The Government of India Act, 1935

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Pyo, Su Yeon
Term Paper, AP World History Class, November 2006

Table of Contents

I. The Genesis of the Act
II. Main Contents and Features of the Act
II.a) Main Changes in the Federation and Government
II.b) Changes in Legislation
II.c) Changes in Other Aspects
III. The Working of the Act
IV. Conclusion
V. Notes
VI. Bibliography

I. The Genesis of the Act

            The Government of India Act 1935 was the outcome of a long constitutional development. "The act of 1935 was also itself the product of the three elaborate sessions of the Round Table Conference, held in London, and at least five years of bureaucratic labour, most of which bore little fruit." (1) There were several Governments of India Act before The Government of the India Act 1935 was introduced.
The Government of India Act 1858 was the first Act to be introduced. It was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. After the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857, the British government took over administrative powers from the British East India Company. The British East India Company had to transfer its function because of the provisions of the liquidation. As a result, India became a formal crown colony. which meant the British Overseas Territory.
The Government of India Act 1909 is generally known as the Morley-Minto Reforms. The Act of 1909 was important because it allowed the election of Indians to the various legislative councils for the first time. It laid the groundwork for the parliamentary system.
The Government of India Act 1919 incorporated the dual form of government, referred to as a dyarchy. "The rules were a complex set of instructions. For example, the provincial legislative council of each major province acted to monitor the activities of the provincial ministers." (2) It also allowed a high commissioner, to live in London who represented India in Great Britain, to live in London. The Government of India Act 1919 lasted for 10 years, from 1919 to 1929.
After the genesis of Acts, Indian Round Table Conferences were held in 1930-1932. Through the three Round Table Conferences, British India and the Princely States could be integrated into the federated Dominion of India. However, Congress and the Muslims had different opinions on the structure of this federation. "This lack of agreement left the Conservative-dominated British government free to draft legislative proposals (the white paper) in line with its own views." (3)
After that, the British government let the Joint Committee, of which the chair was Lord Linlithgow, to formulate the new Act of India. The Committee comprised of both members of the House of Commons and House of Lords and representatives from British India and the princely states. The Committee came out with the draft Bill on February 5, 1935 and the House of Commons reviewed it. Finally, the Government of India Act 1935 was proclaimed in July, 1935.

II. Main Contents and Features of the Act

            "The Government of India Act 1935 expanded the powers of the elected provincial and national legislatures and helped lay the groundwork for full independence." (4) "The Act continued and extended all the existing features of the Indian constitution. Popular representation which went back to 1892, dyarchy and ministerial responsibility, which dated from 1921, provincial autonomy, whose chequered history went back to the eighteenth century presidencies, communal representation, which first received overt recognition in 1909, and the safeguards devised in 1919, were all continued and in most cases extended. But in addition, certain new principles were introduced." (5) Like this, there were several main features and changes of the Government of India Act 1935.

II.a) Changes in the Federation and Government
First of all, the introduction of federal principle was the most important and influential feature of the Act. Indian Federation was a double process that comprised previously subordinate provinces where the autonomy was applied and the separate princely states bound only by the consultative Chamber of Princes and by direct ties with the Crown.
Before the Act, the federal central government was not in effect because not a sufficient number of rulers of states had signed to function in accordance with the Act of 1919. However, the new federal principle could exist independently and be enforced without their support. Provincial autonomy was the corollary of Indian Federation. Afterwards, the federal structure was completed by creating a federal court and a federal reserve bank.
The next innovative feature was the introduction of responsible governments in provinces. A system of popular government replaced the previous diarchy. Chief ministers or premiers became the effective leaders of provincial administration and the governors acted on their advice unless they invaded their reserved powers. The Governor-General also appointed counsellors who had the similar role to the members of governors' previous executive councils.
The administrative changes had great influence on the Indian Federation. Several regions underwent transformations. First, Sind was separated from Bombay and became a separate province. "A new province of Orissa was formed from the Orissa division of the former province of Bihar and Orissa and adjacent portions of the Madras and Central Provinces". (6) Burma was separated from India and enacted a separate constitution.

II.b) Changes in Legislation
The Government of India Act 1935 also had features on its organization and structure of legislation. First of all, It had no preamble, which was included in the Government of India Act 1919. In the Government of India Act 1919, the preamble was important as it was a statement that policy and intentions were prefixed. However, there was no need for a preamble in the Act of 1935, as no new pronouncement of policy or intentions was required. It meant that there was no need to enshrine in an Act words and phrases which would add nothing new to the declaration of the preamble.
There was no Bill of Rights in the Government of India Act 1935. Because the Federation would include autocratic Princely States, no meaningful Bill of Rights could be formulated.
Furthermore, the Government of India Act 1935 was the longest bill among the Acts which were passed by the British Parliament. Compared to the constitution of the USA, it had fewer than 8,000 words. "The reason for this length was Parliament¡¯s lack of trust of Indians and particularly Indian politicians." (7)
The Government of India Act 1935 was closely related to a Dominion Constitution. After a few amendments were added, the Government of India Act 1935 could function as the constitutions of both India and Pakistan.

