Categories Modern IndiaSelfstudyhistory.com

Morley-Minto Reforms, 1909 or Indian Councils Act, 1909

Morley-Minto Reforms, 1909 or Indian Councils Act, 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.

Background:

  • Discontent among Indians because:
    • The Indian Councils Act of 1892 failed to meet the legitimate wishes of the Congress.
    • Lord Curzon’s imperialist policies and attitudes intensified bitterness of the intelligentsia against alien domination. selfstudyhistory.com
      • Curzon had no sympathy for the aspirations of Indians.
      • He completely officialised the Calcutta Corporation, giving it a European majority by reducing total membership by a third, through his infamous Act of 1899.
      • A similar policy was pursued towards the Indian Universities in 1904, which took away the autonomy of these Universities, and in the same year (1904) the Official Secrets Act greatly extended the scope of the term “sedition”.
    • The continuing economic exploitation by the British rulers led to the energetic thesis by patriots like R.C. Dutt, Dadabhai Naoroji and others contending that the impoverishment of the country was the direct result of a deliberate and systematic policy of the foreign rulers.
    • Educated Indians were not given any share, much less their due share in the Government services and the administration.
    • Indian overseas and specially in South Africa were being subjected to humiliation and indignities galore simply because they were Indians.
      • This fanned national resentment and the people of India began to feel that it was vain and futile to hope for improvement in the conditions and treatment of Indians in the British colonies and overseas possessions unless and until they were free in their own homeland.
    • The closing years of the nineteenth century witnessed the horrors of famine and bubonic plague, bringing distress and misery to thousands of people. The people blamed the British Government for their plight.
    • The climax was reached by the infamous Partition of Bengal in 1905 which was considered to be “a subtle attack on the growing solidarity of Bengali nationalism.” The Bengalis felt “humiliated, insulted and tricked” and resorted to a vigorous agitation to get the wrong undone.
    • The press in the country which was free since 1882 took ample notice of all these factors and was extremely critical of the British administration.
  • While the Congress was growing stronger as the exponent of the demand for national freedom, the Muslims generally kept themselves aloof from it.
    • Their ‘indifference’, at its initial stage, was largely due to the policy advocated by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. It gradually became something like ‘antogonism’ when the British bureaucracy, alarmed at the growing influence of the Congress as a nationaliser, deliberately adopted a policy of ‘divide and rule.’
    • 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’.
      • He promised them the same. The die was thus cast and the foundations of Muslim communalism were laid.
  • Intensity of the Swadeshi movement and the spread of extremism had forced upon the administration some new thoughts on constitutional reforms, while militant nationalism reinforced this process.
    • When the Morley Minto Reforms were announced in 1909, many of these people believed it was because of fear generated by revolutionary activities.
    • As one historian argues, the appointment of Lord S.P. Sinha as the law Member in the viceroy’s executive council was surely the result of pressures generated by terrorist activities.
  • John Morley, the Liberal Secretary of State for India, and the Conservative Viceroy of India, 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.
    • Then the Secretary of State Morley’s budget speech of 1906 indicated that representative government was going to be introduced in India.
      • He urged Viceroy Lord Minto to balance the unpopular Bengal partition with reforms.
      • Although partition was declared to be a settled fact, there was also a realisation that India could no longer be ruled with a “cast iron bureaucracy”. Indians should be given some share of power. There were three aspects of this new policy:
        • Outright repression,
        • Concessions to rally the moderates,
        • Matched by divide and rule through separate electorates for the Muslims.
    • Morley and Minto offered a bait of reforms in the Legislative Councils and in the beginning of 1906  began discussing them with the Moderate leadership of the Congress.
      • The Moderates agreed to cooperate with the Government and discuss reforms even while a vigorous popular movement, which the Government was trying to suppress, was going on in the country. The result was a total split in the nationalist ranks.
    • If the Indian Councils Act of 1892 was passed to take the wind out of the sails of the Congress movement, that of 1909 was taken into hands by the Indian Government to rally to its side the Moderates in the Indian National Congress and the Muslims in order to buttress the authority of British bureaucracy.
  • A Committee of the Executive Council of the Viceroy had studied the subject and the Government of India sent a despatch to England embodying its proposals.
    • Morley sent back the proposals to be referred to the Local Governments in India for public criticism.
    • The Bill was drafted, and after the approval of the Cabinet, passed by the Parliament in February 1909, to become the Indian Councils Act of 1909.

