During the World War Britain and her allies had said that they were fighting the war for the freedom of nations. Many Indian leaders believed that after the war was over, India would be given Swaraj. The British government however had no intention of conceding the demands of the Indian people. Changes were introduced in the administrative system as a result of the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms, called the Government of India Act, 1919.
1. It relaxed the central control over the provinces by demarcating and separating the central and provincial subjects. The central and provincial legislatures were authorised to make laws on their respective list of subjects. However, the structure of government continued to be centralised and unitary.
2. It further divided the provincial subjects into two parts—transferred and reserved. The transferred subjects were to be administered by the governor with the aid of ministers responsible to the legislative Council. The reserved subjects, on the other hand, were to be administered by the governor and his executive council without being responsible to the legislative Council. This dual scheme of governance was known as ‘dyarchy’—a term derived from the Greek word di-arche which means double rule. However, this experiment was largely unsuccessful.
3. It introduced, for the first time, bicameralism and direct elections in the country. Thus, the Indian Legislative Council was replaced by a bicameral legislature consisting of an Upper House (Council of State) and a Lower House (Legislative Assembly). The majority of members of both the Houses were chosen by direct election.
4. It required that the three of the six members of the Viceroy’s executive Council (other than the commander-in-chief) were to be Indian.
5. It extended the principle of communal representation by providing separate electorates for Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians and Europeans.
6. It granted franchise to a limited number of people on the basis of property, tax or education.
7. It created a new office of the High Commissioner for India in London and transferred to him some of the functions hitherto performed by the Secretary of State for India.
8. It provided for the establishment of a public service commission. Hence, a Central Public Service Commission was set up in 1926 for recruiting civil servants.
9. It separated, for the first time, provincial budgets from the Central budget and authorised the provincial legislatures to enact their budgets.
10. It provided for the appointment of a statutory commission to inquire into and report on its working after ten years of its coming into force.
The changes were nowhere near the Swaraj that the people had hoped to achieve at the end of the war. There was widespread discontent throughout the country. In the midst of this discontent, the government resorted to new measures of repression. In March 1919, the Rowlatt Act was passed which was based on the report of the Rowlatt commission. The assembly had opposed it.
Many leaders who were members of the assembly, resigned in protest. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, in his letter of resignation, said that a government that passes or sanctions such a law in times of peace forfeits its claims to be called a civilized government. The passing of this act aroused the indignation of the people. The new measures of repression were condemned as Black acts.
Gandhi, who had formed a Satyagraha sabha earlier, called for a country-wide protest. Throughout the country, 6 April 1919 was observed as a national humiliation day. There were demonstrators and Hartals all over the country. All business throughout the country came to a standstill. Such protests of a united people had never been witnessed at any time in India before. The government resorted to Brutal measures to put down the agitation and there were lathi-charges and firings at a number of places.