Government of India Act 1935
Government of India Act 1935

Indian Council Act 1935 was introduced by the British Government that had monumental importance in the history of India because it is one of the fundamental sources of the present-day constitution of India. The present article attempts to analyze the background, objectives, provisions, and the reasons for the failure of the Indian Council Act 1935.

Background of Government of India Act 1935:

Aftermath the First World War, the criticism of the Government of India Act 1919 was also escalated by the extension to the Defence of India Arms Act, 1915 or Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act as Rowlatt Act in 1919. Based on recommendations of the Rowlett Commission (headed by Sir Sydney Rowlett),  this enactment rendered uncontrolled powers to colonial government to crush down the political and nationalist activities in India and also allowed them to arrest people without judicial trial for two years on mere suspicion of a crime.
Since this act denied the fundamental right of speech and expression, the elected Indian members like Mohammad Ali Jinnah, M.M. Malviya etc. resigned from their positions to demonstrate their opposition to this act. Mahatma Gandhi also launched ‘Rowaltt Satyagraha’ which was followed by two major popular national movements between 1920 to 1922 i.e. Khilafat Movement and Non-Cooperation Movement. 
By 1927, the Statutory Commission that was expected to be appointed after ten years of the Government of India Act,1919 was constituted under the leadership of Sir Simon to suggest constitutional reforms (Simon Commission). It arrived in India in 1928 and was widely criticized by Indians because it consisted of no Indian member. After consistent political debates, it presented its report in 1930 and the Government of India Act,1935 was drafted based on its recommendations along with the suggestions of the Lothian Report, Nehru Report and White Paper Report of Round Table Conferences. 

Provisions of Government of India Act 1935:

Government of India Act 1935
Government of India Act 1935

The Government of India Act 1935 highlighted the following changes in Indian administration:

  • Establishment of All India Federation: The act prescribed the establishment of the All India Federation, considering the consent of provinces and princely states. Three lists were formulated for the division of power- Federal List (for Centre consisting 49 subjects), Provincial List (for provinces consisting 54 subjects) and Concurrent List (for both centre and provinces consisting 36 subjects). Residuary legislative powers vested in the hands of Governor-General.  Since princely states rejected the provision, the Federation couldn’t be ascertained.
  • Provincial Autonomy reclaimed: The Dyarchy system at provinces was abolished under this enactment and the provinces were empowered to act as autonomous administrative entities that could take their independent decisions subject to certain safeguards and limitations. The Governor was proclaimed as the head of the province who will be assisted by Ministers. However, this provision came into effect in 1937.
  • Introduction of Dyarchy at Centre: Under this provision, the British Parliamentary Government divided the subjects of the federal list into two categories- Reserved Subjects and Transferred Subjects. Reserved subjects were controlled by Governor-General with the advice of three counsellors and it included issues like defence, justice, external and tribal affairs. Transferred Subjects were controlled by Governor-General with the assistance of the Council of Ministers and it included education, health and forest-related subjects. 
  • Establishment of Federal Court: It provisioned to create a Federal Court for interpretation of controversial clauses of this act which was finally constructed in 1937. It also functioned to sort out the disputes between the Federal Government and the provinces and amongst the provinces.
  • Introduction of Bicameralism: Bicameralism (provisioned in GOI 1919) was now properly introduced in six out of eleven provinces. It included Bengal, Bombay, Madras, Assam, Bihar and United Provinces.
  • Extension of Franchise: Almost 10% of the British Indian Population was empowered to vote in elections.
  • Extension of Separate Electorates: The concept of separate electorates was now extended to depressed sections, women and minorities.
  • Abolition of Indian Council: Indian Council (structured under GOI 1858) was abolished under this provision and instead Secretary of State was provided with a team of advisors. 
  • Re-organization of States: Burma (now Myanmar) was separated from British India and two new provinces catalogued- Orissa and Sind were created.

Failure of Government of India Act 1935: 

This Government of India Act was vehemently criticized by nationalists who were expecting “Dominion Status” for India. Pt. M.M. Malviya claimed-” The new act has been thrust upon us. It has somewhat a democratic appearance outwardly but it is hollow from inside.” Formally, it provided provincial autonomy to India but realistically, it had given extensive control to the Governor-General who is dictating all legislative matters. Also, the principle of a separate electorate for depressed sections, workers and women was a major point of contention…

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