The “Satraps’ Scheme” for Government of India Reform

15th January, 1919


Sam Hoare, in January 1931, described the meaning of the term ‘responsible government’ in the context of the Westminster tradition (Bridge 1976):


 [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thirdly, a system under which the cabinet resigns, and usually dissolves, when the support of the House of Commons is withdrawn; fourthly, as the result of a dissolution, a general election is held in a small, thickly populated, politically alert country, with clear issue between two or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 India at the present moment.


Penderel Moon (Moon 1989 pp. 981-2), who worked in the Raj’s ICS and as the Revenue Minister of Bahawalpur State, and later as a senior official in independent India wrote -

 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 South Africa. Some former Anglo-Indian officials, including Sir William Duke who in 1914 had become a member of the Secretary of State's Council, joined this group, and it was Duke who first propounded dyarchy in writing. Another member of the group, Lionel Curtis, toured India in 1916-17 to air the suggestion, but did not meet a very favourable response. Montagu, however, was much taken by it and included Duke in the delegation that accompanied him to India; and Chelmsford, having once been won over to the idea, supported it firmly. Dyarchy would, however, introduce needless complications and be difficult to work. It was an easy target for criticism by those who did not want there to be any political reforms at all and was described as 'a spider's web spun out of the brain of a doctrinaire pedant'. Nearly all the Provincial Governors were opposed to it, Willingdon in particular objecting to the 'rotten dyarchy idea'. These dissenting Provincial Governors put forward simpler, more straightforward proposals of their own under which Provincial Governments would remain, as before, unitary. The Governor's Executive Councils would be composed of an equal number of official and non-official members, the latter chosen from the elected members of the Provincial Legislative Councils, and would act together as undivided governments, influenced by the Legislative Councils, but not at their mercy, as Governors would be empowered to restore budgetary provisions cut by them, to veto bills and to legislate, if necessary, by Ordinance. These sensible proposals, slightingly referred to by Montagu as 'the satraps' scheme', gave the Governors more reserve powers than the mere one-year veto on legislation suggested by the Congress and League at their Lucknow meeting, but otherwise approximated to their demands; and these, as a leading Congressman confessed to Meston, they did not expect to be accepted in full. But the `satraps' scheme' was turned down and dyarchy preferred, largely on the absurd doctrinaire ground that Indian Ministers must be made wholly responsible in certain fields, as otherwise they would never learn responsibility!

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 Bombay thought it better to build on the existing system, with a unitary executive, including members of the legislature, and the governor free to allocate portfolios at his discretion, to overrule his council, and to reinstate estimates reduced by the legislature. Butler took a similar view, dismissing the argument that a unitary executive would mean eventually a leap to responsible government over the whole field, by saying that this assumed the adoption of a parliamentary system. Only the Governments of Bengal and Bihar and Orissa were ready to accept dyarchy, and that not on the merits but because the joint report had aroused excessive expectations.[1]

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 Britain when they came to be published. So was the shift of the Congress party to shriller language and wider demands as they lost hope of unity. In London, Holderness thought dyarchy 'a specious scheme of journalist origin',[2] and Meston feared the weak position in which the executives would be placed in their legislatures, both in the provinces and at the centre.[3] Montagu demonstrated his dismay by charging the civil service with enmity.[4]

 Chelmsford, having committed himself to dyarchy, was now robustly convinced of its rightness; and he was determined in his calm, uncomplicated way to drive it through. He held a meeting of heads of provinces at Delhi in the middle of January and warned them that, if they preferred some different scheme, they should now agree on one and develop it in detail. His aim was to extract a specific proposal which he could attack.[5] Butler, with O'Dwyer, Craddock, Robertson and Beatson Bell from Assam, thereupon criticised dyarchy as going further than the announcement of 1917 required or the facts justified; and as putting excessive emphasis on 'the idea of responsibility' and on constitutional theory, at the expense of the `cooperation and association' on which the announcement had placed equal weight, and which by `a natural growth' would provide a better bridge to popular government. They proposed executive councils which would be half official and half drawn from the legislature. There would be no division of subjects and governors would be free to allocate portfolios as they wished. All would be responsible ultimately to the Secretary of State, but all would be responsive in practice to the legislature. The governor would be able to overrule his executive council, restore grants reduced by the legislature and certify essential bills.[6] Ronaldshay and Gait dissented on the grounds that this scheme would be regarded by Indians as a breach of faith and that in practice it would concede to the legislatures more power than was intended.[7] Lloyd, who could not be present, merely urged that delay was a greater danger than an imperfect scheme.[8]

