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What are the circumstances leading to the passage of the Government of India Act, 1935?

The government of India Act, 1919 which was passed on the basis of the Montford Report, was extremely disappointing. There were inherent defects in the system established by the Act which may be summarized briefly:

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  1. The Executive was not responsible to, or removable by the Legislature, except in the transferred sphere in the provinces;
  2. Limitation was placed on the power of the Legislature in. voting expenditure, there was no real control on the purse;
  3. Important portfolios, such as those of finance, law and order, were under the sole control of the Executive;
  4. Extraordinary powers were vested in the Governor- General.

Non co-operation Movement and Boycott of Elections:

The elections to the new Central Legislative Assembly and Provincial Councils get up under the reformed constitution were held in November 1920. The Congress boycotts the elections, and in consequence, the large section of the political opinion in India which centered round the Congress stood aloof from the elections. On account of the boycott the failure of the system established by the Act became inevitable.

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Revision of Constitution Demanded:

The preamble to the Act of 1919 had lain down that a period of ten years must elapse before a commission should be appointed to investigate the working of the Reforms, and that Parliament alone was to be the Judge of India’s fitness for any, extension of responsible government and of the time and manner of such advance.

At the second session of the Legislative Assembly in September 1921, a resolution was moved calling for the establishment of autonomy in the provinces and the introduction of responsibility at the centre. In. the end at the suggestion of the Home Member of the Government of India the following amended resolution was passed by the Legislative Assembly without a division. That this Assembly recommends that the Governor-General-in-council should convey to the Secretary of State for India the view of this Assembly that the progress made by India on the path of responsible government warrants reexamination and revision of the constitution at an earlier date than 1929.

This unanimous request of the Assembly was turned down by the Secretary of State for India.

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The question of constitutional reform was taken up again in the Second Legislature Assembly in 1924. It was raised in a resolution moved by Diwan Bahadur Rangacharia. This resolution urged a revision of the 1919 Act in such a manner as to secure for India Provincial Autonomy in the provinces and full self-governing Dominion status within the Empire. To this Motilal Nehru, the leader of the Swarajist party on the Legislature moved an amendment calling for a Round Table Conference to recommend a scheme, for the establishment of full responsible government in India. The amendment was passed after a three day debate.

Reforms Inquiry Committee and National Demand:

In, May 1924 a committee of ten under the chairmanship of Alexander Muddiman, the then Home Member of the Government of India was appointed to inquire into the working of the 1919 Act. The committee produced two reports, a majority and a minority report. The majority of the committee took the view that the recommendations, both the granting of provincial autonomy and for the introduction of a measure of responsibility in the Central Government, were beyond their terms of reference. However, they recommended a few cosmetic changes in the system established by the 1919 Act.

In September 1925 the majority report came before the Indian Legislative Assembly for approval. Motilal Nehru moved an amendment to the resolution proposing the approval of the, report. The amendment embodied what came to be known as the “Indian National Demand”. The demand consisted of two parts. It called upon the government to take steps t8 have a declaration made in Parliament embodying certain fundamental principles. 1t also set out the principles to be embodied in such declaration. The principles of the amendment may be summarized briefly.

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The Executive was to be responsible to the Legislature except in certain particular namely, expenditure on military services up to a fixed limit, expenditure classified as “Political” and “Foreign” and payment of debts and liabilities. In the provinces there would be provincial autonomy and the abolition of Dyarchy. Besides, the government was asked to constitute a Round Table Conference which would prepare a scheme, with due regard to the interest of all minorities. The scheme would be laid before Parliament and then embodied in a resolution. After a three-day-debate the amendment embodying India’s National Demand was approved in the Legislative Assembly. However, this demand met no better fate than the previous appeals to the British Government.

The Simon Commission Report:

In 1927 the British Government appointed a Commission of Seven under the Chairmanship of Sir John Simon. The function of the commission was to inquire into the working of the 1919 Act with a view to determining what further action, if any, should be taken to extend, modify or restrict the degree of responsible government then existing in India. As it was an all white commission, it was boycott by all the political parties in the country. However, the commission continued its work and submitted its report in June 1930. Its chief recommendations were:

  1. Federal constitution of India.
  2. Full autonomy in the provinces subject to the overriding powers vested in the Governor.
  3. Enlargement of the Provincial Legislative Councils.
  4. The Lower House of the Central Legislature to be enlarged and elected by Provincial Councils, but no responsible government at the centre.
  5. Separation of Burma from India.

