- Government of India Act 1935
The Government of India Act 1935 ("26 Geo. 5 & 1 Edw. 8 c. 2") was the last pre-independence constitution of the
British Raj. The significant aspects of the act were:
* It granted Indian provinces autonomy and ended the
dyarchyintroduced by the Government of India Act 1919.
* It provided for establishment of an All India Federation.
* Direct elections are introduced for the first time. The right to vote was increased from seven million to thirty-five million.
Sindis separated from Bombay. Orissais separated from Bihar. Burmais separated from India.
* Provincial assemblies were to include more elected Indian representatives, who in turn could lead majorities and form governments. But Governors retained discretionary powers regarding summoning of legislatures, giving assent to bills and administering certain special regions (mostly tribal).
The federal part of the Act was never introduced due to strong opposition from the
princely staterulers. In 1937the first set of elections under this act were held.
Genesis of the Act
The Government of India Act 1935 was the outcome of a long process constitutional development, of which the main stages were:
Government of India Act 1858, under which India became a formal Crown colonyand the British government took over administrative functions from the British East India Company, following the Sepoy Mutinyin 1857;
Government of India Act 1909which introduced the elective principle;
Government of India Act 1919which introduced provincial dyarchy; that is, some “nation building” subjects, such as education, would be in the hands of ministers commanding support in the provincial legislature while the core subjects, for example, law and order and finance, were in the charge of officials appointed by, and responsible to, the governor and ultimately to the British Parliament;
Simon Commissionwhich proposed almost fully responsible governmentin the provinces;
Round Table Conferences (India)which agreed that both British Indiaand the Princely Stateswould be integrated into an eventual federated Dominion of India. However, Congress and the Muslims were not able to reach any agreement on how this federation should be structured; that is, how power was to be shared and how the minority interests were to be protected. This lack of agreement left the Conservative-dominated British government free to draft legislative proposals (the white paper) in line with its own views;
*A joint select committee, chaired by Lord Linlithgow, which reviewed the white paper proposals at great length. On the basis of this white paper, the Government of India Act, 1935 was framed. At the committee stage and later, to appease the diehards, the “safeguards” were strengthened and indirect elections, were reinstated for the Federal Assembly (Lower House). Among other things, the Act continued to deny Indians the right to draft, or modify, their own constitution.
ome Features of the Act
No Preamble – The Ambiguity of Parliament’s Commitment to Dominion Status
Government of India Act 1919had a Preamble explaining the overarching aim and philosophy of the Act. The Preamble quoted, and centered on, the statement of the Secretary of State for India, Edwin Montagu (July 17, 1917 – March 19, 1922) to the House of Commons on 20 August 1917 which pledged
…the gradual development of self-governing institutions, with a view to the progressive realization of
responsible governmentin India as an integral Part of the British Empire.
Had there been a Preamble to the new Act, it would have had to have included the Viceroy
Lord Irwin’s statement of 31 October 1929 [http://www.houseofdavid.ca/Ind_uni.htm#Gwyer_Appadorai Gwyer & Appadorai pp. 224–5.] ] :
The goal of British policy was stated in the declaration of August 1917 to be that of providing for the gradual development of self-governing institutions, with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire…. I am authorized on behalf of His Majesty's Government to state clearly that in their judgement it is implicit in the declaration of 1917 that the natural issue of India's constitutional progress, as there contemplated, is the attainment of Dominion Status.
