The Indian Independence Act was passed by the British parliament on July 5, 1947. Its aim was to transfer the power from the British Crown to the newly independent dominions of India and Pakistan. It terminated British suzerainty over Indian affairs.
The Act was based on the Mountbatten Plan formulated by Louis Mountbatten, the last Governor-General of India. He had formulated the plan to transfer the power to the hands of the natives from the British Crown. The Act was the result of years of struggle and resistance against the British occupation by the Indians. Lord Mountbatten, however, continued as the Governor-General of newly independent India till 1948.
The Indian Independence Act was passed by the British Parliament on July 5, 1947. It received royal assent from the then British monarch, George VI on July 18, 1947. The Act abolished the title of the ‘Emperor of India’ from the British Crown. George VI issued a royal proclamation that the word ‘Emperor of India’ be henceforth, omitted from his titles and styles.
The British Crown had taken over the administration of India from the British East India Company after the Revolt of 1857. The reign of British rule in India was marked by oppression and discrimination of native Indians in the hands of the British. There was growing resentment against the British in India by the onset of the Second World War. The British, in turn, promised Indians to take measures towards self-rule for Indian support in the war.
India was ruled by various dynastic rulers when the British East India Company arrived on its shores. The EIC began its annexation by political treaties and Anglo-Carnatic wars. It also introduced alliances such as the subsidiary alliances, which mandated British suzerainty over Indian lands. One by one, the Indian princes fell into the trap.
After the Indian Revolt in 1857, the EIC was stripped of its administrative powers and the Crown directly took over the administration of its Indian colony. However, the coming years witnessed growing Indian resistance against British occupation. Although there were several leaders of the movement, there was one leader who actively led the nonviolent aspect of the freedom movement which ultimately succeeded in its mission. Mahatma Gandhi, by his non-violent methods of resistance, garnered popular support among the masses and soon his protests became massive public movements.
The British finally gave in. The Indian Independence Act was introduced in the British parliament by Lord Listowel, who was the last Secretary of States for India and also a minister in the British Cabinet. The Act was passed and the independent countries of India and Pakistan were born. The princely states were also restored their sovereignty and the decision was left on them to join either of the Indian and Pakistan unions.
Important Features of the Indian Independence Act 1947
The following are the salient features of the Indian Independence Act 1947:
- The Act declared India as a sovereign and independent state.
- It also made provisions for the partition of the Indian state into two separate dominions of India and Pakistan on grounds of religious differences.
- The position of the Secretary of States for India was abolished.
- The office of the Viceroy was also abolished and the Act initiated for the providence of two separate Governor-Generals to be appointed for the dominions of India and Pakistan on the advice of the British Cabinet.
- The Constituent Assemblies of both the dominions were authorised to formulate their respective constitutions and also to repeal any law of the British Parliament formulated for the Indian state, including the Independence Act itself.
- The Constituent Assemblies were empowered to act as legislative bodies for their respective dominions till the time they could formulate a constitution for their state.
- It granted authority to the princely states to join either of the dominions or remain independent.
- The governance of each dominion was to be done on the basis of the Government of India Act, of 1935.
- The British Monarch no longer had the authority to veto or ask for the bills of the Indian state.
- The Governor-General of each dominion had to act on the advice of the council.
The Radcliffe Commission was immediately appointed following the Act to draw up boundaries between the two dominions. The borders were drawn based on religious differences. The states of Punjab and Bengal were divided between the two dominions.
Lord Louis Mountbatten became the Governer-General of India, while Muhammad Ali Jinnah became the Governer-General of Pakistan. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru became the prime minister of India, while Liaqat Ali Khan became his Pakistani counterpart.
Developments after the Act
There were several developments after the transfer of power by the Independence Act. The Indian Constituent Assembly drafted the Indian Constitution in 1949 which finally got into effect on January 26, 1950, declaring India a republic. Pakistan, on the other hand, officially became a republic on March 23, 1956.
The integration of princely states was a major problem. However, most of the princely states signed the instrument of accession to one of the dominions. Most princely states chose their dominion based on geography. For instance, states on the Indian side of the border mainly chose to accede to India. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel played a major role in these accessions on the Indian side. However, the issue of Kashmir has still remained a thorn in Indo-Pak relations. The two countries have been involved in several armed conflicts on this issue. One of them was immediately after independence in 1947. Based on the ceasefire declared by the United Nations, both the states have retained control of the territories of Kashmir held by them at the time of the ceasefire.
The Indian Independence Act paved the way for the independence of the states of India and Pakistan. The British Crown completely transferred the power to the newly formed states. The suzerainty of the British was abolished. However, it was accompanied by the violent partition, which remains one of the largest forced migrations in the history of the world, in which millions perished.