After the conclusion of the Third Round Table Conference in London a white paper was issued in March 1933 giving details of the basis of the working of the new constitution of India.
Among the principal sources from which the Act drew its materials were the Simon Commission Report, the report of the All-Parties Conference (the Nehru Report), the theme of the discussions of three Round Table Conferences, the White Papers, the Joint Select Committee Report and the Lothian Report.
This lengthy Act of India was piloted in the House of Commons by the Secretary of State for India, Sir Samuel Hoare in February 1935. It became the Government of India Act in 2nd August, 1935.
This Act established a “Federation of India” made up of British Indian Provinces (Governor’s Province and Commissioner’s Province) and Indian states which might accede to be united. In the case of states accession to the Federation was voluntary and the Federation could not be established until:
(a) A number of states, the rulers where off were entitled to choose not less than half of the 104 seats of the Council of state, and
(b) The aggregate population whereof amounted to at least one half of the total population of all the Indian States had acceded to the Federation. The terms on which a state joined the Federation were to be laid down in the Instrument of Accession.
The Federal Executive:
Dyarchy, rejected by the Simon Commission, was provided for in the Federal Executive. Defence, External Affairs, Ecclesiastical Affairs and the administration of the Tribal Areas were reserved in the hands of the Governor-General to be administered by him with the assistance of maximum of three Councilors to be appointed by him.
The other Federal subjects would be administered by the Governor-General with the assistance and advice of a Council of Ministers (not more than ten) to be appointed by him and to hold office during his (Governor General) pleasure and to be responsible to the Federal Legislature.
The Governor General had special responsibilities regarding certain specified subjects (the prevention of any grave menace to the peace and tranquility of India or any part thereof in respect of these subjects he had full freedom to accept or reject the advice of the Ministers. The position of the Council of Ministers was only ornamental rather than useful.
The Federal Legislature:
The Federal Legislature was constituted of two Houses, the Council of State and the Federal Assembly. The Council of state was to be a permanent body with one-third of its membership being vacated and renewed triennially. It was to consist of 156 elected members of British India and not more than 104 from the Indian states (to be nominated by the rulers concerned).
The Federal Assembly whose duration was fixed for five years was to consist of 250 representatives of British India and not more than 125 members from the Indian states. The members to the Federal Assembly were to be elected indirectly by the members of the Provincial Legislative Assemblies on the system of “proportional representation with the single transferable vote”. The members from the states were to be nominated by the rulers.
Residuary legislative powers were vested in the Governor-General in the matter of the enlistment of subjects either in the Federal Legislative list or the Provincial Legislative list or the concurrent Legislative list. The powers of the legislature were ‘cribbed, cabined and confined.” The Federal Legislature was not allowed to deal with the laws affecting the British Sovereign, or the royal family, or matters concerning the Army Act, the Air Force Act or laws for the amendment to the 1935 Act. Discriminatory legislation against British commercial or other interests was banned.
Besides there were many subjects of importance on which legislation could not be initiated without the previous sanction of the Governor-General. Any rejected items of the budget could be placed, by the direction of the Governor-General before the Council of State.
In case of difference between two houses the Governor-General could summon a joint sitting and even if a Bill was passed by both the houses he could veto the Bill and return it back for reconsideration or reserve it for his majesty’s consideration.
The main feature of the Act of 1935 was the provision of the responsible Government with safeguards. The Act made the Governor-General the pivot of the entire constitution. The Governor General had the jurisdiction to give the unity and to direct to different conflicting elements.
The Governor General acted in three different ways or capacities. Normally he was to act on the advice of his ministers. He had the right to act on his individual judgment. His special responsibility was to safeguard the financial stability and credit of India, The maintenance of law and order, the protection of the minorities, and the public servants were some other duties of the Governor General. A Federal Court was established and it was given exclusive original jurisdiction in disputes between the Federation the Provinces and the states joining the Federation.
The States accession to the Federation was voluntary. The terms on which a state joined the “Federation of India” were to be laid down in an instrument of accession”, the rights and obligations of the British crown in respect of the Indian states were to remain unaffected. The rights and obligations were left in charge of the Crown Representative. It was permissible to combine the office of Governor-General and Crown Representative in the same person.
In both Houses of the Federal Legislature the states were given their quota of representation. But the members from the state were not to be elected. In spite of such wide range of provisions the Princes of the Native States however refuse to join the Federation. They were alarmed by the changing situation in the country caused by the rapid spread of the national movement.
They apprehended that achievement of “democratic freedom” by the people of British India would undermine the autocratic rule in their own state. They also feared that accession to the Federation would bring them under the authority of the Federal Government of India in some essential matters.
