Labour Monthly

The Indian Election

BY Ben Bradley

Source : Labour Monthly  March, 1937, No.3.
Publisher : The Labour Publishing Company Ltd., London.
Transcription/HTML : Salil Sen
Public Domain : Marxists Internet Archive (2010). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.

The elections which have just taken place under the New Constitution of India are of far-reaching importance both to the mass of the people of India and also to the people of this country. Although only a fraction of the Indian people are consulted, these elections are regarded as a plebiscite of the people. Every Congress candidate who stood for election was pledged to oppose and combat the new Constitution. Thus with the overwhelming majorities secured, the people of India have said decisively, "We do not want this Constitution."

In the Provincial Elections, out of 11 Provinces, the Congress have secured a majority in 6; while in 3 other Provinces they have sufficient strength to make impossible the functioning of government.

April 1st is the day on which the Government intend to inaugurate the New Constitution in the Provinces. On this day the Indian National Congress have decided to call a nation-wide Hartal or General Strike. The three hundred and fifty odd million people of India are moving. A new stage is being entered in the march towards India's freedom.

The importance of this fact will be obvious to all, but what may not be obvious is why do the Indian people reject in such a manner this new Constitution? I will, therefore, present some facts so that a fuller appreciation can be obtained of the present attitude of the people of India towards the new Constitution.

The Simon Commission

On November 8, 1927, Lord Irwin, the then Viceroy, announced the appointment by the British Government of the Indian Statutory ComŽmission, commonly called the Simon Commission. Starting with this Simon Commission, which consisted of 7 members of Parliament, Liberal, Labour, Conservative, and which visited India twice, it has taken the Imperial Government altogether almost 10 years to devise and perfect its New Constitution for India.

The job of this Commission was to enquire into the working of the system of Government, the growth of education and the development of representative institutions in British India and matters connected therewith, and

"To report as to whether and to what extent it is desirable to establish the principle of responsible Government, or to extend, modify or restrict the degree of responsible Government then existing, including the question whether the establishment of second chambers of the local legislatures is or is not desirable."

Subsequently, Sir John Simon secured an extension of these terms of reference to enable the Commission to examine the methods by which future relationships between the Indian States and British India might be adjusted

The Simon Commission was met everywhere in India with opposition and boycott. The overwhelming majority of the Indian people refused to admit the authority of a British Parliamentary Commission to decide their destiny. Despite this opposition, however, the British Government went ahead, and the following were the main stages in the preparation of the present Constitution.

The Communal Award

The Simon Commission worked from 1927 to 1930 and its report was issued in June of the latter year. This report was followed by the First Round Table Conference in November, 1930, and a Second Round Table Conference in September, 1931, which concluded its deliberations on August 17, 1932, when the Prime Minister, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, announced the decision of the British Government on the nature and extent of representation to be accorded to the different communities in the new scheme of constitutional reform in the Provinces.

The proposals became known as MacDonald's Communal Award, one of the most reactionary features of the New Constitution. This Communal Award provided for separate electorates for different communities, and even for sub-dividing Communities, as in the case of the Hindu Community. It was calculated that the creation of these separate electorates would have the effect of so dividing the Indian people, and consequently of developing antagonisms, that it would become impossible for them to give a united expression of opinion.

Mr. MacDonald's scheme of representation provides for separate constituencies for Mahommedans, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, Europeans. Qualified voters of the depressed classes (Untouchables), in the terms of the Award, vote in General Constituencies, but a number of seats are assigned to them which will be filled by election from special constituencies in which voters belonging to the depressed classes only vote. There are also provided special seats for women, specifically divided among the various communities concerned. The special constituencies for depressed classes were obviously devised to divide the Hindu Community, which is the majority community in India.

Responsibility of Legislatures

The Third Round Table Conference met towards the end of 1932, and the publication of the White Paper in March, 1933, marked the conclusive stage of the Round Table Conference. The White Paper formed the basis of discussion by a Joint Committee of Parliament. The proposals put forward in the White Paper assumed that the Government of India Act, 1919, would be repealed, as the "Conception of a Federation of States and Provinces, and the process involved in its formation, necessiŽtate a complete reconstruction of the existing Indian Constitution."

