would be taken at such a joint session.

The Secretary of State and Sir Stafford Cripps pointed out the practical difficulties.

Mr. Jinnah said that the Foreign policy of the Union should be decided by consultation as between the members of the Commonwealth.

Sir Stafford Cripps said that there was no common Foreign policy of the Commonwealth.

Mr. Jinnah thought that no closer association between the Groups for Foreign policy than exists between members of the Commonwealth was necessary. The responsibility of the Foreign Minister should be to the two Groups. Otherwise one would get back to a single Federal Government.

The Secretary of State said that the Centre would be functioning in a very limited field, but in the case, for instance, of Defence, there must be someone responsible for the common army and he must have a popular mandate. How could he responsible to two different Legislatures that might have different policies?

Mr. Jinnah said the executive could settle all these matters and he was definitely against a Union Legislature.

Composition of Central Legislature
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Azad said that this was a matter for the Constitution-making Body. If any abnormal provisions were required, they should suggested by those who wanted them. The Centre must be capable of functioning.

The Secretary of State suggested that as Mr. Jinnah was against the Legislature, the composition of the Union Executive might be considered in the first place.

Sir Stafford Cripps said it might be composed by taking a representative from each of the Provinces or by election from the Groups, or of course if there was a Legislature, by election by the Legislature. In any case the members of the Executive would be responsible to those who nominated them.

Mr. Jinnah agreed with the Secretary of State that the best arrangement would be that equal numbers should be elected by each of the Group Legislatures, but he asked how the Legislature was to be completed. How would the States be represented?

Sir Stafford Cripps said that their representatives would probably be elected.

After some discussion Mr. Jinnah agreed that if there was to be a Legislature the most reasonable arrangement would be for the members to be elected in equal numbers by the Group Legislatures. But this was subject to the picture being completed by fitting in the States.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said that the Congress did not want the States to be a separate group. They should be dealt with like the Provinces. A large State might come straight into the Union; others might form their own groups and join the Union as such. Others would be absorbed in larger States or in Provinces. In any case there must inevitably be States representatives in the Union. The Congress did not want a Rajasthan because the States units must be associated together in groups on administrative grounds and not simply on political grounds. The problem of the States was really that of the dozen or score of big States.

Mr. Jinnah said that the representation of States would upset the balance in the Central Legislature.

The Secretary of State thought that communal issues might not be very conspicuous in the limited field of the Union.

Mr. Jinnah said he could not agree. Communal issues would obtrude in the many administrative matters and in the Legislature, if any.

Mr. Jinnah admitted that the States could not be left out from the Union.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said that the proportions in which the Groups were represented would need careful consideration. Everyone should be treated alike.  His Excellency pointed out, however, that some allowance must be made for the abnormal features of the Indian position.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said that the Congress hoped that the States would approximate internally as well as externally to the character of the Provinces. His Excellency pointed out that this would take time. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru agreed and said that if it took too long, there might be a lot of trouble.

Union Court
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru agreed with the Viceroy that a Union Court would be necessary. It would deal with disputes between the units, and might also deal with the fundamental rights as included in the Constitution.

Mr. Jinnah said that on the assumption which seemed to be made that there would be no communal trouble once the Union was set up, there was no need of a Court.

Sir Stafford Cripps said that since the Constitution would be a written one, there must be a tribunal to decide, for instance, disputes about the jurisdiction of the Centre and the Groups.
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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 19946

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

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

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

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

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

CMP(7) - The Congress unease with parity- it's exchhanges 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 Confference 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(2)) 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 AAction, Viceroy Wavell talked to Nehru, July-August 1946

CMP(15) - The Viceroy tried to strong-arm Nehru and 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 Ganndhi-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