The “Satraps’ Scheme” for Government
Sam Hoare, in January
1931, described the meaning of the term ‘responsible government’ in the context
[L]et me remind the Committee of what we
British mean when we speak of responsible government. We mean, firstly,
government by a unitary Cabinet fully responsible to Parliament; secondly, a
Cabinet, usually dependent upon one party, and always dependent upon a majority
of elected representatives in the House of Commons; thirdly, a system under
which the cabinet resigns, and usually dissolves, when the support of the House
of Commons is withdrawn; fourthly, as the result of a dissolution, a general
election is held in a small, thickly populated, politically alert country, with
clear issue between two or three party programmes,
and a homogeneous electorate in touch with the candidates. It seems to me that
without these conditions there is a grave risk to the stability of government.
Unfortunately none of these conditions appear to exist in
Penderel Moon (Moon
1989 pp. 981-2), who worked in the Raj’s ICS and as the Revenue Minister of
The most controversial recommendation was for
the introduction in the Provinces of a dual form of government, or dyarchy, as
it came to be called. Certain subjects, e.g. agriculture, education, health and
local government, were to be 'transferred' to the Governor acting with Indian
Ministers chosen from and responsible to a Provincial Legislative Council with
an elected majority. Other subjects, such as law and order and revenue, were to
be 'reserved' to the Governor and his nominated Executive Council responsible
to the Secretary of State. The idea
of dyarchy originated in England among members of the Round Table group,
many of whom had played a part in bringing about the union of
Quoted from Rumbold 1979 pp. 154-157
During these disorders,
progress continued towards legislation on the constitution. By the end of 1918
Montagu received the lengthy comments of provincial governments on his scheme.
None questioned the statement of August 1917, but all were critical of the
proposed dual system of administration. The burden of their attack was that its
complicated theory did not fit reality. Indian politicians were not ready for
an unshared responsibility and did not desire it: there was no need to try to
fix it on their shoulders. Nor would the attempt achieve its purpose, because
the people could not distinguish between different branches of the sirkar and the British would be blamed for the errors of
ministers. It would be impossible to divide the functions of government; unity
of financial control, which was essential, in itself made a division
impracticable; and when this was realised there would be disillusion. The
system was a recipe for friction, and the burden on the governor in holding it
together would be too great. A scheme which pre-supposed for its continued
existence the perpetual exercise of mutual goodwill and forbearance would be
destined for a short life. Nor indeed would there be goodwill: Indian
politicians would be glad to squeeze out British officials and it was a mistake
to pretend, as did the joint report, that they would not rapidly disappear.
Such power as was transferred would rest with an oligarchy, who would use it
against the interests of the masses: new racial and sectarian cleavages would
emerge. Willingdon's government in
Many of these
criticisms proved in the event well-founded. The weight of experience behind
them, were likely to strengthen the opposition to Montagu in
What Montagu called `the satraps' scheme'
conflicted with the niceties of the currently accepted constitutional doctrine
as expounded by Curtis. It would not have imposed on Indians the undivided
`responsibility' within a limited field which Chamberlain had pressed for in
1917 and which formed the basis of the Montford
report. But, in its lack of complication, its association of British officials
and Indians in executive councils on a level basis, and its flexible reliance
on the power of governors to overrule their councillors
and to act independently of their legislatures when need arose, it had
practical merits and might have worked well. It would have left the door open
Montagu had visions of Congress and his
right-wing enemies in
Quoted from INDIA AS I KNEW IT (O’Dwyer 1925) pp. 382-386
Lord Chelmsford addressed us, setting out the points in favour of the Montagu-Chelmsford Scheme, criticising the objections we had put forward, and for the first time gave us an opportunity of putting forward an alternative scheme, "in some detail, so that I and my colleagues may have the same chance of judging it as the critics of the Report have had of judging the proposals of the Secretary of State and myself."
We at once set to work, and in twenty-four hours produced what is known as the Majority Scheme, dated 15th January, 1919, to which the signatories are:
M. F. O'DWYER (Lieutenant-Governor, Punjab)
HARCOURT BUTLER (Lieutenant-Governor, United Provinces).
REGINALD CRADDOCK (Lieutenant-Governor, Burma).