The scheme laid down that the British Indian Provinces would be converted into autonomous units; that each Province would be equipped with Legislatures, elected by a wider electorate (that is, raising the franŽchise from approximately 3 per cent. to 13 per cent.), and a Council of Ministers besides Governors. In order to ensure the continuance of Imperialist supremacy, the Governor, on behalf of the King, will exercise executive authority in the Provinces, while the Council of Ministers will be responsible to the Provincial Legislatures and electors.

But in connection with this last point the Constitution contains numerous reservations and safeguards, together with the grant of special and extraordinary powers to the Governor for intervention. Therefore, the idea of the Council of Ministers of the Provincial Legislatures being responsible to the electors is nullified.

The All-India Federation and the Princes

A step of most profound importance made in the White Paper is the proposal to bring together the British Indian Provinces and the Indian States into an All-India Federation. The Federal Legislature is to consist of two Houses representative of Indian States and British Indian Provinces. It is in this manner that the British Government intend to draw in the Princes as their allies. In the Lower House, out of 375 seats 125 will be reserved for the Indian States, and in the Upper House, of 260 seats, 104 will be reserved for Indian States. British Imperialism will thus be ensured of the support of a bloc of most reactionary elements, which will be used to prevent the popular opinion in India gaining majority in the Federal Council.

Whilst the Princes will retain their internal autonomy, and continue their autocratic rule, they will have to surrender a small part of their present sovereign rights to the Federation. Under the chairmanship of the Maharajah of Patiala, the Hydari Committee and Constitutional Committee, on March 2, 1937, considered the relationship of the Indian States to the Federation. The Chamber of Princes are now asking the British Government to accept 4 general provisions safeguarding their interests, which they ask in each case to be made clear in the following way:

Nothing in this Instrument affects the continuance of my sovereignty in and over this State, or, save as provided by the Instrument or by Federal Law, the continuance of any powers, authority or rights, and the exercise thereto, save as above reserved for me.

The Chamber of Princes can make their conditions for entry into the Federal Government, conditions which we have little doubt the British Government will accept, while the New Constitution with all its impositions is steam-rollered across the Indian people.

Dictatorial Powers or Safeguards?

How complete imperialist control will be over the Legislatures can be best understood from the following: The Governor-General and the Governors are invested with powers which may be exercised at any time in the spheres of self-government, at the centre and in the provinces, if in their discretion they deem it essential. The Governor-General will have special responsibility in the maintenance of the financial stability and credit of India. In connection with this there is the establishment, removed from any possibility of political control, of a Reserve Bank and a Statutory Railway Board. The most important matters of Defence and Foreign Affairs will be special responsibilities of the Governor-General.

Following the issue of the White Paper, a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament was appointed in April, 1933. The Joint ParliaŽmentary Committee was representative of the three main political parties. The most notable changes made by the Joint Committee to the White Paper proposals were:

(1) the introduction of the principle of indirect election to both Houses of the Federal Legislature, which was modified in the case of the Upper House;

(2) the establishment of Second Chambers in Bombay and Madras, besides Bengal, Bihar and United Provinces;

(3) the tightening of the safeguards regarding Police, Commercial discrimination and Reserve Bank;

(4) the granting to Parliament a voice in the framing of Orders in Council, thus preventing any radical changes, especially through interference of the House of Lords.

These dictatorial powers or "safeguards" fully justify the statement made by Sir Samuel Hoare in Parliament when he was endeavouring to convince the Diehard Opposition that in reality not even the shadow of self-government was being given to the Indian people. He said:

"these safeguards are not paper safeguards. They are safeguards with sanctions behind them, with effective executive action to be put into effect if need arises." (Hansard, December 10, 1934. p.56.)

The Labour Party worked through all the stages, from the Simon Commission, but on February 5, 1935, Mr. C.R.

Attlee, on behalf of the Opposition in the House of Commons, moved the following:

In the opinion of this House no legislation for the better government of India will be satisfactory which does not secure the goodwill and co-operation of the Indian people by recognising explicitly India's right to Dominion Status, and by providing within it the means of its attainŽment, and which does not by its provisions as to franchise and repre-sentation, secure to the workers and peasants of India the possibility of achieving by constitutional means their social and economic emancipation.

