Indian History V

Delhi Law Academy

Government of India Act, 1935

•            Amidst the struggle of 1932, the Third RTC was held in November, again without Congress participation.

•            The discussions led to the formulation of the Act of 1935.

Main Features

•            The Government of India Act was passed by the British Parliament in August 1935. Its main provisions were as follows.

1.           An All India Federation It was to comprise all British Indian provinces, all chief commissioner’s provinces and the Indian states (princely states).

The federation’s formation was conditional on the fulfilment of:

(i)          states with allotment of 52 seats in the proposed Council of States should agree to join the federation and

(ii)         aggregate population of states in the above category should be 50 per cent of the total population of all Indian states.

•            Since these conditions were not fulfilled, the proposed federation never came up.

•            The central government carried on upto 1946 as per the provisions of Government of India Act, 1919.

2.           Federal Level:


•            The governor-general was the pivot of the entire Constitution.

•           Subjects to be administered were divided into reserved and transferred subjects.

o            Reserved subjects—foreign affairs, defence, tribal areas and ecclesiastical affairs—were to  exclusively administered by the governor-general on the advice of executive councillors.

o            Executive councillors were not to be responsible to the central legislature.

o            Transferred subjects included all other subjects and were to be administered by the governor-general on the advice of ministers elected by the legislature.

o            These ministers were to be responsible to the federal legislature and were to resign on losing the confidence of the body.

•            Governor-general could act in his individual judgement in the discharge of his special responsibilities for the security and tranquillity of India.


•            The bicameral legislature was to have an upper house (Council of States) and a lower house (Federal Assembly).

o            The Council of States was to be a 260-member house, partly directly elected from British Indian provinces and partly (40 per cent) nominated by the princes.

o            The Federal Assembly was to be a 375-member house, partly indirectly elected from British Indian provinces and partly (one-third) nominated by the princes.

•            The election to the Council of States was direct and that to the Federal Assembly, indirect.

•            Council of States was to be a permanent body with one-third members retiring every third year. The duration of the assembly was to be 5 years.

•            The three lists for legislation purposes were to be federal, provincial and concurrent.

•            Members of Federal Assembly could move a vote of no-confidence against ministers. Council of States could not move a vote of no-confidence.

•            The system of religion-based and class-based electorates was further extended.

•            80 per cent of the budget was non-votable.

•            Governor-general had residuary powers.

o            He could          

(a)         restore cuts in grants

(b)         certify bills rejected by the legislature

(c)          issue ordinances and

(d)         exercise his veto

3.           Provincial Autonomy

•            Provincial autonomy replaced dyarchy

•            Provinces were granted autonomy and separate legal identity.

•            Provinces were freed from “the superintendence, direction” of the secretary of state and governor-general. Provinces henceforth derived their legal authority directly from the British Crown.

•            Provinces were given independent financial powers and resources. Provincial governments could borrow money on their own security.


•            Governor was to be the Crown’s nominee and representative to exercise authority on the king’s behalf in a province.

•            Governor was to have special powers regarding minorities, rights of civil servants, law and order, British business interests, partially excluded areas, princely states, etc.

•            Governor could take over and indefinitely run administration.


•            Separate electorates based on Communal Award were to be made operational.

•            All members were to be directly elected. Franchise was extended; women got the right on the same basis as men.

•            Ministers were to administer all provincial subjects in a council of ministers headed by a premier.

•            Ministers were made answerable to and removable by the adverse vote of the legislature.

•            Provincial legislature could legislate on subjects in provincial and concurrent lists.

•            40 per cent of the budget was still not votable

•            Governor could

(a)         refuse assent to a bill

(b)         promulgate ordinances

(c)          enact governor’s Acts.

Evaluation of the Act

•            Numerous ‘safeguards’ and ‘special responsibilities’ of the governor-general worked as brakes in the proper functioning of the Act.

•            In provinces, the governor still had extensive powers.

•            The Act enfranchised 14 per cent of British Indian population.

•            The extension of the system of communal electorates and representation of various interests promoted separatist tendencies which culminated in partition of India.

•            The Act provided a rigid constitution with no possibility of internal growth. Right of amendment was reserved with the British Parliament.

