GOVERNMENT OF INDIA ACT 1919: BACKGROUND, OBJECTIVES, PROVISIONS AND FAILURE
Government of India Act 1919 was introduced by the Britishers aftermath of the First World War so to counteract the process of thriving nationalism in India and activate the destructive forces of communalism. The present article attempts to analyze the background, objectives, provisions of the Indian Council Act 1909, and subsequently the reasons for its failure.
Background of Government of India Act 1919:
Since Indian Council Act 1909, the Indian nationalists were profoundly dismayed by the communal representation of Muslims in India because they believed it as a demarcation of communalism and separatism in India and also, the spirit of nationalism had slowed down or almost halted after the breakdown of INC and the imprisonment of Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1907. Amidst such political chaos, the First World War started which caused the slight weakening of Britishers’ political and economic grasp on India.
Now, the nationalists were constantly stressing for provincial autonomy in India and they were asked by the colonizers to support Britishers in the global war for the attainment of the same. Eventually, the Indian participation in the First World War brought victory in favour of Britishers but Indians were still left empty-handed even after such strong participation.
Later in 1919, the Montague-Chelmsford Report or Government of India Act,1919 or Montford Reforms were introduced in response to Montague Declaration that claimed to engage Hindus and Muslims into Indian administration.
Provisions of Government of India Act 1919:
The Government of India Act 1919 encapsulated the following provisions:
Introduction of Dyarchy System in Provinces: Under this enactment, the administrative subjects were split into the Central Subjects and Provincial Subjects. Central Subjects were kept under the supervision of the Central Legislative Government while the Provincial Subjects were slightly given to Provincial Legislative Council. Provincial Subjects involved Transferred Subjects i.e. issues supervised by Governor with the aid of Ministers and Reserved Subjects i.e. issues operated independently by Governor of Provincial Legislative Council. This administrative system of division of power is termed a Dyarchy System.
Introduction of Bicameralism in the Central Legislative Council: It introduced Bicameralism in Central Legislative Council. It proposed that the legislature should consist of Upper House called ‘Council of State‘ and Lower House called ‘Legislative Council‘ whose majority of members would be directly elected.
The act mandated that three of six members of the Viceroy’s Executive Council were to be Indians.
Extension of Communal Representation for Sikhs, Christians, Anglo-Indians etc.: The concept of communal representation was extended for other religions like Sikhs, Christian and Anglo-Indians etc.
The act provided Limited Franchise to People on basis of one’s tax payment, property and educational qualifications.
Creation of High Commissioner: The new office for High Commissioner was organized and he/she was given the extra functions that were so far performed by the Secretary of State.
Establishment of the Public Service Commission: Public Service Commission was established in London (in 1926) under this provision.
A Statutory Commission was to be appointed to inquire into and report on its working after ten years of its coming into force.
Failure of Government of India Act 1919
These provisions of this enactment agitated nationalists who were predicting provincial autonomy because the major administrative powers (like defence, finance etc.) still weren’t handed over to provinces.
In addition to this, the extension to the Defence of India Arms Act, 1915 or Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act or Rowlatt Act was announced in 1919 based on recommendations of the Rowaltt Commission (headed by Sir Sydney Rowaltt) that rendered the colonial government uncontrolled powers to crush the political and nationalist activities in India and allowed them to arrest people without judicial trial for two years on mere suspicion of a crime. The introduction of this act provoked outrage amongst Indians national leaders whose voices were blatantly neglected by the authorities in the Imperial Legislature. To demonstrate the opposition against the act, the elected Indian members like Mohammad Ali Jinnah, M.M. Malviya etc. resigned from their positions and Mahatma Gandhi launched ‘Rowaltt Satyagraha‘ which was followed by two major popular national movements between 1920 to 1922 i.e. Khilafat Movement and Non-Cooperation Movement.
The Statutory Commission that was expected to be appointed after ten years of the Government of India Act,1919 was constituted two years before, in 1927, under the leadership of Sir Simon to suggest constitutional reforms (Simon Commission). It arrived in India in 1928 and was widely criticized by Indians because it consisted of no Indian member. In brief, the Government of India Act 1919 was merely an illusion of reform and truly, a disaster.