Understanding dyarchy: Government of India Act, 1919, Impact on Distribution of Subjects, Effect on Working of the Councils and Adoption at the Federal Level.

Montagu Statement

“Association of Indians in every branch of the Administration and the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realisation of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire.” Edwin Montagu announced in the House of Commons on August 20th, 1917.More than any other single event, this announcement marked the beginning of the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms and the disintegration of the third British Empire. It stated that India may aspire to self-government in the same way that the white colonies of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa had done so in the past.

Montagu Chelmsford Report

The report made a series of recommendations to the British Parliament in 1918, which laid the theoretical groundwork for the Government of India Act of 1919. Long discussions between Lord Chelmsford, Viceroy of India and Edwin Samuel Montagu, Secretary of State for India, resulted in the report.Montagu stated in August that the goal would be to “increase Indian participation in all aspects of administration, with a view to the progressive realisation of responsible governance in India as an integral component of the empire.”Montagu soon after led a party to India during the winter of 1917–18, when he met with Chelmsford and discussed his plans. The report’s main recommendation was that some aspects of provincial governance be delegated to Indian ministers who would be accountable to an Indian electorate.

Government of India Act, 1919 (Montague-Chelmsford Reforms)

For the first time in August 1917, the British government stated that its goal was to progressively bring the responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire.

Provisions of the act:

  • Provincial Government—Introduction of Dyarchy:

    • Executive:
      • Dyarchy was founded, which is a two-person rule (executive councillors and popular ministers). The governor will serve as the province’s executive head
      • Education, health, local government, industry, agriculture, excise, and other subjects were divided into two categories: “reserved,” which included subjects like finance, irrigation, law and order, land revenue, and so on, and “transferred,” which included subjects like local government, health, education, excise, industry, agriculture, and so on
      • The “reserved” subjects were to be administered by the governor through his executive council of bureaucrats; ministers chosen from among the legislative council’s elected members were to administer the “transferred” subjects
      • The ministers were to report to the legislature and resign if the legislature voted a no-confidence motion against them, however, the executive councillors were not required to do so
      • If the province’s constitutional machinery fails, the governor may also assume control of “transferred” topics
      • In the case of “reserved” subjects, the governor-general and the secretary of state might intervene, but only to a limited extent in the case of “transferred” subjects
  • Legislature:

    • Provincial Legislative Councils were enlarged even more, with 70 percent of members to be elected
    • The class and communal electorate systems were further solidified
    • Women were also granted the power to vote
    • Legislation might be proposed by the Legislative Councils, but the governor’s approval was required. Bills and ordinances could be vetoed by the governor
    • The budget could be rejected by the Legislative Councils, but the governor could reinstate it if required
    • The legislators were allowed to speak freely
  • Central Government—Still Without Responsible Government:

    • Executive
      • The executive branch was to be led by the governor-general
      • For administration, there were to be two lists: central and regional
      • Three Indians were to be included in the viceroy’s executive council of eight
      • The governor-general had complete jurisdiction over the provinces’ “reserved” issues
      • Grant cuts might be restored, legislation that has been rejected by the Central Legislature may be certified. And ordinances could be issued by the governor-general
    • Legislature:

      • A bicameral system was implemented in the center. The lower body, known as the Central Legislative Assembly, would have 144 members (42 nominated and 103 elected—52 General, 30 Muslims, 2 Sikhs, and 20 Special), while the upper chamber, known as the Council of State, would have 60 members (20 General, 10 Muslims, 3 Europeans, and 1 Sikh)
      • The Council of State served for five years and solely comprised male members, whereas the Central Legislative Assembly served for three years
      • Legislators could raise questions and make supplemental motions, as well as approve motions for adjournment and vote on a portion of the budget, however, only 75% of the budget could be voted on
      • Some Indians were appointed to significant committees, notably the finance committee


The reforms have several flaws:

  • The number of franchises available was quite limited
  • The governor-general and his executive council were not subject to the jurisdiction of the legislature at the federal level
  • At the centre, the subject division was insufficient
  • The allocation of seats in the Central Legislature to provinces was based on the ‘importance’ of the provinces, such as the military importance of Punjab and the economic importance of Bombay
  • Division of subjects and parallel administration of two portions at the provincial level was illogical and thus impossible
  • Provincial ministers had little authority over budgets or bureaucrats, which resulted in frequent conflict between the two groups. In fact Ministers were not always consulted on key issues

On the domestic front (in the United Kingdom), the Government of India Act of 1919 made a significant change: the Secretary of State would now be paid from the British exchequer

  • Congress’ Reaction

Under Hasan Imam’s presidency, Congress met in a special session in Bombay in August 1918 and declared the reforms “disappointing” and “unsatisfactory,” instead of demanding effective self-government.

The Government of India Act (1919) established a system of dual government for British India’s provinces. It was the first time the democratic ideal was introduced into the British administration of India’s executive branch. Lord Chelmsford (Viceroy of India, 1916–21) and Edwin Samuel Montagu (Secretary of State for India, 1917–22) promoted dyarchy as a constitutional change.


The Dyarchy system of double government was defined as a separation of each provincial government’s executive branch into authoritarian and popularly accountable components. The first was made up of executive Councillors, who were again nominated by the crown. The second was made up of ministers chosen by the governor from among the provincial legislature’s elected members. The ministers that came after were Indians.

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