This was defeated.

The Government of India Bill received the Royal Assent on August 2, 1935 -- the longest Act in the history of Parliament.

Indian People Unsubdued

The whole period of preparing the New Constitution was one of unrest in India. On the day the Simon Commission arrived in India it was met by Black Flag demonstrations and boycott. This was followed by the Civil Disobedience Movement of 1930 onwards, when thousands of the people of India were thrown into prisons. On the North-West Frontier, at Sholapur and other places, people were shot down by the armed forces of the British Government. The Indian National ConŽgress and other organisations were declared illegal. The British GovernŽment during this period were following a "dual policy" of carrying on discussions and enquiries in connection with the constitutional reforms while India was being ruled by ordinances and executive orders.

This bitter struggle, entailing considerable sacrifices on the part of workers and peasants, continued. The character of the New Constitution has amply justified this struggle, and although the Civil Disobedience Movement was called of in 1933, the mass of Indian people remained unsubdued

Resolution on Constitution

The first Indian National Congress Session held after the calling off of the Civil Disobedience Movement in Bombay, declared against the New Constitution. Its rejection was reaffirmed at the Lucknow Session in April, 1936, under the Presidentship of Jawaharlal Nehru. In December last the Faizpur Session was held, also under the Presidentship of Jawaharlal Nehru, when the following resolution was passed:

This Congress reiterates its entire rejection of the Government of India Act of 1935 and the Constitution that has been imposed on India against the declared will of the people of the country. In the opinion of the Congress any co-operation with this Constitution is a betrayal of India's struggle for freedom and a strengthening of the hold of British Imperialism and a further exploitation of the Indian masses who have already been reduced to direct poverty under imperialist domination. The Congress therefore repeats its resolve not to submit to this con-stitution or to co-operate with it, but to combat it, both inside and outside the legislatures, so as to end it. The Congress does not and will not recognise the right of any external power or authority to dictate the political and economic structure of India, and every such attempt will be met by organised and uncompromising opposition of the Indian people. The Indian people can only recognise a constitutional structure which has been framed by them and which is based on the independence of India as a Nation and which allows them full scope for development according to their needs and desires.

The Congress stands for a genuine democratic State in India where political power has been transferred to the people as a whole and the Government is under their effective control. Such a State can only come into existence through a Constituent Assembly, elected by adult suffrage, and having the power to determine finally the Constitution of the country. To this end the Congress works in the country and organises the masses, and this objective must ever be kept in view by the representatives of the Congress in the legislatures.

The Congress endorses the Election Manifesto of the A.I.C.C. (All-India Congress Committee), and calls upon all candidates, standing on its behalf, to carry on their election campaign strictly on its basis and, after the election, to conduct their work in the legislatures in accordance with it. Congress members of the legislatures should take the earliest opportunity to put forward in the new Assembles the demand for a Constituent Assembly, elected by adult suffrage, and this demand should be supported by a mass agitation outside to enforce the right of the Indian people to self-determination.

The question of acceptance or non-acceptance of office by Congress members elected to the legislatures under the new constitution will be decided by the A.I.C.C. as soon after the provincial assembly elections as is practicable. Immediately after the elections the various Provincial Congress Committees will take steps to consult their district and other local Committees and send their own recommendations on this subject, so that the A.I.C.C. may be assisted in deciding this issue by the opinion of the mass of Congressmen and the country.

This was the clear lead which the Indian National Congress gave the country. Jawaharlal Nehru in his Presidential Address referred to the Government of India Act as "The new Charter of Bondage" which was being imposed upon them despite complete rejection. He said that the Congress was going "to the Legislatures, not to co-operate with the apparatus of British Imperialism, but to combat the Act and seek to end it, and to resist in every way British Imperialism in its attempt to strengthen its hold on India and its exploitation of the Indian people."

Preparation for Elections

The Indian National Congress was the only organisation which put up candidates on an all-India basis. In order to co-ordinate all elements who desired to contest the elections on the Congress ticket, and facilitate the election campaign, the Congress established the All-India Congress Parliamentary Board. The duty of this Board was to select from among the prospective candidates nominated for a constituency the person who would be endorsed as the Congress candidate.

