Indian History Notes on Lord Willingdon’s Life and Role in India

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Lord Willingdon

Freeman-Thomas, 1st Marquess of Willingdon was a British Liberal politician and administrator. He served as the Viceroy and Governor-General of India from 1931 to 1936. Additionally, Lord Willingdon held various viceregal positions across the British Empire, starting with the governorships of Bombay and Madras. Following his tenure in Canada till 1931, Willingdon was promptly appointed as Viceroy and Governor-General of India, succeeding Lord Irwin. He held this significant position until 1936 when he was succeeded by Lord Linlithgow

Lord Willingdon and Lady Willingdon

What Were the Events During Lord Willingdon’s Tenure? 

Furthermore, numerous significant events took place when Lord Willingdon was serving his tenure in India: 

The Second Round Table Conference in 1931

On the 7th of September, 1931, in England, the Second Round Table Conference convened, with Gandhi representing the Indian National Congress and Sarojini Naidu representing Indian women.

  • Throughout the conference, Gandhi emphasised the importance of nurturing an alliance between India and Britain as two equal nations. 
  • The government claimed that the INC did not articulate the entirety of India’s interests since other Indian communities opposed Gandhi’s viewpoints. 
  • Consequently, the communal issue remained unresolved.

Also Read: First Round Table Conference 

Restarting the Civil Disobedience Movement 

Upon Gandhi’s return from London, INC decided to revive the Civil Disobedience Movement. However, Gandhi was apprehended a week later, thus sparking protests across India. In addition, demonstrations included organising processions, burning foreign clothing and picketing liquor establishments.

  • The authorities responded harshly to the movement by declaring political parties and the INC unconstitutional. Moreover, party offices and assets were seized, and Gandhi’s ashrams came under police control. Within a few months, the movement was quelled, leading to its suspension and removal in May 1933.

Separate Communal Electorates under the Communal Award in 1932

The Communal Award was established on the 16th of August 1932, by British PM Ramsay MacDonald, who introduced a unique electoral system. 

  • Following the Second Round Table Conference, this system was expanded to include the Depressed Classes (now referred to as the Scheduled Caste) and other minority groups. 
  • In addition, Muslims had previously received their electorate through the Indian Councils Act of 1909.
  • Subsequently, this arrangement was broadened to encompass Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, and Europeans under the Government of India Act of 1919.

Also Read: Swadeshi Movement: Leaders, Timeline, History

Gandhi’s ‘Fast unto Death’ Broken by Poona Pact in 1932

The Poona Pact in 1932, marked an agreement among B. R. Ambedkar, Gandhi and leaders of higher caste Hindus regarding the reservation of electoral seats for marginalised classes in the British India assembly. 

  • The Pact was a resolution to Gandhi’s hunger strike in protest of British PM Ramsay MacDonald’s judgment to assign independent electorates for the oppressed classes in the election of members to provincial legislative assemblies in British India. 
  • Furthermore, Ambedkar signed on behalf of the oppressed classes, while Madan Mohan Malviya represented Hindus and Gandhi. 

The Third Round Table Conference in 1932 

In November 1932, London hosted the Third Round Table Conference that excluded the INC from participation, hence leading to their decision not to attend. The Labour Party in the United Kingdom also opted to stay away from the conference.

  • Merely 46 individuals participated in this gathering, where a college student named Chaudhary Rahmat Ali proposed the name “Pakistan” for the newly established Muslim ‘holy land’ carved out of India.
VT-AFM was the Viceroy of India's personal aircraft. The aircraft flew Lord Willingdon to Delhi in March of 1934.
VT-AFM Aircraft flew Lord Willingdon to Delhi, India in March 1934

The Government of India Act of 1935

Furthermore, in August 1935, the British Parliament sanctioned the Government of India Act, hence marking it as the lengthiest legislation ever passed by the British legislative body.

  • The primary objective of the act was to establish a federal framework for the entirety of India, comprising entities referred to as provinces and princely states. 
  • Additionally, the Act delineated three distinct lists categorising powers into federal, provincial, and concurrent domains.

Establishment of the Two Prominent Parties 

Two prominent parties were established during the tenure of Lord Willingdon they were as follows:

  1. In the year 1934, the Congress Socialist Party was founded by Acharya Narendra Dev, Jayaprakash Narayan, Rammanohar Lohia and Minoo Masani. The operations ceased in 1948.
  2. In 1936, Sahajanand Saraswati founded the All India Kisan Sabha which is the peasant organisation of the Communist Party of India.

Also Read: Who was Lord Dufferin?

The Separation of Burma from India in the year 1935

In 1935, the Government of Burma Act officially established Burma’s secession on the 1st of April 1937, marking the conclusion of 51 years under Indian provincial rule. 

  • The British in 1937 delineated Burma Province from British India and provided the colony with a fresh constitution, hence advocating for a fully elected assembly and allocating significant powers to the Burmese. 
  • However, this move became a source of contention, as certain Burmese perceived it as a tactic to sideline them from future Indian reforms. 

What did Lord Willingdon do for India?

Serving as the former governor of Bombay and later Madras, Willingdon found himself grappling with the aftermath of Gandhi’s preceding nationalist endeavours. 

  • The India Office counselled Lord Willingdon to engage only with Indian opinion groups willing to collaborate with the Raj. However, on the 4th of January 1932, Jawaharlal Nehru and the INC initiated the Civil Disobedience Movement.
  • In response, Lord Willingdon made a decisive move wherein he incarcerated Gandhi, along with all members of the Working Committee and Provincial Committees, and prohibited the establishment of INC youth organizations. 
  • This led to the imprisonment of 80,000 Indian activists. Consequently, with the majority of their leaders behind bars, protests became sporadic and disorganised, boycotts proved ineffective, underground youth groups increased without any significant impact, and a growing number of women actively participated in revolutionary demonstrations.


When did Lord Willingdon become the Viceroy of India?

Lord Willingdon became the Viceroy of India in the year 1931. His tenure lasted for 5 years till 1936. He succeeded Lord Irwin. 

Who replaced Lord Willingdon?

Lord Willingdon was replaced by Lord Linlithgow in the year 1936.

What were the events of Lord Willingdon?

During Lord Willingdon’s tenure, the events that took place were the Second Round Table Conference in 1931, the restart of the Civil Disobedience Movement, the announcement of the Communal Awards in the year 1932 under which separate communal electorates were set up, Gandhi’s fast that was broken by the Poona Pact of 1932, the launch of the Individual Civil Disobedience in the year 1933, the Third Round Table Conference of 1932, the establishment of the Congress Socialist Party by Acharya Narendra Dev and Jayaprakash Narayan in 1934, the Government of India Act of 1935, the separation of Burma from India in 1935 and the establishment of the All India Kisan Sabha in 1936. 

Other Viceroys of India

Lord CornwallisLord CurzonLord Lansdowne
Lord DalhousieLord AucklandLord Ellenborough
Lord AmherstLord MacaulayLord Lytton
Lord MountbattenLord Canning Lord Minto I
Lord WellesleyLord William BentinckLord Charles Metcalfe

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