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UNIT 29 CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS

1921-1935
Structure
29.0
29.1
29.2

Objectives
Introduction
Effects of the Constitutional Reforms of 1919
29.2.1 Failure of Dyarchy
29.2.2 Reform Proposals between 1920-1927

29.3

Simon Commission
29.3.1 Appointment
29.3.2 Boycoii

29.4
29.5
29.6
29.7
29.8
29.9
29.10
29.1 1

All Parties Conference and Nehru Report


The First Round Table Conference
Gandhi and the Second Round Table Conference
Communal Award and Poona Pact
The Government of India Act of 1935
Let Us Sum Up
Key Words
Answers to Check Your Progress Exercises

29.0 OBJECTIVES
The aim of this Unit is to give you a brief history of the constitutional reforms during the
period 1920-1935. After going through this unit you will be abIe to:
know how the basic character of the Constitution of Free India (the democratic
republic with a parliamentary system of government) has evolved gradually,
explain how the struggle for freedom and the constitutional reforms went together and
were complementary to each other, and
appreciate the efforts of Indian masses and their leaders in facing (he challenge of
communal and minority problems in relation to constitutional reforms.

29.1 INTRODUCTION

In Unit-17, Block-4, you have read about the Constitutional developments during the
period 1892-1920. In this Unit an attempt is made to familiarise you with the
constitutional developments between the period 1920-1935. Here we analyse the effects of
1919 Reforms Act and the circumstances leading to the appointment of Simon
Commission. The Nationalist response to the appointment of Simon Commission as well as
the recommchdations of the Nehru Report are also discussed. It also takes into account the
British initiatives for a compromise with the nationalists through the Round Table
Conferences. It also explains the Nationalist overture in the form of Poona Pact to meet the
challenge posed by communal and minority representation guaranteed by the British.
Finally the main features and limitations of Government of India Act of 1935 are
enumerated.

29.2 EFFECTS OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS


OF 1919
Before discussing the effects of the Constitutional Reforms of 1919, let us briefly
recapitulate the main features of the Government of India Act of 1919.
Under the Government of India Act of 1919 the provincial governments were given more
powers under the system of Dyarchy. Some subjects such as finance and law and order

b.11

ionelism: Inter War

\ dn;tr$ 111

Constitutional Reforms
1921-1935

29.2.2 Reform Proposals between 1920-1927


The reforms introduced by the government of India Act of 1919 disillusioned the Indian
nationalists and contributed to a great extent to the growth of nationalist movement in
1920-1921. During the period after the withdrawal of Non-Cooperation movement a
political vacuum developed which the Swarajists attempted to fill up. The Gandhian Nochangers on the other hand concentrated on constructive work in villages.
In the period between 1920 and the formation of Simon Commission many reform
proposals were put forward by the Indians. A non-official resolution was introduced in the
Central Legislative Assembly in 1921. The resolution demanded establishment of full
responsible government in the provinces. Two other non-official resolutions were
introduced in 1923 but to no avail.
After entering the assembly the Swarajists introduced a non-official resolution. It
recommended to the Governor-General in Council the overhauling of Government of India
Act of 1919 to establish self-governing Dominion Status within the British Empire and
provincial autonomy in the provinces. The government rej~ctedthis proposal. Home
Member Sir Malcolm Hailey pointed out that responsible government as mentioned in the
Preamble of Act of 1919 in which executive would be responsible to the legislature with
limited powers was to be established. However, full Dominion self-government was to be a
further and final step.
Swarajists led by Motilal Nehru introduced an amendment in 1924. They demanded the
framing of an Indian Constitution by an Indian Constituent Assembly. As a response the
government appointed the Reforms Enquiry Committee under the chairmanship of Sir
Alexander Muddiman, the Home Member in the Executive Council. The Committee
published a majority and minority Report. Majority Report declared that Dyarchy had not
been established. Minority Report stated that Act of 1919 had failed. However, .the official
point of view stated that the Act of 1919 could be improved upon by adopting the
suggestions of the Majority Report. But Motilal Nehru stood by his earlier resolution. He
asked for the summoning of a Round Table Conference of all Indian (including minority),
European and Anglo-Indian interests.

