Indian Council Act (Morley-Minto Act) 1909

The Morley-Minto reforms named after the Secretary of State for Indian Affairs Lord John Morley and the Viceroy Lord Minto was the alternative name given to Indian Councils Act 1909. It introduced for the first time the method of election, 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 in the governance. The Act amended the Indian Councils Acts of 1861 and 1892.

Background of the Act                                         

  • 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, 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.

Features of the Act

  • It considerably increased the size of the legislative councils, both Central and provincial. The number of members in the Central Legislative Council was raised from 16 to 60. The number of members in the provincial legislative councils was not uniform.
  • It retained official majority in the Central Legislative Council but allowed the provincial legislative councils to have non-official majority.
  • 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.
  • It enlarged the deliberative functions of the legislative councils at both the levels. For example, members were allowed to ask supplementary questions, move resolutions on the budget, and so on.
  • It provided (for the first time) for the association of Indians with the executive Councils of the Viceroy and GovernorsSatyendra Prasad Sinha became the first Indian to join the Viceroy’s Executive Council. He was appointed as the law member. Two Indians were nominated to the Council of the Secretary of State for Indian Affairs.
  • It introduced a system of communal representation for Muslims by accepting the concept of ‘separate electorate’. Under this, the Muslim members were to be elected only by Muslim voters. Thus, the Act ‘legalised communalism’ and Lord Minto came to be known as the Father of Communal Electorate.
  • It also provided for the separate representation of presidency corporations, chambers of commerce, universities and zamindars.

Evaluation of the Reforms

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 position of the Governor- General remained unchanged and his veto power remained undiluted and the Act was successfully maintained relentless constitutional autocracy.
  • The reforms of 1909 gave to the people of the country a shadow rather than substance.

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.
  • 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
  • After Jinnah’s death in September 1948, Pakistan lurched towards Islamic orthodoxy and Dalits faced mounting attacks.

Indian Council Act of 1909 was instituted to placate the moderates and appeasement to the disseminate Muslims from National Movement by granting them separate electorate. The people had demanded self-government but what they were given was ‘benevolent despotism’.