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SARAANSH – Indian Polity For UPSC Prelims

 

 

 

Introduction

  • The British arrived in India in 1600 as traders, forming the East India Company. In 1765, the Company gained the ‘diwani’ rights over revenue and civil justice in Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa, becoming a territorial power. In 1858, following the ‘sepoy mutiny’, the British Crown took direct responsibility for India’s governance. This rule continued until India gained independence in 1947.
  • The need for a Constitution was arose, leading to the formation of a Constituent Assembly in 1946 and the Constitution being established on January 26, 1950. The British rule laid down the legal framework for government and administration in British India, with two major events: the Company Rule (1773 – 1858) and the Crown Rule (1858 – 1947). These events greatly influenced the Indian constitution and polity.

 

The Company Rule (1773 – 1858)

Regulating Act of 1773

Key Features:

  • Centralized Administration: It established the position of ‘Governor-General of Bengal’ and introduced an Executive Council of four members. The first Governor-General was Lord Warren Hastings.
  • Coordination of Presidencies: The Act made the governors of Bombay and Madras presidencies subordinate to the Governor-General of Bengal, centralizing authority.
  • Judicial Reforms: It led to the establishment of the Supreme Court at Calcutta in 1774 with one chief justice and three judges.
  • Ethical Regulations: Prohibited Company servants from engaging in private trade or accepting gifts and bribes from locals.
  • Increased British Oversight: Required the Company’s Court of Directors to report on its affairs in India, strengthening British government control.

Amending Act of 1781 (Act of Settlement)

Key Features:

  • Official Immunity: Exempted the Governor-General, Council, and Company servants from the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court for official acts.
  • Revenue Jurisdiction: Revenue matters and those arising in revenue collection were removed from the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction.
  • Cultural Sensitivity in Law: Mandated that the Supreme Court apply personal laws relevant to the religion of defendants in Calcutta.
  • Appeal Process: Allowed appeals from Provincial Courts to go to the Governor-General-in-Council, not the Supreme Court.
  • Regulatory Powers: Empowered the Governor-General-in-Council to make regulations for Provincial Courts and Councils.

Pitt’s India Act of 1784

Key Features:

  • Separation of Functions: Distinguished between the Company’s commercial and political functions.
  • Dual Governance System: Maintained the Court of Directors for commercial affairs but established a new Board of Control for political affairs.
  • British Government Supremacy: Allowed the Board of Control to supervise civil and military operations in India, signifying British governmental supremacy over Company affairs.
  • Significance: This Act was crucial as it referred to the Company’s territories as ‘British possessions in India’ and underscored the British Government’s ultimate control over the Company’s administration in India.

 

Act of 1786
Key Features:

·       Governor-General’s Power: Enhanced the powers of the Governor-General, allowing Lord Cornwallis (the then Governor-General) to override council decisions in special cases.

·       Dual Role for Governor-General: Lord Cornwallis was also appointed as the Commander-in-Chief.

Charter Act of 1793

Key Features:

  • Extended Powers for Governor-Generals: Continued the overriding power of the Governor-General over his council for all future appointees.
  • Increased Authority: Gave the Governor-General more control over Bombay and Madras presidencies.
  • Trade Monopoly Extension: Extended the East India Company’s trade monopoly in India for another 20 years.
  • Commander-in-Chief Exclusion: Stipulated that the Commander-in-Chief would not be part of the Governor-General’s council unless appointed.
  • Financial Provisions for Board of Control: Established that members of the Board of Control and their staff would be paid from Indian revenues.

Charter Act of 1813

Key Features:

  • End of Trade Monopoly: Abolished the Company’s monopoly over Indian trade except in tea and trade with China.
  • Sovereignty Assertion: Asserted the sovereignty of the British Crown over Indian territories.
  • Christian Missionaries: Permitted Christian missionaries in India.
  • Promotion of Western Education: Provided for the spread of Western education in British territories.
  • Taxation and Punishment Powers: Authorized local governments to impose taxes and punish for non-compliance.

Charter Act of 1833

Key Features:

  • Centralization of Power: Made the Governor-General of Bengal the Governor-General of India with extensive civil and military powers.
  • Legislative Centralization: Removed legislative powers from Bombay and Madras governors, centralizing them with the Governor-General.
  • End of Company’s Commercial Role: Ended the East India Company’s commercial activities, making it an administrative body.
  • Open Competition in Civil Services: Attempted to introduce open competition in civil services and non-discrimination against Indians (though negated later).

