28 months of Congress Ministries

28 months of Congress Ministries

This article deals with ‘28 months of Congress Ministries  – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Modern History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here


‘The British, after imposing the Act of 1935, decided to immediately put into practice provincial autonomy, and announced the holding of elections to provincial legislatures in early 1937. Nationalists were faced with a new political reality. All of them agreed that the 1935 Act must be opposed root and branch; but the question was how to do so in a period when a mass movement was not yet possible.

Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Bose, the Congress Socialists and the Communists were totally opposed to office acceptance and thereby working within the 1935 Act. The Left case was presented effectively and passionately by Nehru, especially in his Presidential Address at Lucknow in early 1936.

  1. Firstly, to accept office, was ‘to negate our rejection of it (the 1935 Act) and to stand self-condemned.’
  2. Secondly, office acceptance would take away the revolutionary character of the movement imbibed since 1919.

Behind this issue, said Nehru lay the question ‘whether we seek revolutionary changes in India or (whether we) are working for petty reforms under the aegis of British imperialism.’ Office acceptance would mean, in practice, ‘a surrender’ before imperialism.

Pro-office acceptance leaders agreed that there were pitfalls involved and that Congressmen in office could give way to wrong tendencies. But the answer, they said, was to fight these wrong tendencies and not abandon offices. Moreover, the administrative field should not be left clear to pro-Government forces. Even if the Congress rejected office, there were other groups and parties who would readily form ministries and use them to weaken nationalism and encourage reactionary and communal policies and politics. Lastly, despite their limited powers, the provincial ministries could be used to promote constructive work especially in respect of village and Harijan uplift, khadi, prohibition, education and reduction of burden of debt, taxes and rent on the peasants.

Congress decided at Lucknow in early 1936 and at Faizpur in late 1936 to fight the elections and postpone the decision on office acceptance to the post-election period .

Results  of election

Congress won a massive mandate at the polls despite the narrow franchise. It won 711 out of 1,161 seats it contested. It had a majority in most of the provinces. The exceptions were Bengal, Assam, the NWPF, Punjab and Sind; and in the first three, it was the largest single party (BANPS)

Note – There was evident failure of the Muslim League to make good its claim to be the sole representative of the Muslims. The League failed to win a single seat in the N.W.F.P. and could capture only 2 out of 84 reserved constituencies in the Punjab and 3 out of 33 in Sind. The Congress also won most scheduled caste seats, except in Bombay where Ambedkar’s Independent Labour Party captured 13 out of 15 seats reserved for Harijans.

28 months of Congress Ministries

  • During June, it formed Ministries in six provinces: Madras, Bombay, Central Provinces, Orissa, Bihar and U.P. Later, Congress Ministries were also formed in the North-West Frontier Province and Assam.
  • To guide and coordinate their activities and to ensure that the British hopes of the provincialization of the Congress did not materialize, a central control board known as the Parliamentary Sub-Committee was formed, with Patel, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Rajendra Prasad as members.
  • Congress was now to function both as a government in the provinces and as the opposition vis-a-vis the Central Government where effective state power lay
  • The formation of the Ministries by the Congress changed the entire psychological atmosphere in the country. People felt as if they were breathing the very air of victory and people’s power, for was it not a great achievement that khadi clad men and women who had been in prison until just the other day were now ruling in the secretariat and the officials who were used to putting Congressmen in jail would now be taking orders from them?
  • Responsibility was, of course, tremendous. However, there were limitations on the Congress Ministries’ power and financial resources. But, within the narrow limits of their powers, and the time available to them (their tenure lasted only two years and four months), they did try to introduce some reforms, take some ameliorative measures, and make some improvement in the condition of the people — to give the people a glimpse of the future Swaraj.
  • Congress Ministers set an example in plain living. They reduced their own salaries drastically from Rs. 2000 to Rs. 500 per month. They were easily accessible to the common people. And in a very short time, they did pass a very large amount of ameliorative legislations

Work done by Ministries

1 . Civil Liberties

  • Commitment to civil liberties was as old as Congress itself
  • All emergency powers acquired by the provincial governments during 1932, through Public Safety Acts and the like, were repealed; bans on illegal political organizations such as the Hindustan Seva Dal and Youth Leagues and on political books and journals were lifted.
  • Securities taken from newspapers and presses were refunded and pending prosecutions were withdrawn.
  • In Congress provinces, police powers were curbed and the reporting of public speeches and the shadowing of political workers by CID  agents stopped.
  • Thousands of political prisoners were released + many revolutionaries involved in kakori & other conspiracies released
  • Difference between the Congress provinces and the non- Congress provinces of Bengal and Punjab was most apparent in this realm. In the latter, especially in Bengal, civil liberties continued to be curbed and revolutionary prisoners and detenus, kept for years in prison without trial