Equal' in Rank but lnferior in Status.

M o t k r Jndta :-Really. Happy. Venerable Mother India, to rea that Hi. Momt Ormcioum Majaaty hma #iron You l glorioum
thim Hiatoric Empire Exhibition with us. the "Leer rsarinu Auatralianm. Wh,~atfulCanadians and Oltnch-featherd 8. Africaom.
BOLDDoodle :-Proud i d & tbr day when In rompoul mhora mad proud E r h t b i t i o ~Your BmcrdSelf i8 mccarddLguality.
But. Your Britannic M.irCy, it will ba the proudest day when Mother India rill have not oelr Equality with tho Domiiolr 1. dorm
but e h Equality in 8tatw. Of what mail ir Equality in mhora or L w u a ? Why not make Your R w a l Namr and R o b
~~~rirb.bk
In the Indian m i n b br nantio. m a t 7cur Promler bu heon bold mou#h t o p r o m l ~1 That would r a i n a m m o m mom . o d u r ~(h. you .
W o n m ID bronle or aIabu(rr.
.v:tneon~to

11,

baa Q w & . Q o r ~ ' . ~ o d * . '

2. A Cartoon on Reforms in Indian Review 1924.

Around this time the Muslim League under the Presidentship of M.A. Jinnah met at
Lahore. It demanded the establishment of full responsible government, a federal
constitution with full autonomy for provinces and adequate representation for minorities
through separate electorates. When a resolution was introduced in the Council of State for
the abolition of separate electorates Muslim members felt that the moment for doing away

Nationalism: Inter War


Years I11

Muslim League. A separate annual session of the

for the appointment of a Royal Commission at the


of the Act with the aim of enquiring into the

government.

o win, the Tory Government was apprehensive about


chance to make the appointment of the Statutory
Besides the To
situation had d

All the seven m

nted to send the delegation at a time when communal


the Commission should form a low opinion about the

ission were Englishmen who were members of British


gave two arguments for excluding the Indians from
I.

I
I

i) They pointed out that since the committee had to report its proceedings to the British
Parliament so it was justified to appoint British members only. This argument did not
hold much weight because there were two Indian Members of British ParliamentLord Sinha and Mr. Saklatwala.
ii) Secondly, the British government declared that as there was, no unanimity of Indian
opinion on the problem of Constitutional development it was not possible to
appoint any Indian as its member. Actually Birkenhead was afraid that in a mixed
commission there could be an alliance between the Indian and British Labour
representatives.
Irwin declared that Indians had been excluded from the membership of Commission
because they could not give an accurate picture of their capacity to govern to the
Parliament and their judgement was bound to be coloured. However, Prime Minister
Baldwin declared in May, 1927 "in the fulness of time we look forward to seeking her
(India) in equal partnership with the Dominions". Taking cognizance of Baldwin's
declaration Irwin made provisions for expression of Indian opinion on the problem of
constitutional development. In India joint committees consisting of non-official members
from centre and provinces were to make their views known to the commission. Indian
Legislature could send delegations to confer with the Joint British Parliamentary
Committee on the Commission's Report.

29.3.2 Boycott
The announcement of the all-white commission shocked almost all Indians. It was greeted
with strong protest by all parties, i.e., the Congress, a section C% t h e s u s l i m League,
Hindu Mahasabha, Liberals Federation, etc., proving that on the issue of Indian
representation there was unanimity amongst almost all sections of Indian public opinion.
They pointed out that what they had asked for was a Round Table ~ 6 n f e r e n c eof Indians
and British and not an exclusive English Commission. Through the boycott the Congress
tried to revive the Non-Cooperation spirit. However. Indian revolutionaries like Bhagat
Singh and others opposed the Simon Commission on the ground that only Indians should
have a say in framing the constitution of India.
The Muslim League led by Muhammed Shafi as also Justice Party in Madras, Central Sikh
Sangh and All India Achut Federation did not oppose the Commission.
The Simon Commission reached Bombay on February, 3, 1928 and was greeted with the
slogan of 'Go back, Simon'. A hartal call was given and thousands of people gathered to
shout slogans. The boycott turned into a protest movement and the scenes of Noncooperation days were revived. Crowds could not be held back even by bullets and lathis.