As in the case of the Federation the Executive authority of a province was vested in a Governor appointed to represent the crown in the province. His position was largely modeled on that of the Governor-General. The administration of the Provincial affairs was to be ordinarily carried on by a council of ministers appointed by the Governor from among the elected members of the Provincial Legislature and responsible to them only. The ministers held office so long as they enjoyed the pleasure of the Governor.
The Governor did not only act as the constitutional head of the province merely acting on the advice of the Council of Ministers, he had some special responsibilities regarding the maintenance of peace or tranquility of the province or any part thereof. In the discharge of his special responsibilities he was authorized to act in several matters in his discretion without consulting his ministers and to give his individual judgment.
In that case he was to only consider the advice of the Council of Minister. The Governor had enormous powers which included many legislative powers as well as over non-votable items comprising about 40% of the budget. He could by a proclamation take the entire or partial government of the province into his own hand.
The constitution of the Provincial Legislature varied from province to province. In all Provincial Assemblies all members were directly elected by the people. In provinces like Madras, Bombay, Bengal, U.P., Bihar and Assam there was bicameral Legislature consisting of a Legislative Council and a Legislative Assembly and in each of these Legislative Councils the Governor had the power to nominate some members.
There were 50 seats in North-West Frontier Province, 60 each in Orissa and Sindh, 108 in Assam, 112 in Central Provinces, 152 in Bihar, 175 each in the Punjab and Bombay, 215 in Madras, 228 in the United Provinces and 250 in Bengal.
The separatist system of representation by religious communities and other groups was a prominent feature of the Act of 1935. The electoral procedure was governed by the Communal award of the British Government as modified by the Poona Pact in respect of Scheduled Castes.
Under this seats in the Legislatures were divided among various communities and groups besides there were separate constituencies for General Muslims, Europeans. Anglo Indians, Sikhs, Indian Christians etc. Some of the general seats were reserved for Scheduled Castes. This method of Communal award of the British Government accentuated the Communal disharmony in the country which paved the way for the eventual partition of India.
The Act of 1935 created general disappointment of all political parties. With innumerable checks restrictions, reservations and safeguards the new Act was still far away from even a reasonable measure of self Government. The status of India that of dependency “gradually gravitating towards that of dominion.”
The Congress President Dr. Rajendra Prasad criticized the absence of any provision for automatic growth of development of self Government.” He further said that “it will be a kind of federation in which unabashed autocracy will seat entrenched in one-third of India and peep in every now and then to strangle popular will in the remaining two- thirds.” The Muslim League led by Jinnah also rejected the Federal Scheme describing it as “a device to withhold responsibility at the Centre.” The Act was introduced as a political solution of the problems in order to safeguard the British financial interests in India.
The British Government miserably failed to overcome the opposition of the Indian National Congress, the Muslim League and the Princes against the Federal Scheme. So the Federal Scheme was withheld except the establishment of the Federal Court and the Provincials scheme was introduced on 1st April, 1937 causing a drastic change in the pattern of provincial politics. Madan Mohan Malaviya said that the statue has somewhat a democratic appearance outwardly but it is absolutely hollow from inside.”
But whatever its limitation, the Act of 1935 marked a decisive turning point in India’s constitutional history. Parliamentary institutions, even if in a weakened form, were the frame work of the new Governmental set up. The operative part of this Act however remained in force till 15th August, 1947 when it was amended by Independence of India at 1947.
With the end of the Civil Disobedience Movement many Congressmen began to consider the practicability of working along the lines of the now defunct Swaraj party. Finally the Congress decided to contest the coming elections to be held under the new Act. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was in favour of contesting the elections but not of taking part in any provincial Government. A Parliamentary Board was set up by the Congress to deal with the matters concerning the elections.
Nehru however made it clear that he was not keen on Congress forming ministries but to carry the message of the Congress to the Millions of voters and to the scores of millions of the disfranchised, to acquaint them with our future programme and policy. But in the election held in 1937 the Congress swept the polls so far as general or predominantly Hindu seats were concerned. Congress ministries were formed in seven out of 11 provinces. On 18th March, 1937 the All India Congress Committee adopted a resolution and directed the Congress Ministers of different provinces.
The declared Congress policy was to combat the new Act and end it. Nehru reiterated that in the event of any demand of the people being turned down by the British Government, the Congress members of the legislatures should work inside and outside the legislatures for putting an end to the new constitution.
This would inevitably lead to a “deadlocks with the British Government and bring out still further the inherent antagonism between British imperialism and Indian nationalism and expose the autocratic and undemocratic nature of the new constitution.”
The Muslim League had obtained a large number of seats reserved for Muslims. The League’s offer to form coalition ministries in the provinces was turned down by the Congress which resulted in making the gap wider between the two political parties. Following this Jinnah publicly proclaimed that the Congress had done nothing for the Muslims in India.
