Government of India Act 1935: A Landmark in Indian Constitutional History
LegalStix Law School

Government of India Act 1935: A Landmark in Indian Constitutional History

Download FREE LegalStix App

The Government of India Act 1935 was a significant piece of legislation passed by the British Parliament. It aimed to make further provisions for the governance of India and had a profound impact on the country's political landscape.


The demand for greater Indian participation in the government had been growing since the late 19th century. The Indian contribution to the British war effort during World War I further fueled this demand, leading to the Government of India Act 1919. This act introduced provincial "diarchy," where certain areas of government were placed in the hands of ministers responsible to the provincial legislature, while others were retained by British-appointed officials.

However, diarchy proved to be unsatisfactory, as Indian politicians felt that true power still resided with British officials. The Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms of 1919 were intended to be reviewed after ten years, but the Simon Commission conducted the review earlier. The Simon Commission's report proposed scrapping diarchy and introducing a greater degree of responsible government in the provinces.

To involve Indians in drafting a new constitutional framework, a series of Round Table Conferences were held in the 1930s. However, disagreement between Congress and Muslim representatives hindered progress. As a result, the British government drafted its own proposals, which became the Government of India Act 1935.

Overview of the Act

The Government of India Act 1935 had several significant aspects, aimed at granting greater autonomy to the provinces of India and establishing a federation of India. The key features of the act included:

  1. Autonomy for Provinces: The act ended diarchy and placed all provincial portfolios in the hands of ministers accountable to the provincial legislatures. Provincial governors retained reserve powers.
  2. Federation of India: The act envisaged the establishment of a federation comprising British India and willing princely states. However, this aspect did not come into operation due to opposition from the rulers of the princely states.
  3. Direct Elections: The act introduced direct elections, expanding the franchise from five million to thirty-five million people. It aimed to increase Indian representation in the provincial assemblies.
  4. Reorganization of Provinces: The act led to the separation of Sindh from Bombay and Bihar and Orissa from the province of Bihar. It also detached Aden from India, establishing it as a separate Crown colony.
  5. Federal Court: The act established a Federal Court to adjudicate federal disputes and interpret the provisions of the act.

While the act granted a measure of autonomy to the provinces, it also had limitations. The provincial governors retained significant powers, and the British authorities maintained the right to suspend responsible government if necessary.

Features of the Act

No Preamble: Ambiguity of British Commitment to Dominion Status

Unlike the Government of India Act 1919, the Government of India Act 1935 did not contain a preamble. The absence of a preamble in the act raised questions about the British commitment to granting dominion status to India. Some British officials doubted India's capability to govern itself as a dominion, while Indian nationalists saw it as a lukewarm approach towards Indian desires.

No 'Bill of Rights'

The act did not include a "bill of rights" within the new system it aimed to establish. This omission was particularly significant in the case of the proposed federation of India, as it would have included autocratic princely states. Some Indian politicians had proposed a bill of rights in the Nehru Report, but it was not included in the act.

Excess "Safeguards"

The act contained numerous "safeguards" that allowed the British government to intervene when necessary to protect British responsibilities and interests. The governor-general and provincial governors had extensive powers to administer these safeguards, subject to the control of the Secretary of State for India.

The concentration of power in the hands of the governor-general raised concerns among Indian nationalists, as it allowed for potential autocratic rule. The act emphasized the importance of the governor-general's role, with the entire system revolving around this position.

Nature of Representative Government

While the act granted a measure of representative government, it also imposed limitations. The federal government presented the semblance of responsible government, but powers in defense, external affairs, currency, and fiscal policy were retained by the governor-general. The act also provided for the representation of princely states, negating the possibility of democratic control.

False Equivalences

The act aimed to treat British citizens and companies on equal terms with Indian citizens and companies. However, this approach raised concerns about the unfairness of the arrangement, given the dominance of British capital in India's modern sector and shipping industry. Indian capital had minimal presence in Britain, and Indian shipping had no involvement in the UK.

Difficulty of Offering Further Concessions

The act was a result of several concessions made by the British government, but these concessions failed to win the support of influential groups in India. Imperialist sentiments and a lack of realism in British political circles hindered the process of granting further concessions. The act faced opposition from both Indian and British perspectives, leading to lukewarm acceptance in India and resistance in Britain.

Provincial Part

The provincial part of the Government of India Act 1935 abolished diarchy and placed all provincial portfolios under the control of ministers accountable to the provincial legislatures. While the act granted significant power and patronage to provincial politicians, the paternalistic intervention of British governors rankled Indian nationalists.

Federal Part

The federal part of the act, which was never implemented, aimed to establish a federation of India. It would have required the agreement of half the states to come into effect. However, the princes did not join the federation, effectively preventing its establishment. The federal portion of the act only came into effect in modified form after the Indian Independence Act 1947.


The act provided for dyarchy at the center, with the British government retaining control over India's financial obligations, defense, foreign affairs, and the British Indian Army. The act also stipulated that no finance bill could be placed in the Central Legislature without the consent of the governor-general. Funding for British responsibilities and foreign obligations was non-votable and took priority over other claims.


The federal part of the act aimed to win the support of moderate nationalists and retain British control over the Indian Army, finances, and foreign relations. It also sought to win Muslim support by conceding most of Jinnah's Fourteen Points. Additionally, the act aimed to convince the princes to join the federation by offering favorable conditions.

Gambles Taken

The viability of the proposed federation and the willingness of the princes to join were significant gambles. The gerrymandered federation, encompassing units with varying forms of government and sizes, was unlikely to be viable. However, the princes did not see the potential benefits of joining the federation, and their refusal prevented its establishment.

The act also gambled on winning the support of moderate nationalist Hindus and Muslims, but it offered too little to gain their backing. The wider electorate turned overwhelmingly to Congress, and the act failed to disintegrate Congress into provincial fiefdoms as intended.

Indian Reaction

The Government of India Act 1935 faced widespread opposition in India. Indian politicians, including Nehru and Jinnah, criticized the act for its limitations and lack of true power conferred on the Indian people. Winston Churchill and Leo Amery also expressed dissatisfaction with the act, while Rab Butler believed it set India on the path to parliamentary democracy.

Act Implementation

Lord Linlithgow, the new viceroy, was tasked with implementing the act. He made efforts to secure the participation of the princes and launch the federation but received little support from the Home Government and faced opposition from the princes. Linlithgow's declaration of India's involvement in World War II without consulting Indian representatives led to the resignation of Congress provincial ministries.

Linlithgow focused on supporting the war effort during his tenure. Despite his efforts, the act ultimately fell short of achieving its objectives and faced significant opposition from Indian nationalists.

The Government of India Act 1935 played a crucial role in shaping the political landscape of India. While it granted a measure of autonomy to the provinces and introduced direct elections, it also had limitations and faced opposition from Indian nationalists. The act's federation component was never implemented due to the refusal of the princely states to join. Despite its shortcomings, the act marked an important step in India's journey towards independence.

For the latest updates on legal matters and law school, visit Legalstix Law School.

Loading Result...

Download FREE LegalStix App

Get instant updates!

Request a callback
Register Now