August Offer

regarding India’s constitution, of His Majesty's Government 8 August 1940

 

Statement by the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, on the expansion of the Governor-General's Executive Council and the establishment of a War Advisory Council, 8 August 1940.

     Last October His Majesty's Government again made it clear that Dominion Status was their objective for India. They added that they were ready to authorize the expansion of the Governor-General's Council to include a certain number of representatives of political parties, and they proposed the establishment of a Consultative Committee. In order to facilitate harmonious co-operation it was obvious that some measure of agreement in the Provinces between the major parties was a desirable: prerequisite to their joint collaboration at the Centre. Such agreement was unfortunately not reached, and in the circumstances no progress was then possible….

     It is clear that the earlier differences which had prevented the achievement of national unity remain unbridged. Deeply as His Majesty's Government regret this, they do not feel that they should any longer, because of these differences, postpone the expansion of the Governor-General's Council, and the establishment of a body which will more closely associate Indian public opinion with the conduct of the war by the Central Government. They have authorized me accordingly to invite a certain number of representative Indians to join my Executive Council. They have authorized me further to establish a War Advisory Council, which would meet at regular intervals and which would contain representatives of the Indian States, and of other interests in the national life of India as a whole.

     The conversations which have taken place, and the resolutions of the bodies which I have just mentioned, make it clear, however, that there is still in certain quarters doubt as to the intentions of His Majesty's Government for the constitutional future of India, and that there is doubt too, as to whether the position of Minorities, whether political or religions, is sufficiently safeguarded in relation to any constitutional change by the assurance already given. These are the two main points that have emerged. On those two points His Majesty's Government now desire me to make their position clear.

    The first is as to the position of Minorities in relation to any future constitutional scheme. It has already been made clear that my declaration of last Octob

er does not exclude examination of any part either of the Act of 1935 or of the policy and plans on which it is based. His Majesty’s Government's concern that full weight should be given to the views of the Minorities in any revision has also been brought out. That remains the position of His Majesty's Government. It goes without saying that they could not contemplate the transfer of their present responsibilities for the peace and welfare of India to any system of government whose authority is directly denied by large and powerful elements in India's national life. Nor could they be parties to the coercion of such elements into submission to such a Government.

    The second point of general interest is the machinery for building within the British Commonwealth of Nations a new constitutional scheme when the time comes. There has been very strong insistence that the framing of that scheme should be primarily the responsibility of Indians themselves, and should originate from Indian conceptions of the social, economic and political structure of Indian life. His Majesty's Government are in sympathy with that desire, and wish to see it given the fullest practical expression subject to the due fulfilment of the obligations which Great Britain's long connexion with India has imposed upon her and for which His Majesty's Government cannot divest themselves of responsibility.

    It is clear that a moment when the Commonwealth is engaged in a struggle for existence is not one in which fundamental constitutional issues can be decisively resolved. But His Majesty's Government authorize me to declare that they will most readily assent to the setting up after the conclusion of the war with the least possible delay of a body representative of the principal elements in India's national life in order to devise the framework of the new Constitution and they will lend every aid in their power to hasten decisions on all relevant matters to the utmost degree.

    Meanwhile they will welcome and promote in any way possible every sincere and practical step that may be taken by representative Indians themselves to reach a basis of friendly agreement, firstly, on the form Which the post-war representative body should take and the methods by which it should arrive at its conclusions, and secondly upon the Principles and outlines of the Constitution itself.