On February 20, 1947, the British Prime Minister Clement Atlee declared that the British rule in India would end by June 30,1948; after which the power would be transferred to responsible Indian hands. This announcement was followed by the agitation by the Muslim League demanding partition of the country. Again on June 3, 1947, the British Government made it clear that any Constitution framed by the Constituent Assembly of India (formed in 1946) cannot apply to those parts of the country which were unwilling to accept it. On the same day (June 3, 1947), Lord Mountbatten, the viceroy of India, put forth the partition plan, known as the Mountbatten Plan. The plan was accepted by the Congress and the Muslim League. Immediate effect was given to the plan by enacting the Indian Independence Act (1947).
Features of the Act
- It ended the British rule in India and declared India as an independent and sovereign state from August 15,1947.
- It provided for the partition of India and creation of two independent dominions of India and Pakistan with the right to secede from the British Commonwealth.
- It abolished the office of viceroy and provided, for each dominion, a governor-general, who was to be appointed by the British King on the advice of the dominion cabinet. His Majesty’s Government in Britain was to have no responsibility with respect to the Government of India or Pakistan.
- It empowered the Constituent Assemblies of the two dominions to frame and adopt any constitution for their respective nations and to repeal any act of the British Parliament, including the Independence act itself.
- It empowered the Constituent Assemblies of both the dominions to legislate for their respective territories till the new constitutions were drafted and enforced. No Act of the British Parliament passed after August 15, 1947 was to extend to either of the new dominions unless it was extended thereto by a law of the legislature of the dominion.
- It abolished the office of the secretary of state for India and transferred his functions to the secretary of state for Commonwealth Affairs.
- It proclaimed the lapse of British paramountcy over the Indian princely states and treaty relations with tribal areas from August 15,1947.
- It granted freedom to the Indian princely states either to join the Dominion of India or Dominion of Pakistan or to remain independent.
- . It provided for the governance of each of the dominions and the provinces by the Government of India Act of 1935, till the new Constitutions were framed. The dominions were however authorised to make modifications in the Act.
- It deprived the British Monarch of his right to veto bills or ask for reservation of certain bills for his approval. But, this right was reserved for the Governor-General. The Governor-General would have full power to assent to any bill in the name of His Majesty.
- It designated the Governor-General of India and the provincial governors as constitutional (nominal) heads of the states. They were made to act on the advice of the respective council of ministers in all matters.
- It dropped the title of Emperor of India from the royal titles of the king of England.
- It discontinued the appointment to civil services and reservation of posts by the secretary of state for India. The members of the civil services appointed before August 15, 1947 would continue to enjoy all benefits that they were entitled to till that time.
At the stroke of midnight of 14–15 August, 1947, the British rule came to an end and power was transferred to the two new independent Dominions of India and Pakistan. Lord Mountbatten became the first governor-general of the new Dominion of India. He swore in Jawaharlal Nehru as the first prime minister of independent India. The Constituent Assembly of India formed in 1946 became the Parliament of the Indian Dominion.