Transfer of Power, 1942-47

Transfer of Power, 1942-47 is a collection of documents on the constitutional relations between Britain and India. These selected documents from the India Office Records are contained in a twelve volume series covering the period from 1 January 1942 to 15 August 1947. The scheme for the compilation of the volumes was initiated in June 1967 as announced in the British House of Commons by the Prime Minister Harold Wilson. The massive volumes were published by Her Majesty's Stationary Office, London, 1970 -1982. The volumes were edited by PNS Mansergh, Smuts Professor of the History of the British Commonwealth at Cambridge. EWR Lumby was the Assistant Editor of these volumes.

The arrangement of the documents is in a chronological order, but in a thematic set up. The subtitles and dates of publication of the volumes are: Vol 1, The Cripps Mission, January-April 1942 (1970); Vol II, 'Quit India', 30 April-21 September 1942 (1971); Vol III, Reassertion of Authority, Gandhi's fast and the succession to the Viceroyalty, 21 September 1942 -12 June 1943 (1971); Vol IV, the Bengal Famine and the New Viceroyalty, 15 June 1943-31 August 1944 (1973); Vol V, The Simla Conference: Background and Proceedings, 1 September 1944-28 July 1945 (1975); Vol VI, The post-war phase: new moves by the Labour Government, 1 August 1945- 22 March 1946 (1976); Vol VII, The Cabinet Mission, 23 March-20 June 1946 (1977); Vol VIII, The Interim Government, 3 July-1 November 1946 (1979); Vol IX, The fixing of a time limit, 4 November 1946-22 March 1947 (1980); Vol X, The Mountbatten Viceroyalty: Formulation of a Plan, 22 March-30 May 1947 (1981); Vol XI, The Mountbatten Viceroyalty: Announcement and Reception of the 3 June Plan, 31 May-7 July 1947 (1982). Two appendices relating to the entire series have been included in Vol XII, which includes supplementary Documentation and Errata et Corrigenda. For the purpose of clarification or the rounding off of the record of some transactions, a few footnotes, an annexture, and three additional documents have been added.

Most of the documents in the series are drawn either from the official archives of the India Office Records or from the private collections of the Vice regal papers in the India Office Library. The principal categories of such documents are the Governors' Reports and correspondences with the Viceroy, the telegraphic transactions between the Viceroy and the Secretary of State, and the weekly letters exchanged between them, being for the most part private correspondences, the minutes of officials, and the Secretary of State, and the minutes of the meetings of the War Cabinet Committee on India. The papers or memoranda submitted to the Committee or circulated to the War Cabinet included the relevant War Cabinet conclusions, together with certain papers of the Prime Minister's Office which recorded inter alias exchanges of view on Indian policy with the heads of the government in the United States and the Dominions.

On the whole, documentation in the volumes includes materials about significant political developments, and intricacies of imperialism that changed the course of the history of South Asia. As such, the documents contained in the volumes constitute valuable primary source materials. The inclusions of principal holders of office, chronological table of principal events, summary documents, glossary, and indices to persons and subjects enhance the usefulness of the volumes. The volumes also provide a few illustrations about prominent personalities of the time.

Although most documents in the series are relevant of the courses of political developments in Bengal, volume IV, in dealing with Bengal famine of 1943-1944 is particularly useful to understand at least partially the processes and ramifications of the great human tragedy that visited Bengal in recent history. Unlike other volumes in the series, this particular volume did not document by politics and constitutional questions but food, or to be precise, the scarcity of it, and the socio-economic trauma that followed. It seems that the Bengal Governor and the Viceroy repeatedly recorded graphically the seriousness of the food situation in Bengal, but the War Cabinet was not convinced of the gravity of the situations and did not take any timely measure. It may be noted that in addition to the documentation included in this volume, a very substantial body of materials of great value on Bengal food crisis remains in India Office Records. [Enayetur Rahim]