British Strategy

•            Suppression could only be a short-term tactic. In the long run, the strategy was to weaken the national movement and integrate large segments of the movement into colonial, constitutional and administrative structure.

•            Reforms would revive the political standing of constitutionalist liberals and moderates who had lost public support during the Civil Disobedience Movement.

•            Repression earlier and reforms now would convince a large section of Congressmen of the ineffectiveness of an extra-legal struggle.

•            Once Congressmen tasted power, they would be reluctant to go back to politics of sacrifice.

•            Reforms could be used to create dissensions within Congress—right wing to be placated through constitutional concessions and radical leftists to be crushed through police measures.

•            Provincial autonomy would create powerful provincial leaders who would gradually become autonomous centres of political power. Congress would thus be provincialised and the central leadership would get weakened.

Nationalists’ Response

•            The 1935 Act was condemned by nearly all sections and unanimously rejected by the Congress.

•            The Congress demanded, instead, the convening of a Constituent Assembly elected on the basis of adult franchise to frame a constitution for independent India.

•            In its sessions at Lucknow in early 1936 and Faizpur in late 1937, the Congress decided to fight elections and postpone the decision on office acceptance to the post-election phase.

•            The Congress resolution was “not to submit to this constitution or to cooperate with it, but to combat it both inside and outside the legislatures so that it can be ended.”

•            In February 1937, elections to the provincial assemblies were held.

•            Elections were held in eleven provinces—Madras, Central Provinces, Bihar, Orissa, United Provinces, Bombay Presidency, Assam, NWFP, Bengal, Punjab and Sindh.

•            These elections were the first in which a larger number of Indians than ever before were eligible to participate.

•            An estimated 30.1 million persons, including 4.25 million women, had been enfranchised (14 per cent of the total population), and 15.5 million of these, including 917,000 women, actually exercised their franchise, according to reports.

Congress’ Performance

•            The Congress won 716 out of 1,161 seats it contested.

•            It got a majority in all provinces, except in Bengal, Assam, Punjab, Sindh and the NWFP, and emerged as the largest party in Bengal, Assam and the NWFP.

•            Congress ministries were formed in Bombay, Madras, Central Provinces, Orissa, United Provinces, Bihar and later in the NWFP and Assam also.

Gandhi’s Advice

•            Gandhi advised Congressmen to hold these offices lightly and not tightly.

•            The offices were to be seen as ‘crowns of thorns’ which had been accepted to see if they quickened the pace towards the nationalist goal.

Work under Congress Ministries

•            There was great enthusiasm among the people; suppressed mass energy had got released. There was an increase in the prestige of the Congress as it had showed that it could not only lead people but could also use State power for their benefit.

•            But the Congress ministries had some basic limitations: they could not, through their administration, change the basic imperialist character of the system and could not introduce a radical era.

•            In the 28 months of Congress rule in the provinces, there were some efforts made for people’s welfare.

Civil Liberties

The Congress ministries did much to ease curbs on civil liberties:

•            Laws giving emergency powers were repealed.

•            Ban on illegal organisations, such as the Hindustan Seva Dal and Youth Leagues, and on certain books and journals was lifted.

•            Press restrictions were lifted.

•            Newspapers were taken out of black lists.

•            Confiscated arms and arms licences were restored.

•            Police powers were curbed and the CID stopped shadowing politicians.

•            Political prisoners and revolutionaries were released, and deportation and internment orders were revoked.

•            In Bombay lands confiscated by the government during the Civil Disobedience Movement were restored.

•            Pensions of officials associated with the Civil Disobedience Movement were restored.

Agrarian Reforms

•            There were certain basic constraints due to which the Congress ministries could not undertake a complete overhaul of the agrarian structure by completely abolishing zamindari.

•            These constraints were:

(i)          The ministries did not have adequate powers.

(ii)         There were inadequate financial resources as a lion’s share was appropriated by the Government of India.

(iii)        Strategy of class adjustments was another hurdle since zamindars, etc., had to be conciliated and neutralised.

(iv)        There was constraint of time since the logic of Congress politics was confrontation and not cooperation with colonialism.

