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Indian Independence: Transfer of Power Source 3

A policy for India, by Lord Wavell, Sep 1946 - A plan for the withdrawal from India, with accompanying letters.


Top Secret.

Note by the Viceroy

A short time ago I formed a small Committee to consider a plan for withdrawal from India in the event of a political breakdown, on a general outline which I placed before the Committee.

The Committee consisted of:- Sir Arthur Waugh, then Home Member Sir Eric Conran-Smith, then Member for War Transport Sir Eric Coates, then Finance Member Lt.-General Sir Arthur Smith, C.G.S., Mr. A. Porter, Home Secretary, and Mr. G.B.B. Abell, my Private Secretary.

After several meetings between themselves, and references to myself, the attached basic plan has been drawn up. It has been prepared with great secrecy and at present is known only to the Members of the Committee and to myself, and to the Commander-in-Chief, who was consulted on his return from the United Kingdom. The Commander-in-Chief agrees with the note generally as the best solution of our difficulties if we cannot get the parties to co-operate in producing a solution. In Appendix III he has stated be probably effects on the Indian Army.

I consider it essential that we should have some such plan for the withdrawal from India; and I must request the orders of H.M.G. on it at a very early date. I can then proceed t work out details. In view of the importance of the matter, I suggest for H.M.G's consideration that consultation with the Opposition and the Dominions may be advisable. But I must insist on the need for an immediate decision.

Wavell (7/9/46)

Top Secret.

A Policy for India

1. Most of our attention has been focussed on the political situation in India as possible cause of crisis and breakdown. But, whatever the political situation may be, there is also an administrative limitation to the continuance of our control. In assessing this limitation I assume that H.M.G. would not be prepared to change their policy and announce a decision to continue to rule in India for fifteen or twenty years. An announcement of this kind would change the whole position because it would rally support to our side and would involve the immediate reinforcement off the Services. On the assumption however that no such change of policy will be made I consider that on administrative grounds we could not govern the whole of India for more than a year and a half from now.

2. The first reason is that in India one must either rule firmly or not at all. With a largely uneducated and highly excitable people, easily moved to violence, it is essential that agitation and incitement to unbridled riot should be stopped at once. Now that all political agitators are at large and complete freedom of speech is a lowed, the situation soon becomes highly dangerous. The person policy must result in a degree of licence and weakness in the administration that cannot continue for long. It also means danger of the safety of the European population.

3. The second reason is that the machinery on which our control of India has depended is rapidly running down. The officials of the Secretary of State's services have always been few in number and their effect has depended on their prestige, their confidence that they can rely on the support of the Government, and their solidarity. The first two advantages have been affected by political ranges. Their solidarity has suffered as a result of Indianisation and a tendency in recent years for some Indian members to adopt a communal or political outlook. Owing to these influences, together with the suspension of recruitment during the war and retirement of senior men, the Secretary of State's Services have become a rapidly diminishing force in numbers and in power.

4. The position is much the same in the Provincial and subordinate Services, both administrative and police. These have been such diluted during the ear; and service traditions have been weakened. Communal or sectional interests are now powerful and loyalty to Government has been undermined partly by political propaganda and abuse and partly by the knowledge that British control will soon terminate and that the Services must look for their prospects to new masters. It is, therefore, no longer possible to rely implicitly upon them to carry out the orders of a British Government. Similar considerations apply also to the Army, thought at present in a much less degree.

5. In view of the above, it is probably no longer possible in some of the Provinces for a Governor to run a section 93 administration for more than a very limited period. In the other Provinces it would be difficult now and will become progressively more so. The Governor can therefore no longer afford to over-rule his Ministry on an issue on which they are likely to resign, since he has nothing to put in its place. The constitutional powers of the Governor are rapidly becoming a dead letter; in most Provinces they can now only be enforced to a limited degree by persuasion and bluff. Meanwhile the standard of administration and of security is rapidly going down; and in most Provinces has already sunk to what may be termed on oriental standard in place of the previous quasi-British standard. Yet we still remain constitute all, and in the eyes of the world, responsible; and will be blamed for the disorders, repression and corruption, which will become increasingly evident in India in the future.

6. To these administrative difficulties is added the marked deterioration in the communal situation. The existing communal tension has been enough to cause the Calcutta tragedy when over 4,000 lives were lost, and there have been many riots elsewhere. The tension will be still further increased with a Government at the Centre dominated by the Congress, especially if an attempt is made to work the Constituent Assembly in the absence of the Muslim League.

7. The continued existence of any semblance of law and order in the country depends almost entirely on the reliability and cohesion of the Indian Army. Even if a coalition Government and agreement about the Constituent Assembly and the Services will remain. In the absence of such an agreement the strain will become cumulatively greater; and one cannot expect to maintain indefinitely the integrity of the Army, while both the main political parties are preaching communal war, and when it is know that the British Officers, who alone hold the Army together, are leaving soon.

8. It is obvious from the above that, on the assumption that M.G. are not prepared to change their policy and govern India for another fifteen years or so, our time in India is limited, whatever the political circumstances. As said above, I put down the maximum as one and a half years, or till the spring of 1948. I assume that H.M.G. will not wish to retain a shadow of authority and responsibility which can no longer be enforced.