A study of drafting and implementing the Indian Independence Act, 1947

Jawaharlal Nehru


On the eve of 14th August 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech showcased with confidence and determination India’s capacity to succeed and flourish as an independent nation. To preserve, consolidate and strengthen India’s unity, to push forward the process of the making of the Indian nation, and to build up and protect the national state as an instrument of development and social transformation. With this agenda in mind, the Indian Independence Act 1947, was drafted and published on 18th July 1947. The passing of the Indian Independence Act 1947 marked the end of British suzerainty in India.

To investigate the Act, which made provisions for setting up in India, two independent dominions and to substitute other provisions for certain provisions of the Government of India Act 1935, which apply outside those Dominions, and to provide for other matters consequential on, or connected with the setting up of those Dominions, and to find out what were the problem  of princely states like the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir. To answer the aforementioned questions, this article will explore the political ideologies of Indian leaders, and how it slowly, but most determinately led to the construction of the Indian Independence Act 1947.

The Indian national movement was undoubtedly one of the biggest mass movements modern society has ever seen. It was a movement which galvanized millions of people of all classes and ideologies into political action and brought to its knees a mighty colonial empire. The Indian national movement, in fact, provides the only actual historical example of a semi-democratic or democratic type of political structure being successfully replaced or transformed. It is the only movement where the broadly Gramscian theoretical perspective of a war of position was successfully practiced; where state power was not seized in a single historical moment of revolution, but through prolonged popular struggle on a moral, political and ideological level; where reserves of counter-hegemony were built up over the years through progressive, stages; where the phases of struggle alternated with ‘passive’ phases.

This article will start near the end of the British Raj in India, when the things were quickly changing in the Indian politics, and the passive phases had never been more active before.

1939 – World at War

If Britain was fighting for democracy and freedom, she should prove this in India.”

With the outbreak of World War II on 3 September 1939 and the Vice regal declaration implying India’s involvement in it, an unforeseen change took place in the Indian political scene. The experiment of the provincial part of the Government of India Act 1935, which had been on trial since July 1937 and had been working satisfactorily, came to an abrupt end. The Congress ministries resigned. Constitutional deadlock prevailed. The relations between the imperialist and the nationalist forces worsened and were followed by further distrust, discontent and disorder, thereby posing a serious problem in those days of international crisis and anxiety, not only for India but also for Great Britain and its allies.

Within a fortnight of the outbreak of the war, the Working Committee of the Congress and the Muslim League passed their respective resolutions on the crisis. In a lengthy resolution adopted at Wardha, on 14 September 1939. It stated that “The issue of peace and war” declared the Working Committee, “must be decided by the Indian people”, and they cannot “permit their resources to be exploited for imperialist aims.” “If cooperation is desired”, maintained the Committee, “it must be between equals by mutual consent for a cause which both consider worthy.”

The response to this resolution by the Viceroy was not in favour of any solution of India’s constitutional problem which would had adversely affected British rule in India. However, in the given situation, it was difficult for the Viceroy to go ahead with his complete negative approach to the demands put forward by the Congress and the Muslim League. Accordingly, he held a number of discussions with the Indian political leaders and issued on 18 October 1939 the long-awaited statement of His Majesty’s Government policy.

1942 – Cripps Mission

When I read those proposals for the first time, I was profoundly depressed.’

But soon because of mounting pressure from China and the United States, as well as from the Labour Party in Britain, led Prime Minister Winston Churchill to send Stafford Cripps to India to discuss the Draft Declaration, as settled by the War Cabinet and its Committee between 28 February to 9 March 1942, containing proposals to resolve the Indian question of a new constitution and self-government. There were several drafts formed by each party, all of them were rejected by either the Congress or Cripps.

On 10 April 1942, anticipating that the Congress Working Committee would reject the offer, Cripps, desperately made the last attempt to get the approval of the War Cabinet to the Defence proposals. He put forward the list of functions of the War Member and assured the Cabinet that though the constituted Executive Council was to be called a National Government, its legal and constitutional position was not to be changed. The India Committee of the War Cabinet, meeting the same day (10 April) gave its judgment in favor of the Viceroy. “There can be no question”, ran its communication, “of any convention limiting in any way your (the Viceroy’s) powers under the existing constitution . . . and no departure from this can be contemplated during the war.”

The Congress rejected the Draft, and stated that they are prepared to assume responsibility, provided a truly National Government is formed.

When Cripps realised that the Indian National Congress, stood steadfast against not merely the defence issue but also on the question of the formation of a National Government, he informed Churchill, and then President Roosevelt, decided to himself be a part of the negotiations, as a last hope. But by this time, Indian National Congress would not accept anything even a little shy of Purna swaraj. Hence, the final offer was also rejected.

As Cripps said in the House of Commons debate, on March 5:  “There were fundamentally two alternatives facing the Government. First, they could endeavour to strengthen British control in India on the basis of a considerable reinforcement of British troops …. The second alternative was to accept the fact that the first alternative was not possible …. One thing that was quite obviously impossible was to decide to continue our responsibility indefinitely and indeed against our own wishes into a period when we had not the power to carry it out.”