Provisions of the Act:

  • The size and functions of the Legislatures, both at the Centre and in the Provinces, was enlarged.
  • 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.
  • Central Legislature:
    • The number of ‘additional’ members here was now raised at the maximum to 60.
    • The Legislature was thus to consist of 69 members of whom 37 officials and 32 non-officials.
      • Of the officials:
        • 9 ex Officio members:
          • Governor General,
          • seven ordinary members (Executive Councillors),
          • one extraordinary member.
        • 28 nominated by the Governor General.
      • Of the 32 non-officials:
        • 5 nominated by the Governor General
        • 27 were to be elected.
    • For the elected members, it was declared that the territorial representation did not suit India and that “representation by classes and interests is the only practicable method of embodying the elective principle in the constitution of the Indian Legislative Councils.”
      • Thus, of the 27 elected members,
        • 13 were to come from the General Electorates consisting of:
          • non official members of the following legislatures sending 2 members each:
            • Bombay,
            • Madras,
            • Bengal and
            • United Provinces
          • non official members of the following legislatures sending 1 member each:
            • Central Provinces,
            • Assam,
            • Bihar and Orissa,
            • Punjab
            • Burma.
        • Of the remaining 14:
          • 12 were to come from class Electorates;
            • 6 of them coming one each from the Landholders’ constituencies in the six provinces of Bombay, Madras, Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, United Provinces and the Central Provinces; and
            • 6 being returned by the separate Muslim constituencies– one each from Madras, Bombay, United Provinces and Bihar and Orissa (4) and two from Bengal.
          • The remaining 2 were to be returned from the Special electorates by British capitalists.,
            • one each from the Bengal and Bombay Chambers of Commerce.
    • 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.
  • Provincial Legislatures:
    • The membership of the Legislative Councils of the different provinces as enlarged under the Act of 1909 was as follows:
      • Burma, 16;
      • Eastern Bengal and Assam, 41;
      • Bengal, 52;
      • Punjab, 25;
      • Madras, Bombay and United Provinces, 47 each;
    • The Act provided for non official majorities in the provinces.
      • However, this did not mean non official elected majorities, as some of the non officials were to be nominated by the Governors and through these the official control over the Council was retained.
      • As nominated members always sided with the Government, the officials were ‘in a manner of speaking in the majority’.
      • Hence the overall non-elected majority remained.
    • The elected members in the Provincial Legislatures were to be returned by different constituencies.
      • In Bombay, for instance, out of the 21 elected members:
        • 6 were to be returned by the Special electorates consisting of the Bombay Corporation and the Bombay University etc.,
        • 8 were to be returned by the General electorates consisting of District Boards and Municipalties etc. and
        • 7 were to be returned by Class electorates consisting of Muslims (returning 4) and the Landlords (returning 3).
    • The membership of Executive Councils of Bengal, Madras and Bombay was raised to 4 and the Government was empowered to constitute similar Councils for the Lieutenant Governors as well.
  • Besides separate electorates for the Muslims (only Muslims should vote for candidates for the Muslim seats), 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.
    • It was because 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.
  • Functions of Legislative Councils:
    • The functions of the Legislative Councils, both at the Centre and in the Provinces, were enlarged.
    • The members were given the right of discussion and asking supplementary questions.
    • Detailed rules were laid down concerning the discussion of budgets in the Central Legislature.
    • Members, though not empowered to vote, were empowered to move resolutions concerning
      • additional grants to the Local Governments,
      • any alteration in taxation,
      • on a new loan, which might have been proposed in the Budget.
    • The Budget before its submission in the Council, had to be referred to its Committee consisting of the Finance member (Chairman) and non officials and nominated members on a 50 : 50 basis.
    • Members could discuss matters of general public interest, moving resolutions on them and could also vote.
      • But the President was empowered to disallow the whole or a part of such resolutions, without assigning any reason.
      • Nor was the Government obliged to accept such resolutions, even if passed, whether concerning public interest or concerning financial statements.
    • Certain subjects which the members could not discuss:
      • the foreign relations of the Government of India and its relations with the Indian Princes,
      • a matter under adjudication of a court of law,
      • expenditure on state railways,
      • interest on debt etc.
  • One Indian was to be appointed to the viceroy’s executive council (Satyendra Prasad Sinha was the first to be appointed in 1909).
    • Earlier in August 1907 two Indians- K.G. Gupta and Syed Hussain Bilgrami-were made members of the Secretary of State’s India Council.
  • 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.