The Nehru Report:-

The Simon commission had produced one good result on Indian politics. It induced Indian leaders to think seriously about an All Parties Conference which was held at Delhi in February 1928. Matters connected with the principles of a future constitution were discussed, and it was agreed that the object of constitutional changes must be the establishment of full responsible Government. In Bombay in May 1928, a committee under the Chairmanship of Motilal Nehru was appointed to consider and determine the principles of the constitution of India.

The Nehru Committee produced a detailed report and its recommendations were accepted by the All-parties Conference held at Luck now in August 1928. The principal recommendations of the report were:

  • The political status of India would be the same as that of the British Dominions like Canada, South Africa, Australia and the Irish Free State.
  • Fundamental rights shall be embodied in the constitution.
  • The Lower House in the Central Legislature and the Provincial Legislatures shall consist of members elected by joint and mixed electorates, but there shall be reservation for Muslims in the Central Legislature and in the Provincial Legislatures where they were in minority, and similarly there shall be reservation for Hindus in the North-West Frontier Province. There shall be no reservation for Muslims in Punjab and Bengal.
  • Every person of either sex who has attained the age of 21 shall be entitled to vote, both for the Central and Provincial Legislatures.
  • The provinces of Sindh and Karnataka shall be separate.

Congress Resolution of 1928:

The failure of the 1919 Act had created a situation in which a new movement was growing up, having for its goal complete independence for India outside the British Empire. The resentment caused by the appointment of the Simon Commission strengthened this movement. The Madras session of the Indian National Congress in 1927 carried a resolution declaring “the goal of the Indian People to be complete independence”.

The Calcutta session of the Congress in 1928 went back on the above resolution of 1927 and passed the following compromise resolution.

“ This Congress, having considered the constitution recommended by the All-Parties Committee Report, welcomes it as a great contribution towards the solution of India’s political and communal problem and congratulates the committee on the virtual unanimity of its recommendations and, whilst adhering to the resolution relating to complete independence passed at the Madras Congress, approved of the constitution drawn up by the committee as a great step in a political advance, especially as it represents the largest measures of agreement attained among the important parties in the country.

“Subject to the exigencies of the political situation, this Congress will adopt the constitution if it is accepted by the British Parliament on or before December 31, 1929 but in the event of its non-acceptance by that or its rejection, Congress will organize a campaign of non-violent non-cooperation by advising the country to refuse taxation or in such other manner as may be decided upon. Consistent with the above, nothing in this resolution shall interfere with the carrying on, in the name of the Congress, of the propaganda for complete independence”.

Lahore Congress Resolution of 1929:

On December 31, 1929, the one-year grace contemplated in the Calcutta resolution of December 1928 came to an end. The government had refused to accept the conditions on which the Congress was prepared to forego its committee to the goal of complete independence under the circumstances only one course was left open to the Congress. Consequently, in its Lahore session on December 31, 1929 the Congress adopted the following resolution.

“The Congress, therefore, in pursuance of the resolution passed at its session at Calcutta last year declares that the word ‘Swaraj’ in Article 1 of the Congress constitution shall mean complete Independence.

The resolution declared that the scheme of the Nehru Report had lapsed. The resolution also rejected the Round Table Conferences and refused to participate in them. Immediately after this the Congress lunched a Civil Disobedience Movement.

First Round Table Conference:

After the publication of the Simon Commission Report in June 1930, the British Government convened the First Round Table Conference in London in November 1930. As the Civil Disobedience Movement was at its height, the Congress had decided to boycott the conference. But the Government appointed people belonging to other political parties, communities and interests, in addition to 58 members who comprised the British India Delegation; the Indian states were represented by a strong delegation consisting of many of the Chief Ruling Princes. The chief results of the conference can be briefly summarized.

Three central ideas had emerged. One, the idea of an All-India Federation had been accepted. The second was the idea of responsibility at the centre. The third important idea was that the provinces were to be given autonomy in their affairs. However, the First Round Table Conference did not achieve much and ended in January 1937.

