(This article was originally published on 2 September 2017. It is being republished from The Quint’s archives to mark the formation of an interim government in India, to start the process of transitioning from being a British colony to an independent country.)
Have you ever wondered what happened after the British decided to leave India? How did the transfer of power happen? Was it an overnight process? Well, no.
Almost one year before Indian Independence Act was passed by the British government and came into being, an interim government was formed in India to facilitate the process of transition.
A Cabinet Mission of Britain was dispatched to India, especially for the purpose of assisting in formulation of manifestos and the formation of government.
On 2 September 1946, the interim government was formed to start the process of transitioning from being a British colony to an independent country.
Who Were the Members of the Interim Government?
The Viceroy’s Executive Council, which was the governing council of the British India, was replaced with the interim Cabinet. Jawaharlal Nehru of the Congress was appointed as the vice president, with powers of prime minister bestowed upon him.
The post of the President was held by Governor General of India, who was still British. While Lord Wavell held the post initially, Mountbatten was appointed to the post in March 1947.
The Muslim League, which initially boycotted the interim government, joined the Cabinet in October 1946. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the All-India Muslim League patriarch, openly declared that the reason for joining the interim government was to “fight for the cherished goal of Pakistan”.
The 12-member Cabinet was formed by a coalition of Congress and Muslim League members. Senior Congress leader Vallabhbhai Patel headed the Department of Home Affairs, considered the second-most powerful position in the Cabinet. The Viceroy of India and the Commander-in-Chief were also a part of the Cabinet, apart from the twelve Indians.
Liaquat Alit Khan who would eventually become Pakistan’s first prime minister was made the finance minister in the interim government.
India’s first president Rajendra Prasad was also a part of the interim government. Sikh leader Baldev Singh was given the defence portfolio, while C Rajagopalachari was named to head the Department of Education.
Dalit leader and the father of former speaker Meira Kumar, Jagjivan Ram, was given charge of the Department of Labour. Muslim League leaders Abdur Nishtar and Ibrahim Ismail headed the departments of air and commerce respectively.
The League, which was also allotted the Law portfolio, nominated Jogendra Nath Mandal to the post.
The Constituent Assembly Hitch
A recurring problem for the interim government was their inability to see eye to eye on deciding the members of the Constituent Assembly. Members of this assembly would pen the Indian Constitution, post independence.
Following the very first meeting of the Constituent Assembly on 9 December 1946, the Muslim League staged a walkout, demanding a separate state.
But in early January, after persuasion by both the Congress and the British, the Muslim League joined the Constituent Assembly.
On 22 January 1947, the Objective Resolution was unanimously passed by the Assembly, which eventually became the preamble of the Indian Constitution.
Interim Govt’s Landmark Decisions
India has been fighting the imposition of salt tax since 1885, when Swaminathan Iyer raised the issue in the very first session of the Congress. Fighting to abolish the tax, Mahatma Gandhi undertook a march to Dandi, as an act of civil disobedience in 1930.
But it was the Nehru-led interim government which abolished the salt tax, ending the decades-long fight.
The interim government also appointed India’s first batch of Foreign Service Officers and started independent dialogue and diplomatic relations with countries like the United States, the USSR and France.
It was this interim government that first introduced a ‘Report on Planning’, which went on to become the bedrock for India’s first five-year plan.
However, the interim government could not control the brewing animosity between certain Hindu and Muslim groups, which led to widespread communal riots in early 1947.
On 3 June 1947, in the Mountbatten Plan, it was announced that a Boundary Commission would be set up to decide on the partition of India, and the formation of the new nation of Pakistan.
As the clock struck 12 on 15 August 1947, India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru ushered in India’s independence and the interim government ceased to exist.