Once the new Act had been passed Irwin’s statement would have become Parliament’s commitment. However, many Conservative backbenchers, not only the diehards, opposed granting India dominion status. To avoid a confrontation, that is, to fudge the issue,
Samuel Hoare, the Secretary of State for Indiamade the following statement to Parliament on 6 February 1935 [http://www.houseofdavid.ca/Ind_uni.htm#Gwyer_Appadorai Gwyer & Appadorai pp. 322–3.] ] :
The House will observe that the Bill, like most modern Bills, contains no Preamble. There have, it is true, been important Acts in the past, among them the Government of India Act, 1919, to which a statement of policy and intentions was prefixed. There is, however, no need for a Preamble in this case, as no new pronouncement of policy or intentions is required. The Preamble to the Act of 1919 was described by the Joint Committee in their Report as ‘having set out finally and definitely the ultimate aims of British rule in India'. The Committee, after full consideration, further asserted that 'subsequent statements of policy have added nothing to the substance of this declaration', which they then proceed to quote in full in their Report as, in their own words, ‘settling once and for all the attitude of the British Parliament and people towards the political aspirations' of India…. Moreover, in government, and above all in the government of the Indian Empire, continuity of policy is of the first importance. No Government and no Parliament can treat lightly any statement issued under the authority of their predecessors…. The position of the Government therefore, is this: They stand firmly by the pledge contained in the 1919 Preamble, which it is not part of their plan to repeal, and by the interpretation put by the Viceroy in 1929, on the authority of the Government of the day, on that Preamble that 'the natural issue of India's progress as there contemplated, is the attainment of Dominion Status'. The declaration of 1929 was made to remove doubts which had been felt as to the meaning of the Preamble of 1919. There is, therefore, no need to enshrine in an Act words and phrases which would add nothing new to the declaration of the Preamble.
Hoare’s statement asserted his Government’s support for the Irwin declaration but did not submit it to Parliament to receive parliamentary approval for its contents.
No Bill of Rights
Since the Federation, to be established under the Act, would include autocratic
Princely States, no meaningful bill of rights could be formulated. N.b. the draft outline constitution in the Nehru Reportdid include a bill of rights.
The Government of India Act 1935 was the longest bill ever passed by British Parliament.
Relationship to a Dominion Constitution
In 1947, a relatively few amendments in the Act made it the functioning interim constitutions of India and Pakistan.
The Act was not only extremely detailed, but it was riddled with ‘safeguards’ designed to enable the British Government to intervene whenever it saw the need in order to maintain British responsibilities and interests. To achieve this, in the face of a gradually increasing Indianization of the institutions of the Government of India, the Act concentrated the decision for the use and the actual administration of the safeguards in the hands of the British-appointed Viceroy and provincial governors who were subject to the control of the
Secretary of State for India.
‘In view of the enormous powers and responsibilities which the Governor-General must exercise in his discretion or according to his individual judgment, it is obvious that he (the Viceroy) is expected to be a kind of superman. He must have tact, courage, and ability and be endowed with an infinite capacity for hard work. “We have put into this Bill many safeguards,” said Sir Robert Horne… “but all of those safeguards revolve about a single individual, and that is the Viceroy. He is the linch-pin of the whole system…. If the Viceroy fails, nothing can save the system you have set up.” This speech reflected the point of view of the die-hard Tories who were horrified by the prospect that some day there might be a Viceroy appointed by a Labour government.’ [http://www.houseofdavid.ca/Ind_uni.htm#Smith Smith] .]
Responsible GovernmentUnder the Act – Is the Cup Half-Full or Half-Empty?
A close reading of the Act [http://www.houseofdavid.ca/Ind_uni.htm#Shah1937 Shah 1937] .] reveals that the British Government equipped itself with the legal instruments to take back total control at any time they considered this to be desirable. However, doing so without good reason would totally sink their credibility with groups in India whose support the act was aimed at securing. Some contrasting views:
“In the federal government… the semblance of responsible government is presented. But the reality is lacking, for the powers in defence and external affairs necessarily, as matters stand, given to the governor-general limit vitally the scope of ministerial activity, and the measure of representation given to the rulers of the Indian States negatives any possibility of even the beginnings of democratic control. It will be a matter of the utmost interest to watch the development of a form of government so unique; certainly, if it operates successfully, the highest credit will be due to the political capacity of Indian leaders, who have infinitely more serious difficulties to face than had the colonial statesmen who evolved the system of self-government which has now culminated in Dominion status.” [ [http://www.houseofdavid.ca/Ind_uni.htm#keith37 Keith 1937] , p. viii.]
