The revolt of 1857, jolted the British presence in India. It was inevitable that the administration of the English East India Company's territories in India would have to be re-organized. Meanwhile the industrial revolution had resulted in a fiercely competitive market in the western world, and hence many European countries had colonized other nations in order to obtain their resources at a low cost. Britains interest in India began picking up substantially and by around 1850, there was a substantial amount of British money invested in India. Hence the need to maintain control over India was imperative from the British point of view. Eventually by an act of parliament in 1858, the administration of India was passed over from the English East India Company to the British Crown.
A Secretary of State for India was appointed to be assisted by a council. The Secretary of State was a member of the parliament and as a result India was now governed by the British parliament. In place of the Governor-General a new official was appointed, know as the Viceroy. His powers were more limited then those of his predecessor and the main centre of power was with the Secretary of State and his council, headquartered in London. Hence India was now being governed from thousands of miles away, and as a result her population had even less of a say over their affairs then before. In 1861 a Imperial Legislative council was formed in India which was supposed to be an assembly that would govern the country. In reality however its powers were limited, its suggestions could not be implemented unless they were ratified by the Viceroy and the Secretary of State. It was designed merely to give the impression that India was being governed by a legislative assembly. To give it a more authentic touch, some Indians were also included in it, although these were simply hand picked nominees who hardly represented the views of the Indian public. In time the British would make more representative parliaments, but the resources assigned to the Indians would be so limited that there was little they could do for the betterment of their countrymen.
The English East India Company had ruled the country essentially in a centralized manner. Their territories were organized into the three presidencies of Bombay, Bengal and Madras as well a number of provinces. The presidencies were governed by the Governor- General and his council, and the provinces by Lieutenant governors. The centre wielded all the power and this proved to be a major disadvantage. Matters like revenue collection and expenditure were difficult to supervise and hence from the financial point of view centralization was not a good policy. Since the British presence in India was primarily for economic purposes, an efficient system of government was an essential requirement. The British over the next few years re-organized the system, giving more power to the provinces and delegating many of the responsibilities to them. Provinces would now be in charge of their own revenue collection and were supposed to use this to pay for the expenditure they incurred. The revenue system was now structured into three categories, the revenues of the provinces, the revenue of the centre and the revenue shared between the provinces and the centre. The actual system of land revenue remained essentially unchanged, with the landlord responsible for collecting and paying the revenue to the British. The British in order to further their policy of decentralization also set up various local bodies, which would focus on a small area, and would have a certain set of responsibilities and powers. The entire system appears to be one with great representation but the entire system of decentralization was aimed at benefitting the British, for it reduced costs and increased income.
An important new concept that was introduced into India was the concept of civil servants. The officials of the British crown were civil servants unlike the military officers previous empires in India had. The civil service that was responsible for the governing of India however was for all practical purposes closed to Indians, at least initially. All efforts were made to keep Indians out of the service, for instance the examinations were held only in London and was based on topics that were only taught in Britain. This ensured that only a few Indians could afford the high cost involved in the exercise. In 1878 the British reduced the maximum age to nineteen, giving prospective Indians even less time to prepare for the test. Indians who managed to enter the civil services were not treated on par with their British counterparts and their powers were much less. Indian nationalist managed to eventually persuade the British to hold the examinations in India and to raise the maximum age. Indians were also given wider representation in the civil services, although the important posts were still held by British officers. The nationalists could do nothing about the air of racial superiority the British exerted. Before concluding this section, let us take a look at the various policies that the British implemented. It is important to understand the administrative and legal systems that were put in place so as to have a better understanding of the freedom struggle.
Government of India Act of 1858
This act was passed following the British crown's taking over the governance of India from the English East India company. It was dominated by absolute imperial control with no representation for the people of India. Over the next few decades the nationalist would campaign for reforms and this would result in the passage of several Government of India acts, which slowly began giving the Indians a role in the governance of their own country. This act established the basic government structure which the British would follow till the end of their rule. India was to be governed by a Secretary of State for India ( a member of the British cabinet) who would be assisted by a Council of fifteen members (who were known as the Council of India). The above mentioned posts were held solely by Englishmen who were based in London. The representative of the British crown in India was the Viceroy, and an Executive council, once again made up solely of Englishmen.
The main features of the Government of India act of 1858 were:
-The country would be administered in a unitary fashion, with total centralization. Although the country was divided into provinces, which had their own governors and executive councils, they had very little autonomy and were merely representatives of the central government and had to follow all directions received from them.
-The military, judiciary, executive and legislature were not independent and were all controlled by the Viceroy who was responsible to the Secretary of State for India.
- The Secretary of State was the supreme authority and had a free hand in the administration of India and was responsible only to the British parliament.
The Indian council acts of 1861, 1892 and 1909 and the Government of India act of 1915
The previous government of India act was modified and reformed several times until the next Government of India act was passed. Some of the most notable changes were brought about by various Indian council acts.