(v)         War clouds had started hovering around 1938.

(vi)        The reactionary second chamber (Legislative Council) dominated by landlords, moneylenders and capitalists in United Provinces, Bihar, Bombay, Madras and Assam had to be conciliated as its support was necessary for legislations.

(vii)       The agrarian structure was too complex.

•            In spite of these constraints, the Congress ministries managed to legislate a number of laws relating to land reforms, debt relief, forest grazing fee, arrears of rent, land tenures, etc.

Attitude Towards Labour

•            The basic approach was to advance workers’ interests while promoting industrial peace.

•            This was sought to be achieved by reducing strikes as far as possible and by advocating compulsory arbitration prior to striking before the established conciliation machinery.

•            Goodwill was sought to be created between labour and capital with mediation of ministries, while at the same time efforts were made to improve workers’ condition and secure wage increases for them.

Social Welfare Reforms

These included the following—

•            Prohibition imposed in certain areas.

•            Measures for welfare of Harijans taken—temple entry, use of public facilities, scholarships, an increase in their numbers in government service and police, etc.

•            Attention given to primary, technical and higher education and to public health and sanitation.

•            Encouragement given to khadi through subsidies and other measures.

•            Prison reforms undertaken.

•            Encouragement given to indigenous enterprises.

•            Efforts taken to develop planning through National Planning Committee set up under Congress president Subhash Bose in 1938.

Second World War and Nationalistic Response

•            On September 1, 1939, Germany attacked Poland – the action that led to the Second World War.

•            On September 3, 1939, Britain declared war against Germany and the British Government of India declared India’s support for the war without consulting Indian opinion.

Congress Offer to Viceroy

•            Though the Congress did not like the unilateral action of the British of drawing India into the war without consulting the Indians, it decided to support the war effort conditionally.

•            The hostility of the Congress to Fascism, Nazism, militarism and imperialism had been much more consistent than the British record.

•            The Indian offer to cooperate in the war effort had two basic conditions:

1.           After the war, a constituent assembly should be convened to determine political structure of a free India.

2.           Immediately, some form of a genuinely responsible government should be established at the Centre.

Government Attitude and Congress Ministries’ Resignation

•            The government’s response was entirely negative. Viceroy Linlithgow, in his statement, made on October 17, 1939, tried to use the Muslim League and the princes against the Congress.

The government:

•            refused to define British war aims beyond stating that Britain was resisting aggression

•            said it would, as part of future arrangement, consult “representatives of several communities, parties and interests in India, and the Indian princes” as to how the Act of 1935 might be modified

•            said it would immediately set up a “consultative committee” whose advice could be sought whenever required.

Congress Ministries Decide to Resign

On October 23, 1939, the CWC meeting

•            rejected the vice-regal statement as a reiteration of the old imperialist policy

•            decided not to support the war and

•            called upon the Congress ministries to resign in the provinces

August Offer

•            Hitler’s astounding success and the fall of Belgium, Holland and France put England in a conciliatory mood.

•            As the war in Europe had undertaken a new turn, the dominant Congress leadership was again in a dilemma. Both Gandhi and Nehru strongly opposed the idea of taking advantage of Britain’s position.

•            The Congress was ready to compromise, asking the British government to let it form an interim government during the war period but the government was not interested.

•            The government came up with its own offer to get the cooperation of India in the war effort.

Linlithgow announced the August Offer (August 1940) which proposed:

•            dominion status as the objective for India

•            expansion of viceroy’s executive council which would have a majority of Indians (who would be drawn from major political parties)

•            setting up of a constituent assembly after the war where mainly Indians would decide the constitution according to their social, economic and political conceptions, subject to fulfilment of the obligation of the government regarding defence, minority rights, treaties with States, all India services and

•            no future constitution to be adopted without the consent of minorities.


•            The Congress rejected the August Offer.

o            Nehru said, “Dominion status concept is dead as a doornail.”

o            Gandhi said that the declaration had widened the gulf between the nationalists and the British rulers.

•            The Muslim League welcomed the veto assurance given to the League, and reiterated its position that partition was the only solution to the deadlock.