 

 

 

The Charter Act of 1853

Key Features of the Act:

  • Separation of Legislative and Executive Functions:
    • Establishment of Legislative Council: For the first time, the Act separated the legislative and executive functions of the Governor-General’s council. It added six new members, known as legislative councillors, to the council.
    • Formation of Indian (Central) Legislative Council: This council functioned akin to a mini-Parliament, adopting similar procedures to the British Parliament and focusing solely on legislation.
  • Open Competition in Civil Services:
    • Inclusive Civil Service: The Act introduced an open competition system for the selection and recruitment of civil servants. This policy opened up the covenanted civil service to Indians.
    • Formation of the Macaulay Committee: In 1854, the Macaulay Committee (Committee on the Indian Civil Service) was established to oversee this new system.
  • Extension of Company’s Rule:
    • Indefinite Rule Period: The Act extended the East India Company’s rule over Indian territories but did not specify an end date.
  • Introduction of Local Representation:
    • Provincial Involvement: For the first time, local (provincial) representation was introduced in the Indian (Central) Legislative Council.

 

The Crown Rule (1858–1947)

Government of India Act of 1858

  • The Government of India Act of 1858 was a pivotal legislation enacted in response to the Revolt of 1857. It marked a significant shift in the governance of India, transitioning control from the East India Company to the British Crown.

Key Features:

  • Governance by the British Crown: The Act proclaimed that India would be governed by and in the name of Her Majesty. It changed the Governor-General’s title to the Viceroy of India, with Lord Canning becoming the first Viceroy.
  • End of Double Government: Abolished the Board of Control and Court of Directors, streamlining the administration.
  • Secretary of State for India: Established this new office, vested with full authority over Indian administration. The Secretary of State was part of the British Cabinet and accountable to the British Parliament.
  • Council of India: Created a 15-member advisory council to assist the Secretary of State, with the Secretary acting as its chairman.
  • Legal Status: The Secretary of State-in-Council was recognized as a corporate body, capable of suing and being sued in both India and England.

 

The Act primarily reformed the administrative system in England regarding Indian governance, without significantly altering the governance system within India.

 

Indian Councils Act of 1861

  • This Act marked the beginning of the inclusion of Indians in the legislative process and initiated a shift towards a more decentralized governance structure.

Key Features:

  • Beginning of Representative Institutions:
    • Inclusion of Indians in Law-making: The Act marked the start of associating Indians with the legislative process. The Viceroy was authorized to nominate Indians as non-official members of his expanded council.
    • Notable Appointments: In 1862, Lord Canning, the then Viceroy, nominated prominent Indian leaders such as the Raja of Benaras, the Maharaja of Patiala, and Sir Dinkar Rao to his legislative council.
  • Decentralization of Legislative Powers:
    • Restoration of Powers to Presidencies: The Act restored legislative powers to the Bombay and Madras Presidencies, reversing the trend of centralization that began with the Regulating Act of 1773.
    • Path to Provincial Autonomy: This decentralization laid the groundwork for the eventual grant of almost complete internal autonomy to the provinces in 1937.
  • Establishment of New Legislative Councils:
    • New Councils for Other Regions: It provided for the creation of new legislative councils for Bengal, the North-Western Provinces, and Punjab, established in 1862, 1886, and 1897, respectively.
  • Empowerment of the Viceroy:
    • Rules for Council Operations: The Viceroy was empowered to make rules and orders for more convenient transactions of council business.
    • Portfolio System: Recognized and formalized the ‘portfolio’ system, where a council member managed one or more government departments and could issue final orders in their respective areas.
  • Emergency Ordinance Power:
    • Viceroy’s Ordinance Authority: The Viceroy could issue ordinances without the legislative council’s concurrence during emergencies, valid for six months.

Indian Councils Act of 1892

The Indian Councils Act of 1892 was a step towards expanding the legislative participation and functions in British India.

Key features:

  • Increase in Non-Official Members: Increased the number of additional (non-official) members in both the Central and provincial legislative councils while maintaining an official majority.
  • Enhanced Functions of Legislative Councils: Empowered legislative councils to discuss the budget and address questions to the executive.
  • Nomination Process for Non-Official Members:
    • For the Central Legislative Council: Non-official members were nominated by the Viceroy based on recommendations from provincial legislative councils and the Bengal Chamber of Commerce.
    • For Provincial Legislative Councils: Governors nominated non-official members based on recommendations from district boards, municipalities, universities, trade associations, zamindars, and chambers.
  • Indirect and Limited Election Process: The Act introduced a quasi-electoral process for some non-official seats in both Central and provincial councils. The term “election” was not explicitly used; instead, it was a nomination process based on the recommendation of various bodies.