The first of these was the Indian council act of 1861 which introduced a very limited form of representation for the Indians. The Legislative councils would now include an additional number of nominated non-official members. However this was a highly diluted and insignificant form of representation, for the nominated members were simply supposed to read over the acts being passed on to them by the Viceroy, they could not criticize the authorities. The Viceroy still held the power to veto legislative decisions or pass them on to the British parliament for further consideration. His permission was also required before certain types of bills could be introduced in the Legislative assembly. He could also promulgate laws by bypassing the legislature and introducing Ordinances, which had the same authority as regular laws. The situation improved a little with the Indian Councils act of 1892. A few of the important provisions of the act were.
-Local bodies could now nominate the non-official members of the Councils, which was a step to give more complete representation.
-The council now had the power to discuss certain issues like budget and could also address questions to the Executive.
The Indian Council act of 1909 also known as the Morley-Minto reforms named after the then Secretary of State for India, Lord Morley and the Viceroy Lord Minto. Its provisions were incorporated into the Indian councils act of 1909and were perhaps the first attempt at introducing a popular representative element in the government. In the provincial legislative councils, the number of non official members was increased, thereby reducing the official members to a minority. At the central legislative council however the official members still maintained their majority. The councils were given a little more power in the administration and could influence decisions on certain matters of the state. A negative feature however of this act was the introduction of communal electorates, with separate representation for the Muslim community, thus sowing the seeds of communalism.
Finally all these new provisions were consolidated in the Government of India act of 1915.
Government of India act of 1919
This was the next major revision of the administration policy of the British in India. The earlier Morley-Minto reforms had failed to satisfy the aspirations of the nationalists and hence a report was tabled called the Montague-Chelmsford report which eventually became the Government of India act of 1919. The British aimed to subdue nationalist feelings by involving Indians more in the administration.
Its main provisions were:
-The introduction of dyarchy or dual rule in the provinces. The aim of this was to give the legislature more of a say in the administration without compromising on the powers of the Governor. The matters of the state were divided into two broad categories, the transferred subjects and the reserved subjects. The former was administered by the Governor in consultation with his council of ministers from the legislature while on issues concerning the latter, the Governor did not need to consult the legislative assemblies.
-The administration was made more de-centralized and the states were given more power in governing their internal matters, however this did not create a federation, for the centre still held far reaching powers.
-The legislatures were made more representative and for the first time were split into a bicameral legislature in some of the bigger provinces. The electorates remained organized in the communal and sectional basis of the Government of India act of 1919.
-The governor general still retained the supreme power in the administration. His approval was required prior to the introduction of certain bills in the legislature, he could veto any decision of the legislature and refer it to the British parliament, he could refuse to pass a bill referred to him by the legislature, and he could pass ordinances which were as effective as law.
Government of India Act of 1935
The last government of India act had been passed about sixteen years ago in 1919. Since then significant developments had taken place which forced the British to rethink their policies and strategy on governing India. The nationalist movement had by now gathered mass support and there was a growing environment of resistance against the British rule. The British thus realized that in order to be able to continue their rule in India they would have to do some serious rethinking. The round table conferences of the early 1930's as well as a White Paper published in 1933 formed the basis for what would become the Government of India Act of 1935. The important clauses of the act were:
-It proposed to restructure the country into a federation of provinces and princely states. The choice of joining the federation was left to provinces/states.
-The provinces would enjoy autonomy in certain matters, whilst the centre controlled the important subjects. The executive authority remained with the Governor who would act on the advice of the ministers. The party that had a majority in the state assembly would form the provincial government and the governor would appoint the council of ministers. Whilst this system appeared to give the provinces some form of self government, the governor was still the highest power in the state. He could veto bills passed by the legislature and controlled the police and the civil service. Hence although the ministers controlled many departments the governor still was the ultimate power in the state.
-The provinces would either have one or two assemblies depending on its size, with the lower house known as the Legislative Assembly and the upper house known as the Legislative Council.
-Finally at the federal level, there would be an assembly which would comprise of the representatives of the princely states and provinces. The representatives of the provinces would be directly elected while the respective princes would appoint those of the states.
The Government of India Act of 1935 was deemed to be the best way by which the British could rule the country indefinitely. It also gave the Indian nationalists a valuable opportunity to gain experience in the parliamentary system, an experience which would be invaluable when power was handed over to them on Independence Day. However this act did not fully satisfy nationalist leaders, for it did not really promise self government, since the governor and viceroy had the ultimate authority. As Jawarharlal Nehru said, "The new Constitution is like a car with all the brakes but no engine. However, as mentioned, they used the opportunity to gain experience, and hence accepted the provincial part of it and rejected the federal part. The ministers did some useful work and attempted to improve the lot of the people. They took major salary cuts and travelled by second or third class to cut down on administrative expenditure. The Government of India Act of 1935 is also important, because the present Indian constitution is more or less based on it.