The New Constitution
|Indian politics were in the doldrums during the years 1934-35, but
as the time came for elections to the provincial legislatures in accordance with the Act
of 1935, political excitement rose to a high pitch. From the point of view of the Indian
National Congress, the new Constitution was the inadequate and unsatisfactory. The scheme
of the Indian Federation gave a sizeable representation to the princely states, and since
their representatives, because of the absence of elective bodies, were likely to be the
nominees of the princes, (who in turn were dependant for their very existence on the
British Government) Indian nationalists viewed the new Constitution with a feeling
bordering on dismay. In the provinces a wider field was permitted to Ministers responsible
to elected legislatures, but even here the Governors had been invested with over-riding
and preventive authority.
Because of these limitations, there was a large and vocal section in the Congress led by Jawaharlal Nehru which did not want to have anything to do with the new Constitution. Nevertheless, the Congress decided to contest the elections, which were held early in 1937. It acquitted itself very well indeed, and was in a position to form ministries in six out of eleven provinces. A section of the Congress even favoured acceptance of office and its hands were strengthened by the moral support it received from Gandhi. The Mahatma felt that with all its deficiencies, the new Constitution could promote the programme of village uplift. He saw no reason why Congress ministries in the provinces could not encourage village industries, introduce prohibition, reduce the burden on the peasantry, promote the use of hand-spun cloth, extend education and combat untouchability.
The acceptance of office by the Congress party was facilitated by a statement issued by the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, which did not change the legal position or the powers of the Governors, but breathed a spirit of conciliation to which the Congress responded by deciding to form ministries.
For a political party which had remained so long in opposition, to get into the seat of power was a novel, and even a hazardous experience. The left wing in the Congress, which opposed formation of ministries, had in fact stressed the possibilities of internal dissensions and scramble for loaves and fishes among Congressmen. Gandhi found himself inundated with requests for jobs and ministerships; he expressed his surprise and distress at this trend, because to him the legislatures and ministerships were only one and a limited medium of serving the country. He felt that for the majority of Congressmen the work lay in the villages in the constructive fields of social and economic reform. The caucus system, the struggle for power and pressure politics, which are accepted as part of political democracy, were repellant to Gandhi. As an experienced servant and general, he deprecated the struggle for "the spoils of office", and the dissipation of energy in factional rivalries.