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Indian Independence: Transfer of Power Source 4

(Extract) Secret Cabinet paper of conclusions of a meeting held at 10 Downing Street on 31 Dec 1946 - concerning the withdrawal from India.

[R/30/1/9]

... Discussion turned first on the question whether it would be wise to announce in the near future precise date for our withdrawal from India. Was it wise to commit ourselves to a precise date when we had no assurance that there would by then be a representative authority to whom we could hand over power? It might be that if we left India at that date we should leave only chaos and the prospect of civil war behind us. It was also necessary to consider the effect of such an announcement on other parts of the Empire and on world opinion in general. Some ministers felt that an announcement in the terms of the draft attached to C.P. (46) 456 might be regarded as the beginning of the liquidation of the British Empire: and it would be bound to have serious repercussions in Burma, Malaya and elsewhere. Nor must we forget that a breakdown of ordered central Government in India would provide opportunities to her neighbours, which they would not be slow to take, to interest themselves in Indian affairs. We might well find that in this area lay the seeds of a future world conflict.

The Foreign Secretary thought that the announcement proposed would have serious repercussions in the Middle East. He recalled that in the negotiations with Egypt we had claimed that it would not be practicable for us to withdraw our troops from that country before 1949. How should we reconcile this claim with a statement that we were prepared to evacuate the whole of India by the spring of 1948?

The general feeling of the Cabinet was that withdrawal from India need not appear to be forced upon us by our weakness nor to be the first step in the dissolution of the Empire. On the contrary this action must be shown to be the logical conclusion, which we welcomed, of a policy followed by successive Governments for many years. It was too late to reverse the whole direction of our Indian policy, even if we had had any desire to do so, and there was no reason to fear special repercussions from the completion of that policy. Our main objective now was to bring the principal communities in India to co-operate, so that there should be a properly representative authority to whom we could hand over power. If the Viceroy was correct in his estimate that we should in any case be unable to continue effectively to rule India beyond the early part of 1948, and if the announcement of our intention to leave India by a specified date might have the effect of bringing the communities together, then it would be well of derive whatever advantage we could from the early announcement of action which would, in fact, be inevitable.

... Discussion then turned on the form of the draft statement annexed to C.P. (46) 456. The view was expressed that a statement in these terms would give the impression that we were being forced out of India because we were unable to maintain our position there. In fact, our withdrawal would be the final stage in a deliberate policy of encouraging India's development towards self-government, to which successive Governments in this country had subscribed for the last thirty years. It was certainly the desire of the present Government that the Indian people should assume full responsibility of self-government. There was, therefore, no occasion to excuse our withdrawal: we should rather claim credit for taking this initiative in terminating British rule in India and transferring our responsibilities to the representatives of the Indian people. ....