The conduct both of the Central and Provincial Parliamentary Boards in selecting candidates tended towards the selection of individuals of Right-wing tendency, and in some cases persons were endorsed who had consistently opposed the Congress. It is necessary to note this fact because it has a bearing on the character of the representatives who have been elected on the Congress ticket.

In connection with this a certain amount of friction has been caused. In Bombay in two Labour constituencies the Trades Union Congress nominated R.S. Nimbkar and K.N. Joglekar as the candidates. Both nominees were Congressmen and their names were suggested to the Parliamentary Board as suitable persons. The Parliamentary Board, however, refused to accept the nominations and, in one of the constituencies, endorsed the candidature of Dr. Gilder who had on previous occasions opposed the Congress. Similar incidents happened in Nagpur, Bengal and Madras. As a result loyalty to the Indian National Congress has been severely strained and suspicion aroused as to the sincerity of certain persons contesting elections on the Congress ticket. Protests have been made both by the Congress Socialist Party and the Trades Union Congress to Jawaharlal Nehru, in connection with the work of the Parliamentary Board` Fortunately, there were only a few cases where disagreement resulted in contest between supporters of the Congress standing either on a T.U.C. or Independent ticket against the endorsed Congress candidate.

However, the preference shown in some cases by the All-India Parliamentary Board for loyalists and ex-Government nominees as against Socialists and anti-Imperialists, has created difficulties in the way of the United Front, while it has strengthened those sections who would co-operate in working the New Constitution.

Government Interference

The striking successes of the Congress candidates in the elections are all the more remarkable when one takes into consideration the efforts of the Government to sabotage the Congress campaign.

From the outset of the election campaign, the administration did its best to prevent Congress successes wherever possible. Methods of intimidation, interference, repression and banning of meetings were employed.

In the North-West Frontier Province the Congress was declared an illegal organisation, and its leader, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, refused perŽmission to return to his home. Despite this, the Congress succeeded in winning 19 seats out of a total of 50.

Under the minorities and reserved seats system in four Provinces, North-West Frontier Province, Sindh, Bengal and the Punjab the seats were so allocated that Congress majorities are almost impossible. In these same provinces cases of official interference were the heaviest.

In the Kanataka Province such an order was issued: "You should announce in the village that a permit should be secured from us if a Kisan (Peasant), Prabhat Pheri (public meeting, procession), is to be organised in the village in connection with the Congress election campaign. An Order (No. .... 5.1.37) from the District Police Officer has been re-ceived. Henceforth a permit is absolutely necessary for the above mentioned purposes."

This order speaks for itself and it is understood that such orders have been issued throughout India. Further, it should be noted that Congress alone was under obligation to get such permits.

Instructions to Vote Anti-Congress

In the United Provinces an amazing circular came to light. The circular passed between officials of the Court of Wards in the United Provinces; it referred to the elections and stated that Congress candidates must be defeated and that all votes controlled by the Court of Wards must be cast against them. Subsequently an official apology was given.

The Court of Wards is a private body, but the whole official hierarchy is used to staff it. Thus the suggestion that all votes controlled by the Court of Wards should be cast against the Congress was in fact a suggestion emanating from Government officials.

The circular in question was dated July 9, 1936, and was sent by the Secretary of the Court of Wards, UP., to all district officers in the United Provinces. One passage reads as follows:

It is essential in the interests of the class which the Court of Wards specially represents and of agricultural interests generally, to inflict as crushing a defeat as possible on the Congress with its avowed Socialist principles. The Court has therefore decided to support in each conŽstituency the candidate who (a) will actively oppose the Congress canŽdidate, and if elected, the Congress programme, and (b) would have the greatest chance of success if the Court of Wards remained neutral.

The District officers are instructed to engage themselves in a systematic survey of the Province, constituency by constituency, and prepare themselves in support of the loyalist candidate in each constituency.

