Indian Polity - Historical Background

An image of the parliament of India and written Indian Polity - Historical Background

The historical Background of Indian Polity can be divided into two parts –

I.  The Company Rule: 1773 – 1858
II. The Crown Rule: 1858 – 1947

The Company Rule: 1773 – 1858

Regulating Act of 1773

1. The Governor of Bengal will become the Governor General of Bengal and created an executive council to assist him. Lord Warren Hastings was the first Governor General of Bengal.

2. It made the governors of Madras and Bombay presidencies subordinate to the governor general of Bengal. Earlier they were independent of one another.

3. A Supreme Court to be established in Calcutta (which was established in 1774) with one chief Justice and three other judges. Sir Elijah Impey was the first chief Justice. 

4. It required a Court of Directors, a governing body of the company, to report on its revenue, civil and military affairs in India for strengthening the control of the British government over the company.

5. It prohibited the servants of the company from engaging in any private trade and accepting presents or bribe from the ‘natives’.

The British parliament had passed the amending Act of 1781, also known as the Act of Settlement to rectify the defects of the Regulating Act of 1773.

Pit’s India Act of 1784:

This act was introduced in the British parliament by the then prime minister William Pit.

1. It distinguished the commercial and the political functions of the company.

2. It allowed the Court of Directors to manage the commercial affairs and created a new body namely Board of Control to manage political affairs.

3. The Board of Control was assigned the power to supervise and direct operations of the civil and military governments or revenues of the British possessions in India.

Importance of this Act:

A. Company’s territory of India, for the first time, called the “British Territory of India”.

B. The British Government was Given Supreme control over Company’s affairs and its administration in India.

Charter Acts:

There was a series of four Charter Acts – in 1793, 1813, 1833, and 1853.

Charter Act of 1793:


1. The commercial rights of the company was extended further for a period of 20 years.
The salaries of the members of the Board of Control was to be paid from Indian revenue.

Charter Act of 1813:

1. The commercial rights of the company was extended further for a period of 20 years.
Christian Missionaries were allowed to propagate their religious ideas.

2. It deprived the company of the monopoly of trade in India except the tea trade with China.

3. It allotted a sum of one lakh rupees to promote education in India.

Charter Act of 1833:

This was the final step towards the centralisation in British India.

1. The Governor General of Bengal was made the Governor General of India, who was vested with all civil and military powers. Lord William Bentinck was the first Governor General of India. 

2. The Governor Generals of Bombay and Madras were deprived of their legislative powers because the Governor General of India was vested with all legislative and executive powers. The laws made under this act were called Acts which previously were called Regulations.

3. It made the Company a purely administrative body from a commercial body.

8. It attempted to create a provision of open competition for the selection of civil servants. However it could not be implemented for the opposition from the Court of Directors.

Charter Act of 1853:

Passed During Lord Dalhousie. 

1. Separation of the legislative and the executive functions of the Governor General’s Council. 

2. Establishment of a separate Governor General’s legislative council that came to be known as the Legislative Council or the Central Legislative Council. Adopted the same procedure of the British Parliament.

3. It provides for an open competition system of selection and recruitment of civil servants. For the first time, Indians also could apply for the civil services. 

4. For the first time it introduced local representatives in Indian (Central) Legislative council. Of the six legislative members of the Governor General’s council four members were to be appointed by the local (provincial) governments of Madras, Bombay, Bengal and Agra.

5. It extended Company’s rule but without any specific time period. It was an indication that Company’s rule in India can be terminated at any time.

The Crown Rule: 1858 – 1947

After the Revolt of 1857, the East India Company was abolished by the Government of India Act of 1858. And from The East India Company, all the power was transferred to the British Crown.

The Government of India Act of 1858:

It is known as the Act of Good Government of India. It abolished the British East India company and transferred all the power to the British Crown.

It provided that India henceforth was to be governed by, and in the name of, Her Majesty. Also Changed the designation of the Governor-General of India to the Viceroy of India. Viceroy was the direct representative of the British Crown in India. 
Lord Canning became the first Viceroy of India. 

[Remember, the term “Governor General” can steel be used in place of “Viceroy”.]

2. It ended the system of double government by abolishing the Board of Control and Court of Directors.

3. A new office, Secretary of State for India was created. This post is vested with complete authority and control over Indian administration. The secretary of state was a member of the British cabinet.

4. It established a 15-member Council of India, the secretary of state being its chairman. The function of this Council was to assist the secretary of state. The council was an advisory body. 

5. It constituted the secretary of state-in-council as a body corporate, capable of suing and being sued in India and in England. 

Indian Council Acts:

After the Revolt of 1857, The Britishers felt the necessity of cooperation of Indians to run administration of their own country. To apply this policy, the British Government passed three council Acts – of 1861, 1892, and 1909.

Indian Council Act of 1861:

1. It was the first to allow the  association Indians to in the law making process. It provided that the viceroy should nominate some Indians as non-official members of his extended council.
Thus, in 1862, three Indians were nominated in the Legislative Council — the Raja of Banaras, the Maharaja of Patiala, and sir Dinkar Rao.

2. It restored the legislative powers of Bombay and Madras Presidencies. Thus the process of decentralisation started.

New Legislative councils in Bengal, North-Western Frontier Province and Punjab were to be established. And they were actually established in 1862, 1886, 1897 respectively.