B. ROBERTSON (Chief Commissioner, Central Provinces).
N. D. BEATSON BELL (Chief Commissioner, Assam).
The Majority Scheme is printed among the parliamentary papers. But in view of its importance as expressing the views, however hurriedly formulated, of men experienced in and responsible for the administration of over one hundred millions of people, of the scant consideration given to it by higher authority, by Parliament and the Press, both of which seem to have been generally unaware of its existence, and of the fact that the Montagu-Chelmsford Scheme, to which it was an alternative, has now admittedly broken down in certain Provinces and threatens to break down in the rest, it seems advisable to quote from it at some length.
" Para. 2. We desire to make it clear beyond any misunderstanding, that we are in entire accord with the statement made by His Majesty's Government on 20th August, 1917. We desire to give effect to it by a progressive scheme of a liberal character based on a policy of trust and co-operation. We desire to avoid future friction by framing a scheme on broad and simple lines which will require only a few checks and those based, so far as possible, on existing practice and accepted principle.
But we are deeply impressed by the weight of adverse criticism of what is known as the Scheme of Dualism (Diarchy) in the Report. There is a strong preponderance of local governments against the scheme. The position has been summarised as follows :
‘Bengal and Bihar and Orissa treat the main question as closed to discussion, but the former is dubious and the latter guarded in its opinion. Madras is in favour of instituting sub-provinces, but otherwise would fall in with the majority opinion. All other local governments have declared against a dualised executive (Diarchy) and wish to maintain the unity of the administration.'
There is great division of opinion among Indians in regard to it. We are also impressed by the misgivings that exist in the services generally, British and Indian, as to their position and prospects under a dual form of government. The scheme exposes a large surface to legislative, administrative, and financial friction. It has all the elements which make for division at a time when there is most need for co-operation and association.
3. The proposals of the Report appear to us to have gone much further than the terms of the announcement required, but they have raised expectations which may render it necessary to make a greater immediate advance in the direction of the goal than the facts which face us justify. . . . The idea of association (of Indians in the administration) has been overshadowed and obscured by the idea of responsibility. . . . The Report begins by dividing (the Government) in order to get responsibility and ends by uniting in order to get association. We are also firmly of opinion that it is clearly advisable, as far as possible, to build on existing foundations, and to have a Scheme which, while giving effect to the announcement will fit in with an administrative system which has its roots in centuries of Indian (Oriental ?) rule. We believe that it is only by close association between officials and non-officials that we can bridge over the gulf that separates the present form of administration from popular government. We respectfully deprecate the sacrifice of practical experience to constitutional theory.
In the Report, responsibility is defined as consisting primarily in amenability to constituents, and in the second place in amenability to an (elected) assembly. We need scarcely argue that in the absence of an electorate capable of enforcing a mandate, these conditions do not exist. In the words of the Bengal Government, ' responsibility can scarcely be derived from an irresponsible source.' "
Having dwelt upon the doctrinaire and theoretical character of the Montagu—Chelmsford proposals we went on to set forth our alternative.
" 4. It is also evident that for some considerable period we shall be ignorant as to how the (new) electorate will act. The scheme in the Report in this respect is at present a leap in the dark. We content ourselves therefore with the outline of a scheme which is as close as possible to the Scheme published in the Report, but which eliminates those features of dual government that seem to us to imperil the success of its practical working in existing conditions.
5. Structure of the Provincial Executive. The Governor will have a Council of an equal number of official and nonofficial members, the latter being selected by him from the elected, or, in the Punjab, from the elected and nominated members of the Legislative Council. We would do away with the distinction between reserved and transferred subjects and it should be open to the Governor to give any portfolio to any Member of his Council, whether he be official or non-official. They (the non-official members of Council) would be ultimately responsible to the Secretary of State; but they would necessarily be influenced by the opinions of the Legislative Council. . . . They would be responsible to the electorate in the same way as the Ministers under the Report Scheme (so far as the term ‘responsibility' can apply) in that they would have to seek re-election at the end of the life of the Council. In this way a unitary government would be secured. The Government would further be kept in touch with the Legislative Council by Standing Committees and Under-Secretaries taken from the Council as in the report. We wish to see a substantial elected majority and we wish to give the Council very real powers in the matter of legislation and supply. . . .
We believe that this will be a more liberal system in practical working than the schemes of the joint report in that, in the words of the announcement, it will associate Indians with every branch of the administration. We would only reserve to the Governor his present power of over-riding his Executive Council.
We accept the powers of legislation proposed in the joint report, reserving to the Governor the right of veto. .. . It is part of our proposals that the existing powers of the Governor-General in regard to Ordinances and of the Governor-General in Council in regard to Regulations should be unimpaired.
