On this day, Sir Stanford Cripps, British statesman, arrives in India for talks with Mohandas Gandhi on Indian independence, in what will become known as the Cripps Mission.
Cripps was a gifted student with a background in such diverse disciplines as chemistry and law. Always of weak health, he was deemed unfit for military service during World War I; instead, he worked in a government factory. After the war, Cripps was made a King’s Counsel (1927). Shortly thereafter, he was knighted, and in 1931 was elected to Parliament as a Labour Party member for Bristol East. Cripps’ politics were left of even the Labour Party, and when he advocated a united front with the Communists in 1938 against a growing European fascism, he was expelled from the party.
Once World War II erupted, Cripps was made ambassador to the Soviet Union. In 1942, he joined the War Cabinet and ventured to India to begin discussing two pressing issues: Japan’s threat to India, and India’s independence from Britain. The first meetings of the Cripps Mission took place on March 22, 1942. The first item on the agenda was India’s defense against a growing Japanese empire. Cripps wanted to rally the Indian National Congress behind the cause. The leader of the Congress was Mohandas K. Gandhi.
Nicknamed Mahatma, the “Great-Souled,” Gandhi was at the center of India’s quest for independence from British colonial rule. His use of nonviolent protest both in South Africa, where he practiced law, and in India made him a model and icon for later social-protest movements. Gandhi deemed the negotiations made with the British government through the Cripps Mission unsatisfactory. It did not guarantee Indian independence–never mind the immediate autonomy that the Congress demanded–and threatened to “divide and keep conquered” by playing Hindu Indians against Muslim Indians. Consequently, though Gandhi hated fascism, he could not promise unqualified Indian support of the British during the war.
The Cripps Mission failed; Cripps returned to Britain and was eventually transferred to the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Gandhi was arrested as a “threat” to Indian security. He was interned for two years before health issues forced his release.