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  • Print publication year: 1997
  • Online publication date: October 2009

5 - On the edge of the abyss


It is a matter of supreme thankfulness that they have been warned in time; that their eyes have been opened to the deadly abyss that yawns before them.

Anonymous pamphlet, 1939

Federation becalmed

When six years of intense and often acrimonious political debate finally bore fruit, in mid-1935, with the passage of the Government of India Act, it seemed to many observers of the Indian scene that the hard work of constitution making was over, such tasks as still remained being merely matters of detail – of fine tuning an already completed machine. Of course those closer to the action – particularly the India Office officials responsible for drawing up the standard IOA which would specify what sections of the act would apply to states acceding to the federation – knew differently. Conscious of the technical complexity of the matters covered by the IOA, they were also keenly aware of the opportunities these presented for legalistic procrastination if (as seemed, on the basis of previous experience, highly likely) the princes, through their lawyers, decided to argue the toss. Nevertheless, even in official circles there was an air of cautious optimism, a sense that the biggest hurdles in the way of all-India federation had been surmounted. And this confidence was both mirrored and reinforced by the appointment in 1936 of the towering, 49-year-old marquess of Linlithgow to fill Willingdon's shoes as viceroy.