We would allow the budget to be voted by the Legislative Council, reserving to the Governor-in-Council powers of restoring the original budget provision on occasions covered by S. 50 of the Government of India Act (i.e. so far as essential for the security of the State). In regard to financial procedure, we desire to follow as nearly as possible the practice of the House of Commons.
We recommend that our scheme may be adopted only for a period of years, in the course of which experience will be gained on the many points of which we are necessarily in ignorance at present. The advantages of the scheme are that it is based on experience rather than on theory, that it will associate Indians with the Government more effectively than will the schemes of the Report, that it will avoid the admitted dangers of dual government and the inevitable friction between the official and non-official elements of government and foster a spirit of harmonious co-operation, that it rests on a system understood by the people, that it is capable of expansion in the light of experience subject to the realisation of the conditions of progress (that Indian politicians should show a spirit of co-operation and a sense of responsibility in exercising the new powers conferred on them) set forth in the announcement of 20th August, 1917.
10. His Excellency has asked us to supply the following tests to our proposals:
Firstly. Will it be possible under it to affix responsibility to Indians with regard to any particular question of policy?
As regards individual responsibility in the Executive Council, our answer is in the negative, also that the announcement does not require it, nor does the scheme of the report secure it; but the responsibility of the individual in the legislative Council will be manifest from the proceedings.
Secondly. Does it provide machinery by which a greater area of responsibility can later be transferred?
Our answer is that . . . the machinery can be adjusted to meet developments,
(a) by increasing the number of subjects in non-official members' portfolios.
(b) by decreasing resort to the use of the powers of the Governor in regard to certification and of the Governor-in-Council in regard to the budget.
(c) by giving more effect to resolutions and the advice of non-official members in matters of policy.
(d) by increasing the number of Councillors chosen from the elected members of the Legislative Council.
Lastly. Does it lead up gradually to a stage under which full responsibility can be attained by Indians in the provincial sphere?
The answer is in the affirmative.
10. We conclude by re-stating our general position. Except in the matter of control by the Legislative Council over supply of ‘transferred' subjects . . . we consider that our scheme is at least as liberal and progressive as that of the report. It does not comply with the test of responsibility as defined in the report; but, as pointed out by more than one local Government, that is a narrow definition, the cardinal conditions of which (a competent electorate) are non-existent at the present time and cannot be created for some time to come. The definition also overlooked the necessity, proclaimed in the announcement, of the principle of association and co-operation. WE MAINTAIN CONFIDENTLY that in any case our scheme is a substantial step towards realising the policy of the announcement, and pays due regard to the conditions of progress laid down in it."
The above proposals emanated from the Heads of five of the nine major Provinces and had the general support of two more….
At all events, in their famous Reforms Dispatch of 5th March, 1919, to the Secretary of State, they adhered in substance to the Montagu-Chelmsford report—including the dual government—and rejected our proposals in the following words :
" Our judgment on the Majority Minute may therefore be summed up by saying that we regard it in the first place as failing to lay any measure of definite responsibility for any act of government upon the representatives of the electorate ; we therefore hold that it does not comply with the policy upon which the Home Government have decided. In the second place, it fails to fulfil what the authors themselves present as the paramount requirement of an undivided government, a unity which can, to our thinking, be secured only by a common allegiance and a common policy. In the third place, it affords no prospect of successful working without giving rise to such conflict and bitterness of feeling as may produce a deadlock ; and in the fourth place the scheme cannot progress in any direction except by one leap into full responsible government."
This dispatch is signed by the members of the then Government of India.
It would not have been difficult for us to demolish the rather doctrinaire arguments which they used to override our practical experience. But the opportunity was never given. We went back to our provinces…. The Majority Scheme of local governments appears to have been completely overlooked.
Letters from provincial govnts attached to the G/I's despatch of
 Meston's memo for S/S, Io Sept. 1918, AS
S/S's ptel to VR,
 VR's letter to S/S, is Jan. 1919, Cs & M3.
Joint minute of
Minute by Ronaldshay and Gait,
Lloyd's note of
G/I's Reforms despatch to S/S,
 VR's note attached to G/I's despatch,
S/S ptels to VR Nos 89, 435 and 554,
it Jan., 22 Feb. and
S/S's letters to VR, 22 Jan. and
 S/S's ptel to VR No 385, is Feb. 1919, 10
VR's ptel to S/S No 171,
Chamberlain's letter to VR,
VR's letter to S/S,
S/S's letter to VR,