Though the legislative councils had no power till 1920 the nationalists used them as tools for growing the national movement.
Indian members could be nominated to the governor general’s legislative council but they had no powers. This was done to ensure Indian views were considered. Also mostly the Indian members were princes, retired government officials, zamindars, and landlords and didn’t represent the nationalist community.
They took anti-nationalist decisions and opposed the nationalist demands.
The nationalists were able to enhance their political stature and build a national movement while undermining the political and moral influence, of imperialist rule. This helped in generating anti-imperialist sentiments among the public.
But, at the same time, the nationalists failed to widen the democratic base of the movement by not including the masses, especially women, and not demanding the right to vote for all.
The demands of the nationalists weren’t radical but only towards reforming existing institutions to make them more democratic. This was since they didn’t want to invite repression by the government.
The national agitations led the government to increase the size of the legislative councils and give them more powers but this was done to allow the vocal political leaders to get a chance to let off steam.
While doing so the British underestimated the zeal of the Indian leaders who converted these impotent mechanisms into forums for ventilating popular grievances, exposing bureaucratic administration, and criticizing every policy of the colonial government.
Use of the legislatures
The nationalist leaders used these councils to enhance their own political stature and build a national movement. They kept up the political criticism of the government by sheer will, deep knowledge, and skilled debating and thus generated a powerful anti-imperialist sentiment.
Pherozshah Mehta and GK Gokhale were the two most prominent leaders who put the councils to good use and introduced a new spirit to them. Mehta was known for his wit and oratory and was criticized by the British but lauded by the Indians. Mehta retired in 1901 and was succeeded by GK Gokhale who proved to be a worthy successor.
Gopal Krishna Gokhale – Leader of the Moderates
G.K. Gokhale was trained by Justice Ranade and G.V. Joshi. Though he was no orator like Dadabhai Nauroji or Tilak nor could he use satire as a weapon like Pherozshah Mehta but his speeches were based on deep study and careful data.
Hence they captivated the listener with their intellectual content alone. Even his opponent Tilak had a deep respect for him. Gandhiji considered him his political guru.
He founded the “Servants of India Society” to train Indians to dedicate their lives to the cause of their country. He was called the Socrates of Maharashtra.