Lord Lothian, in a talk lasting forty-five minutes, came straight out with his view on the Bill:
"I agree with the diehards that it has been a surrender. You who are not used to any constitution cannot realise what great power you are going to wield. If you look at the constitution it looks as if all the powers are vested in the Governor-General and the Governor. But is not every power here vested in the King? Everything is done in the name of the King but does the King ever interfere? Once the power passes into the hands of the legislature, the Governor or the Governor-General is never going to interfere. …The Civil Service will be helpful. You too will realise this. Once a policy is laid down they will carry it out loyally and faithfully…
We could not help it. We had to fight the diehards here. You could not realise what great courage has been shown by Mr. Baldwin and Sir Samuel Hoare. We did not want to spare the diehards as we had to talk in a different language…
These various meetings — and in due course G.D. (Birla), before his return in September, met virtually everyone of importance in Anglo-Indian affairs — confirmed G.D.'s original opinion that the differences between the two countries were largely psychological, the same proposals open to diametrically opposed interpretations. He had not, probably, taken in before his visit how considerable, in the eyes of British conservatives, the concessions had been… If nothing else, successive conversations made clear to G.D. that the agents of the Bill had at least as heavy odds against them at home as they had in India. [http://www.houseofdavid.ca/Ind_uni.htm#ross Ross, p. 99 ff] .]
"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."Anatole FRANCE, The Red Lily, 1894.]
Under the Act, British citizens resident in the UK and British companies registered in the UK must be treated on the same basis as Indian citizens and Indian registered companies unless UK law denies reciprocal treatment. The unfairness of this arrangement is clear when one considers the dominant position of British capital in much of the Indian modern sector and the complete dominance, maintained through unfair commercial practices, of UK shipping interests in both India’s international and coastal shipping traffic and the utter insignificance of Indian capital in Britain and the non-existence of Indian involvement in shipping to or within the UK. There are very detailed provisions requiring the Viceroy to intervene if, in his unappealable view, any India law or regulation is intended to, or will in fact, discriminate against UK resident British subjects, British registered companies and, particularly, British shipping interests.
“The Joint Committee considered a suggestion that trade with foreign countries should be made by the Minister of Commerce, but it decided that all negotiations with foreign countries should be conducted by the Foreign Office or Department of External Affairs as they are in the United Kingdom. In concluding agreements of this character, the Foreign Secretary always consults the Board of Trade and it was assumed that the Governor-General would in like manner consult the Minister of Commerce in India. This may be true, but the analogy itself is false. In the United Kingdom, both departments are subject to the same legislative control, whereas in India one is responsible to the federal legislature and the other to the Imperial Parliament.”
British Political Needs vs. Indian Constitutional Needs – the Ongoing Dysfunction
From the moment of the Montagu statement of 1917, it was vital that the reform process stay ahead of the curve if the British were to hold the strategic initiative. However, imperialist sentiment, and a lack of realism, in British political circles made this impossible. Thus the grudging conditional concessions of power in the Acts of 1919 and 1935 caused more resentment and signally failed to win the Raj the backing of influential groups in India which it desperately needed. In 1919 the Act of 1935, or even the
Simon Commissionplan would have been well received. There is evidence that Montagu would have backed something of this sort but his cabinet colleagues would not have considered it. By 1935, a constitution establishing a Dominion of India, comprising the British Indian provinces might have been acceptable in India though it would not have passed the British Parliament.
‘Considering the balance of power in the Conservative party at the time, the passing of a Bill more liberal than that which was enacted in 1935 is inconceivable.’ [http://www.houseofdavid.ca/Ind_uni.htm#moore_endgames Moore 1988] , p. 63.]
Provincial Part of the Act
The provincial part of the Act, which went into effect automatically, basically followed the recommendations of the
Simon Commission. Provincial dyarchy was abolished; that is, all provincial portfolios were to be placed in charge of ministers enjoying the support of the provincial legislatures. The British-appointed provincial governors, who were responsible to the British Government via the Viceroy and Secretary of State for India, were to accept the recommendations of the ministers unless, in their view, they negatively affected his areas of statutory “special responsibilities” such as the prevention of any grave menace to the peace or tranquility of a province and the safeguarding of the legitimate interests of minorities. In the event of political breakdown, the governor, under the supervision of the Viceroy, could take over total control of the provincial government. This, in fact, allowed the governors a more untrammeled control than any British official had enjoyed in the history of the Raj. After the resignation of the congress provincial ministries in 1939, the governors did directly rule the ex-Congress provinces throughout the war.
