Indian Councils Act 1909 (Morley Minto reforms)
The Indian Councils Act 1909 or Morley-Minto Reforms or Minto-Morley Reforms was passed by British Parliament in 1909 in an attempt to widen the scope of legislative councils, placate the demands of moderates in Indian National Congress and to increase the participation of Indians the governance. This act got royal assent on 25 May 1909.
Though the Indian Councils Act of 1892 had introduced limited representation with indirect elections, it failed to placate the Indians who were much more conscious of their rights by now. There was a lot of resentment against reign of Lord Curzon, who had already irked the public by the foolish idea of partition of Bengal. There was a rise of extremism in the congress. Government, on one hand wanted to suppress the extremists but on other hand wanted to pacify the moderates. Meanwhile, Gopal Krishna Gokhale went to England and met Mr. Morley, the Secretary of State for India. Viceroy Lord Minto also emphasised the need of making some reforms. Both the Viceroy and the Secretary of State for India decided to work out some scheme to reform the Legislative councils. This culminated as Indian Councils act 1909. The idea was to give locals some more power in the legislative affairs. A provision was made for the expansion of legislative councils at the both the levels viz. central as well as provincial.
Expansion of the Legislative Councils
The act enlarged the size of the legislative council both Central and Provincial. The number of members in the Central Legislative Council was raised from 16 to 60. The number in Provincial legislative council was not uniform. Legislative councils of Bengal , Bombay and Madras was increased to 50 members each. The provincial legislature of U.P. was to have 50, of Assam, Burma and Punjab 30 each.
For the first time, the Indian Councils act gave recognition to elective principle for the appointment of nonofficial members to the councils. However, it introduced separate and discriminatory electorate. The electorate was decided on the basis of class & community. For the provincial councils a provision of three categories was made viz. general, special and chambers of commerce. However, for the central council, a fourth category Muslims was added. This was for the first time that, the seats in the legislative bodies were reserved on the basis of religion for Muslims. Separate constituencies were marked for the Muslims and only Muslim community members were given the right to elect their representatives.
The separate electorate for Muslims had a long lasting impact on India’s polity. It recognized the Muslim community as a separate section of the India and triggered the cancer of Hindu-Muslim disharmony which ultimately culminated in the partition.
Under the separate electorates, Muslims could vote exclusively for the Muslim candidates in constituencies specially reserved for them. The idea was to establish that the political, economic and cultural interests of the Hindus and Muslims were distinct. The unity between Hindus and Muslims is a illusion and this act sowed the seeds of the Muslim Communism.
- The act empowered the members to discuss the budget and move resolutions before it was approved finally. They were given rights to ask supplementary questions and move resolutions to on matters related toloans to the local bodies.
- The members given right to discuss matters of the public interest however, the house was not binding on the government.Rules were also framed under the act for the discussion of matters of general public interest in the legislative councils.
- No discussion was permitted on any subject not within legislative competence of the particular legislature any matter affecting the relations of the Government of India with a foreign power or a native state, and any matter under adjudication by a court of law.
Critical Analysis of the Act
The Minto-Morley Reforms of 19O9 could not come up to the expectations of the Indians. What the people of India demanded was that there should be set up a responsible government in the country. But the sacred heart of the reforms of 1909 was “benevolent despotism” and it was basically a subtle attempt to create a “constitutional autocracy”.
Further, though non-official majority was given in the Provincial Councils, the practical result was nothing. The non-official majority was nullified by the fact that it included nominated members. There was no real majority of those who represented the people.
A shadow rather than substance
The reforms of 1909 afforded no answer and could afford no answer to the Indian political problem. The real political solution was lying in complete self-rule and accountable governance but the 1909 Act was only a face saving device. The position of the Governor- General remained unchanged and his veto power remained undiluted and the Act was successfully maintained relentless constitutional autocracy. Under such circumstances narrow franchises, indirect elections, limited powers of the Legislative Councils ushered a complete irresponsible government. The Act rather added new political problem with the introduction of the separate electorate system. While the parliamentary forms were introduced, no responsibility was conceded. At the same time there were no connection between the supposed primary voter and a man who sits as his representative on the Legislative Council. In such a situation, the political participation, awareness and education remained a distant dream. In nutshell, it can be said that 1909 Act was ‘the shadow rather than the substance’.
Merits of Minto-Morley Reforms
Nevertheless, the Minto-Morley Reforms had some of their merits. They mark an important stage in the growth of representative institution, and one step ahead towards the responsible association of elected Indians with the administration. Further, it also gave recognition to the elective principle as the basis of the composition of legislative council for the first time. It gave some further avenues to Indians to ventilate their grievances. They also got opportunity to criticise the executives and make suggestions for better administration. The enlargement of the legislatures furthered the demand of complete indianization of the legislature.