Congress Rule in Provincial Governments: 1937-1939

Arora IAS Class Notes


 Formation: Congress ministries established in Bombay, Madras, Central Provinces, Orissa, United Provinces, Bihar, and later in the NWFP and Assam.

Gandhi’s Advice:

  • Gandhi advised Congressmen to hold offices lightly, using them to quicken the pace towards nationalist goals, rather than tightly.
  • He urged unconventional use of power, emphasizing minimal reliance on police and army assistance.


Civil Liberties under Congress Ministries

  • Repeal of Laws: Congress ministries repealed laws granting emergency powers, lifted bans on illegal organizations, press restrictions, and restored confiscated arms and licenses.
  • Release of Prisoners: Political prisoners and revolutionaries were released, and deportation and internment orders were revoked.
  • Land Restoration: Lands confiscated during Civil Disobedience Movement were restored in Bombay, along with pensions of officials associated with the movement.


Agrarian Reforms

  • Constraints: Congress ministries faced constraints including inadequate powers, financial resources, and time, as well as the need for class adjustments and conciliation with landlords.
  • Legislation: Despite constraints, Congress ministries legislated laws related to land reforms, debt relief, forest grazing fees, land tenures, etc., benefiting statutory and occupancy tenants primarily.


Labour Attitude

  • Approach: Congress ministries aimed to advance workers’ interests while promoting industrial peace, advocating compulsory arbitration prior to striking.
  • Mediation: Efforts were made to mediate between labour and capital, treating militant trade union protests as law and order problems.
  • Criticism: Leftist critics were not satisfied, especially in Bombay, where repressive measures were employed.


Social Welfare Reforms

  • Prohibition: Implemented in certain areas.
  • Harijan Welfare: Measures included temple entry, use of public facilities, scholarships, and increased representation in government services and police.
  • Education and Health: Attention given to primary, technical, and higher education, along with public health and sanitation.
  • Khadi Promotion: Encouragement through subsidies and other measures.
  • Prison Reforms: Undertaken to improve conditions.
  • Indigenous Enterprises: Encouraged through various initiatives.
  • Planning Development: Efforts taken through the National Planning Committee set up under Congress president Subhas Chandra Bose in 1938.


Extra-Parliamentary Mass Activity

  • Mass Literacy Campaigns: Launched to promote education.
  • Congress Policing: Setup of Congress police stations and panchayats.
  • Grievance Committees: Presented mass petitions to the government.
  • Peoples’ Movements: Conducted to address various issues at the grassroots level.


  • Congress ministries in provinces between 1937-1939 saw both achievements and limitations in their efforts towards civil liberties, agrarian reforms, labour relations, social welfare, and mass engagement, reflecting the complexities of governance within the colonial framework.


Congress Rule in Provinces: 1937-1939


Internal Strife and Opportunism: Despite internal conflicts and power struggles within Congress ranks, council work was effectively utilized.


Significance of 28-Month Rule:

  • Confirmation of Indian Self-Government: Highlighted the necessity of Indian self-government for radical social transformation.
  • Demonstration of Movement’s Power: Showed that movements could wield state power without being co-opted.
  • Communal Riot Control: Ministries were successful in controlling communal riots.
  • Impact on Bureaucracy: Morale of the bureaucracy decreased.
  • Neutralization of Hostile Elements: Council work helped neutralize hostility from landlords and other groups.
  • Perception of Future Independence: People perceived the potential shape of post-independence governance.
  • Challenge to Colonial Myth: Indian administrative work weakened the myth of Indian incapability to rule.


Resignation and Events Leading Up:

  • Resignation: Congress ministries resigned in October 1939 due to the outbreak of World War II.
  • Increased Industrial Unrest: Congress victory in elections heightened industrial unrest in regions like Bombay, Gujarat, United Provinces, and Bengal.
  • Dilemma in Princely States: Congress leadership faced a dilemma regarding support for the Praja Mandal movement for democracy in princely states.
  • Pirpur Committee Report: All India Muslim League’s Pirpur Committee report accused Congress ministries of religious interference, language suppression, and economic oppression of Muslims.
  • Realization of Challenges: Congress realized the challenges of governance and the high expectations of the populace, leading to the recognition that fulfilling all expectations simultaneously was not feasible.

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