The government of India Act was passed by the British Parliament in August 1935. It is considered as one of the longest acts ever enacted by the British Parliament. The act was divided into 321 sections and 10 schedules.
Indian leaders were demanding for constitutional reforms in India. Most of the leaders were also demanding for a greater role in the government of India. Further, India’s support to the British in the First World War was very well acknowledged and many conservative people in the British government felt inclusion of more Indians in the administration of their own country. This led to the government of India act 1919. The act of 1919 provided for the introduction of a dyarchy system of governance in India. But this was highly not appreciated by many Indian leaders.
The act of 1935 was based of many facts and had taken many things for considerations which included.
The recommendations of the Round Table Conference
The White Paper published by the British government in 1933 (third round table conference)
The Report of the Joint Select Committees
Between 1930-32 there were three round table conferences to make constitutional changes and discuss the Simon commission recommendations. The congress committee did not attend the first-round table conference however Gandhiji attended the second one after suspending the civil disobedience movement. In the second round Gandhiji demanded dominion status for India to which the British refused.
After the failure of talks in the second-round table conference, Gandhiji again started the Civil disobedience movement. Many leaders including Gandhiji were arrested by the British. The British started the divide and rule policy. They granted separate electorates to Sikhs, Christians and Harijans.
Gandhiji and other prominent leaders protested the separate electorate policy especially to Harijans. The third round table conference resulted in the government of India act 1935. Again the congress committee boycotted the conference. The third round table conference was held in London which gave details of the working of the new
The act provided for the establishment of the federation of India. It increased provincial autonomy and provided the right to the provincial legislatures to make laws on all provincial subjects. However, the governor's discretionary powers remained the same. Some of the most important features of the act were.
All India Federation
The act proposed the establishment of the All India Federation consisting of British Indian Provinces and Princely states. The ruler had to choose a state which had not less than 104 seats. The British provinces and the chief commissioner province had to compulsorily join the federation.
The act divided the powers between the central and units into three lists- Federal list( centre), Provincial list (Provinces) and Concurrent list ( both). However the federal system would come into effect only when half of the states agreed for federation. This never happened after the outbreak of the Second World War.
The government of India act of 1935 abolished dyarchy at the provincial level. Dyarchy was rejected in the state however it was present in the centre.
Under this governor general was the head of the executive authority. He was acting on behalf of the crown. With the abolition of the dyarchy system in the state, the provincial government was purely responsible for the provincial legislature. They were free from any outside control or interference.
The federal subjects were divided into reserved and transferred subjects. The administration of defence, external affairs, ecclesiastical affairs and matters of tribal areas all came under the reserved list.
The subjects of these were administered by the governor general with the help of three councilors who were appointed by the governor general himself. They were not responsible for the legislative. The transferred subjects were administered by the governor general with the help of the council of ministers. However, the governor general could also act contrary to the advice of the ministers if any matter is involved in the peace and tranquility of India.
The act introduced bicameralism in six provinces namely Bombay, Madras, Bengal, Bihar, Assam and United Provinces. It consisted of two houses: council of states and federal assembly. The term of the assembly was five years but could also be dissolved earlier. The council of state was a permanent body and consisted of one third of the members who were retiring every three years. It abolished the council of India which was established by the government of India act 1858.
The provincial part of the act followed the Simon Commission recommendations.The act abolished dyarchy in the provinces and brought in the provincial autonomy in its place. The British appointed governors who were the head of the executives. The governors were supposed to accept the recommendations of the ministers unless they negatively affected statutory responsibilities. Even the ministers were not completely free to work in their assigned departments. The governors could override the rule of the ministers if there was any discrepancy. The provinces were allowed to act as autonomous units of administration.
Generally it was believed that the provincial part of the act bestowed power on provincial politicians as long as both British officials and Indian politicians acted according to the rules. However there was always outrage by the Indian nationalists due to the intervention of British governors.
Other important features:
This act brought the powers of the railways under a new federation called as federal railway authority which consisted of seven members.
The act also provided for the establishment of a Reserve Bank of India.
The act abolished the Council of India which was established by the Government of India act of 1858.
The voting rights was increased from 3% to 14% due to the introduction of direct elections.
The act provided for the establishment of a Federal Court.
The act provided for partial reorganization of the provinces like
Sindh was separated from Bombay
Bihar and Orissa was split into separate provinces of Bihar and Orissa.
Burma was separated from India.
Aden was separated from India.
Criticism of the act:
The act was not taken with good heart by many people. Nehru called it “ a machine with strong brakes and no engine.” He also called it a Charter of Slavery.
Jinnah called it as completely rotten, fundamentally bad and completely unacceptable.
The act was very detailed in length and contained many safeguards which were designed to make the British Government intervene whenever and wherever it required.
The act provided a rigid constitution with no possibility of internal growth.
The act did not include a bill of rights within the new system which it proposed to establish.
Under the act there were several restrictions on the freedom of discussion in the federal legislature.
The British government sent Lord Linlithgow as the new viceroy with a responsibility to bring the act into effect. However, the new viceroy found it extremely difficult to implement the act. After the provincial elections in 1937, the Provincial Autonomy commenced Until the declaration of Warin 1939, the new viceroy tried to get enough support to launch the Federation. But he received very little support from the Home Government. In 1939, Linlithgow declared that India was at war with Germany.
It can be said that the act increased the participation of India in politics. Most parts of the act did not materialize as the act proposed that the federation could come into existence only in the princely states and not in all. However, some other parts of the act came into existence. The act was also very disappointing as it did not give any assurance of Dominion status.
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