28 Months of Congress Rule in Provinces

The elections under the Government of India Act, 1935 were held in 1936-37 which led to the formation of Congress ministries in eight out of the 11 provinces. But on the 'war issue', the Congress decided to quit from the government and hence the 28 months of Congress rule in provinces came to an end.

This article discusses these events in detail-

Indian Provincial Elections, 1937

The provincial elections were held in British India in the year 1936-37 under the new set-up of Government of India Act, 1935. The elections were held in 11 provinces- Madras, United Provinces, Central Provinces, Bihar, Orissa, Assam, NWFP, Bengal, Punjab, Bombay and Sindh.

These elections were held under limited suffrage, based on income and education.

Election Debate

There was a serious debate going in the Congress regarding participation in elections. To accept office was to mean assuming responsibility without power. It would lead to cooperation with the British in some manner. The acceptance of office would take away the revolutionary character of the movement imbibed since the 1919. In practice, it would mean, 'a surrender' before imperialism. It would, thus mean, a retreat from the revolutionary to the reformist mentality.

But finally, the decision was taken in favour of participation in elections. The Congress would enter the assemblies with a view to creating deadlocks and making the working of the Government of India Act, 1935 impossible. The Muslim League and the Liberals also agreed to participate in the elections.

Congress Election Manifesto

The Congress came out with a manifesto for the elections to be held in February, 1937 which reaffirmed the total rejection of the Government of India Act, 1935. It promised the restoration of civil liberties, the release of political prisoners, radical transformation of agrarian system, substantial reduction in rent and revenue, scaling down of rural debts, provision of cheap credit, the right to form trade unions and the right to strike. Jawaharlal Nehru made country-wide election tour to gain support from the masses.

Election Result

The Congress had majority in most of the provinces. Out of the total 11 provinces, Congress formed ministries in 8 provinces- Madras, UP, Bombay, Central Provinces, Bihar, Orissa, Assam and NWFP. In 2 of the provinces, Punjab and Sind, Congress was in coalition with regional parties. In Bengal, although Muslim League was the single largest party, but did not have majority. The Muslim League fared relatively badly at the elections.

The Congress would support Muslim League only if Muslim League merged with the Indian National Congress. and accept the view that the Congress was the only organisation in the struggle against the British.

The decision alienated the Muslim League. And, this probably marked the turning point in its attitude. The Muslim League then started complaining of the maladministration. As a false propaganda, to malign the image of the Congress, the League indicted the Congress in the 'Pirpur Report' and the 'Shareef Report'. When in 1939, the Congress ministers resigned, Jinnah, leader of the Muslim League proclaimed a Day of Deliverance.

Resignation of Congress Ministers

When World War II broke out in September, 1939, the Government of India declared India to be at war with Germany without consulting the Congress or the elected members of the Central Legislature. The Congress Working Committee had decided not to support the War, and called upon the Congress ministers to resign from their offices as a protest.

In October, 1939, the Congress ministries in eight provinces resigned on the war-issue. So, it was only 28 months of Congress rule in provinces. The Governors in these provinces assumed powers by issuing a Proclamation of Emergency. This lasted till the year 1946 when fresh elections were held.

In the provinces of Bengal, Sind and Punjab, the new set-up worked for around ten years.

Achievements of the 28 Months of Congress Rule in Provinces

  1. There was immense increase in the prestige of the Congress.
  2. The ministers drastically reduced their own salaries. They were easily accessible to the common people.
  3. The Congress ministers in the provinces of UP and Bihar decided to release all the political prisoners. They also lifted the ban on newspapers.
  4. The ministers tried to give economic relief to the peasants and the workers.
  5. They adopted a pro-labour stance.
  6. The ministers paid a lot of attention to primary, technical and higher education, public health and sanitation.
  7. The ministers worked for the upliftment of Harijans, children of God as Mahatma Gandhiji called them.
  8. The short period in which Congress ruled gave a taste of self-government to the people.
  9. Indians exercising power shattered another myth by which the British had held Indians in subjection: that Indians were not fit to rule.
  10. One of the major achievement of the Congress governments was their firm handling of the communal riots. They asked the district magistrates and police officials to take strong action to deal with a communal outbreak.

Conclusion

The Congress leadership foiled the imperialistic design of using constitutional reforms to weaken the national movement and, instead, demonstrated how the constitutional structure could be used by a movement aiming at capture of state power to further its own aims without getting co-opted.

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