Government of India act 1935

Government of India act 1935

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I. Introduction – The Government of India Act 1935: An In-depth Analysis

A. Overview of the Government of India Act 1935

The Government of India Act of 1935 was a significant piece of legislation passed by the British Parliament, shaping the political landscape of India under British rule. This Act remains a cornerstone of Indian constitutional history, as it established foundational elements that would later influence the Constitution of independent India. It was the longest Act of the British Parliament at the time, containing 321 sections and 10 schedules.

B. Background and Historical Context

The Government of India Act 1935 did not materialize out of nowhere; instead, it was the culmination of decades of political struggle and negotiation. The Act was essentially a response to the growing demands for self-governance and political representation in India. The seeds of this Act were sown as early as 1919 with the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms, which attempted to introduce a diarchic system of governance and gradually increased Indian participation in legislative matters.

Over the next decade, multiple events like the Simon Commission (1928) and the Round Table Conferences (1930-1932) set the stage for more extensive reforms. The Simon Commission, formed to evaluate the 1919 reforms, was widely criticized in India due to its all-British composition. Despite the backlash, the Simon Commission put forth several recommendations, including the abolition of the diarchy and more autonomy to the provinces.

The subsequent Round Table Conferences involved discussions between British and Indian representatives on the future constitutional framework of India. While these meetings had mixed success, they kept the conversation about increased self-governance alive.

C. Purposes of the Government of India Act 1935

The Act intended to extend democratic governing processes by enhancing the role of Indians in administering their country. It sought to implement a Federal system of government, joining British India and the princely states, although this was never fully realized. It aimed to establish provincial autonomy by ending the diarchic system, thereby distinguishing provincial subjects from central subjects. Another goal was to improve legislative processes through changes in the franchise system and establishing a Federal Court.

II. Creation and Implications of the Government of India Act 1935

A. Factors Influencing the Creation of the Act

The genesis of the Government of India Act 1935 was influenced by multiple factors and significant events. A growing political consciousness among Indians and increased demands for self-rule led to a burgeoning pressure on the British government to grant India more autonomy. This was further catalyzed by nationwide movements for independence, particularly under the leadership of the Indian National Congress and other political organizations.

Another contributing factor was the unsatisfactory nature of previous reforms, such as the Government of India Act 1919, which introduced limited self-governance through the system of diarchy but fell short of Indian aspirations. The need for greater reform and the inadequacy of the existing arrangements fueled the necessity for a comprehensive act like the Government of India Act 1935.

B. The Role of the Simon Commission and Round Table Conferences

The Simon Commission, formed in 1927, played a pivotal role in the creation of the Act. Despite the initial backlash due to the absence of Indian members, the commission made important recommendations for constitutional reform. This included the abolition of diarchy, extension of responsible government in provinces, and the establishment of a federal structure, which were later incorporated into the 1935 Act.

Following the Simon Commission, the Round Table Conferences were held between 1930 and 1932 to discuss the proposed changes in the Indian administration. Although the Indian National Congress boycotted the first conference, the discussions contributed significantly to the Act’s drafting. The Round Table Conferences helped identify the diverse interests of different sections of the Indian population and the need to protect minority rights, influencing the Act’s provisions accordingly.

C. The Failure of the Government of India Act 1935

Despite its comprehensive nature and significant provisions, the Act is often considered a failure for several reasons. First, the proposed federal structure, which aimed to unite British Indian provinces and princely states into a single federation, never materialized due to the reluctance of many princely states to join.

Moreover, while the Act aimed to grant increased autonomy to the provinces, it was undermined by the strong control maintained by the British Governor and his right to intervene in provincial matters. Similarly, the extended franchise still excluded a majority of the Indian population, and many criticized the Act for its inability to address adequately the diverse and complex issues of a multicultural Indian society.

Lastly, the Act was deemed excessively bureaucratic and centralized, making it difficult to implement and operate efficiently. Thus, while the Act marked a significant step towards a democratic form of government, its shortcomings and the inability to meet the aspirations of the Indian people limited its success.

III. Detailed Provisions of the Government of India Act 1935

A. Creation of an All India Federation

One of the key proposals in the Act was the establishment of an All India Federation, integrating British Indian provinces and princely states under a single umbrella. However, this never fully materialized, primarily due to the reluctance of the princely states to cede their autonomy.

B. Division of Powers

The Act divided legislative powers between the Centre and provinces under three lists: Federal, Provincial, and Concurrent. The Federal List included subjects like defence and foreign affairs, while the Provincial List covered subjects such as police and agriculture. Both could legislate on subjects in the Concurrent List.

C. Provincial Autonomy

The Act replaced diarchy in provinces with provincial autonomy, extending responsible government to the provinces. The Governor was the executive head, but most decisions were made by ministers responsible to the provincial legislature.

