Saturday, June 17, 2017

Nehru's press conference, July 10, 1946

From the Annual Register, 1946, and The Transfer of Power 1942-7, Volume VIII, #16.  {The changes to the Annual Register account derived from T.O.P. are in blue}

Congress and the Cabinet Plan
Pt. Nehru Explains Issues

The Congress President, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in a 75-minute Press Conference at Congress House Bombay, on the 10th July discussed a number of important questions such as the position of Indians in Ceylon, the Constituent Assembly, the grouping of provinces as contained in the Cabinet Mission's statement of May 16, the subjects that will come within the purview of the Union Centre, what the Congress proposes to do in the Constituent Assembly, how the Kashmir Government's ban against his entry into that State has become an all-India issue between the Indian National Congress and the States' People's Conference on the one side and the Political Department of the Government of India and the Kashmir State on the other.  This last subject, he said, was likely to affect other matters including the whole question of the States in the Constituent Assembly.



CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY

Asked to amplify his statement in the AICC that the Congress had made no commitment in regard to either the long-term or the short-term plan of the Cabinet Mission except to go into the Constituent Assembly, Pandit Nehru said: "As a matter of fact if you read the correspondence that has passed between the Congress President and the Cabinet Mission and the Viceroy you will see in what conditions and circumstances we agreed to go into the Constituent Assembly. "

"The first thing is we have agreed to go into the Constituent Assembly and we have agreed to nothing else.  It is true that in going to the Constituent Assembly, inevitably, we have agreed to a certain process of going into it, that is, election of the candidates to the Constituent Assembly.  What we do there, we are entirely and absolutely free to determine.   We have committed ourselves to no single matter to anybody.   Naturally even though one might not agree to commit oneself, there is a certain compulsion of facts which makes one accept this thing or that thing.  I do not know what that might be in a particular context.   But the nature of compulsion of facts would be not of the British Government's desires or intents but how to make the Assembly a success and how to avoid its breaking up.  That will be certainly a very important consideration.  But the British Government does not appear there at all."

When the Congress had stated that the Constituent Assembly was a sovereign body, Pandit Nehru said: "The Cabinet Mission's reply was it was more or less 'yes', subject to two considerations: Firstly, proper arrangement for minorities, and the other, a treaty between India and England".

"I wish the Cabinet Mission had stated that both these matters are not controversial.  It is obvious the minorities question has to be settled satisfactorily.   It is also obvious that if there is any kind of peaceful change over India, it is bound to result in some kind of treaty with Britain."

"What exactly that treaty will be I cannot say.  But if the British Government presumes to tell us that they are going to hold anything in India (and not build up) because they do not agree either in regard to the minorities or in regard to the treaty,  we will not accept that position.   It will become a casus belli.   We shall have no treaty if they seek to impose anything upon us and we shall tear up any treaty they try to impose.   If they treat us as equals and come to terms there will be a treaty.   But if there is the slightest attempt at imposition, we shall have no treaty."

"In regard to the minorities, it is our problem and we shall, no doubt, succeed in solving it.  We accept no outside interference in it—certainly, not the British Government's interference in it—and therefore, these two limiting factors to the sovereignty of the Constituent Assembly are not accepted by us."

"How to make the job in the Constituent Assembly a success or not is the only limiting factor.   It does not make the slightest difference what the Cabinet Mission thinks or does in the matter."

GROUPING PLAN

Referring to grouping, Pandit Nehru said:  "The big probability is from any approach to the question, there will be no grouping.   Obviously, Section A will decide against grouping.  Speaking in betting language there was a four to one chance of the North-West Frontier Province deciding against grouping.   Then Group B collapses.   It is highly likely that Assam will decide against grouping with Bengal although I would not like to say what the initial decision may be, since it is evenly balanced.   But I can say with every assurance and conviction that there is going to be finally no grouping there, because Assam will not tolerate it under any circumstances whatever.   Thus you see this grouping business approached from any point of view, does not get on at all."

Pandit Nehru also explained how provincial jealousies would work against grouping. Firstly, he pointed out everybody outside the Muslim League was entirely opposed to grouping.   In regard to this matter, the Muslim League stands by itself isolated.   Applying that principle you will find in the north-west zone there is a kind of balance of more or less even of pro-grouping and anti-grouping.

