Indian Councils Act 1909 was a step forward towards representative form of government but the British imperialist power ensured that the natives fought with each other so that their attention remained diverted. But national movement in the country had made the people much conscious. Soon after the passing of the Act there was clamour for more reforms.
In 1914, First World War broke out in which Britain demanded India’s co-operation in men, money and materials against the Nazis to enable them to come out victorious. India extended the maximum co-operation and even Gandhiji gave a call to Indians to support Britain in war efforts.
All along Britain had promised that soon the war was over India will be given another dose of constitutional reforms. Even the diehards in Britain accepted that in British victory in war India’s contribution was of great significance.
But after the war was over Indians got Jallianwala Bagh tragedy which shook the whole civilised world and Montford Reforms or what is commonly known as dyarchy or system of double government which was far below the expectations of the people of India, who strongly felt that their sacrifices had not been appreciated by foreign government.
British government perhaps would not have thought of giving another dose of reforms to the people of India had it not been compelled to do so. Though the people of India were clamouring for Purna Swaraja since 1906, but what they got was Morley-Minto Reforms, which was already being resented by the people of India.
Even the Moderates in India accepted that reforms scheme introduced in 1909 was hollow and contained nothing which could satisfy the people of India. Hollowness of the reforms was accepted subsequently by the authors of Constitutional Reforms Committee. In fact, the people of India were getting impatient to get more constitutional reforms at the earliest.
For quite a long time Moderates were controlling Indian political scene. But as the time passed the people got dissatisfied both by their method of struggle and also for their achievements. The power, therefore, slipped in the hands of the extremists in Indian National Congress and revolutionaries outside it.
There was cult of bombs which showed that the people were not prepared to tolerate the Britishers in India. In turn the government passed such Acts as The Indian Press Act, 1910; The Seditious Meetings Act, 1911, and Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1912. All these measures were highly resented by the people of India.
There was also great resentment among Indians because British government had taken no immediate steps to remove their grievances. Several commissions which were set up in England to enquire into the conditions of Indians moved slowly and thus made the people doubt the intentions of the government.
Indians continued to be ill-treated both at home and abroad. Several discriminatory laws were passed by the government to humiliate them. They continued to be denied senior and superior posts both in civil and army administration. In their own country Indians were treated as second rate citizens. In fact, as the time passed with that grievances went on increasing rather than decreasing.
It was also a time when a change came in the attitude of Indian Muslims. Under the Act of 1909 the Muslims had been given reservations and thus efforts had been made to make the two major Indian communities fight with each other.
But in 1911 partition of Bengal was reversed which greatly annoyed Indian Muslims. In Europe, Britain followed policy of weakening Turkey and thus an impression left on the minds of the Muslims gained that Britain was following anti-Muslim policy.
In 1912, Muslim League passed a resolution by which it decided to co-operate with other Indian communities for getting self-government. In 1910, Congress League Pact was signed which was of great significance.
In the words of G.N. Singh, “Unity of action was thus secured between the two great communities of India and between two great political organisations, which between them, especially after the Moderate Extremist reunion in 1916 represented the whole of the politically conscious British India.”
Then came First World War. Mahatma Gandhi appealed to the people of India to come forward to the help of British government at this difficult time. The war had awakened the people of India. The Britishers had fought war with the assurance that victory will enable small and subjugated nations to change their destiny and that they will be given right of self-determination.
This had aroused many hopes among Indians. Moreover during the course of war they came in contact with soldiers from France, the USA, England and many other countries and found them burning with patriotism They saw with their own eyes that for them love of their country was above everything else.
Accordingly a feeling arose among Indians also that if they could sacrifice their life and property for the sake of defending freedom of some other nation why could not they do for their own?
In addition, they also found that in spite of their best sacrifices they were being treated as second rate citizens. They were never given any responsible position of trust in the war. Their life was cheaper than that of a mule.
Thus, they really felt was that since they were a subjugated nation and had no right in governing’ themselves, therefore, they were being humiliated. They must win freedom if they were to lead a life of honour and respect.
Then during the course of war services of Indian soldiers were much appreciated. They received several top medals for making supreme sacrifices. This removed their inferiority complex and they felt that in no way they were inferior to any other nation on the war front.
During the war interests of Indian commercial class had been completely sacrificed. Thus, British government completely antagonised them as well.
After the war was over no immediate steps were taken for the reconstruction and stability of Indian economy and the masses suffered untold miseries which resulted in the loss of sympathies of the people for the foreign government.
Indians has all along been crying that British government of India should define in very clear terms its goal of stay in India. This was, however, evaded very tactfully every time. In 1916, Lokmanya Tilak and Mrs. Annie Besant started Home League Movement. The whole movement awakened the people and brought new vigour among the masses.
