Rule of the British Government

Impact on India

The rule of the British Government in India from 1858 to 1947 had an impact on our governance, society, economy, culture, and on almost all aspects of the Indian life : our Constitution bears a clear imprint of the British system of governments; our civil service system follows almost all the procedural techniques of the British bureaucracy; the English language is not only spoken in the country, it has, in fact, become a lingua franca in our public dealings; our attire style is by and large, English; our behavior and conduct have an Anglican touch. Despite our struggle against the British, seeking the country’s liberation, we still had, in Gandhiji’s words. “the tiger’s nature but not the tiger”, i.e., the British way of governance without the British.

The British Government took over the administration of the English East India Company’s Indian territories in 1858, following what the Indian terms it as the first war of independence in 1857 . The British rule between 1858 and 1947 had far-reaching impact, which impact can be stated, briefly, as under:

(i) Though there was no expansion of the British territories in India as was promised by the Queen’s Proclamation of November, 1858, the British Government’s paramountcy rights tightened over the princely states (called the Princely India) whose number exceeded more than 565 states at the time of India’s independence in 1947, covering about two-fifths of the area of the Indian subcontinent. The main provinces of the British included Bengal, Madras, United Provinces, Central Provinces, Punjab, and Assam while the minor provinces included North West Frontier Provinces, British Baluchistan, Coorg, Ajmer – Marwar, Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

(ii) The administration of India, after 1858, was drastically changed. It was a ‘despotism controlled from home’, as Charles Wood had described it. The Secretary of State for India, a cabinet-level minister, with a fifteenmember Council of India, controlled all the affairs relating to India’s administration. In comparison to the Council’s members, the Secretary of State for India was more powerful, almost a despot. From 1858 to 1947 , there were 27 individuals who served as Secretary of State, controlling and directing the India office. The Council’s members were all Englishmen. The powers of the Secretary of State for India and those of the India Council kept declining as the nationalist pressure went on mounting on the government.

(iii) In India, the Governor General, now also called the Viceroy (being the representative of the British Crown) after 1858, was the head of the government and was assisted by an executive council to conduct the administration at the centre while in each province, the government was headed by the Governor and his executive council, all subordinates to the central Government. For new laws, the councils were expanded by additional members, mostly officials and later added the non-officials and further later elected members, making up, thus, what may be called the legislative councils. With every act passed for India by the British Parliament, the members of the executive councils and legislative councils kept increasing togetherwith their respective powers, functions and responsibilities.

(iv) During 1858 – 1947, the British Parliament passed and enacted numerous legislations for India. The chief features of these acts can be stated, briefly, as under :

(a) The Indian Council, Act, 1861:

(i) a fifth member was added to the Viceroy’s Executive Council; (ii) as the Viceroy was empowered to make rules for the convenient transaction of business in the Council, the portfolio system came to be introduced; (iii) for the purposes of legislation, the Viceroy’s Executive Council was expanded with additional members, not less than six but not more than twelve, half of them to be non-official; (iv) the expanded council, called the legislative council was only for the purposes of legislation, and not for controlling the administration; (v) the legislative councils likewise, for each of the presidencies of Bombay and Madras, had not less than 4 and not more than 8 (half of them to the non-official) additional members; (vi) On provincial legislations, the assent of the Governor-General (i.e.; the Viceroy) was made essential; (vii) additional members held office for two years (b) The Indian Council, Act, 1892 : (i) additional members in the central legislative council were increased to a maximum of 16; (ii) additional members in the provincial legislative councils were increased to a maximum of 20; (iii) the additional members could express their views on financial statements; and could put questions within certain limits to the government.

(c) The Indian Councils, Act, 1909:

(i) the central legislative council was enlarged, the strength of the additional members was to have a maximum of 60 members, with some officials, some non-officials, some non-officials were to be nominated while, some others elected; (ii) the additional members in each provincial legislative council were increased, to a maximum of 50 — – some officials, some nonofficials; some non-officials to be nominated and some others to be elected; (iii) separate communal representation system came to be introduced; (iv) the powers of the provincial legislative councils were increased: members could move resolutions on budget and could ask supplementary questions; (v) two Indians were appointed on the Viceroy’s executive Council.

(d) The Government of India Act, 1919:

(i) the Indians came to be associated in administration; (ii) in provinces, some Indians were made ministers and given charge of transferred subjects, i.e.; dyarchy was introduced; (iii) the powers were distributed between the centre and the provinces; (iv) the elected members of the legislative councils were to be 70%; nominated officials to be 10% and nominated non-officials to be 20% of the total strength of the legislative council; (v) separate communal representation system was kept as before; (vi) the central legislature was to be bicameral-the Council of States, 60 members and Central Legislative Assembly, 145 member; (vii) the provincial legislative councils had now their increased members; (viii) The powers of the legislative council members, both at the centre and in the provinces were increased : legislations could be considered, passed or rejected, though the Governor-General and Governors had been given powers to override the decisions of the legislative councils.

(e) The Government of India Act, 1935:

(i) an all-India federation was proposed, though it did not come into effect (ii) dyarchy in the provinces was abolished, and provincial autonomy was granted, i.e.; all ministers were to be Indians in the provinces; (iii) The Governors and the Governors-General were given discretionary powers in the name of safeguards and reservations; (iv) the membership (at both centre and the provinces) of the legislative councils was increased : the central legislature had the Council of States with 260 members, and the Central Legislative Assembly, with 375 members; (v) the membership of the provincial legislative councils was also increased; (vi) the communal representation system was extended to include the other religious communities; (vi) the elected, nominated officials and the nominated non-officials system was kept as before; (vii) the franchise was restrictive and discriminatory; (viii) in some provinces, the bicameral lagilative was introduced.

(f) The Indian Independence Act, 1947:

(i) the Act of 1947 gave freedom to India; (ii) the country was partitioned into two dominions : India and Pakistan; (iii) the paramountcy was abolished : the princely states were allowed to join any of the two dominions or remain independent; (iv) Punjab and Bengal were divided _— East Punjab and West Bengal became parts of India and West Punjab and East Bengal became parts of Pakistan; (v) North Frontier Province and a part of Assam joined Pakistan after referendum.

The passage of the acts from 1858 to 1947 by the British Parliament for India demonstrates clearly the gradual introduction of the parliamentary system, and also growth of the legislatures in India from purely nominatedly structured to restrictively elective system, though the excessively despotic and discretionary executive remained dominating all through the Crown’s rule on India.

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