D. Diarchy at the Centre

While the provinces were granted autonomy, a diarchy was established at the Centre. Subjects were divided into ‘Reserved’ and ‘Transferred’. The Governor-General administered reserved subjects with the help of advisors, while transferred subjects were administered with ministers’ help.

E. Bicameral Legislature

The Act proposed a federal bicameral legislature consisting of the Council of State (Upper House) and the Federal Assembly (Lower House). However, this never came into effect due to the failure to establish the All India Federation.

F. Federal Court

A Federal Court was established at the Centre for interpreting the constitution and for adjudicating disputes between the Centre and the provinces. This court served as the precursor to the Supreme Court of independent India.

G. Franchise

The Act extended the franchise, increasing the number of eligible voters. However, voting rights were still limited by property ownership and literacy requirements, excluding a majority of the Indian population.

H. Indian Council

The Indian Council, an advisory body to the Secretary of State, was abolished, further reducing British control over Indian affairs.

I. Reorganisation

Provinces were reorganised and Burma (now Myanmar) was separated from India. Sind was separated from Bombay and Orissa from Bihar, forming new provinces.

J. Schedules in the Government of India Act, 1935

The Act included ten schedules detailing subjects of administration, oaths and affirmations, forms of legislative bills, and rules of business, among other things.

K. Powers of Governor-General under the Government of India Act, 1935

The Act gave extensive powers to the Governor-General. He could veto bills, promulgate ordinances, and could override the legislature in case of a breakdown in constitutional machinery. He had the authority to administer reserved subjects and could also control transferred subjects in certain situations. His control over finance and his emergency powers gave him significant control over administration.

IV. Provincial Government and Centre-Provinces Relations

A. Overview of Provincial Government

The Government of India Act 1935 significantly altered the provincial government structure. It introduced provincial autonomy, thereby replacing the diarchy system established by the Government of India Act 1919. Under this new system, the provinces were given independent legislative powers, and the Governor, as the executive head, was to act with ministers responsible to the provincial legislature. The Act provided for a bicameral legislature in six out of eleven provinces.

B. Relationship between the Centre and Provinces

The Act fundamentally altered the relationship between the Centre and the provinces. By introducing provincial autonomy, it decentralised the power that was previously highly centralised. However, the Centre retained significant control. For instance, the Governor, an appointee of the British Crown, had special powers and could override the provincial government under certain conditions. Moreover, in the case of a breakdown of the constitutional machinery in a province, the Governor-General could assume direct control of the province.

C. Civil Services under the Government of India Act, 1935

The Act made significant changes to the civil services in India. The Secretary of State’s control over the Indian Civil Service was abolished, and this responsibility was transferred to the Federal Public Service Commission. At the provincial level, Provincial Public Service Commissions were established. The Act also provided for the protection of civil servants’ conditions of service.

D. Establishment of Courts under the Government of India Act, 1935

The Act played a crucial role in reshaping the judicial system in India. A Federal Court was established, and the Act detailed its jurisdiction and powers. The Act also provided for the establishment of High Courts at the provincial level. However, the Secretary of State retained control over the appointment of judges. Despite the limitations, the establishment of these courts marked a significant step towards an independent judiciary in India.

V. Salient Features, Significance, and Criticism of the Government of India Act 1935

A. Salient Features of Government of India Act 1935

The Government of India Act 1935 introduced several key features that significantly influenced the political structure of India. Among the most notable are:

  • Provision for an All India Federation, including provinces and princely states.
  • Implementation of provincial autonomy, replacing diarchy at the provincial level.
  • Division of legislative powers between the Centre and the provinces under Federal, Provincial, and Concurrent lists.
  • Proposal of a federal bicameral legislature, though it never came into effect.
  • Establishment of a Federal Court at the Centre for interpreting the Constitution and adjudicating disputes.
  • Extension of the franchise, expanding the voting population.
  • Abolition of the Indian Council, further reducing British control.
  • Reorganisation of provinces and the separation of Burma from India.
  • Granting extensive powers to the Governor-General.
B. Significance of the Act

Despite its flaws, the Government of India Act 1935 was significant for several reasons. It was the most extensive and detailed attempt by the British to provide a representative government to India. It introduced significant reforms such as provincial autonomy and the division of powers, which were later incorporated into the Indian Constitution. The Act also established institutions such as the Federal Court, which was a precursor to the Supreme Court of India. Its provisions set the stage for future discussions on the form and nature of India’s Constitution.