Towards new system in India Mesopotamian Muddle also played its own part. The outcome of whole muddle was that weakness of British government in India was very much exposed.
Above all these, it was being increasingly felt that the Government of India was too inelastic, and too iron, to suit modern times. Even Lord Montague favoured the idea of transferring of partial control to Indians.
He once remarked that, “If you want to use the loyalty of Indian people you must give them that higher opportunity of controlling their own destinies not merely by Councils which cannot act, but by growing control of the executive itself.” He also pleaded with his government that unless that was done British government might even lose control over Indian Empire.
There was, therefore, a strong demand and desire on the part of Indians that they should be given an effective share and control in administrative, political and legislative spheres.
Accordingly 19 members of Imperial Legislative Council submitted a memorandum to the British government in which they demanded, among other things that in all Legislative Councils at least 50% members should be Indians and there should be substantial elected majority.
It was also demanded that franchise should be widened and minorities given proper representation in the legislatures. It was also proposed that all higher jobs should be given to Indians on the same basis on which these are offered to Europeans.
It was, therefore, becoming more or less impossible for the British government to resist the demand that British government in India should take the country towards a system which Indians themselves wanted to establish. The demand was for a system in which Indians had real representation and voice.
In order to win the sympathies of Indians in their war efforts, Montague made a declaration on 20th August, 1917 that policy of British government in India was that of increasing association of Indians in every branch of administration. But the government was the exclusive judge to decide about the time at which step towards advancement may be taken.
This statement was important in the sense that it underlined the policy of British government in India. It was implicit in the statement that someday India will get the right of self-government. In fact in constitutional development in India this declaration occupies a very significant place and position.
The usual procedure of appointing commissions was not adopted now and Lord Montague himself toured the whole of India to find for himself how far Indians were keen to have new system of government. He found the people quite keen to participate in legislative process.
In fact he tried his best to find out a formula by which he could satisfy Indians and also get the approval of House of Commons. He stayed in India for about 4½ months and met leaders of various shades of Indian public opinion.
On his return to England he declared that three cordinal principles of reforms were:
(a) The provinces are the domain in which the earlier steps towards the progressive realisation of responsible government should be taken.
(b) The Indian Legislative Council should be enlarged and made more representative and its opportunities of influencing government should be increased.
(c) The control of Parliament and the Secretary of State over the government of India and provincial governments must be relaxed.
These basic principles were accepted by the British government and the scheme was introduced in the House of Commons in June 1919 and the Bill became an Act on December 23, 1919. It was, however, in February 1921 that the provisions of the Act were actually enforced.
The Act of 1919 basically introduced dyarchy in the provinces. By the provisions of the Act provincial activities were divided into two parts. One part was called reserved part with which elected representatives of the people had nothing to do, whereas other part was called transferred part.
Subjects listed in this part were brought to some extent, under the control of the elected Ministers, though hold of the Governor over these subjects was in no way less tight.
But on the whole as Coupland says, “It crossed the line between legislative and executive authority. Now Indians were to govern so to speak, on their own. They were to take charge of great departments of provincial administration not as official nominees but as leaders of elected majorities in their legislatures and responsible to them.”
The Act was, however, introduced at a time when climate in the country had been considerably tense on account of Jallianwala Bagh tragedy at Amritsar in which thousands innocent Indians were massacred and Punjab had been placed under martial law.
The massacre had shocked the whole civilised world from its very foundations and the people of India completely lost faith both in words and sincerity of British people towards India. The horrors of the massacre were thus in the minds of Indians when the Act was introduced in the House of Commons.
The scheme, as introduced in 1919, had some novel features and relaxed the control of central government over the provinces. It also introduced a type of government in which provincial administration was divided into two halves, which was hitherto unknown to India. The hold of the Home Government was relaxed to some extent on the one hand and that of the central government over the provinces on the other.
It was for the first time that central and state subjects were separated from each-other and for administrative, financial and legislative purposes these were specifically enumerated. In the provinces dyarchy was introduced and to some extent democratic element was also introduced.
It was to be experimented whether India was fit for democracy or not. In the words of R.K. Bombwall the Act, ‘blazed a new trial’ and laid the foundation of Indian federalism, which has been called by Whyte as ‘federalism in embryo’. A sort of element of responsibility was introduced in Indian provinces.
It injected a dose of autonomy in Indian political system and created an appetite for more doses of autonomy in administration. To quote Bombwall again, “The Act reveals first major breach in the constitutional monolithism of a unitary system of government and shows the provinces throwing off a part of Centre’s tutelage.”