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Montague-Chelmsford reforms

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Subject: Madras Presidency, Fundamental Rights, Directive Principles and Fundamental Duties of India, Surendranath Banerjee
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Montague-Chelmsford reforms

The Montague–Chelmsford Reforms or more briefly known as Mont-Ford Reforms were reforms introduced by the British Government in India to introduce self-governing institutions gradually to India. The reforms take their name from Edwin Samuel Montagu, the Secretary of State for India during the latter parts of World War I and Lord Chelmsford, Viceroy of India between 1916 and 1921. The reforms were outlined in the Montague-Chelmsford Report prepared in 1918 and formed the basis of the Government of India Act 1919. Indian nationalists considered that the reforms did not go far enough while British conservatives were critical of them.


Edwin Montague became Secretary of State for India in June 1917 after Austen Chamberlain resigned after the capture of Kut by the Turks in 1916 and the capture of an Indian army staged there. He put before the British Cabinet a proposed statement containing a phrase that he intended to work towards "the gradual development of free institutions in India with a view to ultimate self-government." Lord Curzon thought that this phrase gave too great an emphasis on working towards self-government and suggested an alternative phrase that the Government would work towards "increasing association of Indians in every branch of the administration and the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire." The Cabinet approved the statement with Curzon's phrase incorporated in place of Montagu's original phrase.

The report

In late 1917, Montague went to India to meet up with Lord Chelmsford, the Viceroy of India, to meet with leaders of Indian community to discuss the introduction of limited self-government to India and protecting the rights of minority communities

The Report went before Cabinet on 24 May and 7 June 1918 and was embodied in the Government of India Act of 1919. These reforms represented the maximum concessions the British were prepared to make at that time. The franchise was extended, and increased authority was given to central and provincial legislative councils, but the viceroy remained responsible only to London.

The changes at the provincial level were significant, as the provincial legislative councils contained a considerable majority of elected members. In a system called "dyarchy," the nation-building departments of government – agriculture, education, public works, and the like – were placed under ministers who were individually responsible to the legislature. The departments that made up the "steel frame" of British rule – finance, revenue, and home affairs – were retained by executive councillors who were nominated by the Governor. They were often, but not always, British and who were responsible to the governor.

In 1921 another change recommended by the report was carried out when elected local councils were set up in rural areas, and during the 1920s urban municipal corporations were made more democratic and "Indianized.

The main provisions were the following:
1. The secretary of state would control affairs relating to Government of India
2. The Central Legislature would comprise two chambers- The Council of State and the Indian Legislative Assembly
3. The Central Legislature was empowered to enact laws on any matter for whole of India.
4. The Governor General was given powers to summon, prorogue, dissolve the Chambers, and to promulgate Ordinances.
5. The number of Indians in Viceroy's Executive Council would be three out of eight members.
6. Establishment of unicameral Provincial Legislative councils.
7. Dyarchy in the Provinces-

  a. Reserved subjects like Finance, Law and Order,army,police etc.
  b. Transferred subjects like Public Health, Education, agriculture,local self government etc.

8. There would henceforth be direct election and an extension of Communal franchise. "

Reception in India

The 1919 reforms did not satisfy political demands in India. The British repressed opposition, and restrictions on the press and on movement were re-enacted in the Rowlatt Acts introduced in 1919. These measures were rammed through the Legislative Council with the unanimous opposition of the Indian members. Several members of the council including Jinnah resigned in protest. These measures were widely seen throughout India of the betrayal of strong support given by the population for the British war effort.

Gandhi launched a nationwide protest against the Rowlatt Acts with the strongest level of protest in the Punjab. An apparently unwitting example of violation of rules against the gathering of people led to the massacre at Jalianwala Bagh in Amritsar in April 1919. This tragedy galvanised such political leaders as Nehru and Gandhi and the masses who followed them to press for further action.

Montagu ordered an inquiry into the events at Amritsar by Lord Hunter. The Hunter Inquiry recommended that General Dyer, who commanded the troops, be dismissed, leading to Dyer's sacking. Many British citizens supported Dyer, whom they considered had not received fair treatment from the Hunter Inquiry. The conservative Morning Post newspaper collected a subscription of £26,000 for General Dyer and Sir Edward Carson moved a censure motion in Montagu which was nearly successful. Although Montagu was saved largely due to a strong speech in his defence by Winston Churchill, Lloyd George's secretary reported that some of the Tories could have assaulted him (Montagu) physically they were so angry.

The Amritsar massacre further inflamed Indian nationalist sentiment ending the initial response of reluctant co-operation. At the grass roots level, many young Indians wanted faster progress towards Indian independence and were disappointed by lack of advancement as Britons returned to their former positions in the administration. At the Indian National Congress annual session in September 1920, delegates supported Gandhi's proposal of swaraj or self-rule – preferably within the British empire or outside it if necessary. The proposal was to be implemented through a policy of non-cooperation with British rule meaning that Congress did not stand candidates in the first elections held under the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms in 1921.


The Montagu-Chelmsford report stated that there should be a review after 10 years. Sir John Simon headed the committee (Simon Commission) responsible for the review which recommended further constitutional change. Three round table conferences were held in London in 1930, 1931 and 1932 with representation of the major interests. Gandhi attended the 1931 round table after negotiations with the British Government. The major disagreement between Congress and the British was separate electorates for each community which Congress opposed but which were retained in Ramsay MacDonald's Communal Award. A new Government of India Act 1935 was passed continuing the move towards self-government first made in the Montagu-Chelmsford Report.

See also

Reference and further reading

  • Paul Johnson, A History of the Modern World: from 1917 to the 1990s Revised Edition, Weidenfeld and Nicolson London 1991
  • Merriam-Webster's Biographical Dictionary entry on Edwin Montagu, Merriam-Webster, 1995

Further Reference

  • Hutchinson's Encyclopaedia article on Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms
  • Montagu Millennium entry on Montagu-Chelmsford Report
  • Gandhian web site on Gandhi's response to the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms
  • Pakistan beginnings of self-government page
  • Sikh History on constitutional reforms
  • Article on the British Raj on George Orwell page
  • One Scholar’s Bibliography
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