Montagu, Edwin S.

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MONTAGU, EDWIN S. (1879–1924), secretary of state for India (1917–1922). John Morley's Liberal protégé as undersecretary of state for India, Edwin S. Montagu served as secretary of state for India from 1917 to 1922, the only person of Jewish faith ever to hold that office. Calling himself "Oriental," Montagu was also the first secretary of state for India personally to venture East to tour the realm over which he presided, meeting with leaders of India's major nationalist parties, the Muslim League's M. A. Jinnah as well as Congress's Mahatma Gandhi. He was so impressed by Jinnah's eloquent brilliance that he considered it "a shame . . . so remarkable a man" could not become British India's viceroy. He underestimated Mahatma Gandhi, however, as "a pure visionary."

Montagu raised fervent Indian hopes and expectations of post–World War I independent Dominion status as Britain's reward for India's wartime cooperation and martial participation, when he announced from the floor of Britain's Parliament on 20 August 1917 that "the policy of His Majesty's Government . . . is that of the increasing association of Indians in every branch of the administration ..with a view to the progressive realisation of responsible government in India." It certainly sounded hopeful to all factions within India's Congress and other parties, and only appropriate given the unstinting level of Indian forces, funds, and foods shipped off to the Western front and Mesopotamia. But the aftermath of 1918's Allied victory brought a plethora of disasters to India, first a million flu deaths, then bullets rather than free ballots in Punjab.

Montagu tried, nonetheless, to deliver some measure of political reform to India. The Government of India Act of 1919, also called the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms, was hardly Dominion status, however. More elective seats were added to provincial and central government councils, and several more Indians were to be invited to join Viceroy Chelmsford's administrative council, but Congress felt so disappointed by the crumbs thrown to them—instead of the freedom they expected—that Gandhi led a mass boycott in protest, launching his first nationwide satyagraha (hold fast to the truth) against British extensions of martial "laws" in peacetime.

Stanley Wolpert

See alsoGandhi, Mahatma M. K. ; Government of India Act of 1919 ; Jinnah, Mohammad Ali ; Morley, John


Kaminsky, Arnold P. The India Office, 1880–1910. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1986.

Strachey, G. L. Characters and Commentaries. 1933. Reprint, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1971.

Wolpert, Stanley A. Morley and India, 1906–1910. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967.

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