Indian Councils Act of 1909 (Morley-Minto Reforms)

The Indian Councils Act of 1909, also known as the Morley-Minto Reforms, introduced significant changes to the legislative councils and marked the beginning of a separate electorate system. Its features include:

  • Expansion of Legislative Councils: The size of both Central and provincial legislative councils was considerably increased, with the Central council expanding from 16 to 60 members.
  • Majority Dynamics: Retained an official majority in the Central legislative council but allowed non-official majorities in the provincial councils.
  • Enhanced Deliberative Functions: Expanded the councils’ deliberative functions, such as allowing supplementary questions and moving resolutions on the budget.
  • Indian Inclusion in Executive Councils: For the first time, Indians were associated with the executive councils of the Viceroy and Governors. Satyendra Prasad Sinha became the first Indian appointed as the Law Member of the Viceroy’s executive council.
  • Introduction of Communal Representation: Initiated a system of communal representation for Muslims with the concept of ‘separate electorate’. Muslim members were elected exclusively by Muslim voters, leading to the legalisation of communalism in the electoral process.
  • Separate Representation for Various Entities: Provided for the separate representation of presidency corporations, chambers of commerce, universities, and zamindars.

Government of India Act of 1919 (Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms) [UPSC (2022)]

The Government of India Act of 1919, also known as the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms, was a significant step towards the introduction of responsible government in India. This Act came into force in 1921 and introduced several key reforms:

  • Decentralization of Control: Separated central and provincial subjects, giving respective legislatures the power to legislate on their designated subjects. However, the overall governance structure remained centralized.
  • Introduction of Dyarchy: Provincial subjects were divided into ‘transferred’ and ‘reserved’ categories.
    • ‘Transferred‘ subjects were under the administration of the Governor and ministers responsible to the legislative council.
    • ‘Reserved’ subjects were managed by the Governor and his executive council without legislative council responsibility. This system was termed ‘dyarchy’.
  • Bicameralism and Direct Elections: Introduced bicameralism (two legislative houses) and direct elections, replacing the Indian Legislative Council with the Council of State (Upper House) and the Legislative Assembly (Lower House).
  • Indian Members in Executive Council: Mandated that three of the six members of the Viceroy’s Executive Council (excluding the Commander-in-Chief) be Indian.
  • Extension of Communal Representation: Expanded separate electorates to include Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, and Europeans.
  • Limited Franchise: Established a franchise based on property, tax, or education qualifications, thus limiting the electorate.
  • High Commissioner for India in London: Created the office of the High Commissioner for India in London, transferring some functions previously held by the Secretary of State for India.
  • Establishment of Public Service Commission: Set up a Central Public Service Commission in 1926 for the recruitment of civil servants.
  • Separate Provincial Budgets: Separated provincial budgets from the central budget and gave provincial legislatures the authority to enact their budgets.
  • Statutory Commission After Ten Years: Provided for the appointment of a commission after ten years to review the Act’s workings.

 

Simon Commission
The Simon Commission, established in November 1927, was a crucial event in the history of British India’s constitutional reform. It was set up two years earlier than initially scheduled to evaluate the workings of the constitutional system established by the Government of India Act of 1919.

Key Aspects:

·       Composition and Reception: The commission, chaired by Sir John Simon, consisted entirely of British members, leading to a boycott by all Indian political parties due to the absence of Indian representation.

·       Recommendations: The Commission’s 1930 report suggested several significant reforms: abolishing dyarchy, extending responsible government in the provinces, proposing the establishment of a federation of British India and princely states, and continuing the communal electorate.

·       Round Table Conferences: The British Government convened three Round Table Conferences with representatives from the British Government, British India, and Indian princely states to discuss the Commission’s proposals.

·       White Paper and Government of India Act of 1935: Based on these discussions, a ‘White Paper on Constitutional Reforms’ was prepared. This document was reviewed by a Joint Select Committee of the British Parliament, and its recommendations (with modifications) were incorporated into the Government of India Act of 1935.

 

Communal Award
The Communal Award, announced by British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald in August 1932, was a significant and contentious development in the realm of minority representation in British India.

Key Aspects:

·       Scope of the Award: The Award continued separate electorates for Muslims, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, and Europeans and extended this provision to the depressed classes (Scheduled Castes).

·       Gandhiji’s Opposition and the Poona Pact: Mahatma Gandhi strongly opposed the extension of separate electorates to depressed classes, fearing it would disintegrate Hindu society. His protest included a fast unto death in Yeravada Jail (Poona).