A procession led by Lala Lajpat Rai in Lahore was lathi charged and Lalaji succumbed to
his injuries. J. Nehru and G.B. Pant were lathi charged in Lucknow. A revolutionary group
led by Bhagat Singh avenged Lala Lajpat Rai's death by killing Assistant Police
Superintendent, Saunders.
The popular resentment against the Commission reflected the feeling that the future
constitution of India should be framed by the people themselves. The Congress called an
All Parties Conference in February, 1928 and on 19 May appointed a Committee under
Motilal Nehru to draft a Constitution.
The Commission paid two visits to India (February-March 1928, October 1928-April
1929). Each time it faced boycott. It made extensive tours and prepared a Report which
was published in May, 1930.

29.4 ALL PARTIES CONFERENCE AND NEHRU


REPORT
At the 1927 Madras Congress Session a resolution boycotting the Simon Commission was
passed. The Working Committee was authorised to prepare a constitution for India in
consultation with other organisations. Congress representatives as well as representatives of
other organisations such as Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha, etc. met at a conferelice in
February, 1928. This came to be known as the Ail Parties Conference. This Conference
was presided over by Dr. M.A. Ansan. It was agreed that in framing the Constitution of

Constitutional Reforms
1921-1935

Y
Nationalism: Inter War
Years I11

responsible self-government should be kept in mind.


Session had adopted the goal of complete national

ir response to the appointment of Simon


Lord Birkenhead to Indians asking them to frame
on was united. The Committee's Report was
ongress Session it was stated that the Report had
g India's political and communal problems.

ent of full responsible government was not to be


ediate step. Apparently it was different from the

izenship and declare fundamental rights,


t with the King and bicameral parliament, and
by the Governor-General and the same
establishment of responsible governments in
and executive councils, and

f Princely states formed the State Peoples Conference


rning institutions. This move threatened the interests
itish in this matter. The result was the appointment of
of Sir Harcourt Butler which laid stress on
ramountcy. The Nehm Committee
d stated that the rights and obligations of
the government of Commonwealth of India and
ndia and Indian states were to be referred to the
atures. Inspite of the fact that the
he composition of the senate, the provinces were not
Decentralisation w
were vested in the

the fact that it was the first expression of the


the Indian leadership on the communal problem.
the frankest attempt yet made by the Indians to face
lism". The Report stated that the only method of
nority was to provide for safeguards and guarantees.
three distinct proposals:
Id provide for liberty of conscience and religion.
8

rates should be rejected and all elections should be


ele~toratessubject to reservations of seats for Muslims

problem. Communal representation was to be reconsidered after ten years and Baluchistan
was to be given full provincial status.
L

At the All Parties Convention held in Calcutta in December 1928 Jinnah demanded one
third representation of the Muslims in the Central Legislature. As this was not accepted at
the convention so he joined the groups led by Agha Khan and Muhammed Shafi. An All
India Muslim Conference was held in Delhi on 1 January, 1929 and it passed a resolution
emphasising two principles:
i) The first principle was that since India was a vast country, with a lot of diversity it
required a federal system of government in which the states would have complete
autonomy and residuary powers.
ii) The second principle was that the system of aeparate electorates should continue as long
as the rights and interests of Muslims were not safeguarded in the constitution.
In March 1929 Jinnah put forward before the Muslim League a detailed account of Muslim
demands known as fourteen points. These demands suggested a total rejection of Nehru
Report because of two reasons.
i) Firstly a unitary constitution was not acceptable because it would not ensure Muslim
domination in any part of India. A federal constitution consisting of a centre with
limited powers and autonomous provinces with residuary powers would enable the
Muslims to dominate in 5 provinces - NWFP, Baluchistan, Sind, Bengal and Punjab,
ii) Secondly the solution to the communal problem as suggested by Nehru Committee was
not acceptable to Muslims. Jinnah did not want to do away with separate electorates.
Within the Congress the younger section led by J. Nehru and S.C. Bose criticised the
