The Indian Councils Act 1909, commonly known as the Morley–Minto or Minto–Morley 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 introduced elections to legislative councils and admitted Indians to councils of the Indian Secretary, the viceroy, and to the executive councils of Bombay and Madras states. Muslims were granted separate electorates. Indian nationalists considered the reforms too cautious and Hindus resented the introduction of separate Muslim electorates.
Indian Councils Act 1909 Background
- Though Queen Victoria promised to treat Indians equally and provide equal opportunities for the Indians, only very few Indians received that opportunity.
- British officials denied working together with Indians.
- The Indian National Congress acknowledged the difficulties faced by the Indians to enter the Civil Service. So the Congress began to demand for representation of more Indians in the Legislature.
- The moderates set forth certain demands to the government as the Extremism was expanding within the Congress. The British government accepted certain demands in order to placate the Moderates and they were introduced under the Morley – Minto reforms.
- Gopal Krishna Gokhale on behalf of Congress visited the Secretary of State John Morley and demanded self- government in India.
- A group of Muslims led by Agha Khan (Simla Deputation) met the Viceroy Lord Minto and demanded separate electorates for the Muslims.
- The 1906 general election was won by the British Liberal Party. This increased the chances for Reforms in British India. They believed that increasing the representation of natives in the Legislatures would enhance their rule in India.
- Thus the Secretary of State, John Morley and the Viceroy, Lord Minto put forth some measures which came to be known as the Morley – Minto reforms.
Major provisions of the Indian Councils Act 1909
- The legislative councils at the Centre and the provinces increased in size.
- Central Legislative Council – from 16 to 60 members
- Legislative Councils of Bengal, Madras, Bombay and United Provinces – 50 members each
- Legislative Councils of Punjab, Burma and Assam – 30 members each
- The legislative councils at the Centre and the provinces were to have four categories of members as follows:
- Ex officio members: Governor-General and members of the executive council.
- Nominated official members: Government officials who were nominated by the Governor-General.
- Nominated non-official members: nominated by the Governor-General but were not government officials.
- Elected members: elected by different categories of Indians.
- The elected members were elected indirectly. The local bodies elected an electoral college who would elect members of the provincial legislative councils. These members would, in turn, elect the members of the Central legislative council.
- The elected members were from the local bodies, the chambers of commerce, landlords, universities, traders’ communities and Muslims.
- In the provincial councils, non-official members were in the majority. However, since some of the non-official members were nominated, in total, a non-elected majority was there.
- Indians were given membership to the Imperial Legislative Council for the first time.
- It introduced separate electorates for the Muslims. Some constituencies were earmarked for Muslims and only Muslims could vote their representatives.
- The members could discuss the budget and move resolutions. They could also discuss matters of public interest.
- They could also ask supplementary questions.
- No discussions on foreign policy or on relations with the princely states were permitted.
- Lord Minto appointed (on much persuasion by Morley) Satyendra P Sinha as the first Indian member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council.
- Two Indians were nominated to the Council of the Secretary of State for Indian affairs
Included Indians in the Executive Council of Viceroy
- The Indian Councils Act 1909, for the first time, provided for the association of Indians with the executive council of Viceroy and Governors.
- Under the Morley-Minto Reforms, Lord Minto appointed Satyendra Prasad Sinha in the Governor-General Executive Council as the law member. Therefore, S. P. Sinha became the first Indian to join the Viceroy’s Executive Council.
- The other two Indians who became the first Indians to be nominated as members of the Secretary of State’s Council of India and got appointed in the Indian Council in London were: Krishna Govinda Gupta and Syed Hussain Bilgrami.
- The Congress leaders were not satisfied with the Morley – Minto reforms. They demanded for the responsible government whereas the Reform focused on increasing the natives participation in Legislatures.
- The major defect of the reform was the introduction of separate electorates to the Muslims. This created rupture in Hindu – Muslim unity and paved way for the partition of the country.
- Muslims were given a separate electorate along with a large number of seats which were reserved unproportionately to their population.
- The election method was too indirect and also there were inequalities in the franchise.
- The British aimed to divide the Nationalists ranks and turn Moderates and Muslims against the nationalism tide.
- The Legislative Councils had no control over the Executives. They acted independently.
- The people of the country demanded self-government whereas the Morley – Minto Reform of 1909 gave them benevolent despotism.
Accept the concept of Separate Electorate
- The most notorious provision of the Indian Councils Act of 1909 was the introduction of a separate electorate college for Muslims.
- The 1909 Act introduced a system of communal representation for Muslims by accepting the concept of a ‘separate electorate’ for them. Under this, the Muslim members were to be elected only by the Muslim voters.
- Therefore, the Indian Councils Act 1909 legalized communalism.
- Governor-General Lord Minto came to be known as the Father of Communal Electorate.