Previous Page [Digital South Asia Library] Next Page

Schwartzberg Atlas, v. , p. 222.

Switch to image view

(1947); C. Rahmat 'Alī (1942); K. B. Sayeed (1968); Khush- want Singh (1963–66); O. H. K. Spate (1943), (1948b), (1948c); A. Tayyeb (1966); S. Zafarul Hasan and M. A. H. Qadri (1939).

VIII.C.5. Major Elections, 1920–45

Only with the implementation of direct elections under the Government of India Act of 1919 (see text for plates VIII.B.3 and 4) does the electoral process in India begin to reflect in a meaningful way the complexion of regional and national poli- tics. But the analysis of the elections that took place during the first fifteen years of the new regime is, for a variety of reasons, beset with difficulties. First, the electorate was still limited—by property, tax, or income qualifications—almost exclusively to persons of some means, who could not be said to represent mass opinion anywhere (though one may, of course, question whether the masses were sufficiently politicized at this time to have more than an inchoate sense of what was politically de- sirable). Second, with the exception of the Indian National Congress there was no political party, not even the Muslim League, that could claim an all-India base of support; and even for the Congress popular participation was meager until well into the 1930s. Third, in the first four general elections, those of 1920, 1923, 1926, and 1930, Congress did not officially participate, though variously labeled shifting factions with Congress affiliations did. Fourth, after the walkout from the central legislature in 1926 of the important Swarajya faction of the Congress party, that body lost much of what little effec- tiveness it had, and public interest in its activities remained at a low ebb until 1934. For these reasons (and for lack of space) we have not analyzed in detail any of the general elections be- fore 1934. Nor have we analyzed the 1934 elections to the provincial legislative assemblies. The results of all the Central Legislative Assembly elections, however, are summarized in the graph in the upper left corner of plate VIII.C.5, while de- tails relating to the success in provincial elections of the sev- eral essentially regional parties, showing both dominant and nondominant, yet influential, groups, are provided on plate VIII.C.3. The chronology for plate VIII.C.3 also indicates something of the nature of those parties.

The first and only Indian elections for which we have pro- vided detailed maps are those of 1934 for the Central Legisla- tive Assembly, in which the Congress at last fully participated, and of 1937 for the provincial assemblies; for Burma we have also shown the 1936 election for the House of Representatives, which was to form the lower chamber of the legislature when that province separated from India in 1937. The only subse- quent pre-independence elections held in India were those of 1945 and 1946 for the central and provincial legislatures re- spectively. Of these, the results in the former can be so simply described that mapping them would be superfluous (though a graph is provided); for the latter, a graphic comparison with the 1937 results, by provinces, with a summation for India as a whole, is provided in the lower right corner of plate VIII.C.5.

Studying the data shown for the Central Legislative Assem- blies, one sees that it was not until 1945 that a single party, the Indian National Congress, was able to command a clear ma- jority of the elected seats. Even then, however, it fell well short of holding a majority of the total seats, because of the large number (varying slightly from year to year) occupied by nominated officials and nonofficials (cf. pie graph on plate VIII.B.3). Previously, except in the 1930 election, which it totally boycotted, the leading single party in the Assembly was one with a Congress affiliation, either the Democratic Party, led by B. G. Tilak until his death after the election of 1920, or the Swarajya Party, founded by C. R. Das and Motilal Nehru after the elections of 1923 and 1926, in the latter case until its aforementioned walkout that same year. Although the avowed intention of the Swarajya Party at its founding had been to "wreck from within" the Indian legislative system ushered in by the Act of 1919 (which Congress had roundly denounced); it did try for a time to play a constructive role. The so-called Nationalist Party, the leading group following the 1930 elec- tions, had no real existence outside the Council itself; it might have been better described as a caucus of like-minded legis- lators. Apart from the groups just cited there was no party that could independently play an effective political role in challeng- ing the positions espoused by the central government, that is, by the governor general; nor was there enough similarity of interests, much less common will, to do so among such coali- tions of minor parties and independents as may from time to time have been formed.

