Government Of India
The Government of India Act, 1935 was passed in 1935 and came into operation on April 1, 1937. This Act provided for a federation for India in which the Indian States were to join the British India, and granted full provincial autonomy. The Act provided for the political separation of Burma (now Myanmar) from India. Two new provinces of Sindh and Orissa (now Odisha) were created. Dyarchical system of government was established in the British Indian provinces and a similar type of government was proposed to be introduced at the Centre. The provincial part of the Constitution, which introduced autonomy in the provinces, was acceptable to the Congress to some extent, but the central part of the Act was categorically rejected. The Congress took part in the elections to the provincial assemblies and won a thumping majority in a number of provinces. It formed governments either independently or in cooperation with other groups in eight out of 11 provinces. The federal part of the Act never came into operation. This Act was described by Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru as a “Charter of Slavery”. The executive was armed with wide discretionary and overriding authority. In the Centre, the native States were to join a federation and would have always sided with the British Government against the nationalist forces. Except the Hindu Mahasabha, all other parties rejected the central part of the Act. However, the Congress participated in the 1937 elections and swept the polls to form governments in many provinces. But at the outbreak of the Second World War, the Congress ministries resigned on the issue of Indian participation in the War. The present Constitution is, to a very large extent, an adaptation of the 1935 Act, to the changed conditions of free India.
Second World War
After the working of the provincial autonomy for about two and a half years, the Second World War started. The British Government joined it on the side of Allies. India being an Empire country, was automatically involved. The executive in India was given dictatorial powers under the Defence of India Rules to prosecute the War. The Congress party resigned from the provincial ministries at the end of 1939 as a protest. Mahatma Gandhi again assumed the reins of the Congress which began its final bid for attainment of independence. It demanded a declaration by the British Government that India would get independence after the War and that a representative government should be formed to prosecute the War. On the other hand, the Muslim League adopted a resolution in March 1940 demanding the formation of Pakistan.
The August Offer
The British Government made an offer, known as the August Offer, in August 1940. It promised dominion status after the War. The constitution was to be framed by Indians subject to the due fulfilment of obligations which Great Britain’s long connections with India had imposed upon her. During the War period, the Executive Council of the Governor-General was to be expanded to include the popular representatives of the people of India. The Congress rejected the offer. Gandhiji started individual satyagraha. He did not want to interfere with the prosecution of the War and at the same time expressed indignation of the Indian people. Acharya Vinoba Bhave was the first person to offer satyagraha in this movement.
Instead of reacting favourably and initiating discussions for an amicable settlement, the Government of India declared an emergency all over India and the administration of the whole country was concentrated in the hands of the Governor-General through the Governors and the Indian Civil Service. A series of new emergency ordinances were passed to meet any opposition from the popular forces in the country. Most of the national leaders were arrested and sent to jail.
Cripps Mission, 1942
Within the next two years, however, a dramatic change in the British attitude took place. This was due to two factors. Firstly, the British forces had suffered disastrous defeats in different theatres of War. Secondly, the international situation became so unfavourable to Britain, with Japan almost at the doorstep of the Indian empire, that she had to seek the support of the popular forces in India. With this end in view, Sir Stafford Cripps, a member of the British Government, was sent to India in early 1942 on a special mission for finding a “just and final” solution to the Indian political problem. His proposals consisted of two parts: one, dealing with the long-term problem of Indian freedom and the other, with the immediate establishment of an interim government at the Centre. The long-term proposals were vague. The Cripps Mission wanted the Indian leaders to support and work wholeheartedly for the prosecution of the War and envisaged complete transfer of power to Indians after the War. Negotiations, however, failed. The Indian National Congress demanded complete Indianisation of the Governor-General’s Executive Council. But the British rulers were not prepared to surrender the portfolio of Defence to the Indians. Mahatma Gandhi dubbed the proposals as a ‘post-dated cheque’.
Quit India Resolution
The failure of the Cripps Mission led to acute discontent in India. It exposed the intentions of the British rulers. On
August 8, 1942, the All India Congress Committee passed the famous “Quit India” resolution for the immediate ending of the British rule and sanctioned “the starting of a mass struggle on non-violent lines on the widest possible scale.” It was Gandhiji who piloted the resolution in the Congress Committee. Among other things, the resolution said : “… The Committee is of the opinion that the immediate ending of British rule in India is an urgent necessity, both for the sake of India and for the cause of the United Nations. The continuation of that rule is degrading and enfeebling India and making her progressively less capable of defending herself and of contributing to the cause of world freedom.”
“The freedom of India must be the symbol of and the prelude to the freedom of all other Asian nations under foreign rule. Burma, Malaya, Indochina, the Dutch Indies, Iran and Iraq must also attain their complete freedom.”
The Government reacted by immediately arresting all the members of the Congress Working Committee along with Mahatma Gandhi. These arrests created a sensation in the country. A great revolutionary upsurge was witnessed throughout the length and breadth of the country. The Government set in motion its entire repressive machinery to suppress the rebellion. Thousands were shot dead. Wholesale arrests were made. Jails were packed to capacity. There was a lull over the political scene for about three years.