Individual Satyagraha

•            The government had taken the adamant position that no constitutional advance could be made till the Congress came to an agreement with the Muslim leaders.

•            It issued ordinance after ordinance taking away the freedom of speech and that of the press and the right to organise associations.

•            Towards the end of 1940, the Congress once again asked Gandhi to take command. Gandhi now began taking steps which would lead to a mass struggle within his broad strategic perspective.

•            He decided to initiate a limited satyagraha on an individual basis by a few selected individuals in every locality.

The aims of launching individual satyagraha were—

(i)          to show that nationalist patience was not due to weakness;

(ii)         to express people’s feeling that they were not interested in the war and that they made no distinction between Nazism and the double autocracy that ruled India; and

(iii)        to give another opportunity to the government to accept Congress’ demands peacefully.

•            The demand of the satyagrahi would be the freedom of speech against the war through an anti-war declaration.

•            If the government did not arrest the satyagrahi, he or she would not only repeat it but move into villages and start a march towards Delhi, thus precipitating a movement which came to be known as the ‘Delhi Chalo Movement’.

•            Vinoba Bhave was the first to offer the satyagraha and Nehru, the second.

•            By May 1941, 25,000 people had been convicted for individual civil disobedience.

Cripps Mission

•            In March 1942, a mission headed by Stafford Cripps was sent to India with constitutional proposals to seek Indian support for the war.

•            Stafford Cripps was a left-wing Labourite, the leader of the House of Commons and a member of the British War Cabinet who had actively supported the Indian national movement.

Why Cripps Mission was Sent

•            Because of the reverses suffered by Britain in South-East Asia, the Japanese threat to invade India seemed real now and Indian support became crucial.

•            There was pressure on Britain from the Allies (USA, USSR, China) to seek Indian cooperation.

•            Indian nationalists had agreed to support the Allied cause if substantial power was transferred immediately and complete independence given after the war.

Main Proposals

•            The main proposals of the mission were as follows.

1.           An Indian Union with a dominion status would be set up; it would be free to decide its relations with the Commonwealth and free to participate in the United Nations and other international bodies.

2.           After the end of the war, a constituent assembly would be convened to frame a new constitution. Members of this assembly would be partly elected by the provincial assemblies through proportional representation and partly nominated by the princes.

3.           The British government would accept the new constitution subject to two conditions:

(i)          any province not willing to join the Union could have a separate constitution and form a separate Union, and

(ii)         the new constitution-making body and the British government would negotiate a treaty to effect the transfer of power and to safeguard racial and religious minorities.

4.           In the meantime, defence of India would remain in British hands and the governor-general’s powers would remain intact.

Departures from the Past and Implications

The proposals differed from those offered in the past in many respects—

•            The making of the constitution was to be solely in Indian hands now (and not ‘mainly’ in Indian hands—as contained in the August Offer).

•            A concrete plan was provided for the constituent assembly.

•            Option was available to any province to have a separate constitution—a blueprint for India’s partition.

•            Free India could withdraw from the Commonwealth.

•            Indians were allowed a large share in the administration in the interim period.

Why Cripps Mission Failed

•            The Cripps Mission proposals failed to satisfy Indian nationalists and turned out to be merely a propaganda device for the consumption of the US and the Chinese.

•            Various parties and groups had objections to the proposals on different points.

The Congress objected to:

(i)          the offer of dominion status instead of a provision for complete independence

(ii)         representation of the princely states by nominees and not by elected representatives

(iii)        right to provinces to secede as this went against the principle of national unity and

(iv)        absence of any plan for immediate transfer of power and absence of any real share in defence; the governor-general’s supremacy had been retained, and the demand that the governor-general be only the constitutional head had not been accepted.

•            Churchill (the British prime minister), Amery (the secretary of state), Linlithgow (the viceroy) and Ward (the commander-in-chief) consistently torpedoed Cripps’ efforts.

•            Talks broke down on the question of the viceroy’s veto

•            Gandhi described the scheme as “a post-dated cheque”; Nehru pointed out that the “existing structure and autocratic powers would remain and a few of us will become the viceroy’s liveried camp followers and look after canteens and the like”.