Nehru Report because of its acceptance of Dominion Status. As has been stated earlier that,
although the Congress was pledged to the goal of complete independence, which meant
secession from the British Empire but it made a compromise and accepted Dominion
Status as its goal in order to rally all parties behind a common plan. However, due to the
opposition of the younger section the Calcutta Congress Resolution (1928) added that if the
British government did not accept the Nehru Report on or before 31 December, 1929, or
spumed it before that date, the Congress would start another mass movement. Lord Irwin
showed no signs of taking some concrete steps in the direction of establishing full
Dominion Self-Government, as he had announced, in his declaration of 31 October 1929.
Therefore, the Congress declared on 31 December, 1929, that the Nehru Report had ceased
to be valid.
In May 1930 the Simon Commission Report was published. It did not recommend the
establishment of either responsible government or Dyarchy at the centre. Separate
electorates were retained. It proposed reservation of seats for depressed classes. It
recommended scrapping of Dyarchy in the provinces and establishment of responsible
unitary government in provinces. It stated that in order to cope with the diversity of the
country the ultimate character of the Indian government had to be federal. It declared that
the establishment of responsible government at the centre was to wait indefinitely i.e., it
was to be established somewhere in the future. Simon Commission's observations
regarding Dominion status were not very clear. It recommended that a Greater India
consisting of British India and the Princely States as a federal association was to be
established in the future but the clause of British Paramountcy (with Viceroy as the agent
of Paramount power) was to remain. The report was rejected by almost all Indian Parties
and the Indian masses enthusiastically participated in Civil Disobedience Movement.

Check Your Progress 1


1 Discuss the background against which the Simon Commission was appointed in 1927.
Answer in about ten lines.

Constitutional Reforms
1921-1935

Nationalism: Inter War


Years 111

ce were underway, the Indian National Congress


dience Movement. The sections led by Sir Tej

s to secure participation of the Congress.


emment and persuasion of the liberals, the Congress
ing the Round Table Conferences which included

nference. Of these 16 represented British Political

3. M.R. Jayakar

were:
leader, C.Y. Chintarnani and T.B. Sapm who

12

..,

rulers, it was a gathering of men who could not be considered real representatives of the
Indian people whose destiny the Conference had to decide. In spite of this handicap from
the point of view of constitutional reforms, the Conference took intitative in favour of
two positive points. It recommended the formation of an All India Federation of the
British Indian Provinces and the Indian States. It also proposed to establish a responsible
government at the centre with certain safeguards for the transitional period. However,
to the disappointment of the nationalists, the period of transition was not clearly
specified.

Constitutional Reforms
1921-1935

The Round Table Conference gave the impression of being a -gathering of communalists
and reactionaries. Anxious to secure the Congress participation, the British Prime Minister
Ramsay Macdonald and the Viceroy of India unconditionally released the Indian leaders so
that they could meet at the residence of the ailing leader Motilal Nehru and deliberate on
the conditions on which the Congress could agree to participate in the next session of the
Round Table Conference.

29.6 GANDHI AND THE SECOND ROUND TABLE


CONFERENCE
In spite of the fact that the government stand did not show much change, Gandhi agreed to
participate in the Second Round Table Conference after concluding a pact with the
Viceroy, known as the Gandhi-Irwin Pact of March 5, 193I . During this period
revolutionary terrorism was in full swing and the Communists were organising the labour
and strikes. Apprehensive of anarchy Gandhi concluded a pact with Irwin.
The Congress suspended the Civil Disobedience Movement and it was decided that Gandhi
would be the sole representative and spokesman of the Congress at the second session of
the Round Table Conference. The Congress reiterated Puma Swaraj as its ultimate political
goal.
In the intervening period the situation had, however, undergone a change. On 26 August
1931, MacDonald's Labour Cabinet resigned and a new coalition government dominated