·       The resultant Poona Pact, an agreement between Congress leaders and representatives of the depressed classes, led to the retention of a joint Hindu electorate with reserved seats for the depressed classes.

Government of India Act of 1935

Key Features:

  • Establishment of an All-India Federation: Proposed a federation including provinces and princely states. Powers were divided into Federal, Provincial, and Concurrent lists, with residuary powers vested in the Viceroy. However, this federation never materialized as princely states did not participate.
  • Abolition of Dyarchy and Introduction of Provincial Autonomy: Replaced dyarchy with provincial autonomy, granting significant powers to provincial legislatures. Governors were to act on the advice of ministers accountable to these legislatures. This system was implemented in 1937 but discontinued in 1939.
  • Dyarchy at the Centre: Proposed a dyarchical system at the federal level, dividing central subjects into ‘reserved’ and ‘transferred’. However, this never came into effect.
  • Bicameralism in Provincial Legislatures: Introduced two-chamber legislatures in six provinces (Bengal, Bombay, Madras, Bihar, Assam, and the United Provinces), but with several restrictions.
  • Extended Communal Representation: Expanded separate electorates to include depressed classes (Scheduled Castes), women, and workers.
  • Abolition of the Council of India: Eliminated the Council of India established by the 1858 Act, replacing it with a team of advisors for the Secretary of State for India.
  • Expansion of Franchise: Significantly increased the number of voters, with approximately 10% of the total population gaining voting rights.
  • Establishment of the Reserve Bank of India: Provided for the creation of the Reserve Bank of India to manage the country’s currency and credit.
  • Creation of Public Service Commissions: Established Federal, Provincial, and Joint Public Service Commissions for recruitment in civil services.
  • Establishment of a Federal Court: Set up a Federal Court in 1937, a precursor to the present-day Supreme Court of India.

Indian Independence Act of 1947

Key Features of the Act:

  • End of British Rule: Officially terminated British rule in India, leading to independence.
  • Partition: Partitioned India into two dominions, India and Pakistan, with the option to leave the British Commonwealth.
  • Abolition of the Office of Viceroy: The office of the Viceroy was abolished. In its place, each dominion was to have a Governor-General, appointed by the British King based on the advice of the dominion’s cabinet. This arrangement ensured that Britain had no direct control over the governance of India or Pakistan.
  • Powers to Constituent Assemblies: The Constituent Assemblies of India and Pakistan were empowered to draft and adopt their own constitutions. They were also authorized to repeal any act of the British Parliament, including the Independence Act itself.
  • Legislative Powers to Constituent Assemblies: The Constituent Assemblies of both dominions were given the authority to legislate for their respective territories until their new constitutions were formulated and enacted. Furthermore, no act passed by the British Parliament after August 15, 1947, would apply to either dominion unless adopted by the dominion’s legislature.
  • Abolition of the Secretary of State for India: The Act abolished the office of the Secretary of State for India, transferring its functions to the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs.
  • End of British Paramountcy: The Act declared the end of British paramountcy over Indian princely states and treaty relationships with tribal areas, effective from August 15, 1947.
  • Choice for Princely States: Indian princely states were given the freedom to choose whether to join the Dominion of India, the Dominion of Pakistan, or remain independent.
  • Interim Governance Framework: The governance of the dominions and their provinces was to be based on the Government of India Act of 1935 until new constitutions were adopted. The dominions were authorized to make modifications to this Act as needed.
  • Removal of British Monarch’s Legislative Powers: The British Monarch’s right to veto bills or reserve them for his approval was abolished. However, these powers were transferred to the Governor-General of each dominion.
  • Constitutional Status of Governor-Generals and Governors: The Governor-General of India and the provincial governors were designated as constitutional (nominal) heads. They were required to act based on the advice of their respective councils of ministers.
  • Change in Royal Titles: The title “Emperor of India” was dropped from the royal titles of the King of England, reflecting the end of British sovereignty over India.
  • Civil Services Transition: The Act discontinued appointments to the civil services by the Secretary of State for India. Civil servants appointed before August 15, 1947, were allowed to continue enjoying their benefits.

The Indian Independence Act of 1947 was a defining moment in history, marking the end of British colonial rule and the emergence of two new sovereign nations, India and Pakistan. Lord Mountbatten served as the first Governor-General of independent India, while Jawaharlal Nehru was sworn in as the first Prime Minister. The Constituent Assembly, formed in 1946, became the Parliament of the Indian Dominion.

 

Interim Government (1946)

 

Members Portfolios Held
Jawaharlal Nehru Vice-President of the Council;

External Affairs & Commonwealth

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