The 1934 Central Legislative Assembly election (map (a)), which Congress decided at the eleventh hour to contest, is of interest insofar as it reveals the great, but by no means solid, support Congress was already able to command in the fifty-one "general" (for all practical purposes "Hindu") constituencies. The thirty-seven seats it won there constituted all but five of its all-India total of forty-two. That total represented 29.0% of the Council's 145 seats (elected as well as nominated), 39.6% of all elected seats and 56.8% of those actually con- tested by two or more candidates. A Congress splinter group, the Congress Nationalist Party, was the only other one to gain a significant number of seats. Most of the thirty Muslim con- stituencies elected independents to the Council; but within the Council, leadership of the independent Muslims was assumed by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who, shortly after the election, re- sumed the leadership of the moribund Muslim League from which he had previously retired. Of the thirty-two seats filled without a contest, twelve were in Muslim constituencies, eight in European, eight in "general," three reserved for landhold- ers, and one reserved for commerce.

The total electorate for the 1934 elections was 1,415,892, of which 1,135,899 were in contested constituencies. The total number of votes polled was 608,198. The election marked the first year in which Indian women were eligible to vote in any but a local election. Of the 81,602 enrolled women voters, 62,757 of whom were in contested constituencies, only 14,505 actually used the ballot.

The 1937 elections for the provincial legislatures, the first to be held under the Government of India Act of 1935, were also the first provincial elections Congress contested in its own right rather than through specific factional groups such as the aforementioned Swarajya Party. (Had elections been held in 1934, in conjunction with those for the Central Legislative Assembly, Congress would presumably have taken part; but in view of the then impending constitutional changes the govern- ment decided on a postponement.) Congress successes in the provincial legislative assemblies in 1937 slightly exceeded those it had registered nationally three years earlier; of the total of 1,585 seats it won 44.6%. In the more conservative upper chambers, the legislative councils, which existed in six prov- inces, it fared less well, winning only 28.4% of the 285 elective seats (24.9% of all seats, elective as well as nominated). As in 1934, Congress strength in the assembly contests came mainly from the "general" constituencies; of the total of 864 seats as- signed to them, it contested 739 and won therein 617 of its total of 707 victories. Of the 125 non-general constituencies contested by Congress, 59 were reserved for Muslims and in those Congress won 25 seats, 15 of them in the North-West Frontier Province. Figures are not available for the number of seats contested by the Muslim League; but its total victories, 106 (6.7% of the total), placed it as second-ranking party. The only other party to win more than 5 percent of all the assembly seats was the Unionist Party, with 101.

Congress's most stunning success was in Madras, where, with 74% of all seats, it eclipsed the Justice Party (21 seats) which had been in power there since 1922. In four additional provinces, Central Provinces, Bihar, Orissa, and United Prov- inces, in descending order of success, Congress won clear ma- jorities. In Bombay, where it fell just short of gaining half the seats, it was able to draw on the support of some small pro- Congress groups to form a working majority. In Assam its 33 seats, out of a total of 108, also made it the strongest single party, though it was not in a position to form a ministry. In the overwhelmingly Muslim North-West Frontier Province, Congress won 19 out of 50 seats and was able, with minor party support, to form a ministry. The legacy of its strength in that region has been an influential factor in Pakistani poli- tics ever since.

The only non-Congress-led ministries were in Bengal, Pun- jab, Assam, and Sind. Map (b) indicates the nature of the coali- tions that formed the governments in each.

It is of special interest that the 1937 election was the first in which large masses of Indians were eligible to participate. An estimated 30.1 million persons, including 4.25 million women, had acquired the right to vote (14% of the total population, as against 3% in 1934), and 15.5 million of these, including 917,000 women, actually did exercise their franchise.

Between the 1937 elections and those to the central and provincial legislatures, in 1945 and 1946 respectively, the po- litical climate of India was profoundly altered. The Congress ministries resigned en masse in October and November of 1939 in protest against Britain's having declared India at war with Germany without consulting the elected representatives of the people, and also against Britain's unwillingness to state its war aims clearly and to agree specifically to speedy Indian independence in return for Indian cooperation during the war itself. Representative ministerial government, consequently, re- mained in abeyance until new elections could be held in the provinces most affected. By the war's end, however, it had be- come evident that independence was near, and the elections of 1945 and 1946 were contested with one question uppermost in the minds of contestants and electorates alike: Was indepen- dent India to be a united nation, or was there to be a separate Muslim state of Pakistan? Throughout the years since 1937 the strength of the Muslim League had grown steadily and the gulf between the League and Congress had progressively wid- ened. The impact of these developments was manifested in the election results.

