Formation of League of Nations

10 Jan 1920
Event location: 

Paris, then Geneva


India was granted unconditional original membership of the League of Nations despite its position as part of the British Empire, and lack of political autonomy at the time. The inclusion was widely considered to be part of an attempt by Britain to influence more votes in the League, but can also be considered ‘an important event full of far-reaching consequences. It resulted in a remarkable spurt of activities in both national and international spheres and gave India an opportunity to develop her international personality’ (Verma, ix).

The roots of this decision lie in India’s involvement in World War I, and independent representation at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. Arguably, this participation had its roots in India’s place in the Colonial Conferences and the Imperial Conferences. In March 1917 at the Imperial War Cabinet, India was represented by her Secretary of State, Edwin Samuel Montagu; the Maharaja of Bikaner Sir Ganga Singh; Satyendra Prasanno Sinha, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for India; and James Meston, former Lieutenant-Governor of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh. Montagu, Singh and Sinha were also included in the Indian delegation to the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. Also included as technical advisers were: Arthur Hirtzel, Assistant Under-Secretary of State for India; J. Dunlop Smith, Political Officer of the India Office; and L. Kershaw, Secretary to the Financial and Statistical Section of the India Office. The Indian plenipotentiaries signed the peace treaties alongside representatives of other sovereign states on the basis of legal equality of status. As a signatory of the Treaty of Versailles, India was granted automatic entry to the League of Nations.

The League of Nations was an attempt to unify the countries of the world against the possibility of future war. In its Covenant’s ‘Preamble’ is written: ‘The High Contracting Parties in order to promote international co-operation and to achieve international peace and security; by the acceptance of obligations not to resort to war… agree to this covenant of the League of Nations.’ Its members were originally to be restricted to those countries which were ‘self-governing’, but exception was made for India on account of its immense contribution to the Allied forces during WWI. Woodrow Wilson was concerned about how other territories would respond to India’s inclusion, but delegates including the Prime Minister of South Africa pointed out that the Covenant of the League of Nations, drawn up at Paris and signed by India, guaranteed India entry. India was the only one of the original thirty-one members of the League that was not self-governing. The inclusion of India as original member was one of the reasons why the United States did not ratify the Covenant of the League of Nations.

The delegates of India to the Assembly of the League were appointed by the Secretary of State in consultation with the Government in India. The Indian delegations to the annual sessions of the League Assembly for the first five years of the League were as follows:

First Assembly, December 1920:
Sir William Stevenson Meyer (High Commissioner for India)
Maharaja Jam Saheb of Nawanagar
Sir Saiyid Ali Imam

Second Assembly, September 1921:
Sir William Stevenson Meyer
His Highness the Maharao of Kutch
V. S. Srinivas Sastri

Third Assembly, September 1922:
Viscount Chelmsford
Maharaja Jam Saheb of Nawanagar
Sir P. S. Sivaswamy Aiyer

Fourth Assembly, September 1923:
Lord Hardinge of Penhurst
Maharaja Jam Saheb of Nawanagar
Syed Hossain Imam

Fifth Assembly, September 1924
Lord Hardinge of Penhurst
His Highness the Maharaja of Bikaner
Sir Muhammad Rafique

Woodrow Wilson, Jan Christiaan Smuts
People involved: 

Sir P. S. Sivaswamy Aiyer, His Highness the Maharaja of Bikaner, Viscount Chelmsford, J. Dunlop Smith (Political Officer of the India Office), Lord (Charles) Hardinge of Penshurst, Syed Hossain Imam, Sir Saiyid Ali Imam, L. Kershaw (Secretary to the Financial and Statistical Section of the India Office), His Highness the Maharao of Kutch, Sir William Stevenson Meyer (first High Commissioner for India 1920 onwards), Edwin Samuel Montagu, Maharaja Jam Saheb of Nawanagar, Sir Muhammad Rafique, V. S. Srinivas Sastri, Sir Ganga Singh (Maharaja of Bikaner), Satyendra Prasanno Sinha (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for India from 1919)

Published works: 

The League of Nation Starts: An Outline by its Organisers (London: Macmillan & Co., 1920)

League of Nations Union, Journal and Monthly Report (London, 1919)

Secondary works: 

Alwar, Maharaja of, India and the League, speech made at the League of Nations Union Dinner, October 25, 1923 (London: Pelican Press)

Baker, Ray Stannard, Woodrow Wilson and World Settlement (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1922)

Coyajee, J. C., Indian and the League of Nations (Madras: Thompson and Co., Ltd, 1932)

Greaves, Harold, The League Committees and World Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1931)

Jones, Robert and Sherman, S. S., League of Nations from Idea to Reality: Its Place in History and in the World Today (London: Sir I. Pitman and Sons, 1927)

Kibe, Sardar M. V., The League of Nations and The Indian States (Indore, 1924)

Manning, Charles Anthony Woodward, 'India and the League of Nations' in Freda M. Houlston and B. P. L. Bedi (eds.), India Analysed, Vol. I (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1933), pp. 30-66.

Miller, David Hunter, The Drafting of the Covenant (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1928)

Temperley, H. W. V., A History of the Peace Conference of Paris, 6 Vols. (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1920)

Verma, D. N., India and the League of Nations (Patna: Bharati Bhawan, 1968).

Vijiaraghavachariar, C., League of Nations and India’s Emancipation (Madras: The National Press, 1929)

Williams, Roth, League of Nations Today (London: Allen and Unwin, 1923)


Verma, D. N., India and the League of Nations (Patna: Bharati Bhawan, 1968), p.20


On India’s unique status in the League of Nations:


Miller summed up Indian’s membership of the League as 'an anomaly among anomalies'. [Miller, Vol. I, The Drafting of the Covenant, 493] … It was a striking paradox almost without parallel, that India enjoyed in theory at least, and as a matter of course, the sovereign rights of dominions, notwithstanding the fact that she had not reached a condition of complete autonomy even in internal affairs.

Archive source: 

The Parliamentary Archives, Houses of Parliament, London

Government of India Files, National Archives of India, New Delhi