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OCTOBER 25, 2012

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The Legislative Councils in India had no real official power till 1920. Yet, the work done in them by the nationalists helped the growth of the national movement.


The Indian Councils Act of 1861, enacted after the 1857 revolt, sought to introduce some popular Indian participation in the hope that it would help the more vocal to let off their steam peacefully and also that it would give the British a chance to know beforehand any kind of “trouble” brewing in the minds of Indians. Consequently, the Indian Councils Act, 1861 enlarged the Governor-General’s Executive Council for the purpose of making laws. The Governor-General could now add 6-12 members to the Council, with at least half of them being non-officials, either Indians or English. However, as said earlier, it had no real powers at all, as it could not discuss the budget without previous government approval. Consequently, it would be wrong to think of this as  arliament, not even the most elementary. The British Government remained as foreign as ever to the Indians. Further, the nominated Indians were the favourites of the British, and consequently, were never able to do any constructive work.



The nationalist agitation forced the British to introduce some changes by the Indian Councils Act of 1892. The number of nominated members rose to 10-16. Now they could discuss the budget but could not vote on it, and they could also ask question in the Councils. The nationalists were totally dissatisfied with the 1892 Act because the Councils were still powerless. They now demanded a majority of non-official elected members with voting rights. Lord Dufferin had conceived of this as a device to incorporate the more vocal Indians into the colonial power structure.  But he had miscalculated the political capacities of Indian political leaders, who soon turned the impotent councils into a platform for raising public grievances and criticizing almost every governmental step.  By sheer courage, debating skills, fearless criticism, knowledge and careful collection of relevant data, they kept up a constant campaign against the rulers, thus wrecking the councils from within.



Two outstanding men made the most it   – Pherozshah Mehta and Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Gokhale was an outstanding intellectual carefully groomed in Indian economics by MG Ranade. He won great fame for his budget speeches and was  known as the greatest parliamentarian India ever had and also the first leader of the opposition. Later on, he trained Gandhi in the intricacies of politics and earned the title of being the Political Guru of Mahatma Gandhi.




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