by the Conservatives was formed under him. Wellingdon succeeded Lord Irwin in Delhi in
April 193 1. Sir Samuel Hoare a leading conservative became Secretary of State for India.
As a result of these changes official attitude hardened. Most of the prominent personalities
of the first session returned to attend the second session. There were, however, many new
faces. Besides Gandhi, there were Muhammed Iqbal, a great poet, Madan Mohan Malaviya,
Mrs. Sarojini Naidu and Ali Imam, great political leaders and nationalists, G.D. Birla, a
capitalist and S.K. Datta, a prominent Indian Christian. They were attending the
Conference for the first time. The second session ended on 1 December, 1931 and made
recommendations on the matters such as:

a the composition of the Indian federation


a

structure of the federal judiciary


the mode of accession of states to the federation, and
distribution of financial resources.

The Congress scheme tabled by Gandhi was the same as had been suggested earlier by
the Nehru Committee Report. The proceedings of the conference were bogged down by
the communal issues. Gandhi was aware of the fact that the csornmunal problem was so
complex that is defied all immediate solutions. He suggested that the communal settlement
be kept pnding till the constitutional settlement had been arrived at. The suggestion not
only displeased the representatives of the minorities but even hardened their attitude. The
Muslim representatives insisted on separate electorates. The second session thus concluded
in an atmosphere of bitterness and anxiety.

29.7 COMMUNAL AWARD AND POONA PACT


AppEehending a fresh wave of national agitation, the government arrested Gandhi on 4th

January, 1932, that is, only a week after his arrival in India, and unleashed a reign of
terror. The co~nmunalproblem gripped the nation's attention. The Indian National

4. Dr B.R. Ambedkar

Nationalism: Inter War


Years 111

on this issue which was based on a thinking


Congress .reiterated that the proposed constitution
tee to the minorities of protection of their
te communal electorates, it insisted on the
on 16 August, 1932 MacDonald
n, known as the 'Communal Award'

Congress had tormul


opposed to that of th
would include in the
culture, religion and 1
principle of universal
announced the prop
which recommended: j

torate for the minorities,


provinces where they were in minority,
women in all provincial legislatures except in the
V)

nority community and make them entitled to the

to recognize dep

of granting the right of separate electorate to the


ssed Classes as an integral part of Hindu society.
in the firm belief that the Hindus would do full
om they had exploited for centuries and would
rsuade the recalcitrant Ambedkar to accept his
the Yarvada Jail, resorted to a fast unto death.
rms was concluded
the depressed classes in the provincial legislatures as
nerd non-Muslim
n would be given to the
by Ambedkar accepted the principle of joint

29.8 THE G ~ V E R FENT OF INDIA ACT OF 1935


I

I 1i
a White Paper on the new constitution of India,
by the British Government contained three major
Autonomy and safeguards which vested special
executives. As it fell far short of complete
criticised and rejected by all the political parties of
White Paper was submitted for consideration to the
e Houses, which submitted its report on 22
port was passed on 2 August 1935 and after
overnment of India Act of 1935.

independence, the

li

Regarding the provi cial part,

!most significant points were:


omy. For the first time the Act recognised
a1 entity. This was so designed as to give full freedom
the Central Government except in certain specific
by the Act of 1919 was to be abolished.
Act suggested the creation of two new provinces of
t were issued on 3 March, 1936.
ng responsible government in all the eleven provinces
ong them Bombay, Bengal, Madras, the United
have bicameral legislatures.

1 d

The franchise was sed on p


increased from 5 m lion in 1

rty ,qualifications. The number of voters, ho.wever,


to 30 million in 1935.
of seats. Separate electorates and the

The governors in provinces were invested with special executive powers. They could
exercise discretion in matters like law and order, interests of minorities and the people of
backward areas, the protection of the British commercial interests and those of the rulers of
states.
The Act prescribed federal structure for the Government of India. It was to comprise
provinces and states, with federal central and provincial legislatures. Dyarchy was
introduced at the centre, and departments of Foreign Affairs and Defence were resewed