It was generally recognized, that the provincial part of the Act, conferred a great deal of power and patronage on provincial politicians as long as both British officials and Indian politicians played by the rules. However, the paternalistic threat of the intervention by the British governor rankled.that was also a healty sign for muslims
Federal Part of the Act
Unlike the provincial portion of the Act, the Federal portion was to go into effect only when half the States by weight agreed to federate. This never happened and the establishment of the Federation was indefinitely postponed after the outbreak of the
Second World War.
Terms of the Act
The Act provided for Dyarchy at the Centre. The British Government, in the person of the
Secretary of State for India, through the Governor-General of India– Viceroy of India, would continue to control India’s financial obligations, defence, foreign affairs and the British Indian Armyand would make the key appointments to the Reserve Bank of India(exchange rates) and Railway Board and the Act stipulated that no finance bill could be placed in the Central Legislature without the consent of the Governor General. The funding for the British responsibilities and foreign obligations (eg. loan repayments, pensions), at least 80 percent of the federal expenditures, would be non-votable and be taken off the top before any claims could be considered for (for example) social or economic development programs. The Viceroy, under the supervision of the Secretary of State for India, was provided with overriding and certifying powers that could, theoretically, have allowed him to rule autocratically. [http://www.storyofpakistan.com/articletext.asp?artid=A041 Terms of the Act] .]
Objectives of the British Government
The federal part of the Act was designed to meet the aims of the Conservative Party. Over the very long term, the Conservative leadership expected the Act to lead to a nominally
dominion statusIndia, conservative in outlook, dominated by an alliance of Hindu princes, Muslims, and right-wing Hindus which would be well disposed to place itself under the guidance and protection of Great Britain. In the medium-term, the Act was expected to (in rough order of importance):
*win the support of moderate nationalists since its formal aim was to lead eventually to a Dominion of India which, as defined under the Statute of Westminster 1931 virtually equalled independence;
*retain British of control of the Indian Army, Indian finances and India’s foreign relations for another generation;
*win Muslim support by conceding most of
Jinnah's Fourteen Points[http://www.storyofpakistan.com/articletext.asp?artid=A037 Jinnah’s Fourteen Points] at [http://www.storyofpakistan.com/ Story of Pakistan] .] ;
*convince the Princes to join the Federation by giving the Princes conditions for entry never likely to be equaled. It was expected that enough would join to allow the establishment of the Federation. The terms offered to the Princes included:
**The Princes would select their state’s representatives in the Federal Legislature. There would be no pressure for them to democratize their administrations or allow elections for state’s representatives in the Federal Legislature;
**The Princes would enjoy heavy weightage. The Princely States represented about a quarter of the population of India and produced well under a quarter of its wealth. Under the Act:
***The Upper House of the Federal Legislature, the Council of State, would consist of 260 members (156 (60%) elected from the British India and 104 (40%) nominated by the rulers of the princely states) and,
***The Lower House, the Federal Assembly, would consist of 375 members (250 (67%) elected by the Legislative Assemblies of the British Indian provinces; 125 (33%) nominated by the rulers of the princely states.)
*ensure that the Congress could never rule alone or gain enough seats to bring down the government. This was done by over-representing the Princes, the Muslims and every possible minority and by making the executive theoretically, but not practically, removable by the legislature;
*weaken electoral support for Congress by increasing the electorate. It was hoped that elements of the “true India” would be enfranchised which would see their interests in stability and cooperation with the British and so would reject the westernized nationalist extremists;
*induce the disintegration of Congress as a cohesive national party. This would be accomplished by giving Indian politicians a great deal of power at the provincial level, while denying them, responsibility at the Centre, it was hoped that Congress, the only national party, would disintegrate into a series of provincial fiefdoms and thus cease to threaten the Raj at the Centre.
Gambles Taken by the British Government
*Viability of the proposed Federation. It was hoped that the gerrymandered federation, encompassing units of such hugely different sizes, sophistication and varying in forms of government from autocratic Princely States to democratic provinces, could provide the basis for a viable state. However, this was not a realistic possibility (see eg. The Making of India’s Paper Federation, 1927-35 in [http://www.houseofdavid.ca/Ind_uni.htm#moore_endgames Moore 1988] ). In reality, the Federation, as planned in the Act, almost certainly was not viable and would have rapidly broken down with the British left to pick up the pieces without any viable alternative.
