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Dilemmas in Imperial Policy Making


Salil Misra


By Michael Fenwick Macnamara
2015, Sage Publications, New Delhi, Thousand Oaks, London, and Singapore, 2015, pp. xxiii 250,, Rs. 895.00

VOLUME XL NUMBER 10 October 2016

All modern, alien, imperial governments have faced a serious dilemma during their life: how to hold on to their rule and at the same time expand the rule to involve the local people into administration and governance. The British imperialism in addition faced another dilemma: how to maintain imperial rule and the liberal democratic reputation at the same time? The book under review argues that the Government of India Act of 1919 (popularly known as the Mantagu-Chelmsford Reforms) was one attempt to handle this dilemma. It starts with the premise that the Act of 1919 was extremely crucial for the formulation of the British policy for the subsequent period. The Act altered the profile of the imperial support system and cast its spell on the policy initiatives taken subsequently. In particular the Act did two things. One, it released and diffused some power to various segments of the Indian population (rural interests, landlords, constitutionalists). In so doing, it created a legislative body consisting largely of Indians, that would be pitched against the Executive, largely British. Irwin explained the new potential conflict in the following words: ‘…we have created a predominantly popular legislature, subject to all the temptations of democratic bodies, and set it to work with an executive not drawn from the ranks of its elected members, which it has very partial powers to control, and no power to remove. The legislature drifts naturally to irresponsible courses; while the executive, equally inevitably, is tempted to disregard a legislature, which it can always in the last resort override’ (p. 73). The Act thus set in motion new channels of conflict which were played out in a variety of ways in subsequent decades. Two, the Act initiated a provincialization of politics, which brought in Governors as an extremely important element in the imperial policy making. Along with the Viceroy and the Secretary of State, the Governors emerged as the third major arm in decision making. Their advice was constantly sought by Irwin and they gave it freely and independently. The book under review is the story of the role of Governors in important policy decisions during the Viceroyalty of Irwin (1926–31). The period 1926–31, witnessed the arrival of the Simon Commission, the declaration of complete Independence by Congress, the no-tax campaign in Bardoli, starting of the Civil Disobedience Movement (1930–34) with Dandi March by Gandhi and finally the Gandhi-Irwin Pact of 1931. These were all important political developments and ...


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