for the Governor-General and the subjects transferred to the elected ministers were
subjected to safeguards.
The central legislature was to consist of two houses. The Council of States i.e., the Upper
House, was to consist of 156 members from British India and 104 from the Indian States.
Dominion Status was not introduced by the Act of 1935. Therefore, the Act was an
arrangement for the interim period of transition from responsible government to ccmplete
independence. And the provisions regarding the safeguards and special responsibility were
also made for that period of transition.
The Act of 1935 was based on two basic principles, namely, federation and parliamentary
system. Although the federation principle was introduced with a built-in unitary bias yet
the provinces were invested with a coordinate and not a subordinate authority. No doubt,
the 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. The provincial autonomy envisaged under the Act was also placed
under serious limitations. The Dominion Status for India was still a distant dream. The
incorporation of safeguards was a clever constitutional device to delay the introduction of a
fully responsible government. Although these provisions were made for the transition
period, the extent of the period of transition was not defined.
The Indian National Congress rejected the provision of safeguards and repudiated the idea
of transition. It suspected that there were sinister motives behind them and they were found
to have an adverse effect on the national movement.
The Act was criticized and rejected by the Congress on the ground that in formulating it
the people of India were never consulted, and as such it did not represent their will.
Congress charged the government of formulating the Act in such a way as to stall the
introduction of responsible government, perpetuate their rule and exploit the Indian
masses. In spite of its recognition of the aspirations of the Indians to have a responsible
government, the Act of 1935 did not fulfil those aspirations. It did not concede the right to
vote to all the adults. The property qualifications, the system of separate electorates, the
provisions of safeguard were violative of democratic rights of the people. The Act was,
therefore, denounced as undemocratic in spirit, offensive to people's sovereignty and
institutionally unworkable. The Liberals criticised the Act but were willing to work the
reforms as a step towards responsible government. The Muslim League also criticised the
Act but was ready to give it a trial. On the whole the Congress condemned the Act but
hesitated that they might be prepared to work the provincial part under protest. Thus, the
Congress participated in the elections in 1937 and formed provincial ministries.
Check Your Progress 2
1 What were the main provisions of the Poona Pact? Answer in about five lines.

2 Mark ( \/ ) against the correct statement given below:


a) Mahatma Gandhi was the Congress nominee in the First Round Table Conference.
b) The Congress participated in the Third Round Table Conference.
C) Poona Pact was signed between Gandhi and Ambedkar.
d) Communal Award aimed at abolishing minority representation.

Constitutional Reforms
1921-1935

Nationalism: Inter War


Years I11

3 Discuss the main features of the


lines.

vernment of India Act of 1935. Answer in about ten

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1,
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I

UI

29.9 LET US ~ U M

the reforms the way they were offered by the

arliamentary democracy.

ent according to which a country is granted selfntinues to owe allegiance to the colonial power.
h there is a division of the functions of state into
cation, health, etc. were transferred to elect
as finance, law and order, etc. were reserved for

. Dyarchy:
A form
two parts. Here
the official bloc.

e Congiess who opposed council entry.


encies on the basis of religion, community etc.

29.11 A N S W E TO
~
EXERC ES

ECK YOUR PROGRESS

Check Your Progress1


owing points: Dissatisfaction of the nationalists with
tivities of Swarajists, political situation in Britain
points: India should be given Dominion
titution should define citizenship and declare

Check Your Progres 2


1 Your answer shoul include t
depressed classes i provinci
depressed classes id civil se
2 C
autonomy,

llowing points: Seats were to be allotted to the


slatures, representation was to be given to the
. See Section 29.7.
wing points: The act introduced provincial
s abolished by this act, it prescribed federal
ia etc. See Section 29.8.