The Third Round Table Conference and The White Paper

In November, 1932, the third session of the Round-Table Conference had been held in London. The Congress ignored it. There was no question of its participation. The Labour Party in England also did not take part because its nominees were not acceptable to the Government. From India only safemen were invited. The decisions taken by His Majesty’s Government in the light of the Conference were published in a White Paper issued in March, 1933. The White Paper proposals formed the gist of the Government of India Act, 1935.

The major contents of the White Paper were-

  1. A responsible government was to be set up in the Provinces which were to be autonomous as far as possible.
  2. It recommended the establishment of a Federation of British Indian Provinces and Indian States with a bicameral Federal Legislature at the Centre. 3. It provided for the demarcation of the spheres of Federal and Provincial legislation.
  3. The White Paper contained proposals regarding the establishment of Federal Court, Advisory Council, Reserve Bank, Federal Railway Authority etc. etc.

The Congress Socialist Party (CSP) was a socialist caucus within the Indian National Congress. Its members rejected the Gandhian mysticism as well as the sectarian attitude of the communists. Influenced by Fabian socialism, the CSP included advocates of armed struggle (JP, and Basawon Singh) as well as insisted upon ahimsa activities. The CSP advocated decentralized socialism in which co-operatives, trade union, peasants-workers’ unity and were anti-imperialists. Nehru and Bose patronised the CSP but never joined the CSP. Its members were to be the members of provisional congress socialist parties and were required to be the members of the Indian National Congress.

XIII. Government Of India Act 1935 ,The Congress Ministers, and the Beginning of World War II

The Government of India Act, 1935 was the last major enactment relating to the governance of India. It was a lengthy document with 14 parts and 10 appendices, and contained 451 articles. The act provided an All-India Federation consisting of British Indian provinces and the Indian princely states. However the all-India federation part never came into effect. The Act of 1935 was to have a bicameral legislature at the Centre : the Federal Assembly and the Council of States. The India Council was to be abolished. The British Indian provinces were to be granted full autonomy. The franchise, though was based on separate electorates, was to be enlarged but the right to vote was not given to more than 15% of the population.

The executive (the Governor-General at the Centre and the Governors in the provinces) had enormous despotic and discretionary powers under the pretext of ‘reservation and safeguards’. The legislatures (both at the centre as well as in provinces) were, more or less, to be advisory bodities, exercising powers at the discretion of the executive. Indeed, devolution of powers was a feature of the Act, yet the centre had dominance over the provinces. Burma was separated from India while Orissa and Sind were made as two distinct provinces. The Act of 1935 was condemned by all. Jinnah characterized the Act as ‘thoroughly rotten, fundamentally bad and totally unacceptable’. Nehru described it as ‘the charter of slavery’.

Its defect were enormous, including such as

  1. lame federal scheme,
  2. autocratic executive, exercising powers as despotically as was possible,
  3. weak legislative bodies,
  4. discriminatory franchise,
  5. impracticable provincial autonomy,
  6. an engine with all brakes. And yet, the Congress and the Muslim League participated in the 1937-election held under the Act of 1935.
  7. Out of the eleven provinces, the Congress formed ministries in seven; in other two, it had ministries in coalition with other parties, while in the remaining two, Bengal and Punjab, there were the League’s led government.

After being assured that the Governors in the provinces would not exercise their discretionary powers, the Congress decided to form ministries in seven clear-majority provinces and had its government in the other two (Assam and N.W.F.P.) where it was the largest political party in combination with its allies. The Muslim League coalition government was in power in Bengal and Punjab. The Congress ministries ruled in the interest of the people from 1937 and until the declaration of India’s entry into the World War II on the side of the allied powers in September, 1939.

During their rule, the Congress reduced the government expenditure _- getting themselves only ‘500/- as salary of the ministries, and travelling in the second/ third class on the railways. The ministries introduced and got enacted laws relating to promotion of civil liberties, repeal of restrictions on the press, permitting trade unions, kissan sabhas, curbing the powers of the police, releasing political prisoners. They legislated agrarian reforms laws, introduced prohibition, promoted Harijan upliftment and sanctioned liberal grants for education, health care, etc., etc.

With the Viceroy’s declaration of India as a belligerent country without consulting the Indian leaders, the Congress ministries resigned. The Viceroy took no time to declare emergency in the country, and the Muslim League celebrated the Congress’ resignations as ‘the day of deliverance’ on the one hand, and the passage of the Pakistan resolution on the other.

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