While the Conservatives had preferred to follow the “lie back” policy as they had felt quite complacent about the Indian situation, the Liberals and Labourites did not agree to it and stood for some sort of reconciliatory methods to be adopted to win over the Indians and thereby ease the political tension which had surrounded the whole political atmosphere of India. They wanted to break the political deadlock so that the situation might not deteriorate to such a position where control of India would become difficult. Though other important factors were there, the ‘August Offer’ and ‘Cripps Mission’ were the direct result of their efforts and pressures which they did exert over the Conservatives, who had not bothered to take the restive India into their confidence even during the impending crisis of World War II during 1939-42.

1947 (June) – Mountbatten Plan

‘Our mission was so very nearly a success: it is sad that it has ended up such a grim and total failure.’

The next landmark moment, in the formation of the Indian Independence Act, was 5 years later when British withdrawal from India was fixed as 30 June 1948 and the appointment of a new Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, was announced.

The Mountbatten Plan, as the 3rd June, 1947 Plan came to be known, sought to effect an early transfer of power on the basis of Dominion Status to two successor states, India and Pakistan. Congress was willing to accept Dominion Status for a while because it felt it must assume full power immediately and meet boldly the explosive situation in the country. As Nehru put it, ‘Murder stalks the streets and the most amazing cruelties are indulged in by both the individual and the mob.’

Formally, the Plan did not lay down the partition of India, but provides machinery for the areas affected by the Pakistan demand to choose, either through their Legislative Assembly representatives or through referendum, between a single Constituent Assembly in accordance with the Cabinet Mission Plan, or a separate Constituent Assembly for a separate State. This involved the division of Punjab and Bengal so that the Moslem-majority areas and non-Moslem majority areas can decide separately. In practice, on the basis of existing representation, this meant partition, including almost certainly the partition of Punjab and Bengal.

The Mountbatten plan simply stated the establishment of the following territories by 15 August 1947: 

(1) North West Pakistan, covering Western Punjab, Sind, and possibly the North West Frontier and Baluchistan, with a population of 25 million (18 million Muslims);

(2) Note East Pakistan, covering Eastern Bengal and the Sylhet district of Assam, with a population of 44 million (31 million Muslims). These two areas, divided by a thousand miles, would constitute the Pakistan State or Federation, with a population of 70 million

(3) The Indian Union or Hindustan, covering the rest of British India, with a population of 225 million.

(4) The Princely States, covering two-fifths of the area of India with a population of 93 million or one quarter, would join one or other federation, or possibly, in the case of one or two larger States, such as Hyderabad and Travancore, according to their present declared intentions, proclaim their separate independence.

The Muslim League had agreed to accept the verdict of the Boundary Commission as final. The Commission gave India the district of Gurdaspur, which boundary touched with India and Kashmir. Thus, India had got a direct accession to Kashmir. If Gurdaspur was not given to India, there was a problem for the Maharaja of Kashmir to accede to India. As the League’s policy was ‘accession declared by the ruler’, Pakistan has no right, morally or legally, to the accession of Kashmir to Pakistan. Had Jinnah adopted the policy as demanded by the Congress i.e. “accession as decided by the people of the state”, Kashmir would have gone to Pakistan. Jinnah failed to realize that the geographical position of the Muslim states in India was not such that they could have a strong and permanent footing for accession to Pakistan. Thus, in principle, Pakistan lost Kashmir and other Muslim state in India.

1947 (July – August) – Independence

“At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.”

The rationale for the early date for transfer of power – 15th August 1947, was for securing the Congress’ agreement to Dominion Status. The additional benefit was that the British could escape responsibility for the rapidly deteriorating communal situation. As it is, some officials were more than happy to pack their bags and leave the Indians to stew in their own juice

On July 18, the Indian Independence Act received the Royal assent, as a result on July 19, Mountbatten announced establishment of two separate provisional governments, one for India and the other for Pakistan. The Hindustan Times commented: “When it is placed on the Statute Book, the Indian Independence Act, 1947, will rank as the noblest and the greatest law ever enacted by the British Parliament.”

15th August 1947, dawned revealing the dual reality of Independence and Partition. As always, between the two of them, Gandhiji and Nehru mirrored the feelings of the Indian people. Gandhiji prayed in Calcutta for an end to the carnage taking place. Nehru’s eyes were on the light on the horizon, the new dawn, the birth of a free India. ‘At the stroke of the midnight hour when the world sleeps India shall awake to light and freedom.’ His poetic words, ‘Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny,’ reminded the people that their angry bewilderment today was not the only truth. There was a greater truth — that of a glorious struggle, hard-fought and hard-won, in which many fell martyrs and countless others made sacrifices, dreaming of the day India would be free. That day had come.


“2nd Year Law student at Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University”


  1. Indian Independence Act, 1947
  2. Jawaharlal Nehru’s Tryst of Destiny speech, August 15, 1947
  3. India Since Independence by Bipan Chandra
  4. India’s Struggle for Independence by Bipan Chandra
  5. The Cripps Mission A Handiwork of British Imperialism by Bhim Sen Singh
  6. Congress Working Committee Resolution, 14 September 1939, in Maurice Gwyer and A. Appadorai, Speeches
  7. and Documents on the Indian Constitution (Bombay, 1957), Vol. 2, pp. 484-7.
  8. Partition of India by Bhim Sen Singh
  9. MB 114, No. 473-GT Viceroy to SS, Paper Comments.
  10. Mountbatten’s Personal Report, No. 8, pp. 122.

Churchill to Roosevelt, 11th April 1942, Foreign Relations of United States: Diplomatic Papers, 1942,(Washington), Vol. 1, pp. 632-3.

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