Another example is from Hubli, where a huge Congress election cloth poster was removed from their offices by order of the Collector of the District. "A huge Congress election poster of cloth spread across the street high in the air in front of the Congress election office has been removed early this morning, it is alleged, by some Municipal sweepers. The perpetrators of the outrage are alleged to have stated they were removing the poster under the orders of the Collector. The order, it is alleged, was not produced when demanded by the workers present in the office at that time and requests of Congress workers to wait till the arrival of the Congress authorities were not heeded by the alleged perpetrators. Dr. Hardikar and other Congress authorities, when informed of the outrage, quickly arrived on the spot and found the poster lying crumbled near by in the dustbin. The poster was photographed."

Congress Election Campaign Obstructed

In general, in every place officials were throwing all kinds of obstacles into the way of Congress election work. Many leaders were prosecuted suddenly for sedition, etc. Others found their movements and rights of free speech scandalously restricted, the notorious Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code being abused for this purpose.

In some Provinces the Government even publicly canvassed against Congress candidates.

It is understood that the procession advertised to be taken out in Peshawar City in support of the candidature of Mr. Abdul Quaiyum (Congress) was banned by the District Authorities.

Jawaharlal Nehru issued a statement from Lucknow on February 5 that he had seen a circular issued by the Chief Secretary to the United Provinces Government directing District Officers to take action under Section 108, Cr. P.C. against Congress workers engaged in Congress work on the ground that they were preaching sedition.

By using the Special Powers conferred upon the Provincial Governors, the Governor of Madras disqualified the South Indian Railway Workers' Union, thus disenfranchising 37,000 workers; and the Governor of Bombay disqualified the Girni Kamgar Union with a membership of over 7,000.

Despite these difficulties and obstacles the Indian people have shown by the election results their decisive opposition to the new Constitution. The sweeping successes of the Congress candidates must have come as a violent shock to the Government who had hoped to show India split and divided.

Smashing Victories for United Front

The successes achieved are due in no small degree to the call by Jawaharlal Nehru for a National United Front and to the united efforts of the All-India T.U.C., the Congress, Peasant Organisations, Socialists and Communists. The Communist Party of India issued a striking appeal to "Transform the Elections into mighty Anti-Imperialist Demonstrations."

It is possible now to make a complete summary of the election results of the provincial Legislative Assemblies. The Congress has obtained absolute majorities in six of the eleven provinces.

MadrasCongress 159seats out of 215
Bombay,, 88,,175
United Provinces,, 134,,228
Bihar,,91 ,,152
Orissa,, 36,,60
Central Provinces,, 71,,112

(Hansard, March 8, 1937, p.809.)

In three other provinces the Congress is the strongest single party; in Bengal with 60 seats out of 250; in Assam 40 seats out of 108, and in the North-West Frontier, 19 seats out of 50. (The Congress in Bengal did not officially contest the Labour seats. The T.U.C. candidates gained all 7 seats with large majorities.)

The Congress has also captured an absolute majority in the Upper Houses of Madras, Bihar, and Bombay.

Other groups of candidates were contesting the elections representing Communal organisations -- Hindu, Sikh and Mahommedan. The National Agrarian Party (landowning class), was severely defeated in U.P. by Congress, and the Justice Party suffered a similar fate in Madras.

The very decisive expression of opinion is shown by the overwhelming majorities of which the following are a few examples. In Madras, V.V. Giri, Secretary of the All-India Railwaymen's Federation, beat the Rajah of Bobilli (Chief Minister to Government of Madras) in his own Zamindary (where he is landlord) by a majority of over 7,000 votes.

BENGAL (Labour Constituencies)
1 Suresh Chandra Banerjei (President, Bengal T.U.C.) 26,027
Mrinal Kante Bose (T.U. Federation) 3,022
Syed Mazher Abbas (Independent) 2,646
2 Sibnath Banerjei (President A.I.T.U.C., (ex-Meerut Prisoner) 20,197
Faiz Ahmed (T.U. Federation) 3,925
P. K. Mitter (T.U. Federation) 1,049
B. Mukherjie (T.U. Federation) 362
PUNJAB (Peasant Constituency)
Sohan Singh Josh (Socialist Independent, ex-Meerut Prisoner)7,140
Lt. Sardar Raghubir Singh Rais (Landlord) 2,825
UNITED PROVINCES -- Fyzabad East (Rural).
Krisnath Kaul (Congress)59,901
Pratap Singh (National Agrarian Party) 6,871

These are the results secured on a 13 per cent. franchise. What would have been the result if there had been universal adult suffrage?

