The British government, not prepared to part with or even share its power with the Indians, once again resorted to the policy of ‘carrot and stick’. The carrot was represented by the insubstantial Montagu- Chelmsford Reforms, while measures such as the Rowlatt Act represented the stick.
In 1918, Edwin Montagu, the Secretary of State, and Lord Chelmsford, the Viceroy, produced their scheme of constitutional reforms, known as the Montagu-Chelmsford (or Mont-Ford) Reforms, which led to the enactment of the Government of India Act of 1919.
- Provincial Government
- Introduction of Dyarchy.
- Provincial legislative councils were further expanded and 70 percent of the members were to be elected.
- The system of communal and class electorates was further consolidated.
- Central Government
- No responsible government was envisaged in the Act for the government at the all-India level.
- A bicameral arrangement was introduced.
- The governor-general was to be the chief executive authority.
- The Act clarified that there would be a gradual development of self-governing institution in India and not self-determination of the people of India.
The Government of India Act (1919) – Objective
The main goal of the Indian Representation Act was to ensure that Indians were represented in the government. The Act ushered in reforms at both the federal and provincial levels of government.
Government of India Act, 1919 – Other Salient Features
- This act provided for the first time, the establishment of a public service commission in India.
- The act also provided that after 10 years, a statutory commission would be set up to study the working of the government. This resulted in the Simon Commission of 1927.
- It also created the office of the High Commissioner for India in London.
Merits of the Government of India Act 1919
- Dyarchy introduced the concept of responsible government: i.e., the rule of two—executive councillors and popular ministers—was introduced. The governor was to be the executive head of the province.
- It introduced the concept of federal structure with a unitary bias.
- There was increased participation of Indians in the administration. They held some portfolios like labour, health, etc.
- For the first time, elections were known to the people and it created political consciousness among the people.
- Some Indian women also had the right to vote for the first time.
Limitations of the Government of India Act 1919
- This act extended consolidated and communal representation.
- The franchise was very limited. It did not extend to the common man.
- The governor-general and the governors had a lot of power to undermine the legislatures at the centre and the provinces respectively.
- Allocation of the seats for the central legislature was not based on population but the ‘importance’ of the province in the eyes of the British.
- The Rowlatt Acts were passed in 1919 which severely restricted press and movement. Despite the unanimous opposition of Indian members of the legislative council, those bills were passed. Several Indian members resigned in protest.
- Elected Indian ministers were given no real powers.
Reception in India
- The Congress met in a special session in August 1918 at Bombay under Hasan Imam’s presidency and declared the reforms to be “disappointing” and “unsatisfactory” and demanded effective self-government instead.
- The 1919 reforms did not satisfy political demands in India.
- Gandhi launched a nationwide protest against the Rowlatt Acts with the strongest level of protest in the Punjab.
The Government of India Act would go on to become the basis for the Government of India Act, 1935, and, ultimately, the Constitution.
The key principles of responsible government, self-governance and federal structure grew out of these reforms. Montagu-Chelmsford Report on Indian constitutional reforms is a watershed in India’s constitutional history.
The Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms or more briefly known as the Mont–Ford Reforms, were introduced by the colonial government to introduce self-governing institutions gradually in British India.
This declaration proposed the increased participation of Indians in the administration and the development of self-governing institutions in India.
The Government of India Act of 1919 is also known as Montagu- Chelmsford Reforms
Sir Lionel Curtis is known as the father of the Dyarchy. Dyarchy was a system of double government introduced by the Government of India Act (1919) for the provinces of British India.