II.c) Changes in Other Aspects
There were other features that showed great developments compared to the past. First of all, the provincial assemblies changed to include more elected Indian representatives, who in turn could lead majorities and form governments. But Governors tried to retain powers concerning the summoning of legislatures, assenting to bills and administering certain regions. The Lothian Committee included about 35 million voters who were required only a small property qualification. Women also received the franchise which had the same terms as men.
The safeguards of the Government of India Act 1935 were also changed. The safeguards and their special powers were continued to exist after the Act of 1935. "At the Centre the Governor-General" had the control of the reserved departments, the power of certifying legislation in the form of 'Governor-General's Acts', and the power to issue ordinances with the force of law for six months at a time." (8) The safeguards were used to maintain the British government's interests and responsibilities. The Act focused on the power of Viceroy, the British colonial Governor-General of India, and governors who could administrate the safeguards. Moreover, the governors were discharged of their responsibilities such as the prevention of discrimination, protection of the interests of minorities, and continuance of the administration. Other safeguards carried out their work as preserving the rights of Indian services and their control by the Secretary of State.
There was a provision that "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." (9) frome Anatole France in The Red Lily, 1894. It suggested that under the Act, British citizens in the United Kingdom and British companies registered in the United Kingdom must be treated on the same basis as Indian citizens and Indian registered companies. The unfairness of this arrangement was obvious from the fact that British capital took dominant position in much of the Indian modern sector. It also contained that trade with foreign countries must be administered by the Minister of Commerce. However, the Foreign Office or Department of External Affairs in the mainland of United Kingdom controlled all of the negotiations with foreign countries.

III. The Working of the Act

            Lord Linlithgow was sent out by the British government to bring the Act into effect. He was a new viceroy and tried to enforce the Act. He was able to make a success out of the Act through his hard-working. On the other hand, he reinforced the extremely legalistic Act.
"When under pressure, which was most of the time, Linlithgow retreated into the details of administration while going immobile on the strategic level. This contrasts with Gandhi's tendency to retreat into a unrealistic, idealistic, semi-mystical pronouncements and Nehru's tendency under pressure to retreat into dogmatic socialism under pressure." (10)
In 1937, Provincial Autonomy was started. Until the declaration of war in 1939, Linlithgow tried to launch the Federation. However, he received only the weakest backing from the home government and the concept of Federation was rejected. After that, Linlithgow declared that India was at war with Germany in 1939. Although Linlithgow was constitutionally correct, he was somewhat offensive to Indians' opinions. As a result, the Congress resigned and it drove another nail into the coffin of Indian unity.
Government of India Act 1935, which proposed a federal structure for Indian government which, in the event, never came into operation, although it was adopted as the basic constitutional structure of India and Pakistan following Partition. (11)

IV. Conclusion

            The Government of India Act 1935 was one of the most important events in the history of India. As a result of several previous Governments of India Act and Round Table Conferences, the Government of India Act 1935 was finally introduced. It changed the Federation of India in the aspects of the structure of government, legislation, and so on. It granted Indian provinces autonomy and provided for establishment of India Federation. Direct elections were introduced and the right to vote was increased.
The Government of India Act 1935 established a foothold toward the modern India. The Government of India Act 1935 is important because it is one of the foundation stones of the current Republic of India.

IV. Notes

(1)      Article India, in : Encyclopaedia Britannica
(2)      The Government of India Act 1919, from Wikipedia
(3)      The Government of India Act 1935, from Wikipedia
(4)      Article India, in : Encyclopaedia Britannica
(5)      The Oxford History of India
(6)      The Oxford History of India
(7)      The Government of India Act 1935, from Wikipedia
(8)      The Oxford History of India
(10)      The Government of India Act 1935, from Wikipedia
(11)      Government of India Act: from

V. Bibliography

1.      Article India, in Encyclopaedia Britannica 15th edition, Macropaedia volume 21
2.      Article India, in Encyclopaedia Britannica 15th edition, Micropaedia volume 6
3.      The Oxford History of India 4th edition, Vincent A. Smith, C.I.E., edited by Percival Spear in 1981
4.      Article Government of India Act, from
5.      Article The Government of India Act 1919, from Wikipedia
6.      Article The Government of India Act 1935, from Wikipedia
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