The majority votes registered for Congress, Socialist, T.U.C. and Peasant candidates cannot fail to convey the grim determination of the people of India to achieve their emancipation. The Congress secured these striking majorities on a programme which pledges the Congress candidates to a policy of combating the Constitution coupled with an economic programme.

Peasant versus Landlord

Some of the most important and striking successes were achieved in the agricultural constituencies where support was obtained for the ConŽgress on its Election Manifesto, which stood for: Reform of the system of land tenure and revenue and rent, and for equitable adjustment of the burden on agricultural land, giving immediate relief to the smaller peasantry by the substantial reduction of agricultural rent and revenue, and exempting the uneconomic holdings from payment of rent and revenue.

These were the immediate points in the programme, while a compreŽhensive programme of agrarian legislation is in preparation. Although this appeal was not on clear class lines, the elections in the agricultural districts developed into "Peasant versus Landlord." The peasants triumphed against the reactionary landlords in Bengal where the Krishak and Proja party secured 40 seats.

Pledge for Independence

In the six Provinces where the Congress have a majority, the question arises of the formation of a Ministry or accepting office. A decision for the acceptance of office could only be taken in order to bring an early and complete exposure of the fraud which is being perpetrated under the guise of a step towards self-government.

The All-India Congress Committee has since met and accepted, in an amended form, a recommendation of the Working Committee for the acceptance of Office. The following resolution was adopted:

The A.I.C.C. authorises and permits acceptance of office in the provinces where Congress commands a majority in the legislatures, provided that ministership shall not be accepted unless the leader of the Congress Party in the legislature is satisfied and able to state publicly that the Governor will not use his special powers of interference or set aside the office of ministers in regard to their constitutional activities.

The Socialists put up a stiff fight in the A.I.C.C., and the voting was 127 for and 70 against. The feeling was that the Right-wing were endeavouring to circumvent the decision of the Congress to combat the new constitution. In view of the decision the Socialists will insist upon an early fulfilment of the Congress Election pledges, particularly in reference to bringing relief to the peasantry by a reduction in rent and revenue.

On March the 19th over 800 delegates from every Province in British India meet in Delhi to attend the National Congress Conference. Pandit Nehru administered a pledge to these new members of the provincial legislatures that they would devote themselves, inside and outside the Legislatures, to working for the Independence of India. While he reiterated his hostility to the new Constitution he appealed for Unity and discipline.

Meanwhile preparations go ahead for the Hartal or General Strike throughout India which is called for April 1, the day on which the new Constitution is to be inaugurated, and mass meetings and demonstrations will take place.

Call for Immediate Action

By the time this is being read the mighty Indian people will have entered upon a new phase in their struggle for freedom. Already the unarmed Indian masses may once more be facing the armed might of British Imperialism. To imagine what this may mean we must recall what happened on the eve of the introduction of the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms when a mass protest meeting held in the Jallianwalla Bagh at Amritsar was fired upon and hundreds of people were killed in cold blood.

The New Constitution is designed to rivet more securely the chains of British Imperialism on the Indian people, and does not give even the shadow of self-government. The demand of the people of India for freedom to be the arbiters of their own destinies is a just demand.

The situation is critical -- immediate action is necessary. We must come to the support of the Indian people in this situation, recognising the right of India to decide her own destinies. Call upon the General Council of Labour to get in touch immediately with the Indian National Congress with a view to actively assisting them in the struggle. Let all working-class, democratic and peace organisations demand that the National Government must recognise this plebiscite of the Indian people with its overwhelming majority for rejection of the Constitution.

Unity between the British and Indian working classes is essential and must be established. The motion of the Labour Party rejecting the New Constitution in the House of Commons in February, 1935, the resolution of the Indian National Congress plus the crushing blow which the voters have registered in rejecting the Constitution all provide the basis for Unity. This United Front must be established against the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on a Nation.