C. Criticisms and Shortcomings of the Act

The Act faced a fair share of criticism from various quarters. It was widely seen as over-centralized and bureaucratic, making it unwieldy and ineffective. The proposed All India Federation never materialized due to the reluctance of princely states. Furthermore, while the Act aimed at providing greater autonomy to the provinces, this was often undermined by special powers granted to the British Governor. The franchise, though extended, still excluded a significant part of the Indian population. Critics also pointed out that the Act did not provide for a responsible government at the Centre, unlike the provinces.

D. Defects in the Act of 1935

The Act had several inherent defects. Its centralizing tendency, the convoluted and complicated division of powers, and the dual system of governance at the Centre were seen as significant flaws. The lack of representation for a majority of the Indian population in the franchise and the failure to adequately protect the interests of minority communities were other significant defects. These issues limited the effectiveness of the Act and hindered its full implementation.

VI. The Government of India Act 1935 and the Constitution of India

A. Influence on the Indian Constitution

The Government of India Act 1935 significantly influenced the drafting of the Indian Constitution. As the most comprehensive legislative measure of British India, it provided a blueprint upon which the framers of the Indian Constitution could build. Several of its provisions, such as the federal structure of government, division of powers, and the establishment of a judicial branch, were incorporated into the Constitution, albeit with modifications to suit the newly independent nation.

B. Provisions Retained and Modified

Key elements retained from the Act in the Constitution include the federal structure of government, bicameralism, and an independent judiciary. The Act’s division of powers between the Centre and provinces was transformed into the Union and State Lists in the Constitution. The concept of the Concurrent List in the Act was also adopted.

However, these provisions were also modified to address the shortcomings of the Act. For instance, while the Act provided for a weak centre and strong provinces, the Constitution established a strong Centre to ensure unity and integrity of the nation. Similarly, the Act’s provision of limited franchise was replaced by universal adult suffrage in the Constitution.

C. Objective of the Government of India Act, 1935

The primary objective of the Government of India Act 1935 was to increase the participation of Indians in the administration of their country and to pave the way towards a fully responsible government. It aimed to achieve this by introducing provincial autonomy, expanding the franchise, and proposing a federation of British Indian provinces and princely states. Despite its shortcomings, the Act made significant strides towards self-governance. It served as a transitional measure, moving India from a purely colonial administration towards a democratic form of government which would eventually be enshrined in the Constitution of India.

VII. Conclusion and Modern Relevance

A. Summary and Conclusions Drawn

In conclusion, the Government of India Act 1935 was a significant milestone in India’s path to self-governance and eventual independence. Despite its shortcomings and failure to fully achieve its objectives, the Act laid down crucial principles and structures that greatly influenced the political landscape of India.

It introduced pivotal reforms such as provincial autonomy, proposed a federation of British India and princely states, and laid the groundwork for an independent judiciary. The Act also made significant strides in increasing Indian representation in legislative processes, albeit limited by property and literacy qualifications.

However, the Act was not without its defects. It was seen as over-centralized and bureaucratic, and it failed to implement the proposed All India Federation. The autonomy provided to the provinces was often overshadowed by the special powers given to the British Governors, and the Act fell short of adequately protecting the interests of the diverse sections of Indian society.

B. Contemporary Relevance and Lessons Learned

Despite being enacted over a century ago, the Act holds relevance today. It serves as a reminder of the evolution of democratic institutions in India and the struggles for self-governance. As a cornerstone of India’s constitutional history, it provides vital lessons for understanding the dynamics of power, the importance of representative governance, and the need for checks and balances in a democratic setup.

The shortcomings of the Act underline the importance of adequate representation, decentralization of power, and safeguarding minority rights, all of which remain pertinent in contemporary politics. In the end, the Act stands as a testament to India’s journey from a colonized nation to a democratic republic, offering valuable insights into the creation of a Constitution that caters to the diverse needs of a multicultural society.

VIII. Appendix

A. Glossary of Terms
  • All India Federation: A proposed federation incorporating British Indian provinces and princely states under a single political system.
  • Diarchy: A system of dual governance where executive powers are divided between two entities.
  • Provincial Autonomy: The condition of a province being free from external control or influence; self-governing.
  • Bicameral Legislature: A legislative body with two branches or chambers.
  • Federal Court: A court established to adjudicate legal disputes that arise under federal laws.
  • Franchise: The right to vote in public elections.
  • Indian Council: An advisory body to the Secretary of State for India.
  • Governor-General: The representative of the British Crown in India during the colonial period.
B. Timeline of Events
  • 1919: Introduction of Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms and the Government of India Act 1919.
  • 1927: Formation of the Simon Commission.
  • 1930-1932: Round Table Conferences held in London.
  • 1935: Passage of the Government of India Act 1935 by the British Parliament.
  • 1937: Elections were held in India under the Act.
  • 1947: Independence of India and the beginning of the process of drafting the Indian Constitution.
  • 1950: Adoption of the Indian Constitution.
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