Montague’s Statement—August 1917

Edwin Samuel Montagu who was Secretary of State for India (1917-1922), made a declaration in August 1917 which defined the aim of Policies of British Empire in India. This declaration is also called August Declaration or Montague's Statement. Montague statement was the precursor to the Government of India Act, 1919 (Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms).

Background for Montague Statement

  • At the onset of World War I, the reassignment of most of the British army in India to Europe and Mesopotamia, had led the previous Viceroy, Lord Harding, to worry about the shifting of troops from India as revolutionary violence was an issue in India.
  • The declaration was in response of Nationalist activities like Home Rule League.
  • Large no of Revolutionaries were jailed under the provisions of the Defense of India Act. Montague statement was an effort in direction of the appeasement of Indian Nationalist.

Provisions of the Montague Statement

  • The increasing involvement of Indians in every branch of administration.
  • Montague statement proposed for gradual development of Self-governing institution considering the progressive realisation of responsible government in India.
  • The sole authority to judge the time and measure of each advancement towards self-government would be British Government and Govt of India and in this, they would be guided by the responsible Indian leaders.
  • The declaration focussed on limited self-government at first, it was the first such British proposal in a non-white colony for any form of representative government.

Nationalists response to the Montague's Statement

  • Moderate leaders welcomed the Montague's statement while Extremist leaders objected against it as no specific time frame was given and the Government alone was to decide the nature and the timing of advance towards a responsible government.
  • Further the Indians were unhappy that the British would decide what was good and what was bad for Indians.
  • Tilak mentioned the Montague declaration as unworthy and disappointing further called it a sunless dawn.
  • Annie Besant was also displeased with the Declaration and she said that Montague Declaration was something which was unworthy of England to offer and India to accept.
  • In November 1918, in a separate conference Moderates led by Surendranath Banerjee supported the Montague declaration. This event also became a reason for widening the divide between the Moderates and Extremists factions of the Congress.

Importance of Montague Statement

  • Through August declaration the right of India for self-Rule was accepted in paper.

Impact of Montague Statement

  • It led to decline of Home Rule League as the Nationalist leader were pacified to some extent with the provisions of Montague s Statement.
  • In September 1917 Montague visited India and discussed these proposals with the then Viceroy Lord Chelmsford and other influential Civil Servants. Later, Montague Statement became the basis for the Montague-Chelmsford Reform.

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