Simla Conference

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The Simla Conference of 1945 was a meeting between the Viceroy of India Lord Wavell and the major political leaders of British India at Viceregal Lodge in Simla. Convened to agree on and approve the Wavell Plan for Indian self-government, and there it reached a potential agreement for the self-rule of India that provided separate representation for Muslims and reduced majority powers for both communities in their majority regions.

Talks, however, stalled on the issue of selection of Muslim representatives. Seeking to assert itself and its claim to be the sole representative of Indian Muslims, the All-India Muslim League refused to back any plan in which the Indian National Congress, the dominant party in the talks, appointed Muslim representatives.[1] This scuttled the conference, and perhaps the last viable opportunity for a united, independent India. When the Indian National Congress and the All India Muslim League reconvened under the Cabinet Mission the next year, the Indian National Congress was far less sympathetic to the Muslim League's requests despite Jinnah's approval of the British plan.[citation needed]

On 14 June 1945 Lord Wavell announced a plan for a new Executive Council in which all members except the Viceroy and the Commander in Chief would be Indians. This executive council was to be a temporary measure until a new permanent constitution could be agreed upon and come into force. All portfolios except Defense would be held by Indian members.[2]

Lord Wavell[edit]

Prime Minister Winston Churchill as head of the war cabinet proposed Field Marshal Wavell's name to his cabinet in mid-June 1943, as India's next viceroy. General Sir Claude Auchinleck who had followed Wavell in his middle eastern command was to be the next commander in chief of Indian army after Lord Wavell. In October 1943 the British Government decided to replace Lord Linlithgow with Lord Wavell as the Viceroy of India. Before assuming the vice royalty, Lord Wavell had been head of the Indian army and thus had an understanding of the Indian situation. On becoming Viceroy, Wavell’s most important task was to present a formula for the future government of India which would be acceptable to both the Indian National Congress and the All-India Muslim League.

Background of the Simla Conference[edit]

Gandhi launched the Quit India Movement in August 1942, after which he was arrested with other Congress lieutenants like Nehru and Patel. He was kept separate in Agha Khan's Pune palace while others were kept in Ahmednagar Fort.[circular reference] Now he decided to launch his ''Satyagraha'', he commenced after the early morning breakfast on 10 February 1943 a fast for 21 days. Weighing 109 pounds when he started fast lost eighteen pounds after his 21-day ordeal. Fearing the death of Gandhi in prison as before him Kasturba his wife and Mahadev Desai his private secretary died in the same prison in Pune Palace, Lord Linlithgow recommended Churchill immediate unconditional release of Gandhi. Churchill wrote back to Linlithgow, "it seems almost certain that the old rascal [Gandhi] will emerge all better for his so-called fast.'' Gandhi broke his fast on 3 March 1943.[3] Gandhi suffered from malaria, and after that his health was seriously deteriorated. New Viceroy Archibald Wavell, recommended his unconditional release, Leo Amery the secretary of state for India convinced Churchill to release Gandhi on medical grounds, so he was released. Instead of dying Gandhi showed remarkable resilience and recovered. It was quite funny when Churchill sent Wavell a peevish telegram asking ''why Gandhi has not died yet?''[3]

Communal problem was the greatest problem for any political advance in India, so Wavell also began to agree with Amery's conviction that until "Aged Trinity" (Gandhi, Churchill and Jinnah) is in lead there is a little chance of any political advance. Lord Wavell had a plan in his mind and was eager to invite key leaders to a summit, but he was waiting for something to come out of Gandhi-Jinnah meetings rescheduled on 9 September.[2] C. Rajagopalachari has presented a formula before that meeting that was accepting the Muslim right for a separate homeland. Talks started on 9 September 1944 in Mallabar Hill house of Jinnah, both leaders spent three and half hours of secret discussion but Gandhi later with C. R. called it a "test of my patience and nothing and I am amazed at my own patience." Their second meeting proved no more fruitful than first one, Jinnah sensed by this time the futility of talks. Then there was a session of written correspondence on 11, 12, 13 and 14 September, and on 24, 25 and 26 September 1944, but nothing came out of it. Gandhi by now believed that "Jinnah was a good person but he suffers hallucination when he imagines about unnatural division of India and creation of Pakistan".[2] Wavell wired to Amery, "Gandhi wants independence first and then willing to resolve communal problem as he is profoundly a Hindu and wants transfer of full Power to some nebulous national", While Jinnah wants to settle down communal problem first and then wants independence as he has lost his trust in Congress and Hindus." Wavell also viewed this mini-summit breakdown a personal challenge to bring together two parties. He has many creative ideas, and was willing to use his influence and power to settle the communal deadlock. He would try to bring some moderate Indian leaders on a settlement by calling them to Shimla (India's summer capital). His list included as he told to Amery, "Gandhi and one "other" of Congress party, Jinnah and one other member of Muslim League, Dr. Ambedkar to represent "Depress classes", Tara Singh to represent Sikhs, M. N. Roy for labor representation, and some other to represent Non-Congress and Non-League Hindus and Muslims.