2. Peasants Question

Ministry formation raised the expectations & brought back militancy among peasants & also brought right wingers in power to take back power from clutches of the socialists

2.1 Bihar

  • Tenancy Legislation was taken up in all the Congress ruled provinces. The Right Wing did not want to go ahead without negotiations with the landlords & positions varied from province to province
  • In Bihar, Congress signed pact with Zamindars regarding the provisions of the Tenancy Bill . Rajendra Prasad & Maulana Azad had been instrumental in this
    • In Bakshat land, permanent tenancy was converted to short term tenancies
    • Bihar  Kisan sabha totally criticised this along with left  leaning congressmen who sympathised with Peasants
    • At this time ban was imposed on Congressmen from participating in Kisan Sabha activities in Bihar
    • Kisan Sabha launched number of movements at regional level to remind congress to implement Faizpur Agrarian Programme

2.2 UP

  • In UP there was more left leaning leaders . Tenancy Bill was passed but governor didn’t give assent for two years
  • Gave all statutory tenants both in Agra and Oudh full hereditary rights . The rents of hereditary tenants could be changed only after ten years 

2.3 Bombay

  • They were able to restore lands to original owners which were confiscated due to no rent campaign of Congress

2.4 Orissa

  • Tenancy  bill was passed  granting the right of free transfer of occupancy holdings, reducing the interest on arrears of rent from 12 to 6 per cent and abolishing all illegal levies on tenants.

3. Pro Labour

  • Congress had promised better working conditions to the working class , however its policy was influenced by Relations between Right wing & Left wing leaders
Right Wing Believed that relation between labourers & capitalists will be based on Gandhian principle of Trusteeship
Left Wing They wanted relationship on class lines
  • 1937 :  Labour Committee appointed by Congress accepted a programme
    • Holidays with pay
    • Employment insurance
    • Leave with pay during sickness
    • To devise a way to fix minimum wage
    • Legitimisation of trade unions which pursued policy of peaceful & legitimate means
  • The formation of popular ministries initially stimulated labour organization and militancy. Trade union membership went up by 50% in 1938 as compared to 1937, and labour unity was strengthened by the coming together of the AITUC and the moderate N.F.T.U. Major industrial disputes of these years included the great general strike in Bengal jute mills , a series of stoppages in Kanpur cotton mills, textile strikes in Amritsar, Ahmedabad and particularly in Madras province , the strike in Martin Burn’s Kulti and Hirapur iron and steel works in 1938, and the bitter six month-long struggle in the Digboi oil works in Assam (April-October 1939).
  • Birla complained of rampant ‘indiscipline’ in Congress provinces  and there were   threats of a flight of capital from Congress-ruled Bombay and U.P. to the princely states where labour laws hardly existed.
  • In Bengal , Congress supported strike in Jute mills & condemned the repression of jute workers by non congress government
  • However, Bombay Province Ministry Introduced Industrial Disputes Bill  aim to prevent strikes & lockouts & crush workers which went on  strike

4. Other constructive works

  • Dalit Temple entry allowed by Madras Ministry  (led by C Rajagopalachari)
  • A vigorous campaign in favour of prohibition  of liquor
  • Grant of ₹ 2 Lakh for Khadi & Hand spinning in Madras.
  • Honorary medical officers to be appointed in Hospitals
  • Investment in public buildings to be considerably reduced
  • Reduction in salaries of ministers
  • Declaration of fundamental rights
  • Welfare scheme for tribals
  • Jail reforms.
  • Repeal of Moplah Outrage Act

Challenges to legislatures

  • Nearly all the Congress-run states (that is, U.P., Bihar, Bombay, Madras and Assam) had reactionary second chambers in the form of Legislative Councils, which were elected on a very narrow franchise — was less than 70 thousand for the second chambers. These were, therefore, dominated by landlords, capitalists and moneylenders, with the Congress forming a small minority. Hence, majority in the lower house was not enough in order to get any legislation passed .
  • There was malicious propaganda set out by communal parties & accused congress of discrimination against minorities.
  • Many opportunists entered congress during this period in order to take advantage of office . Gandhi & Congressmen were well known to this situation & wrote about this in Harijan

Congress itself began to lose its popularity as indicated in the drastic fall in its membership, from 4.5 million in 1938-39 to 1.4 million in 1940-41

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