GOI Act 1935 and 1937 Elections Notes


Three perspectives

  • There should be constructive work on Gandhian lines.
  • There should be a constitutional struggle and participation in elections to the Central Legislature.
  • A strong leftist trend within the Congress, represented by Nehru, was critical of both constructive work and council entry in place of the suspended civil disobedience movement as that would sidetrack political mass action and divert attention from the main issue of the struggle against colonialism.

Nehru’s Opposition to Struggle-Truce-Struggle Strategy

  • Congressmen led by Gandhi believed that a mass phase of movement (struggle phase) had to be followed by a phase of reprieve (truce phase) before the next stage of mass struggle could be taken up.
  • The truce period, it was argued, would enable the masses to recoup their strength to fight and also give the government a chance to respond to the demands of the nationalists.
  • This was the struggle-truce- struggle or S-T-S strategy.
  • Against an S-T-S strategy, Nehru suggested a Struggle-Victory (S-V) strategy.

Finally, Yes to Council Entry

  • In May 1934, the All India Congress Committee (AICC) met at Patna to set up a Parliamentary Board to fight elections under the aegis of the Congress itself.
  • In the elections to the Central Legislative Assembly held in November 1934, the Congress captured 45 out of 75 seats reserved for Indians.

Third Round Table Conference

  • Third Round Table Conference, held between November 17, 1932 and December 24, 1932, was not attended by the Indian National Congress and Gandhi.
  • Recommendations were published in a White Paper in March 1933 and debated in the British Parliament afterwards.
  • A Joint Select Committee was formed to analyze the recommendations and formulate a new Act for India, and that committee produced a draft Bill in February 1935 which was enforced as the Government of India Act of 1935 in July 1935.

Government of India ACT 1935

Main Features

  • An All India Federation which included Princely states (conditional), British provinces and Chief Commissioner’s provinces.
  • Terms of joining were in the Instrument of Accession.
  • The proposed federation never came up.

Federal Level: Executive

  • Dyarchy was introduced at this level.
  • Subjects to be administered were divided into reserved and transferred subjects.
  • Subjects like defence, external affairs, tribal administration were in the hands of Governor general and 3 executive councillors appointed by him.
  • Other subjects were under Governor General and council ministers (representatives of Indian states, held office during the pleasure of Governor General)
  • Governor-general could act in his individual judgement in the discharge of his special responsibilities for the security and tranquility of India
  • The governor-general was the pivot of the entire Constitution.

Federal Legislature

  • Bicameral legislature was to have an upper house (Council of States) and a lower house (Federal Assembly).
  • The Council of States was to be a 260-member House.
  • The Federal Assembly was to be a 375-member house
  • Oddly enough, election to the Council of States was direct and that to the Federal Assembly, indirect.
  • Council of States was to be a permanent body with one-third members retiring every third year.
  • The duration of the assembly was to be 5 years.
  • Three lists for legislation purposes were to be federal, provincial and concurrent.
  • Governor-general had residuary powers.
  • Members of Federal Assembly could move a vote of no-confidence against ministers.
  • Council of States could not move a vote of no-confidence.
  • 80 per cent of the budget was non-votable.

Provincial Autonomy

  • Provincial autonomy replaced dyarchy.
  • Provinces were granted autonomy and separate legal identity.
  • Provinces were freed from “the superintendence, direction” of the secretary of state and governor-general.
  • Provinces henceforth derived their legal authority directly from the British Crown.
  • Provinces were given independent financial powers and resources.
  • Provincial governments could borrow money on their own security.

Provincial Executive

  • Governor was to be the Crown’s nominee and representative to exercise authority on the king’s behalf in a province.
  • Governor was to have special powers regarding minorities, rights of civil servants, law and order, British business interests, partially excluded areas, princely states, etc.
  • Governor could take over and indefinitely run administration.
  • 40% of the budget was non votable.

Provincial Legislature

  • All members were to be directly elected.
  • Franchise was extended; women got the right on the same basis as men.
  • Ministers were made answerable to and removable by the adverse vote of the legislature.
  • Provincial legislature could legislate on subjects in provincial and concurrent lists.
  • Governor could

(a) refuse assent to a bill

(b) promulgate ordinances

(c) enact governor’s Acts

Evaluation of the Act

  • Numerous ‘safeguards’ and ‘special responsibilities’ of the governor-general worked as brakes in the proper functioning of the Act.
  • In provinces, the governor still had extensive powers.
  • The Act enfranchised 14 per cent of British Indian population.
  • Extension of the system of communal electorates and representation of various interests promoted separatist tendencies which culminated in partition of India.
  • The Act provided a rigid constitution with no possibility of internal growth.
  • Right of amendment was reserved with the British Parliament.
Nationalists’ Response-The 1935 Act was condemned by nearly all sections and unanimously rejected by the Congress.


  • In February 1937, elections to the provincial assemblies were held.
  • Elections were held in eleven provinces—Madras, Central Provinces, Bihar, Orissa, United Provinces, Bombay Presidency, Assam, NWFP, Bengal, Punjab and Sindh.
  • Congress Manifesto for Elections-The Congress manifesto reaffirmed total rejection of the 1935 Act.

Congress’ Performance

  • Congress won 716 out of 1,161 seats it contested.
  • It got a majority in all provinces, except in Bengal, Assam, Punjab, Sindh and the NWFP
  • Congress ministries were formed in Bombay, Madras, Central Provinces, Orissa, United Provinces, Bihar and later in the NWFP and Assam also.
  • Gandhi’s Advice-Gandhi advised Congressmen to hold these offices lightly and not tightly.
  • The offices were to be seen as ‘crowns of thorns’ 1937 ELECTIONS

Work under Congress Ministries

Civil Liberties

  • Laws giving emergency powers were repealed.
  • Ban on illegal organizations, and on certain books and journals was lifted.
  • Press restrictions were lifted.
  • Newspapers were taken out of black lists.
  • Confiscated arms and arms licences were restored.
  • Police powers were curbed and the CID stopped shadowing politicians.
  • Political prisoners and revolutionaries were released, and deportation and internment orders were revoked.
  • In Bombay lands confiscated by the government during the Civil Disobedience Movement were restored. 1937 ELECTIONS

Social Welfare Reforms

  • Prohibition imposed in certain areas.
  • Measures for welfare of Harijans taken.
  • Attention given to primary, technical and higher education and to public health and sanitation.
  • Encouragement given to khadi through subsidies and other measures.
  • Prison reforms undertaken.
  • Encouragement given to indigenous enterprises.
  • Efforts taken to develop planning through National Planning Committee set up under Congress president Subhash Bose in 1938.

Extra-Parliamentary Mass Activity of Congress

  • launching of mass literacy campaigns
  • setting up of Congress police stations and panchayats
  • Congress Grievance Committees presenting mass petitions to government

Resignation of ministers from Councils

  • The Congress ministries resigned in Oct 1939 after the outbreak of second world war.
  • The British government without any reference to Indian public opinion declared India a belligerent state.
  • Moreover Linlithgow refused to reveal the British war aim.