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The August Offer was a proposal made by the British government in 1940 promising the expansion of the Executive Council of the Viceroy of India to include more Indians, the establishment of an advisory war council, giving full weight to minority opinion, and the recognition of Indians' right to frame their own constitution (after the end of the war). In return, it was hoped that all parties and communities in India would cooperate in Britain's efforts in World War II. However this proposal was rejected by the Congress as the minorities, especially the Muslim League, were assured that no constitutional scheme was acceptable to the government without their agreement, i.e. providing a veto power to the Muslim League. The Muslim League did not accept the offer as it did not give a clear assurance that a separate Pakistan would be established.
A change of government took place in Britain in May 1940 when Winston Churchill became prime minister (1940–45). The Fall of France in June left Britain in immediate danger of Nazi occupation. As the war was taking a menacing turn from the Allied point of view, the Indian National Congress softened its demands and offered to cooperate in the war if a transfer of authority in India was made to an interim government. The British government's response to these demands was a statement delivered by the then Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, known as the August Offer.
On 8 August 1940, early in the Battle of Britain, the Viceroy of India, Lord Linlithgow, made the so-called "August Offer", a fresh proposal promising the expansion of the Executive Council to include more Indians, the establishment of an advisory war council, giving full weight to minority opinion, and the recognition of Indians' right to frame their own constitution (after the end of the war). In return, it was hoped that all parties and communities in India would cooperate in Britain's war effort.
Linlithgow attempted to solve the Congress-Raj stalemate over popular control of India’s defense. Linlithgow prefaced his proposal by re-iterating that the differences in ideologies that separated the All India Muslim League and the Indian National Congress must be bridged before any significant constitutional settlement is made. Nevertheless, the Viceroy announced that the British government was now willing to move forward with governmental changes that would “associate Indian public opinion with the conduct of the war.”
Linlithgow was authorized to admit a limited number of Indian politicians to his executive council and to establish a war advisory council that included Princes, politicians and other interests in the national life of India. However, Linlithgow warned the politicians that his proposal did not imply that there would be any revision of the 1935 Government of India Act.
The declaration marked an important advance over the existing state of things, as it recognised at least the natural and inherent right of the people of the country to determine the form of their future constitution, and explicitly promised Dominion status.
The following proposals were put in:
The Congress did not trust the intentions of the British government. Consequently, Linlithgow recorded that the British government “could not contemplate the transfer of their present responsibilities for the peace and tranquility of India to any system of Government whose authority is directly denied by large and power elements in the India’s national life.” Moreover, as the British Empire was pre-engaged in their war against the Germans totalitarianism, the period was unpropitious for addressing congressional issues in India. Therefore, Linlithgow stated that the constitutional future of India could be resolved in the future once the war was over by establishing a constituent assembly that was representative of the principal elements in India’s national life. The Congress Working Committee meeting at Wardha on 21st August 1940 eventually rejected the offer, and asserted its demand for complete freedom from the imperial power. Gandhi viewed it as having widened the gulf between Nationalist India and the British ruler.
Having not taken the Pakistan idea seriously, Linlithgow supposed that what Jinnah actually wanted was a non-federal arrangement without Hindu domination. To allay Muslim fears of Hindu domination the 'August offer' had been accompanied with the promise that a future constitution would take the views of minorities into consideration. The Muslim League was not satisfied with Linlighgow's offer and rejected it in September.
The Congress was in a confused state again after the August Offer. The radicals and leftists wanted to launch a mass Civil Disobedience Movement, but here Gandhi insisted on Individual Satyagraha. The Individual Satyagraha was not to seek independence but to affirm the right of speech. The other reason for this Satyagraha was that a mass movement might turn violent and he would not like to see the Great Britain embarrassed by such a situation. This view was conveyed to Lord Linlithgow by Gandhi when he met him on 27 September 1940. The non-violence was set as the centerpiece of Individual Satyagraha. This was done by carefully selecting the Satyagrahis. The first Satyagrahi selected was Acharya Vinoba Bhave, who was sent to Jail when he spoke against the war. He was followed nearly by 25,000 individual satygrahis. The second Satyagrahi was Jawahar Lal Nehru. The third was Brahma Datt, one of the inmates of the Gandhi's Ashram. They all were sent to jail for violating the Defence of India Act, and many others were also later imprisoned. But since it was not a mass movement, it attracted little enthusiasm and in December 1940, Gandhi suspended it. The campaign started again in January 1941; this time thousands of people joined and around 20,000 people were arrested. Significant modifications were made to the August Offer in 1942 in the form of Cripps Proposals.
He made a serious misjudgement in underestimating Muslim sentiment before the outbreak of the war. He did not take the idea of 'Pakistan' seriously. After the adoption of the March 1940 Lahore resolution, calling for the creation of a separate state or states of Pakistan, he wrote: 'My first reaction is, I confess, that silly as the Muslim scheme for partition is, it would be a pity to throw too much cold water on it at the moment.' Linlithgow surmised that what Jinnah feared was a federal India dominated by Hindus. Part of the purpose of the famous British 'August offer' of 1940 was to assure the Muslims that they would be protected against a 'Hindu Raj' as well as to hold over the discussion of the 1935 Act and a 'new constitution' until after the war.
Viceroy Linlithgow's 'August Offer', made in 1940, proposed Dominion status for India after the war, and the inclusion of Indians in a larger Executive Council and a new War Advisory Council, and promised that minority views would be taken into account in future constitutional revision. This was not enough to satisfy either the Congress or the Muslim League, who both rejected the offer in September, and shortly afterwards Congress launched a fresh campaign of civil disobedience.