Addressing the Lucknow Session of the Muslim League in October, 1937 Jinnah said “The present leadership of the Congress especially during the last ten years has been responsible for alienating the Musalmans of India more and more by pursuing a policy which is exclusively Hindu and since they have formed the Governments in six provinces where they are in a majority.
They have by their words, deeds and programme shown more and more that the Musalmans, cannot expect any justice or fair-play at their hands.” “From the classes” Jinnah went to the “Masses with the cry of Islam in danger.” He accused the Congress of killing “every hope of Hindu-Muslim settlement in the right royal fashion of Fascism” and blamed Gandhiji for destroying the ideal with which the Congress was started. Jinnah said “He (Gandhi) is the one man responsible for turning the Congress into an instrument for the revival of Hinduism. His idea is to revive Hindu religion and establish Hindu Raj in the Country.” These type of statement of Jinnah forced the Indian politics to be bipolarized.
In spite of the hostile attitude of the British Governors of the Provinces, the bureaucracy and the Muslim League, the Congress Ministries in eight provinces out of eleven took up radical measures for the welfare of the people. Greater attention was paid to villages, to agriculture, to college education and industries. Reform of educational system, introduction of basic education, of jails and enforcement of prohibition were taken up.
Abolition of salt tax and of repressive laws came under active consideration. No distinction was made between community and community, high caste and low caste in the Congress administration. For this venture of the Ministers Gandhiji encouraged to say “that a vast opportunity is at the disposal of the ministers in terms of the Congress objectives of Complete Independence, if only they are honest, selfless, industrious, vigilant, and solicitous for the true welfare of the starving millions.” But the Congress Ministers were destined to be short-lived and their works were also criticized by the British Governors and the Muslim League. In these condition there came a great shock by the declaration of the Second World War. It altered the situation in an dramatic manner and forced the Congress to a revolutionary path.
During the period of war Gandhiji and Jawaharlal Nehru were in favour of supporting the British Government for the only reason that it was a struggle between Fascism and Democracy. But the Congress policy was that no co-operation was possible unless the Congress demanded that “India must be declared an Independent nation and present application must be given to this status to the large possible extent.” This idea of opposition to the British Government was projected by Subhash Chandra Bose.
He believed that “only after the defeat and breaking up of the British Empire could India hope to be free.” Due to the vital issues involved, the Congress appointed a War-Sub-Committee with Jawaharlal Nehru as the head to give a lead to the Congress in this regard.
In October, 1939 the Congress refusing to be hood winked demanded “that India must be declared an independent nation and present application must be given to this status to the largest possible extent.” To this demands the Viceroy Linhithgow replied on October 17, 1939 in a lengthy statement the essence of which was that the entire constitutional scheme would be re-opened and re-examined after the war and during the continuance of the hostilities a consultative group on which all the diverse interests and communities of India would be represented, would be constituted to aid the Viceroy in the Conduct of the War.”
The Congress immediately declared the statement as evasive and unsatisfactory. Gandhiji declared “The Congress had asked for bread and it had got stone, the Congress will have to go to wilderness. On 22nd October, 1939 the Congress Working Committee after declaring the Viceroy’s statement unsatisfactory declared “that in the circumstances the Committee cannot possibly give any support to Great Britain for it would amount to an endorsement of the imperialist policy which the Congress has always sought to end.”
The resolution further asked the Congress ministries to resign which they did forthwith. The Governors immediately proclaimed emergency in which the constitution could not work and assumed all the powers of administration in their respective provinces. However the non-Congress Ministries continued.
The bureaucracy was happy to see the Congress out of power and Muhammad Ali Jinnah asked the Muslim League to celebrate a “Day of Deliverance” and thanks- giving at the fall of the Congress Government. Communalism was encouraged to the maximum extent even by the Government.
The resignation of Congress Ministries impaired the War effort of the Government of India and in return the Government demonstrated to the World that the Congress, the largest representative political organisation of India was not co-operating the British Government in the prosecution of the War. To belittle the character and objectives of the Congress and to encourage the Muslim League Linlithgrow tried his best.
This naturally drove him to pamper the League leader Jinnah and other political personalities of the Indian sub-continent. This directly prompted the Muslim League to pitch the demand high with the assurance that they will be considered.
The Congress tired of the verbosity of the Viceroy put forward its demand for a Constituent Assembly as the only solution of India’s problem both Constitutional and Communal. Jinnah immediately felt foul of the suggestion and assured of the backing of the Government began a series of attacks describing it as chimerical.
In a letter Jinnah said to the Viceroy on 23rd February, 1940 that the Government should not make any commitment with regard to the future constitution of India or any interim settlement with any other party without the approval of the League.
The Viceroy’s relation with the League annoyed the Congress as an index of the old policy of “Divide and Rule”. The Viceroy promised to determine the future constitution of India on the lines most satisfactory to all parties concerned.