Quit India Movement

•            After Cripps’ departure, Gandhi framed a resolution calling for British withdrawal and a non-violent non-cooperation movement against any Japanese invasion.

•            The CWC meeting at Wardha (July 14, 1942) accepted the idea of a struggle.

The ‘Quit India’ Resolution

•            In July 1942, the Congress Working Committee met at Wardha and resolved that it would authorise Gandhi to take charge of the non-violent mass movement.

•            The resolution generally referred to as the ‘Quit India’ resolution.

•            The Quit India Resolution was ratified at the Congress meeting at Gowalia Tank, Bombay, on August 8, 1942.

The meeting resolved to:

•            demand an immediate end to British rule in India.

•            declare commitment of free India to defend itself against all types of Fascism and imperialism.

•            form a provisional Government of India after British withdrawal.

•            sanction a civil disobedience movement against British rule.

Gandhi was named the leader of the struggle.

Gandhi’s General Instructions to Different Sections

•            Gandhi’s special instructions were spelt out at the Gowalia Tank meeting but not actually issued.

They were directed at various sections of society.

•            Government servants: Do not resign but declare your allegiance to the Congress.

•            Soldiers: Do not leave the Army but do not fire on compatriots.

•            Students: If confident, leave studies.

•            Peasants: If zamindars are anti-government, pay mutually agreed rent, and if zamindars are pro-government, do not pay rent.

•            Princes: Support the masses and accept sovereignty of your people.

•            Princely states’ people: Support the ruler only if he is anti-government and declare yourselves to be a part of the Indian nation.

•            Gandhi followed up with the now-famous exhortation:

“Here is a mantra, a short one, that I give you. You may imprint it on your hearts and let every breath of yours give expression to it. The mantra is: ‘Do or Die’. We shall either free India or die in the attempt; we shall not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery.”

Spread of the Movement

•            Gandhi had carefully built the tempo through individual civil disobedience movements or satyagraha, organisational revamping and a consistent propaganda campaign.

•            The government, however, was in no mood to either negotiate with the Congress or wait for the movement to be formally launched.

•            In the early hours of August 9, 1942, in a single sweep, all the top leaders of the Congress were arrested and taken to unknown destinations.

•            The Congress Working Committee, the All India Congress Committee and the Provincial Congress Committees were declared unlawful associations under the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1908.

•            The removal of established leaders left the younger and militant elements to their own initiative.

•            With the major leaders out of the picture, young Aruna Asaf Ali, till then relatively unknown, presided over the Congress committee session on August 9, and hoisted the flag.

Public on Rampage

•            The general public attacked symbols of authority, and hoisted national flags forcibly on public buildings.

•            Satyagrahis offered themselves up to arrest, bridges were blown up, railway tracks were removed and telegraph lines were cut.

•            This kind of activity was most intense in eastern United Provinces and Bihar.

•            Students responded by going on strike in schools and colleges, participating in processions, writing and distributing illegal news sheets (patrikas) and acting as couriers for underground networks.

•            Workers went on strike in Ahmedabad, Bombay, Jamshedpur, Ahmednagar and Poona.

Underground Activity

•            Many nationalists went underground and took to subversive activities.

•            The participants in these activities were the Socialists, Forward Bloc members, Gandhi ashramites, revolutionary nationalists and local organisations in Bombay, Poona, Satara, Baroda and other parts of Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra, United Provinces, Bihar and Delhi.

•            The main personalities taking up underground activity were Rammanohar Lohia, Jayaprakash Narayan, Aruna Asaf Ali, Usha Mehta, Biju Patnaik, Achyut Patwardhan and Sucheta Kripalani. Usha Mehta started an underground radio in Bombay.

•            This phase of underground activity was meant to keep up popular morale by continuing to provide a line of command and guidance.

Parallel Governments

Parallel governments were established at many places:

•            Ballia (in August 1942 for a week)—under Chittu Pandey. He got many Congress leaders released.

•            Tamluk (Midnapore, from December 1942 to September 1944)—Jatiya Sarkar undertook cyclone relief work, sanctioned grants to schools, supplied paddy from the rich to the poor, organised Vidyut Vahinis, etc.

