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Paper on Act of India 1935

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Its principal achievement was an insistence on parliamentarianism—an acceptance by all, including the princes, of the federal principle—and on dominion status as the goal of constitutional development. The second session (September–December 1931) was attended by Mahatma Gandhi as the Congress representative; it failed to reach agreement, either constitutionally or on communal representation. Gandhi was friendlier to the British than other Indian leaders extending friendship to the British at the end of his address on November 30, 1931 when he said “No matter what befalls me, no matter what the fortunes may be of this Round Table Conference, one thing I shall certainly carry with me, that is, that from high to low I have found nothing but the utmost courtesy and that utmost affection. I consider that it was well worth my paying this visit to England in order to find this human affection.”[6] The third session (Nov. 17–Dec. 24, 1932) was shorter and less important, with neither the Congress nor the British Labour Party attending. The result of these deliberations was the Government of India Act of 1935, establishing provincial autonomy and also a federal system that was never implemented.[7]

The parliamentary debate over the Act was littered with racial overtones and colonial attitudes towards the Indian people were rampantly brought out and put on display. Members of the Conservative Party such as Winston Churchill came out strongly against the act because they did not believe that Indians were capable of managing their own affairs. They also continuously doubted the ability of the different castes and religions within India to get along without British moderation. They justified this rhetoric with concepts like the White Man’s Burden and other similar colonial phrasing that made the Indian people out to be less than the British were. He was once noted in 1942 as bursting out and stating “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”[8] Churchill led the opposition to the Act in Parliament giving the final opposition speech to the first reading on February 11th saying that giving Indians self power would give them the power to whittle away at British trade and “hold them hostage” and also that the British imperial rule was “incomparably the best government India has ever seen or will ever see”. He went on to say imply that Hindus and Muslims could never possibly get along and that they were unable to fend for themselves on a basic level saying that “Any Hindu would prefer to have his case dealt with by a British officer than by a Mohammaden and vice versa. I have been told that there are frequent instances, and modern instances, of peasants who have a quarrel in a village and both parties walking 40, 50 or 60 miles to find a British district officer who can adjust the trouble between them.”[9]

The Liberal leader of Parliament on the opening reading of the Act on February 6th skillfully called out Churchills hypocrisy saying that “had he been born an Indian, he would have been a Congress man of type to which Mr Gandhi would have been a dove to a tiger”[10]. Churchill and his allies successfully were able to delay the implementation of the Act for several months and he staunchly continued his opposition during the opening remarks of the reading of the third reading of the Act even as its implementation seemed inevitable as his support had dwindled when he attacked Samuel Hoare (the creator of the Act) saying that “He has won his victory… but it is not a victory in our opinion for the interests of this country nor for the welfare of the peoples of India.”[11] The basic conception of the act of 1935 was that the government of India was the government of the crown, conducted by authorities deriving functions directly from the crown, in so far as the crown did not itself retain executive functions. His conception, familiar in dominion constitutions, was absent in earlier Acts passed for India.[12]

What makes Churchill’s vehement opposition even more ludicrous is the fact that all major political leaders in India immediately rejected the Act anyways. Bhulabi Desai made a speech to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform on February 4th outlining the opposition to the bill responding that “After all, there are five aspects of every Government worth the name: (a) The right of external and internal defence and all measures for that purpose; (b) The right to control our external relations; (c) The right to control our currency and exchange; (d) The right to control our fiscal policy; (e) the day-to-day administration of the land…. (Under the Act) You shall have nothing to do with external affairs. You shall have nothing to do with defence. You shall have nothing to do, or, for all practical purposes in future, you shall have nothing to do with your currency and exchange, for indeed the Reserve Bank Bill just passed has a further reservation in the Constitution that no legislation may be undertaken with a view to substantially alter the provisions of that Act except with the consent of the Governor-General…. there is no real power conferred in the Centre.”[13]

When surveying contemporary Newspapers in order to gauge public reaction, it seems that the general public was no longer set on British rule over India, and was much more invested in the events happening closer to home considering the rise of Facism. In it’s February 2nd 1935 Issue The Economist opened its coverage of the new bill by saying “Next week the House of Commons will, at long last apply itself to the actual business of enacting a new Constitution for India. There will be many regrets that so much time must be allocated to this measure at a moment when there are so many home affairs clamoring for attention.”[14] Therefore it can be assumed that the British public at large no longer had ambitions of a global Empire that included India, and that they had accepted the political tides that were happening. The Observer was more supportive towards the Act reporting on February 10, 1935 upon its first reading that despite the defeat of the Act, saying “The debate proved that whatever criticisms were levelled against the Bill, Indians of all shades and opinon are at present prepared to work for and by the new Constitution”. [15]

The Government of India Act of 1935 was by and large a failure on all accounts. It was delayed in its passing, saw fierce opposition in Parliament, and was ultimately rejected by Indians as the new Constitution. It was unable to satisfy Indian political aims, as well as serving to anger radical Conservatives who still believed in the might of the British Empire. It served as further fuel to the fire of the growing Indian Nationalist movement, and its no coincidence that it was only


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