After correspondence with Amery in October, now Wavell decided to write Churchill directly and he tried to convince Churchill in this regard though he was sure that Churchill was reluctant for any summit as "he hated India and anything to do with it". Churchill informed Amery the possibility to see Wavell not before March 1945, Wavell on his own behalf met with Jinnah on 6 December, and tried to convince him to live in United India as this will be much more beneficial for all as it will represent a strong nation on international level. Jinnah argued that "Indian unity was only a British creation". Benghal's governor Richard Casey was well informed about Congress-League relation that he wrote to Wavell, "Congress is basically responsible for the growth of Pakistan idea, by the way they treated the Muslims especially by refusing them into coalition provincial governments." Wavell agreed with everything Casey said about Pakistan, writing in his reply "I do not believe that Pakistan will work".[3] Churchill chaired his war cabinet that reviewed and rejected Wavell's proposal for constitutional reforms in India on December 18.[3] But Wavell was invited to visit England, and met with Churchill and Cabinet in May 1945. Wavell was allowed to fly back to India in June 1945 to release Congress Working Committee member and start talks that was later called Shimla Conference. Wavell decided to call all key leaders of India in Shimla on 25 June 1945 and broadcast a message to all Indians on 14 June 1945 showing British willingness to give India dominion status as soon as possible if the communal deadlock is broken down. "India needs a surgical operation", Nehru noted after considering Wavell's idea, "We have to get rid of our preoccupation with petty problem" as he considered communal problem a petty problem. Jinnah accepted the invitation but if he could meet with Wavell alone first on 24 June.[3]

Details of the Conference[edit]

One day before the conference was convened on 24 June, Wavell met with Azad, Gandhi and Jinnah to assess their approach. He noted in his diary, "Gandhi and Jinnah are behaving like very temperamental prima donnas". Lord Wavell officially opened the summit at 11:00 am on 25 June 1945. In the beginning Azad being president of Congress spoke of its "non-communal" character. Jinnah spoke of Congress' predominately Hindu character, at that point there was a tug of war that was settled down by Wavell's intervention. On the morning of 29 June the conference was reconvened and Wavell asked parties to submit list of candidates for his new council, Azad agreed while Jinnah refused to submit a list before consulting Muslim League's working committee. Conference was adjourned till 14 July, meanwhile Wavell met with Jinnah on 8 July and tried to convince him as Jinnah was determined to nominate all Muslim member from Muslim League's platform as he considered Congress Muslim representatives as "Show Boys". Wavell gave him a letter that was placed in front of Muslim League's Working Committee on 9 July. Jinnah replied after careful consideration of Working Committee, "I regret to inform you that you have been failed to give assurance relating nomination of all Muslim members form Muslim League's platform so we are not able to submit a list." The Viceroy was equally resolved not to give at that point and wired to Amery at that night his own list of new council members. Four were to be Muslim League members (Liaquat Ali Khan, Khawaja Nazimuddin, Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman and Eassak Sait) and another Non-League Muslim Muhammad Nawaz Khan (a Punjabi landlord). The five 'Caste Hindus' had to be Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Madhav Shrihari Aney, B. N. Rau. Tara Singh was to represent Sikhs and B. R. Ambedkar to "untouchables" John Mathai was the only Christian thus bringing total to sixteen with Viceroy and Commander-in-Chief. Amery asked Wavell to consult this list with Jinnah, when Jinnah was asked about Muslim names he bitterly refused to allow any League member to be part of the government until the League's right to be the sole representative of Muslims of India was acknowledged. Wavell found this demand impossible thus he half an hour later told Gandhi about his failure, Gandhi took news calmly and said "H. M. G. sooner or later have to take Hindu or Muslim point of view as they were irreconcilable." Thus the Wavell plan that was later to be called Shimla Conference was badly failed.[2]

Detailed Wavell Plan[edit]

In May 1945 Wavell visited London and discussed his ideas with the British Government. These London talks resulted in the formulation of a definite plan of action which was officially made public simultaneously on 14 June 1945 by L.S. Amery, the Secretary of State for India, in the House of Commons and by Wavell in a broadcast speech delivered from Delhi. The plan, commonly known as the Wavell Plan, proposed the following:

1. The Viceroy’s Executive Council would be immediately reconstituted and the number of its members would be increased.

2. In the Council there would be equal representation of high-caste Hindus and Muslims.

4. All the members of the Council, except the Viceroy and the Commander-in-Chief, would be Indians.

5. An Indian would be appointed as the member for Foreign Affairs in the Council. However, a British commissioner would be responsible for trade matters.

6. The defense of India would remain in British hands until power was ultimately transferred to Indians.

7. The Viceroy would convene a meeting of Indian politicians including the leaders of Congress and the Muslim League at which they would nominate members of the new Council.

8. If this plan were to be approved for the central government, then similar councils of local political leaders would be formed in all the provinces.

9. None of the changes suggested would in any way prejudice or prejudge the essential form of the future permanent Constitution of India.

To discuss these proposals with Indian leaders, Wavell summoned them to a conference to take place in Simla on 25 June 1945.

Criticism of Wavell Plan[edit]

The Wavell Plan, in essence, proposed the complete Indianisation of the Executive Council, but instead of asking all the parties to nominate members to the Executive Council from all the communities, seats were reserved for members on the basis of religion and caste, with the caste Hindus and Muslims being represented on it on the basis of parity. Even Mahatma Gandhi resented the use of the words “caste Hindus”.

While the plan proposed immediate changes to the composition of the Executive Council it did not contain any guarantee of Indian independence, nor did it contain any mention of a future constituent assembly or any proposals for the division of power between the various parties of India.

Failure of the Simla Conference[edit]

Meanwhile, a general election had been held in the United Kingdom in July 1945 which had brought the Labor Party to power. The Labor party wanted to transfer power to the Indians as quickly as possible. The new government sent the Cabinet Mission to India and this proved to be the final nail in the coffin of the Wavell Plan.


  1. ^ "India: Simla Conference 1945". Time. 9 July 1945.
  2. ^ a b c d Wolpert, Stanley (2013). Jinnah of Pakistan (15th ed.). Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press. pp. 242–245. ISBN 978-0-19-577389-7.
  3. ^ a b c d e Wolpert, Stanley (2012). Shameful Flight. Karachi, Pakistan: Oxford University Press. pp. 79–82. ISBN 978-0-19-906606-3.