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The Montague-Chelmsford Reforms (1919)

Minto-Morley reforms, introduced in 1909, proved unsatisfactory for Indian people. Resultantly, Indians demanded more representation and called for greater self-government. This could not be achieved without a formal rapprochement between Congress and Muslim League. The Lucknow Pact of 1916 removed the sole hurdle in the attainment of self rule by which both, Congress and Muslim League set aside their mutual differences and showed considerable accommodation to each other’s’ claims.


Meanwhile, the World War I had started and Indians despite their grievances and discontentment with the British joined the war with over one million soldiers with the hope that after the war British would be obliged to concede to self rule in recognition of their loyal services. However, as the war dragged on, Indians became disillusioned as the British did not make any promises regarding self government. Thus Indians pressed for immediate reforms and it was felt that a civil disobedience movement might be launched jointly by congress and Muslim league to compel the British to accelerate the reforms.


In view of these circumstances the British felt that something must be done to pacify the Indians. At that time, Edwin Montague was the Secretary of State for India. In his famous August Declaration presented before the House of Commons on 20th August 1917, Montague said that in order to satisfy the local demands, his government was interested in giving more representation to the natives in India. Lord Chelmsford was sent to India as the new Governor General. He stayed for six months and held numerous meetings with different government and non-governmental people. Edwin Montague in collaboration with Lord Chelmsford collected data and made a report about constitutional reforms in 1918. The report was discussed in the House of Common and later it was approved by the parliament. The Bill was introduced in India in 1919 and became Act of 1919. This Act, commonly known as Montague-Chelmsford Reforms, introduced the following reforms:


  • The Council of the Secretary of State was to comprise of eight to twelve people. Three of them should be Indian, and at least half of them should have spent at least ten years in India.
  • The Central Legislature was to consist of two houses, Upper House (Council of the State), and the Lower House (Legislative Assembly). Council of the State was to consist of 60 members, out of them 35 members would be elected and rest of them would be nominated by the Governor General. The Legislative Assembly was to consist of 144 members, out of them 103 were to be elected and 41 to be nominated by the Governor General. The duration of the Upper House was five and of the Lower House was three years.
  • Powers were divided between the center and the provinces. The important subjects were vested with the center and unimportant remained with provinces. The important central subjects were defense, foreign affairs, custom, and relations with Indian states, currency and railway. On the contrary, unworthy provincial subjects were local self-government, public health, education etc.
  • The salary of the Secretary of State for Indian Affairs should be paid from British exchequer; previously, his salary was paid by Indian treasury.
  • The system of ‘Diarchy’ or a kind of double government in the Provinces was introduced. Provincial subjects were divided into two categories “Transferred and Reserved.” Transferred subjects which were public health, education, local self-government, and agriculture were under the control of Minister; likewise all transferred subjects were unimportant. Reserved subjects included administration, police, land revenue etc. which were under the control of Governor with the help of his secretaries. It was indirect control over transferred department by reserved department. Hence, Governor was the head of transferred and reserved subjects.


Indian Constitutional Act of 1919 was passed to satisfy Indian people. On the contrary, Indian people opposed it because the Act went against Congress-League pact thus resulting in the Hindu opposition. Muslims partly accepted the Montague-Chelmsford reforms with certain reservations and demands regarding the safety of Muslim states. Gandhi categorically rejected this scheme and congress denounced it as inadequate, unsatisfactory and disappointing. Besides these problems, the events like Rowlatt act, the Jallianwal Bagh tragedy and Khilafat movement further aggravated the situation and doomed the reforms to failure. Thus, there erupted violent communal riots and anti-British agitations become frequent creating a disdain for British rule and Montague Chelmsford also failed as the two vanguard parties rejected its reforms and considered them to be unsatisfactory. The only point of the reforms appreciated by the Indian was that after ten years, a commission was to assess the reforms and to bring further improvement in them.

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