Second Round Table Conference:

Throughout the sitting of the First Round Table Conference in London the Civil Disobedience Movement continued unabated.

However, in March 1931 the so called Gandhi-Irwin Pact was arrived at. By the terms of the agreement the Civil Disobedience Movement was to be called off and the Congress was to participate in the Second Round Table Conference. The Congress sent to the conference Mahatma Gandhi as its sole representative.

The main business before the Conference was the solution of the Hindu-Muslim differences. A minority’s sub-committee was set up under the chairmanship of MC Donald. The Muslim members of the committee were staunch communalists. The consciousness of India nationality had receded from the Muslim mind and their politics a=had taken a narrowly communal turn. Gandhiji earnestly appealed to them to abandon their fears and suspicions and unite in a common Endeavour to establish India’s independence with further delay. But all his persuasions failed. As Harold Laski wrote, the religious fanaticism of the Muslim delegates was terrible “it is”, he added, “Impossible to talk to men who believe themselves to have ultimate truth in their possession. The result was that the conference failed to achieve anything substantial and Gandhiji left London in disgust.

Communal Award and Poona Pact:

Before convening the third session of the Round Table Conference, Ramsay Mc Donald announced on August 10; 1932 the communal award which be promised in him closing speech at the second Conference. The award was based on the theory that India was not a nation, but a congeries of racial, religious and cultural groups, castes etc. It gave recognition to the following minorities: (1) Muslim, (2) Indian Christians, (3) Anglo-Indians, (4) Europeans, (5) Depressed Classes, (6) Backward classes, (7) Commercial and Industrial classes, (8) Landholders, (9) Labor, (10) Universities, (11)Sikhs.

A fixed number of seats were allocated to each group and special separate electorates were assigned to each. Thus, the vicious principle of communal representation which had been introduced by the Act of 1909 was now given the widest extension possible. So as to make the working of responsible Government almost impossible. Besides, the Award betrayed the prejudice of the British Government against the Hindus and its bias in favor of the Muslim.

The Award created dismay in the Hindu community Gandhiji was in jail when the Award was announced. He realizes its mischievous character and decided to resist it with all his force. He started his historic fast in September 1932. As Gandhijis condition worsened the Indian leaders made up their mind to get the Award amended by mutual agreement. The leaders of Hindus and scheduled castes assembled together at Poona and concluded a pact which is known as the Poona Pact. It was accepted by the British Government.

The depressed classes were to forego their separate electorates and content themselves solely with the general Hindus electorates in which they were included, subject to important safeguard which the caste Hindus were to concede to them. In the first place, they were to have a specific number of reserved seats out of those assigned by the British Award to the general constituencies in the various Legislatures. In the second place they were to elect by themselves, four candidates for each reserved seat, the general electorate being confined, in its subsequent choice, to one of these four. The depressed classes’ primary elections were to last for a maximum period of ten years.

Third Round Table Conference:-

The Third Round Table Conference sat from November 17 to December 24, 1932. The Congress did not participate in it. The Labor Party of England also did not Conference-operate in the deliberations of the Conference. Most of the preliminary work of the Conference had been done by the committee appointed by the second Conference. The Third Conference, therefore, dealt only with details.

White Paper and the Joint Select Committee

The Third Round Table Conference came to a close. The government published a white paper on March 15, 1933 giving a complete outline of the proposed constitution. The paper embodied more or less the recommendations of the Simon Commission, but included a scheme of the Federal Government of India at the centre which would come into operation after certain conditions were fulfilled.

Subsequently, a Joint Parliamentary Committee of both Houses of the British Parliament was appointed with Lord Linlithgow as Chairman. The Indian delegation for consultation with the Joint Committee consisting of 21 members chosen from British India and 7 from the States, took part in the examination of witness and discussions. The committee submitted its report to Parliament about the end of 1934.

Bill introduced and passed

The recommendations of the Joint Committee were accepted by the British Government and a Bill was prepared and introduced on December 19, 1934. The two Houses carried it by large majorities and the Royal assent was given on August 4, 1935. The Bill became the Government of India Act, 1935.

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