Moderates in Legislature

Moderates in Legislature

This article deals with ‘ Moderates in Legislature – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Modern History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here


Legislative councils in India had no real power till 1920 , yet work done in them by nationalist leaders played important part in growth of national movement

Role of Legislative  Councils

1861 to 1892 After Mutiny of 1857 , government thought main reason for Revolt was Indian vies were not known to rulers &  decided to include them in councils . But didn’t serve the purpose because persons those were selected were Princes, big zamindars & merchants who didn’t represent common people
Although nationalists from beginning believed that India should eventually become self governing but till 1892 their demand was only limited to expansion & reform of Legislative councils because they were afraid of government declaring their activities as seditious
1892 Nationalists were totally dissatisfied with the Act of 1892
Saw it as mockery of their demands. Councils still impotent & despotism still ruled
Demanded Right to vote on Demand & raised slogan “No Taxation without Representation

Use of Legislatures by Nationalists

  • Lord Dufferin designed Act of 1892 in such a way that it enjoyed no real power & its members can make only worldly speeches & indulge in empty rhetorics.
  • But Indian leaders soon reformed impotent councils into forums for ventilating popular grievances, exposing the defects & shortcoming of bureaucracy & submitted the acts & policies of government to ruthless examination regarding their intention, methods & consequences

Most important Members who used Legislative Councils for National Awakening

1 . Pherozshah Mehta

  • Born in 1845 & was influenced by Dadabhai Naoroji when he was studying in London
  • Dominant figure of INC from 1890 to 1915 & exercised autocratic authority
  • Powerful debater + speeches marked by boldness & lucidity
  • Mehta was accused of changing the role and character of the colonial legislatures . Although press was used to condemn policies of  government but Mehta took that voice in Legislative Assembly
  • First Major intervention in Imperial Legislative Assembly came in 1895 on a bill for amendment of Police Act of 1861 which enhanced the power of the local authorities to raise a punitive police force in an area and to recover its cost from selected sections of the inhabitants of the area. Mehta pointed out that , “the measure was an attempt to convict and punish individuals without a judicial trial under the garb of preserving law and order.”  We may not find these remarks very strong today but they were like bomb thrown on civil services which considered itself beyond criticism in those times
  • Other intervention on Cutting government spending on Higher education because it was producing ‘discontended and seditious babus’ . Pointing to real motives  Mehta said most of the bureaucrats looked upon ‘every Indian college (as) a nursery for hatching broods of vipers; the less, therefore, the better.’
  • Also criticised the Bill in 1901 on taking away of  peasants‘ right of ownership of land to prevent them from bartering it away . Government passed it away using its official majority  but he performed first walkout in Indian History
  • Retired from  legislative council in 1901 due to bad health & his place was taken by Gopal Krishna Gokhale who was to prove more than worthy successor
  • Presided Congress session of 1890 .

2. Gopal Krishna Gokhale

  • Outstanding intellectual & trained in economics by Justice Ranade & GV Joshi
  • Not a great orator like Dadabhai, Tilak, Mehta or RC Dutt but relied upon his detailed knowledge & careful ,logical analysing power
  • Gokhale gained great fame for his budget speeches & he transformed legislative assembly into open university for imparting political education
  • Criticised government for presenting surplus budget & said that surplus budget is coming at time of depression & suffering when people are dying out of drought & famines .  Analysed that even during famines land & salt revenue was continuously increasing
  • Condemned large expenditure on army & territorial expansion beyond Indian frontiers & demanded greater expenditure on education & industry instead
  • Such was fear of his budget speeches that in 1910 , Lord Minto appointed RW Carlyle one of the greatest economist of times as Revenue member so that they can defend Gokhale in assembly
  • Gandhi declared him as his political guru

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