chapter  5
17 Pages

HANDING OVER

The viceroy, Lord Linlithgow’s, announcement in September 1939 that India was at war with Germany jolted the Indian people into acknowledging a reality that time had somewhat obscured: India was still an integral part of the British Empire. There had been, to be sure, some devolution of power. But even the reforms introduced under the Government of India Act of 1935, which conceded the substance of self-government at the provincial level, contained significant checks designed to protect and perpetuate a hard core of British control. These included, specifically, statutory provisions binding the Indian government to continue to pay interest to holders of railway stock and the pensions of retired ICS officers, and giving the viceroy and his governors the power to veto legislation repugnant to British interests, and, more generally, a franchise elaborately gerrymandered to favour the election to the federal legislature of princely, business, landlord and communal representatives at the expense of nationalists. While the British no longer deluded themselves that their rule in South Asia would be permanent, and while they no longer talked glibly in Curzonist tones of hanging around for centuries, the terms of the 1935 Act showed that they had no immediate plans to depart, either. Five years in the making, and the longest statute ever enacted by the Westminster parliament, the Act was no stop-gap transitional measure towards full independence. It represented the furthest point the British government and people were prepared to go down the devolutionary path. By what magic, then, did India gain her freedom barely a decade later?