Secondly, entirely for other reasons non-political, non-Congress, non-League, there is a good deal of feeling against grouping with the Punjab both in the North West Frontier Province and Sind for economic and other reasons.  That is to say, even a Muslim Leaguer in Sind dislikes the idea of grouping with the Punjab, because he fears that the Punjab will dominate Sind,  Punjab being a dominant party in that group and more aggressive and advanced in some ways.   Apart from the imposed discipline from the Muslim League, both in the Frontier and in Sind,  the people were unanimously against grouping, because both these Provinces are afraid of being swamped by the Punjab.

PROVISIONAL NATIONAL GOVERNMENT

Asked when the Provisional National Government would be formed at the Centre,  Pandit Nehru said: " I cannot just peep into the future and tell what is going to happen.  For the moment we are somewhat engaged in the Constituent Assembly elections.   But remember this that the Constituent Assembly is not going to put up easily for long with the kind of Care-taker Government that exists today.   There is bound to be conflict between them.   In fact, the Care-taker Government has no stability; nor is there any possibility of its long continuance, how and when and what shape the new Government will take I cannot say, it will be just entering into phantasy."

When his attention was drawn to the forthcoming meeting of the All-India Muslim League Council at Bombay [*],  Pandit Nehru said:  "Whatever the Congress does is always intended to create new situations.  We do not follow other people's situations.   I am glad that the Muslim League has realised that we have created a new situation.  We propose to create many further new situations.  What we shall do if the League decides to do this or that we will see what the conditions are and decide accordingly."

UNION CENTRE'S POWERS

Dealing with the powers of the proposed Union Centre, Pandit Nehru said: "According to the Cabinet Mission's proposals there were three or four basic subjects in it, i.e., Defence, Foreign Affairs, Communications and the power to raise finances behind them.   Obviously, Defence and Communications have a large number of industries behind them.  So these industries inevitably come under the Union Government and they are likely to grow.   Defence is such a wide subject that it tends to expand its scope and activities more and more.  All that comes under the Union Government."

"Similarly, External Affairs inevitably include foreign trade policy.  You cannot have foreign policy if you divorce foreign trade from it.  They include all manner of things which are not put down there, but which can be brought in."

Referring to the question of raising finances for the Union,  Pandit Nehru said it had to be done by taxation.   "If anyone suggests that some kind of contribution or doles are going to be given by the Provinces or States, it is bunkum.  No Central Government carries on on doles."

He recalled how an attempt to carry on with contributions had ended in a failure in the United States in the early days of the American Confederation.   "Inevitably therefore," he added, "any Central Government must raise its finances by taxation.  I cannot make a list now, but obviously Customs, including tariffs, is bound be be one.  In fact, tariff is connected with foreign trade policy.   It may be income-tax will be another.  I do not know what else."

Pandit Nehru pointed out that the Central Government must be responsible for foreign markets, loans and such other subjects.  It must also obviously control currency and credit.   Who is going to do it if not the Centre?   You cannot allow each unit or Province to carry on a separate type of credit and foreign policy."

"Suppose there is trouble between the Provinces or States or an economic break-down due to famine conditions the Centre comes in again, inevitably.  However limited the Centre might be you cannot help the Centre having wide powers because the past few years have shown that if there were no central authority, the conditions would have been far worse in India.   However the fact that there has been a central authority has not done much good to the country because it has been incompetent.   It is obvious, that without the central authority you cannot deal with the problems mentioned above.  There must be some overall power to intervene in grave crisis breakdown of the administration or economic breakdown or famine.   The scope of the Centre, even though limited, inevitably grows because it cannot exist otherwise. Though some people might oppose this broadening of the Centre, the Constituent Assembly will have to decide on the point."

[*] On the previous day, July 9th, Liaquat Ali Khan had announced that it had been decided to convene a meeting of the Council of the All-India Muslim League at Bombay on 28 and 29 July in light of the changed circumstances.

T.O.P. also includes Nehru's remarks on Portuguese Goa, Kashmir, the Indian States, and Sind, which are not in the Annual Register. I will add them in at some later date.

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