The 1945 Central Legislative Assembly election was held under the terms of the Government of India Act of 1919 be- cause the government held that because the princely states were unwilling to join the federation proposed in the Act of 1935 the relevant federal provisions of the latter had not yet taken effect (cf. discussion relative to plate VIII.B.3); consequently, rather than choosing 375 members, only 102 elective seats were to be filled. Of these, Congress won 59, winning in all 49 general constituencies, while the Muslim League won 30, sweeping all Muslim constituencies but gaining no other seat. Of the 13 remaining seats, 8 went to Europeans, 3 to indepen- dents, and 2 to Akali candidates in Punjabi Sikh constituen- cies. The near-total polarization of the returns along strictly communal lines was, then, a harbinger of the territorial rift to come.

The provincial assembly elections of 1946 largely mirrored the pattern of the previous year's balloting and contrasted no- tably with the provincial elections of 1937. This comparison may readily be made by reference to the graph in the lower right corner of plate VIII.C.5, where the provinces are ar- ranged in descending order of Congress strength in 1946. Of the 1,585 seats to be filled, Congress won 923 and the Muslim League 425, the divisions following closely along communal lines. Congress ministries were formed in all provinces except Bengal and Sind, where the Muslim League was installed (in the former case, without a clear majority), and in the com- munally divided Punjab, where Congress had to join a Unionist- Akali (Sikh) coalition to have a share in the new government. In only a few provinces did any party other than those just named gain a significant number of seats.

One of the principal purposes of the 1946 election was to provide the basis for the election by the new assemblies of a 296-member constituent assembly for an independent Indian Union out of which the provinces could opt, if they wished, after the first Legislative Council election under the new con- stitution. As matters turned out, the Muslim League boycotted the constituent assembly elections, while the members elected by the Congress began meeting in December 1946 only to have independence overtake their deliberations eight months later. After independence, the elected legislative assemblies of the areas that fell to India and Pakistan continued to sit in those areas, to the extent feasible (in partitioned Bengal and Punjab this was, for many assemblymen, not feasible). Thus, the 1946 elections provided the basis for provincial government in two newly independent states until they could frame constitutions of their own. Plates IX.A.1 and 2 and IX.B.6 and the related text provide relevant data on the constituent assemblies and constitution-making processes in India and Pakistan.

Map (c) of plate VIII.C.5 shows the results of the 1936 election to Burma's House of Representatives, which was to be installed upon that area's establishment as a crown colony in 1937. The outcome was a house containing several genuine political parties and several groups based solely on communal interests. The failure of any single group to gain a majority of the total of 132 seats necessitated the formation of a coalition government, within which the Ngabwinsaing party (General Council of Burmese Associations), itself a multifactional body, with 46 seats, was the leading group. Dr. Ba Maw assumed the office of prime minister; but his ministry was cut short by the Japanese occupation early in 1942. (For related events in Burma see plate VIII.C.4.)

Sources (in addition to those in the General Bibliography)

Government Documents

East India (Constitutional Reforms) (1920); East India (Con- stitutional Reforms–Elections) (1935), (1937); Great Britain, Acts, Bills and Codes (1924), (1935); The Indian annual reg- ister (various years, 1924–47).

Other Works

R. N. Aggarwala (1967); L. Bahadur (1954); D. D. Basu (1961–62); J. F. Cady (1958); R. Coupland (1944); A. Gled- hill (1964); H. V. Hodson (1971); M. Noman (1942); Ram Gopal (1964); Ram Gopal and D. Singh (1967); M. Rashi- duzzaman (1965); T. A. Rusch (1955, listed under Unpub- lished Works); A. Seal (1968); B. D. Shukla (1960); Times of India directory and yearbook (various years, 1920–46).

VIII.C.6. South Asia in World Affairs in the Pre-Independence Period

Before World War I India's contacts with the outside world were mediated through the imperial British presence and, ex- cept for those with the "mother country" itself, were of little significance, especially in the political domain. The exigencies of the Allied struggle with the Central Powers, however, caused Britain to turn to its Indian wards for aid, and that aid came forth in abundance. Indians and Nepalis composed nearly a fifth of the wartime forces of the empire and served with honor on a dozen fronts. Map (a) of plate VIII.C.6 details the role played by Indian contingents in Europe, Africa, the Near East, and the Far East from 1914 to 1918. It also shows, by regions, the extent of recruitment into the armed services from India and Nepal. Among all regions the Punjab stands out as having made much the largest contribution to the war effort.

The chronology to the right of map (a) indicates the major political events involving South Asia with other world regions

Previous Page To Table of Contents Next Page

Back to Schwartzberg Atlas | Back to the DSAL Page

This page was last generated on Friday 22 January 2021 at 19:29 by
The URL of this page is: