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.
Lord Chelmsford was the viceroy by the end of the war and Lord Montague was the secretary of State for India. After some discussions, the two presented their package of reforms. This report was significant as it was the first time that an official British document mentioned the possibility of self-rule by the Indians in all internal matters.
(i) Provincial Government—Introduction of Dyarchy:
(i) Dyarchy, i.e., rule of two—executive councillors and popular ministers—was introduced. The governor was to be the executive head in the province.
(ii) Subjects were divided into two lists: “reserved” which included subjects such as law and order, finance, land revenue, irrigation, etc., and “transferred” subjects such as education, health, local government, industry, agriculture, excise, etc.
The “reserved” subjects were to be administered by the governor through his executive council of bureaucrats, and the “transferred” subjects were to be administered by ministers nominated from among the elected members of the legislative council.
(iii) The ministers were to be responsible to the legislature and had to resign if a no-confidence motion was passed against them by the legislature, while the executive councilors were not to be responsible to the legislature.
(iv) In case of failure of constitutional machinery in the province the governor could take over the administration of “transferred” subjects also.
(v) The secretary of state and the governor-general could interfere in respect of “reserved” subjects while in respect of the “transferred” subjects; the scope for their interference was restricted.
(i) Provincial Legislative Councils were further expanded—70% of the members were to be elected.
(ii) The system of communal and class electorates was further consolidated.
(iii) Women were also given the right to vote.
(iv) The Legislative Councils could initiate legislation but the governor’s assent was required. The governor could veto bills and issue ordinances.
(v) The Legislative Councils could reject the budget but the governor could restore it, if necessary.
(vi) The legislators enjoyed freedom of speech.
(ii) Central Government—Still Without Responsible Government:
(i) The governor-general was to be the chief executive authority.
(ii) There were to be two lists for administration—central and provincial.
(iii) In the viceroy’s executive council of 8, three were to be Indians.
(iv) The governor-general retained full control over the “reserved” subjects in the provinces.
(v) The governor-general could restore cuts in grants, certify bills rejected by the Central Legislature and issue ordinances.
(i) A bicameral arrangement was introduced. The lower house or Central Legislative Assembly would consist of 144 members (41 nominated and 103 elected—52 General, 30 Muslims, 2 Sikhs, 20 Special) and the upper house or Council of State would have 60 members (26 nominated and 34 elected—20 General, 10 Muslims, 3 Europeans and 1 Sikh).
(ii) The Council of State had tenure of 5 years and had only male members, while the Central Legislative Assembly had tenure of 3 years.
(iii) The legislators could ask questions and supplementaries pass adjournment motions and vote a part of the budget, but 75% of the budget was still not votable.
(iv) Some Indians found their way into important committees including finance.
A storm broke out over the details of the plans. Muhammad Ali Jinnah resigned from the Imperial Legislative Council in protest. In the wake of the popular discontent, the Britis decided to ban some publications and public meetings. The Punjab, in particular, was especially active and it was in Amritsar that the Rowlatt Act was to have the most impact.