 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 for India's progress to self-government otherwise than down the path of the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy.

 Chelmsford welcomed the clean conflict thus presented. It closed the ranks of his executive council who sent home a powerful defence of the dual system. They dismissed the satraps' plan on the ground that the unitary nature of their executive would be illusory, as some members of it would owe allegiance to the Secretary of State and others to the legislature. This would be a 'forced and artificial' coalition, the two sides of which would be in conflict over the whole range of their duties: it would lead to impasse and 'reduce the executive to impotence'.[9] The Viceroy added a personal note, accepting the difficulties about dyarchy, but arguing that it was the only means of fixing responsibility for particular decisions on Indians and of gradually increasing the range of their responsibilities. In a unitary government an increase in the Indian element in the executive would give them full control at a jump. Frequent use by a governor of his powers to certify legislation and supply would reduce his legislature to a body of irresponsible critics, while failure to use these powers would leave an irremovable executive facing an irresponsible but supreme legislature.[10]

 Montagu had visions of Congress and his right-wing enemies in Britain joining forces on the basis of the satraps' plan; and, in the hope of disarming opposition, he first played with ill-formulated devices to camouflage dyarchy to look like unitary government.[11] This led Round-Tablers to complain lest dyarchy be masked.[12] He was also worried that the Government of India might whittle down his scheme.[13] But Chelmsford took the broader view that its critical examination would do more to support its main principles than a mere show of outward agreement;[14] and he advised, as had Chamberlain,[15]  that some spars might have to go to save the hull[16]. His government’s despatch thus gave a cautious tilt to the proposals and immensely strengthened Montagu's position,[17] as it set against the satraps a considered defence of dyarchy by other experts on Indian administration, and denied his critics a split between him and the Government of India.



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.

Majority Scheme

  " 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.


6. Legislation

 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.

7. Supply

 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.


9. General

 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.


[1] Letters from provincial govnts attached to the G/I's despatch of 5 March 1919, Cd.

[2] Holderness' letter to Butler, 14 Dec. 1918, B45

[3] Meston's memo for S/S, Io Sept. 1918, AS

[4] S/S's ptel to VR, 17 Dec. 1918, C9.

[5] VR's letter to S/S, is Jan. 1919, Cs & M3.

[6] Joint minute of 15 Jan. 1919, J&P(R) 143/19

[7] Minute by Ronaldshay and Gait, 16 Jan. 1919, J &P(R) 143/19.

[8] Lloyd's note of 28 Feb. 1919, C22.

[9] G/I's Reforms despatch to S/S, 5 March 1919, para 21, Cd 123.

[10] VR's note attached to G/I's despatch, 5 March 1919, Cd 123; also enclosed in VR's letter to S/S, 26 Feb. 1919, C5 and M8

[11] S/S ptels to VR Nos 89, 435 and 554, it Jan., 22 Feb. and 6 March 1919, C10.

[12] S/S's letters to VR, 22 Jan. and 4 Feb. 1919, C5 and M3.

[13] S/S's ptel to VR No 385, is Feb. 1919, 10

[14] VR's ptel to S/S No 171, 13 Feb. 1919, C10

[15] Chamberlain's letter to VR, 8 Nov. 1918, C15

[16] VR's letter to S/S, 29 Jan. 1919, C5 and M8.

[17] S/S's letter to VR, 31 March 1919, C5 and M3