MORLEY-MINTO REFORMS, 1909
- The Indian Councils Act 1909, commonly known as the Morley-Minto Reforms, was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that brought about a limited increase in the involvement of Indians in the governance of British India.The Act amended the Indian Councils Acts of 1861 and 1892
- The Morley-Minto Reforms, so named after Morley, the secretary of state, and Minto, the viceroy at that time, were preceded by two important events.
- In October 1906, a group of Muslim elites called the Shimla Deputation, led by the Agha Khan, met Lord Minto and demanded separate electorates for the Muslims and representation in excess of their numerical strength in view of ‘the value of the contribution’ Muslims were making ‘to the defence of the empire’.
- The same group quickly took over the Muslim League, initially floated by Nawab Salimullah of Dacca along with Nawabs Mohsin-ul- Mulk and Waqar-ul-Mulk in December 1906. The Muslim League intended to preach loyalty to the empire and to keep the Muslim intelligentsia away from the Congress.
- John Morley, the Liberal Secretary of State for India, and the Conservative Viceroy of India, The Minto, believed that cracking down on uprising in Bengal was necessary but not sufficient for restoring stability to the British Raj after Lord Curzon’s partitioning of Bengal. They believed that a dramatic step was required to put heart into loyal elements of the Indian upper classes and the growing Westernised section of the population.
- The member of the Legislative Councils, both at the Center and in the provinces, were to be of four categories i.e. ex officio members (Governor General and the members of their Executive Councils), nominated official members (those nominated by the Governor General and were government officials), nominated non-official members (nominated by the Governor General but were not government officials) and elected members (elected by different categories of Indian people).
- The Governor-General, with the approval of the Secretary of State for India, made regulations for how members of legislative councils were nominated or elected nominated, and their qualifications. Regulations made in accordance with the Act could not be exercised until laid before both Houses of Parliament, so that either house might object.
- The number of elected members in the Imperial Legislative Council and the Provincial Legislative Councils was increased.
- In the Provincial Councils, non-official majority was introduced, but since some of these non-officials were nominated and not elected, the overall non-elected majority remained.
- In the Imperial Legislative Council, of the total 68 members, 36 were to be the officials and of the 32 non-officials, 27 to be elected and 5 were to be nominated. Of the 27 elected non-officials, 8 seats were reserved for the Muslims under separate electorates (only Muslims could vote here for the Muslim candidates), while 6 seats were reserved for the British capitalists, 2 for the landlords and 13 seats came under general electorate.
- The elected members were to be indirectly elected. The local bodies were to elect an electoral college, which in turn would elect members of provincial legislatures, who in turn would elect members of the central legislature.
- Besides separate electorates for the Muslims, representation in excess of the strength of their population was accorded to the Muslims. Also, the income qualification for Muslim voters was kept lower than that for Hindus.
- Powers of legislatures (both at the centre and provinces) were enlarged and the legislatures could now pass resolutions (which may not be accepted), ask questions and supplementaries,iscuss the budgets, suggest the amendments, and even to vote on them; excluding those items that were included as non-vote items. Also they could vote separate items in the budget but the budget as a whole could not be voted upon.
- One Indian was to be appointed to the viceroy’s executive council (Satyendra Sinha was the first to be appointed in 1909).
- Two Indians were nominated to the Council of the Secretary of State for Indian Affairs.
- The Indian Councils Act served as the governance structure of India for a decade. It was modified by the Government of India Act 1912, to clarify the authority of the Governor of Bengal, to create a legislative council for the new province of Bihar and Orissa, to dispense with Parliamentary review of the creation of new legislative councils for provinces under a lieutenant-governor and to permit the creation of legislative councils in provinces under chief commissioners.
- The reforms of 1909 afforded no answer and could afford no answer to the Indian political problem. Lord Morley made it clear that colonial self-government (as demanded by the Congress) was not suitable for India, and he was against introduction of parliamentary or responsible government in India. He said, “If it could be said that led directly or indirectly to the establishment of a parliamentary system in India, I, for one, would have nothing at all to do with it.”
- The ‘constitutional’ reforms were, in fact, aimed at dividing the nationalist ranks by confusing the Moderates and at checking the growth of unity among Indians through the obnoxious instrument of separate electorates.
- The Government aimed at rallying the Moderates and the Muslims against the rising tide of nationalism. The officials and the Muslim leaders often talked of the entire community when they talked of the separate electorates, but in reality it meant the appeasement of a small section of the Muslim elite only.
- Muslims had expressed serious concern that a “first past the post” electoral system, like that of Britain, would leave them permanently subject to Hindu majority rule. The Act of 1909 stipulated, as demanded by the Muslim leadership
- that Indian Muslims be allotted reserved seats in the Municipal and District Boards, in the Provincial Councils and in the Imperial Legislature;
- that the number of reserved seats be in excess of their relative population (25 percent of the Indian population); and,
- that only Muslims should vote for candidates for the Muslim seats (‘separate electorates’).
- Congress considered separate electorate to be undemocratic and hindering the development of a shared Hindu-Muslim Indian national feeling.
- Besides, system of election was too indirect and it gave the impression of infiltration of legislators through a number of sieves.
- And, while parliamentary forms were introduced, no responsibility was conceded, which sometimes led to thoughtless and irresponsible criticism of the Government. Only some members like Gokhale put to constructive use the opportunity to debate in the councils by demanding universal primary education, attacking repressive policies and drawing attention to the plight of indentured labour and Indian workers in South Africa.
- The reforms of 1909 gave to the people of the country a shadow rather than substance. The people had demanded self-government but what they were given was ‘benevolent despotism’.
The Act of 1909 was important for the following reasons:
- It effectively allowed the election of Indians to the various legislative councils in India for the first time, though previously some Indians had been appointed to legislative councils.
- The introduction of the electoral principle laid the groundwork for a parliamentary system even though this was contrary to the intent of Morley.