3. It empowered the Viceroy to make rules and orders for the more convenient transaction of business in the council. It also gave a recognition to the ‘portfolio’ system, introduced by Lord Canning in 1859.

4. It empowered the Viceroy to issue ordinances during an emergency without the concurrence of the legislative council. The duration of such ordinances was six months.

Indian Council Act of 1892:

1. It increased the number of the non-official members in both the Central and the Provincial Legislative Councils. But steel there was a majority of official members.

2. It extended the function of the legislative council and empowered it to discuss the budget and address questions to the executive.

It provided for the nomination of some non-official members in the following manner —

i. It provided for the nomination of some non-official members of the Central Legislative Council by the viceroy on the recommendation of the provincial legislative councils and the Bengal Chamber of Commerce.

ii. It also provided for the nomination of some non-official members of the Provincial Legislative Councils by the Governors on the recommendation of district boards, municipalities, universities, trade associations, zamindars and chambers.

Indian Council Act of 1909: [Morley-Minto Reforms]

When the act was passed, Lord Minto was the viceroy of India and Lord Morley was the Secretary of Sate.

1. The number of members of the Central Legislative Council was increased to sixty from sixteen. 

2. It allowed the provincial legislative council to have non-official majority. Though it retained official majority in the provincial majority in the centre.

3. It allowed the Indians to be associated with the executive councils of Viceroy and Government. Satyendra Prasad Sinha (S.P. Sinha) was the first Indian to be a member of the viceroy’s executive council. He was a law member.

4. It provided for a separate electorate for the Muslims to introduce a system of communal representation. For this reason, Lord Minto came to be known as the Father of Communal  Electorate.

Government of India Act of 1919: [Montague Chelmsford Reforms]

Aiming at the gradual introduction of a responsible government in India, this act was introduced. This act is also known as the Montague Chelmsford Reforms. 

Lord Chelmsford – Viceroy 
Montague – Secretary of the State.

1. It separated the central and provincial subjects.
The provincial subjects were divided into two parts – transferred and reserved.

a. Transferred subjects – administered by the governor and his with the aid of ministers responsible to the legislative council.

b. Reserved subjects – administered by the governor and his executive council but not being responsible to the legislative council.

2. It introduced bicameralism by creating two houses – the upper house and the lower house in the Indian Legislative Council. It also provided for direct election in India. Most of the members of both the houses were elected through direct election.

3. It provided separate electorates for Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians and other Europeans. Thus it extends the Principal of communal electorate. 

4. It demanded for the establishment of a Public Service Commission.
The provincial and the central budget were separated frim each other.

The Simon Commission:

The British Government decided to appoint a seven-member commission under the chairmanship of John Simon to report on the condition of India under its new constitution. The commission submitted its report in 1930.

It recommended the   i) abolition of diarchy,  ii) extension of responsible governments in the provinces  iii) constitution of communal electorate and so on.

Communal Award:

In 1932, the then British Prime minister Ramsey McDonald announced the representation of the minorities. This is known as the communal award.
It allows separate electorates for the depressed other than the Muslims, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Europeans.

Government of India Act 1935:

The second step towards the establishment of a responsible government the first being the Government of India Act of 1919.

1.      It provided for the division of powers between the centre and the states by a list for each— i) Federal List, ii) Provincial List, and iii) Federal List consisting of 59, 54, 36 items respectively.

2.     Diarchy in the provinces was abolished. And allowed ‘provincial autonomy’ in its place. It also introduced responsible governments in the provinces.

3.      Introduced bicameralism in six provinces – Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Bombay, Madras, United provinces [There was total eleven provinces] consisting of a upper house (legislative council), and a lower house (legislative assembly).

4.     It abolished the council of India. The Secretary of State would now have a team  of advisors.

5.     A Reserve bank of India was to be established top control the currency and credit.

6. It also provided for the establishment of a Federal Court of India. It was actually established in 1937.

7. It extended the franchise allowing 10% of the total population to vote.

8. It introduced separate electorates for the depressed class (scheduled caste), women and labours. Thus it extended the principle of separate electorate.

9. Establishment of the Federal Public Service Commission(FPSC), aProvincial Public Service Commission(PPSC) in each provinceJoint Public Service Commission (JPSC).

Indian Independence Act of 1947:

The British Prime minister was Clement Atlee.
The Viceroy of India was Lord Mountbatten.

1. It ended the British Rule in India. It declared India as an independent and sovereign state from August 15, 1947.

2. It partitioned British India into two new independent dominions of India and Pakistan.

3. Partition of the provinces of Partition of the provinces of Bengal and Punjab between the two new countries

4. It abolished the post of Viceroy and provided for a Governor General to each dominion. They were to be appointed by His Majesty on the recommendation of the dominion cabinets.

5. It empowered each constituent assembly to frame their own constitution and repeal any act of the British parliament including the Independent Act itself.

6. The Constituent assemblies of the dominions will have the power to legislate their own territories until new constitutions were enacted.

7. The office of the secretary of state for India was abolished and his power was transferred to the secretary of state for commonwealth affairs. 

8. It proclaimed the British paramountcy over Indian Princely States.  

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