THE ELECTION OF 1937 AND THE FORMATION OF CONGRESS MINISTRIES

  • The demise of the Civil Disobedience Movement around 1934 resulted in serious dissension within Congress, in the same way as it had happened after the withdrawal of NCM.
  • While Gandhi temporarily withrew from active politics, the socialists and other leftist elements formed in May 1934, Congress Socialist Party within Congress. Nehru never formally joined this group, whose ideology ranged fro vague and mixd up radical nationalism to fairly firm advocacy of Marxian Scientific Socialism.
  • Soon divide within Congress centred on two issues: (a) Council Entry (b) Office acceptance
  • At Lucknow Congress in 1936, majority of delegates led by Rajender Prasad and vallabhai patel with the blessing of Gandhi, came to the view that contesting election and subsequent acceptance of office under Act of 1935 would help boost the flagging morale of the Congress at a time when direct action was not an option.
  • AICC meeting in Aug 1936 in Bombay decided in favour of contesting election but postponed the decision on office acceptance until election was over.
  • The federal part of the Government of India Act, 1935 was never introduced but provincial autonomy came into operation from 1937. Though new constitutional reforms fell far short of India’s national aspirations. Congress decided to contest the elections to the assembles in the provinces under the new Act of 1935.

Election:

  • Provincial elections were held in British India in the winter of 1936-37 as mandated by the Government of India Act 1935. Elections were held in eleven provinces – Madras, Central Provinces, Bihar, Orissa, United Provinces, Bombay Presidency, Assam, NWFP,Bengal, Punjab and Sindh.
  • The 1937 election was the first in which large masses of Indians were eligible to participate. An estimated 30.1 million persons, including 4.25 million women, had acquired the right to vote (14% of the total population), and 15.5 million of these, including 917,000 women, actually did exercise their franchise.

Election Result:

  • The results were in favour of the Indian National Congress. Of the total of 1,585 seats, it won 707 (44.6%). Among the 864 seats assigned “general” constituencies, it contested 739 and won 617. Of the 125 non-general constituencies contested by Congress, 59 were reserved for Muslims and in those the Congress won 25 seats, 15 of them in the entirely-Muslim North-West Frontier Province.
  • The All-India Muslim League won 106 seats (6.7% of the total), placing it as second-ranking party.The election results were a blow to the League. The Muslim League fared badly even in provinces predominantly inhabited by Muslims.After the election, Muhammad Ali Jinnah of the League offered to form coalitions with the Congress. The League insisted that the Congress should not nominate any Muslims to the ministries, as it (the League) claimed to be the exclusive representative of Indian Muslims. This was not acceptable to the Congress, and it declined the League’s offer.
  • The only other party to win more than 5 percent of all the assembly seats was the Unionist Party (Punjab), with 101 seats.

Formation of Ministries:

  • AICC sanctioned office acceptance by overriding objections of Nehru and other CSP leaders. Nehru objection hinged on the argument that by running provincial governments.., Congress would be letting down the masses whose high spirits the Congress itself had once helpd in boosting up.
  • Congress Ministries were formed in 8 out of 11 provinces of India in 1937

Madras Presidency:

  • The Government of India Act of 1935 established a bicameral legislature in the Madras province.The Legislature consisted of the Governor and two Legislative bodies – a Legislative Assembly and a Legislative Council.
  • The Justice Party had been in power in Madras for 17 years since 1920. Its hold on power was briefly interrupted only once in 1926-28.The Justice Government under the Raja of Bobbili had been steadily losing ground since the early 1930s. It was beset with factional politics and its popularity was eroding slowly due to the autocratic rule of Bobbili Raja.
  • The Justice Party was seen as the collaborative party, agreeing with the British Government’s harsh measures. Its economic policies during the Great Depression of the 1930s were also highly unpopular. Its refusal to decrease the land revenue taxation in non-Zamindari areas by 12.5% was hugely unpopular. The Bobbili Raja, himself a Zamindar, cracked down on the Congress protests demanding reduction of the revenue.
  • The Swaraj Party which had been the Justice party’s main opposition merged with the Indian National Congress in 1935 when the Congress decided to participate in the electoral process. The Civil Disobedience movement, the Land Tax reduction agitations and Union organizations helped the Congress to mobilize popular opposition to the Bobbili Raja government. The revenue agitations brought the peasants into the Congress fold and the Gandhian hand spinning programme assured the support of weavers. Preferential treatment given to European traders brought the support of the indigenous industrialists and commercial interests.
  • Congress won 74% of all seats, eclipsing the incumbent Justice Party (21 seats). Despite being the majority party in the Assembly and the Council, the Congress was hesitant to form a Government. Their objections stemmed from the special powers given to the Governor by the Government of India Act of 1935.
  • Eventually an interim Government was formed with Kurma Venkata Reddy Naidu of the Justice Party as Chief Minister on 1 April 1937. Congress leaders like S. Satyamurti were apprehensive about the decision to not accept power. They carried out a campaign to convince Congress High Command to accept power within the limitations set by the Government of India Act. They also appealed to the British Government to give assurances that the Governor’s special powers will not be misused.
  • On 22 June, Viceroy Linlithgow issued a statement expressing the British Government’s desire to work with the Congress in implementing the 1935 Act. On 1 July, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) agreed to form Governments in the provinces they had won. On 14 July, Rajaji was sworn in as the Chief Minister.
  • The 1937 elections marked the start of the Indian National Congress’ participation in the governance of India. In the Madras Presidency, it also marked the beginning of Rajaji’s ascendancy in the Congress Legislature Party.

