When Hailey joined the Viceroy's Council without portfolio in September 1919 it was supposed he was being groomed to succeed Sir William Vincent as home member. In November, however, came an announcement that, failing eyesight having forced the early retirement of Finance Member Sir James Meston, Hailey would replace him instead. The press reaction was mixed: Some Indian papers remarked that firmness was already overrepresented in the Government of India; a prominent London banker criticized the appointee's lack of experience. Indeed the only preparation had been four years as deputy secretary in the finance department, and even that had ended as long ago as 1911. Nevertheless Hailey occupied what a colleague called the seat of the scornful. He would remain there for three years, through one of the most tempestuous periods in modern Indian financial history.
Late in 1919 it was still unclear whether Gandhi would lead Congress along constitutional or unconstitutional lines, or even whether he would lead it at all. The previous April, a week after Jallianwala Bagh, declaring himself still more horrified by mob violence on the part of Indians in Bombay, Ahmedabad, and Delhi than by government repression in the Punjab, he had abruptly suspended civil disobedience.