*Princes Seeing and Acting in Their Own Long-Range Best Interests - That the Princes would see that their best hope for a future would lie in rapidly joining and becoming a united block without which no group could hope, mathematically, to wield power. However, the princes did not join, and thus exercising the veto provided by the Act, prevented the Federation from coming into existence. Among the reasons for the Princes staying out were:
**They did not have the foresight to realize that this was their only chance for a future;
**Congress had begun, and would continue, agitating for democratic reforms within the Princely States. Since the one common concern of the 600 or so Princes was their desire to continue to rule their states without interference, this was indeed a mortal threat. It was on the cards that this would lead eventually to more democratic state regimes and the election of states’ representatives in the Federal Legislature. In all likelihood these representatives would be largely Congressmen. Had the Federation been established, the election of states’ representatives in the Federal Legislature would amount to a Congress coup from the inside. Thus, contrary to their official position that the British would look favorably on the democratization of the Princely States, their plan required that the States remain autocratic. This reflects a deep contradiction on British views of India and its future.
‘At a banquet in the princely state of Benares Hailey observed that although the new federal constitution would protect their position in the central government, the internal evolution of the states themselves remained uncertain. Most people seemed to expect them to develop representative institutions. Whether those alien grafts from Westminster would succeed in British India, however, itself remained in doubt. Autocracy was "a principle which is firmly seated in the Indian States," he pointed out; "round it burn the sacred fires of an age-long tradition," and it should be given a fair chance first. Autocratic rule, "informed by wisdom, exercised in moderation, and vitalized by a spirit of service to the interests of the subject, may well prove that it can make an appeal in India as strong as that of representative and responsible institutions." This spirited defense brings to mind Nehru's classic paradox of how the representatives of the advanced, dynamic West allied themselves with the most reactionary forces of the backward, stagnant East.’ [http://www.houseofdavid.ca/Ind_uni.htm#Cell Cell] , p. 210.]
Under the Act,
‘There are a number of restrictions on the freedom of discussion in the federal legislature. For example the act forbids ... any discussion of, or the asking of questions about, a matter connected with an Indian State, other than a matter with respect to which the federal legislature has power to make laws for that state, unless the Governor-General in his discretion is satisfied that the matter affects federal interests or affects a British subject, and has given his consent to the matter being discussed or the question being asked.’
**They were not a cohesive group and probably realized that they would never act as one.
**Each Prince seemed consumed by the desire to gain the best deal for himself were his state to join the Federation – the most money, the most autonomy.
*That enough was being offered at the Centre to win the support of moderate nationalist Hindu and Muslim support. In fact, so little was offered that all significant groups in British India rejected and denounced the proposed Federation. A major contributing factor was the continuing distrust of British intentions for which there was considerable basis in fact. In this vital area the Act failed Irwin’s test:
‘I don't believe that… it is impossible to present the problem in such a form as would make the shop window look respectable from an Indian point of view, which is really what they care about, while keeping your hand pretty firmly on the things that matter.’ (Irwin to Stonehaven, 12 November 1928)
*That the wider electorate would turn against the Congress. In fact, the 1937 elections showed overwhelming support for Congress among the Hindu electorate.
*That by giving Indian politicians a great deal of power at the provincial level, while denying them, responsibility at the Centre, it was hoped that Congress, the only national party, would disintegrate into a series of provincial fiefdoms. In fact, the congress High Command was able to control the provincial ministries and to force their resignation in 1939. The Act showed the strength and cohesion of Congress and probably strengthened it. This does not imply that Congress was not made up of, and found its support in, various sometimes competing interests and groups. Rather, it recognizes the ability of Congress, unlike the British Raj, to maintain the cooperation and support of most of these groups even if, for example, in the forced resignation of Congress provincial ministries in 1939 and the rejection of the Cripps Offer in 1942, this required a negative policy harmful, in the long-run, to the prospects for an independent India which would be both united and democratic.