•            Satara (mid-1943 to 1945)—named “Prati Sarkar”, was organised under leaders like Y.B. Chavan, Nana Patil, etc. Village libraries and Nyayadan Mandals were organised, prohibition campaigns were carried on and ‘Gandhi marriages’ were organised.

•            Active help was provided by businessmen (through donations, shelter and material help), students (acting as couriers), simple villagers (by refusing information to authority), pilots and train drivers (by delivering bombs and other material) and government officials including police (who passed on secret information to the activists).

Extent of Mass Participation

•            The participation was on many levels.

•            Youth, especially the students of schools and colleges, remained in the forefront.

•            Women, especially school and college girls, actively participated, and included Aruna Asaf Ali, Sucheta Kripalani and Usha Mehta.

•            Workers went on strikes and faced repression.

•            Peasants of all strata were at the heart of the movement. Even some zamindars participated. These peasants concentrated their offensive on symbols of authority and there was complete absence of anti-zamindar violence.

•            Government officials, especially those belonging to lower levels in police and administration, participated resulting in erosion of government loyalty.

•            Muslims helped by giving shelter to underground activists. There were no communal  during the movement.

•            The Communists did not join the movement; in the wake of Russia (where the communists were in power) being attacked by Nazi Germany, the communists began to support the British war against Germany and the ‘Imperialist War’ became the ‘People’s War’.

•            The Muslim League opposed the movement, fearing that if the British left India at that time, the minorities would be oppressed by the Hindus.

•            The Hindu Mahasabha boycotted the movement.

•            The Princely states showed a low-key response.

Government Repression

•            Although martial law was not applied, the repression was severe. Agitating crowds were lathi-charged, tear-gassed fired upon.

•            The number of those killed is estimated at 10,000. The press was muzzled.

•            The military took over many cities; police and secret service reigned supreme.

•            Rebellious villages were fined heavily and in many villages, mass flogging was done.


•            Left without leaders, there was no restraint and violence became common.

•            Main storm centres of the movement were in eastern United Provinces, Bihar, Midnapore, Maharashtra, Karnataka.

•            Students, workers and peasants were the backbone of the movement while the upper classes and the bureaucracy remained largely loyal.

•            Loyalty to government suffered considerable erosion. This also showed how deep nationalism had reached.

•            The movement established the truth that it was no longer possible to rule India without the wishes of Indians.

•            The element of spontaneity was higher than before, although a certain degree of popular initiative had been sanctioned by the leadership itself, subject to limitations of the instructions. Also, the Congress had been ideologically, politically and organisationally preparing for the struggle for a long time.

•            The great significance was that the movement placed the demand for independence on the immediate agenda of the national movement. After Quit India, there could be no retreat.

•            In this struggle, the common people displayed unparalleled heroism and militancy. The repression they faced was the most brutal, and the circumstances under which resistance was offered were most adverse.

Gandhi Fasts

•            In February 1943, Gandhi started a fast as an answer to an exhortation by the government to condemn violence; the fast was directed against the violence of the State.

•            The popular response to the news of the fast was immediate and overwhelming.

•            Protests were organised at home and abroad of the viceroy’s executive council resigned.

The fast achieved the following—

•            public morale was raised.

•            anti-British feeling was heightened.

•            an opportunity was provided for political activity.

•            Government’s high-handedness was exposed. Gandhi got the better of his opponents and refused to oblige by dying.

On March 23, 1943 Pakistan Day was observed.

Famine of 1943

•            The horror and inconveniences of war were increased by the famine of 1943.

•            The worst-affected areas were south-west Bengal comprising the Tamluk-Contai-Diamond Harbour region, Dacca, Faridpur, Tippera and Noakhali.

•            Around 15 to 30 lakh people perished in this basically man-made famine, the epidemics (malaria, cholera, small pox), malnutrition and starvation.

The fundamental causes of the famine were as follows.

1.           The need to feed a vast Army diverted foodstuffs.

2.           Rice imports from Burma and South-East Asia had been stopped.

3.           The famine got aggravated by gross mismanagement and deliberate profiteering; rationing methods were belated and were confined to big cities.