Evaluation:

  • 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.”
    • Narrow franchises, indirect elections, limited powers of the Legislative Councils made a joke of representative government.
    • The act introduced the principle of election, but under various constraints.
      • Details of seat allocation and electoral qualifications were left to be decided by the local governments, and this left enough space for bureaucratic manipulation.
    • The electorate was based on high property qualifications and therefore was heavily restricted. There were disparities too, as income qualifications for the Muslims were lower than those for the Hindus.
    • The Government of India was given the general power to disallow any candidate from contesting the election on suspicion of being politically dangerous.
    • The real power remained with the Government and the Councils were left with no functions but criticism.
  • 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.
    • Introduction of separate electorates for Muslims was the new problem created in Indian politics by which, according to Jawaharlal Nehru, a “political barrier was created round them, isolating them from the rest of India.”
      • The barrier was a small one at first for the electorates were very limited but with every extension of franchise it grew.
      • The system of separate electorate was done to encourage the notion that the political, economic and cultural interests of Hindus and Muslims were separate and not common.
    • 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.
    • Congress considered separate electorate to be undemocratic and hindering the development of a shared Hindu-Muslim Indian national feeling.
    • The granting of separate electorate for Muslim provided an official legitimacy to their minority status and the separate political identity of the Indian Muslims.
      • The subsequent evolution of this Muslim identity from minority status to nationhood took a long and tortuous trajectory.
    • The granting of this privilege of separate electorate by the colonial state in the Morley-Minto reform of 1909 elevated them to the status of an “all-India political category“, but positioned them as a “perpetual minority” in the Indian body politic.
  • Other communities claimed to have rendered “better services to the Empire” than the Muslims and yet had not been shown any special consideration.
    • The Sikhs thus fought for their rights and special representation was also conceded to them in 1919.
    • It was a signal for other communities to intensify their agitation.
    • Thus the Harijans, the Indian Christians, the Europeans and the Anglo Indians also got separate representation or reservation by the Act of 1935.
    • The national unity forged through centuries was thus shattered with one blow.
    • It perpetuated division of creeds and classes which meant the creating of camps organised against each other and taught them to think as partisans and not as citizens.
    • It was a very serious hindrance to the development of self governing principle.”
    • Lord Morley was right when he wrote to Lord Minto that in granting separate electorates “we are sowing dragon’s teeth and the harvest will be bitter.”
  • The system of election was too indirect and it gave the impression of infiltration of legislators through a number of sieves.
    • The people elected members of local bodies, which elected members of an electoral college, which in turn elected members of the provincial legislatures, who in turn elected members of the Central Legislature.
    • There was absolutely no connection between the supposed primary voter and the man who sits as his representative on the Legislative Council. In such circumstances, there can be no responsibility upon and no political education for the people who nominally exercise a vote.
  • 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’.
  • It was the most short-lived of all constitutional reforms in British India and had to be revised within ten years.

The Act of 1909 was still important:

  • 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.

2 thoughts on “Morley-Minto Reforms, 1909 or Indian Councils Act, 1909”

  1. Sir please clarify point 8 regarding budget. Do members have the power to vote on budget?

Leave a Reply