Indian Reaction to the Proposed Federation
No significant group in India accepted the Federal portion of the Act. A typical response was:
‘After all, there are five aspects of every Government worth the name: (a) The right of external and internal defence and all measures for that purpose; (b) The right to control our external relations; (c) The right to control our currency and exchange; (d) The right to control our fiscal policy; (e) the day-to-day administration of the land…. (Under the Act) You shall have nothing to do with external affairs. You shall have nothing to do with defence. You shall have nothing to do, or, for all practical purposes in future, you shall have nothing to do with your currency and exchange, for indeed the Reserve Bank Bill just passed has a further reservation in the Constitution that no legislation may be undertaken with a view to substantially alter the provisions of that Act except with the consent of the Governor-General…. there is no real power conferred in the Centre.’ (Speech by Mr Bhulabhai DESAI on the Report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform, 4 February 1935 [http://www.houseofdavid.ca/Ind_uni.htm#Gwyer_Appadorai Gwyer & Appadorai] , p. 320.] .
However, the Liberals, and even elements in the Congress were tepidly willing to give it a go:
“Linlithgow asked Sapru whether he thought there was a satisfactory alternative to the scheme of the 1935 Act. Sapru replied that they should stand fast on the Act and the federal plan embodied in it. It was not ideal but at this stage it was the only thing…. A few days after Sapru's visit Birla came to see the Viceroy. He thought that Congress was moving towards acceptance of Federation. Gandhi was not over-worried, said Birla, by the reservation of defence and external affairs to the centre, but was concentrating on the method of choosing the States' representatives. Birla wanted the Viceroy to help Gandhi by persuading a number of Princes to move towards democratic election of representatives. …Birla then said that the only chance for Federation lay in agreement between Government and Congress and the best hope of this lay in discussion between the Viceroy and Gandhi.” [http://www.houseofdavid.ca/Ind_uni.htm#Glendevon Viceroy at Bay] pp. 87–8] .] GANGULEE, [http://www.houseofdavid.ca/Ind_uni.htm# The making of federal India] , p. 165.]
The Working of the Act
The British government sent out Lord Linlithgow as the new viceroy with the remit of bringing the Act into effect. This was an unfortunate choice dictated by British politics rather than by any accessment of Indian needs. On the plus side, Linlithgow was intelligent, extremely hard working, honest, serious and determined to make a success out of the Act. On the negative side, he was unimaginative, stolid, legalistic and found it very difficult to "get on terms" with people outside his immediate circle. This legalistic approach, unfortunately, reinforced the extremely legalsitic Act of which he was one of the main authors.
When under pressure, which was most of the time, Linlithgow retreated into the details of administration while going immobile on the strategic level. This contrasts with Gandhi's tendency to retreat into a unrealistic idealistic, semi-mystical pronouncements and Nehru's tendency under pressure to retreat into dogmatic socialism. If you throw in Jinnah's stubborn, legalistic pursuit of Muslim maximum goals the combination did not make for the finding of practical compromise solutions to massive problems
In 1937, after a great deal of confrontation, Provincial Autonomy was launched. From that point until the declaration of war in 1939, Linlithgow tirelessly tried to get enough of the Princes to accede to launch the Federation. In this he received only the weakest backing from the home government and in the end the Princes rejected the Federation "en masse". In September 1939, Linlithgow simply declared that India was at war with Germany. A more imaginative and flexible viceroy, such as Irwin, might have tried to consult with Indian leaders and obtain a resolution of support from the Central Legislative Assembly. Though Linlithgow's behaviour was constitutionally correct it was also offensive to much of Indian opinion. This led directly to the resignation of the Congress provincial ministries which drove another nail into the coffin of Indian unity.
From 1939, Linlithgow concentrated on supporting the war effort.
Government of India Act
* [http://www.houseofdavid.ca/Ind_uni.htm#gon1935 Bibliography]
* [http://www.houseofdavid.ca/goi_1935.htm Essay on The Government of India Act 1935]
* [http://www.houseofdavid.ca/Ind_uni.htm#Muldoon Muldoon, Andrew Robert, “Making a 'moderate' India: British conservatives, imperial culture and Indian political reform, 1924—1935”]
1 Keay, John. "India: A History". Grove Press Books, distributed by Publishers Group West. United States: 2000 ISBN 0-8021-3797-0, pp. 490
2 Keay, John. "India: A History". Grove Press Books, distributed by Publishers Group West. United States: 2000 ISBN 0-8021-3797-0, pp. 490
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