Government of India Act 1935

Government of India Act 1935

This article deals with ‘Government of India Act 1935 – 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


Even-though, the Government had successfully suppressed the mass movement during 1932-33, it was aware that suppression could only be a short-term tactic. It couldn’t prevent the resurgence of another powerful movement in the years to come. For that it was necessary to permanently weaken the movement. For this British Parliament passed Government of India (GoI) Act 1935

Main Provisions

1 . Related to Provinces

  • Provincial Autonomy –  for the first time, Provinces to have separate legal entity . Full freedom & responsible government was given  to provinces except in certain cases .
  • Dyarchy introduced by GoI Act,1919 abolished
  • Two new states – Orissa and Sind established
  • Governors, appointed by the British Government, retained special powers. They could veto legislative and administrative measures, especially those concerning minorities, the rights of civil servants, law and order and British business interests.
  • Governor also had the power to take over and indefinitely run the administration of a Province. Thus both political and economic power remained concentrated in British hands; colonialism remained intact.
  • Responsible government to be provided to all 11 states . Among them Bengal, Madras , Bombay, UP, Bihar and Assam to have Bicameral Legislature

2. All India Federation

  • Act provided for the establishment of an All-India Federation to be based on the union of the British Indian provinces and Princely States. However, entry into Federation was compulsory for Indian Provinces but optional for Princely states.
  • This Federation will come into being when the more than 50 per cent of the Princely States formally acceded to it by signing the Instruments of Accession, which would override their previous treaties with the British Crown (this didn’t happen and Federation was never formed)
  • Federal Legislature was Bicameral comprising of
    • Council of States having 156 representatives of British India & not more than 104 (40%) of Indian states. It was a permanent house with 1/3 members retiring every 3rd year.
    • Federal Assembly was to have 250 representatives of British India & not more than 125 (33.3%) members of Indian States with normal tenure of 5 years.
  • The representatives of the States to the federal legislature were to be appointed directly by the Princes who were to be used to check and counter the nationalists.
  • Dyarchy was introduced at the centre,
    • Reserved Subjects included departments of Foreign Affairs , Defence, Internal Security & Ecclesiastical Affairs to be administered by GG through Councillors appointed by him only
    • Transferred Subject were to be administered by Governor General on the advice of popular ministers answerable to Federal Assembly subjected to safeguards
  • Federation of India was not intended to be sovereign legislature . It couldn’t amend the Indian Constitution which right remained with British Parliament . Besides, the range of its legislative activities was limited in that it couldn’t enact legislation affecting British suzerainty over India or even armed forces maintained in India.
  • Governor General retained power to issue Ordinances

3. Others

  • Franchise to be based on Property but increased from 5 million to 30 million
  • Separate electorates were extended further to Muslims, Sikhs, Europeans, Indian Christians, Anglo Indians, Sikh Women in Punjab, Mohammedan Women, Indian Christian Women in Madras,  Anglo Indian women in Bengal besides electrodes for Commerce and Industry , Landlord, Labour, University etc
  • Transfer of financial control from London to New Delhi, in response to a long-standing demand of the Government of India for fiscal autonomy.
  • Secretary of State’s Council was abolished. Not Secretary of State BUT HIS COUNCIL.
  • Establishment of Reserve Bank of India (RBI)

Why Britishers gave these concessions

  • Hoped that once the Congressmen in office had tasted power and dispensed patronage they would be most reluctant to go back to the politics of sacrifice.
  • Reforms could be used to promote dissensions and a split within the demoralized Congress ranks on the basis of constitutionalist vs. non constitutionalist and Right vs. Left. The Left and radical elements, it was hoped, would look  all this as a compromise with imperialism and abandonment of mass politics and would, therefore, become even more strident. Then, either the leftists (radicals) would break away from the Congress or their aggressive anti-Right politics and accent on socialism would lead the right- wing to kick them out. Either way, the Congress would be split and weakened.
  • Provincial autonomy, it was further hoped, would create powerful provincial leaders in the Congress who would wield administrative power in their own right, gradually learn to safeguard their administrative prerogatives, and would, therefore, gradually become autonomous centres of political power
  • In the Bicameral Central Legislature, members nominated by the princes would constitute 30 to 40 per cent of the seats, thus permanently eliminating the possibility of a Congress majority.


  • Federal character was seriously distorted by the provisions of safeguards and special responsibility which gave extraordinary powers to the executive head at the Centre and the Provinces. An important point to be noted is that fully responsible government was not introduced at the centre.
  • In the provinces, in place of Dyarchy the Act of 1935 provided for responsible government in all the departments. But this was balanced off by wide discretionary powers given to the governors about
    1. Summoning legislatures,
    2. Giving assent to bills and
    3. Administering tribal regions.
    4. Safeguard minority rights, privileges of civil servants and British business interests.

And finally, they could take over and run the administration of a province indefinitely under a special provision.

  • The electorate was enlarged to 30 million; but the high property qualifications only enfranchised 10 percent of the Indian population. In rural India, it gave voting right to the rich and middle peasants, as they were presumably the main constituency for Congress politics. So the act, suspects D.A. Low, was a ploy to corrode the support base of the Congress and tie these important classes to the Raj.
  • In the bicameral central legislature, members nominated by the princes would constitute 30 to 40 % of the seats, thus permanently eliminating the possibility of a Congress majority.
  • Act of 1935 did not mention the granting of dominion status . However much die-hard Conservatives like Winston Churchill might think that the act amounted to Britain’s abdication of empire, his colleagues had consciously chosen the federal structure because, as Carl Bridge has argued, it “would act primarily to protect Britain’s interests rather than hand over control in vital areas”. Its net effect was to divert Congress attention to the provinces, while maintaining strong imperial control at the center.

The Act of 1935 was condemned by nearly all sections of Indian opinion and was unanimously rejected by the Congress. The Congress demanded instead, the convening of a Constituent Assembly elected on the basis of adult franchise to frame a constitution for an independent India.

Why Federation didn’t come to being ?

  • The federation scheme ultimately failed because the Princes were reluctant to join it. Their main objection was that the act did not resolve the issue of paramountcy. The Government of India as a paramount power enjoyed the right to intervene in the affairs of their states or even overthrow them if necessary.
  • Their other fear was about joining a democratized federal central government, where the elected political leaders of British India would have little sympathy for their autocratic rulers and would provide encouragement to the democratic movements in their territories.
  • Furthermore, the larger states did not want to surrender their fiscal autonomy, while the smaller states complained of their inadequate representation in the legislature
  • Along with that, Congress and Muslim leaders were also not very much enthusiastic about it. Muslim leaders, first of all, were afraid of Hindu domination and felt that the proposed federal structure was still very unitary. All the representatives of British India to the central legislature were to be elected by the provincial assemblies and this would go against the Muslims who were minorities in all but four provinces. The Congress too did not like the proposed structure of the federation, where one-third of the seats in the federal assembly were to be filled in by the princes, thus tying up the fate of democratic India to the whims of the autocratic dynastic rulers.

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