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The Raj and independence 1914-47

Massacre and non-violence

Indian nationalist feeling intensified in the years after World War I, stimulated first by the Amritsar Massacre, when on 13 April 1919, British troops fired into a crowd in an enclosed park in the city of Amritsar.

It continued with non-violent protest campaigns against British rule led by Mohandas K. Gandhi and other leaders of the Indian National Congress.

The British Parliament's answer to this growing nationalism - conceding self-government bit by bit - usually came too little and too late.

Government of India Acts

The Government of India Act of December 1919 set up an extremely complicated system of power-sharing between British officials and a limited number of elected Indians in both the central and provincial legislative councils.
Its successor, the Government of India Act of 1935, with 450 clauses and 15 separate schedules, is one of the longest and most complicated laws passed by Parliament. The hundreds of pages devoted to it in Hansard suggest it was also one of the most controversial.

It increased the numbers who could vote and introduced fully-elected provincial legislatures, who could appoint their own governments. In 1937 the Indian National Congress formed ministries in seven of the eleven provinces.


At the end of World War II, the incoming Labour government decided to grant full independence  to India, and negotiated with representatives from the two main political parties, the Hindu-dominated Congress Party and the Muslim League.

These parties were bitterly divided and the latter demanded a Muslim homeland, to be called Pakistan, made up of the provinces of the Raj with majority Muslim populations.


Viceroy Mountbatten's unilateral declaration that India would become independent on 15 August 1947 forced Parliament to rush through its Indian Independence Act, which received Royal Assent on 18th July 1947.

India and Pakistan became independent, self-governing states, although they both still had a governor-general as representative of the British monarch. Both later became republics and members of the Commonwealth.

Did you know?

Did you know?

In January 1946 Parliament sent a delegation to India to meet leading politicians. One member was the Labour MP Reginald Sorensen whose many photographs recording his trip can be seen in the Parliamentary Archives.