Sindh:

  • These were the first elections in the province after its creation in 1936.The Sind Legislative Assembly had 60 members. The Sind United Party emerged the leader with 22 seats.
  • In the General constituencies, the Sind Hindu Mahasabha won eleven seats, the Congress Party eight seats.
  • Mohammad Ali Jinnah had tried to set up a League Parliamentary Board in Sindh in 1936, but he failed, though 72% of the population was Muslim.Though 34 seats were reserved for Muslims, the Muslim League could secure none of them.

United Provinces:

  • The UP legislature consisted of a Legislative Council of 52 elected and 6 or 8 nominated members and a Legislative Assembly of 228 elected members: some from exclusive Muslim constituencies, some from “General” constituencies, and some “Special” constituencies.
  • The Congress won a clear majority in the United Provinces, with 133 seats, while the Muslim League won only 27 out of the 64 seats reserved for Muslims.

Assam:

  • In Assam, the Congress won 33 seats out of a total of 108 making it the single largest party, though it was not in a position to form a ministry.
  • The Governor called upon Sir Muhammad Sadulla, ex-Judicial Member of Assam and Leader of the Assam Valley Muslim Party to form the ministry.The Congress was a part of the ruling coalition.

Bombay:

  • GOI Act,1935 created a bicameral legislature in the Bombay province.
  • The Congress fell just short of gaining half the seats. However, it was able to draw on the support of some small pro-Congress groups to form a working majority. B.G. Kher became the first Chief Minister of Bombay.

Other provinces:

  • In three additional provinces, Central Provinces, Bihar, and Orissa, the Congress won clear majorities.
  • In the overwhelmingly Muslim North-West Frontier Province, Congress won 19 out of 50 seats and was able, with minor party support, to form a ministry.
  • The Unionist Party under Sikander Hyat Khan formed the government in Punjab with 67 out of 175 seats. The Congress won 18 seats and the Akali Dal, 10.
  • In Bengal, though the Congress was the largest party (with 52 seats), The Krishak Praja Party of A. K. Fazlul Huq (with 36 seats) was able to form a coalition government.

Rule of Congress Ministries(1937-39): (More explanations in different chapters)

  • Rule of Congress ministry aroused many expectations among almost all classes. There was all around increased civil liberty and many legislations regarding land reform, industry reform, social reform etc. were passes in many provinces.
  • But the achievements of the Congress ministries during two years frustrated all groups who voted for Congress(Industrial working class, peasants, dalits).
  • Dalits and their leaders were not impressed with only few caste disabilities removal and temple entry bills by Congress ministries.
  • Congress Victories had aroused the hopes of industrial working class leading to increased militancy and industrial unrest in Bombay, Gujarat, UP and Bengal at a time when Congress was drawn into a closer friendship with Indian Capitalists. This resulted in antilabour shift in Congress attitudes that led to Bombay Traders Disputes Act in 1938.
  • Congress also found it difficult to rise up to expectations of Kisan voters who were expecting radical changes.
  • Another dilemma of Congress leadership was visible regarding princely India(to support Prajamandal movement or not)
  • Pirpur Committee was established in 1938 by the All India Muslim League to prepare a detailed report regarding the atrocities of the Congress Ministries (1937-1939) formed after the elections under the 1935 Government of India Act in different provinces. Its report charged the congress for interference with the religious rites, suppression of Urdu and propaganda of Hindi, denial of legitimate representation and suppression in economy of the Muslims.

Resignation of Congress Ministries:

  • Viceroy Linlithgow declared India at war with Germany on 3 September 1939. The Congress objected strongly to the declaration of war without prior consultation with Indians.
  • The Congress Working Committee suggested that it would cooperate if there were a central Indian national government formed, and a commitment made to India’s independence after the war.
  • The Muslim League promised its support to the British,with Jinnah calling on Muslims to help the Raj by “honourable co-operation” at the “critical and difficult juncture,” while asking the Viceroy for increased protection for Muslims.
  • Linlithgow refused the demands of the Congress. On 22 October 1939, Congress ministries tendered their resignations. Both Viceroy Linlithgow and Muhammad Ali Jinnah were pleased with the resignations.On 2 December 1939, Jinnah put out an appeal, calling for Indian Muslims to celebrate 22 December 1939 as a “Day of Deliverance” from Congress
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