The Indian Councils Act 1909 (9 Edw. 7 c. 4), 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.
John Morley, the Liberal Secretary of State for India, and the Conservative Governor-General of India, The Earl of 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.
They produced the Indian Councils Act of 1909 (Morley-Minto reforms), these reforms did not go any significant distance toward meeting the Indian National Congress demand for ‘the system of government obtaining in Self-Governing British Colonies’.
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. Previously some Indians had been appointed to legislative councils. The majorities of the councils remained British government appointments. Moreover the electorate was limited to specific classes of Indian nationals;
- The introduction of the electoral principle laid the groundwork for a parliamentary system even though this was contrary to the intent of Morley. As stated by Burke and Quraishi –
“To Lord Curzon’s apprehension that the new Councils could become ‘parliamentary bodies in miniature’, Morley vehemently replied that, ‘if it could be said that this chapter of reforms 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’. But he had already confessed in a letter to Minto in June 1906 that while it was inconceivable to adapt English political institutions to the ‘nations who inhabit India…the spirit of English institutions is a different thing and it is a thing that we cannot escape, even if we wished…because the British constituencies are the masters, and they will assuredly insist.. .all parties alike.. .on the spirit of their own political system being applied to India.’ He never got down to explaining how the spirit of the British system of government could be achieved without its body.”
- Muslims had expressed serious concern that a ‘first past the post’ British type of electoral system 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’).
These concessions were a constant source of strife 1909-47. British statesmen generally considered reserved seats as regrettable in that they encouraged communal extremism as Muslim candidates did not have to appeal for Hindu votes and vice versa. As further power was shifted from the British to Indian politicians in 1919, 1935 and after, Muslims were ever more determined to hold on to, and if possible expand, reserved seats and their weightage. However, Hindu politicians repeatedly tried to eliminate reserved seats as they considered them to be undemocratic and to hinder the development of a shared Hindu-Muslim Indian national feeling.
In 1906, Lord Morley, the Secretary of State for Indian Affairs, announced in the British parliament that his government wanted to introduce new reforms for India, in which the locals were to be given more powers in legislative affairs. With this, a series of correspondences started between him and Lord Minto, the then Governor General of India. A committee was appointed by the Government of India to propose a scheme of reforms. The committee submitted its report, and after the approval of Lord Minto and Lord Morley, the Act of 1909 was passed by the British parliament. The Act of 1909 is commonly known as the Minto-Morley Reforms. The following were the main features of the Act of 1909:
1. The number of the members of the Legislative Council at the Center was increased from 16 to 60.
2. The number of the members of the Provincial Legislatives was also increased. It was fixed as 50 in the provinces of Bengal, Madras and Bombay, and for the rest of the provinces it was 30.
3. 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).
4. The right of separate electorate was given to the Muslims.
5. Official members were to form the majority but in provinces non-official members would be in majority.
6. The members of the Legislative Councils were permitted to discuss the budgets, suggest the amendments and even to vote on them; excluding those items that were included as non-vote items. They were also entitled to ask supplementary questions during the legislative proceedings.
7. The Secretary of State for India was empowered to increase the number of the Executive Councils of Madras and Bombay from two to four.
8. Two Indians were nominated to the Council of the Secretary of State for Indian Affairs.
9. The Governor General was empowered to nominate one Indian member to his Executive Council.