Minto-Morley reforms

MorIey-Minto Reforms (1909) is an important landmark in the history of constitutional development towards self government for India and ultimate freedom from British rule. In response to Indian demand for constitutional reforms, British Parliament passed in 1892 the Indian Councils Act which strengthened the Legislative Council of the Governor General as well as of the Provincial governors by increasing the number of additional non-official members. But the Indian public opinion was in favour of rapid progress towards self-government for lndia. The Secretary of State for India, John Morley, was vehemently against the idea of self-government for India. But Lord Minto, Governor General of India, proposed to accommodate competent Indians by expanding the functions of the central and councils.

In a letter dated 6 June 1906 Lord Morley, the new Secretary of State for India, conveyed to lord minto, the Viceroy of India, his desire to ‘adapt English political institutions to the nations who inhabit India’. Under these socio-political conditions Lord Minto appointed a committee with Sir Arundale as its head to report on the necessity of reforms. The bill was drafted in the light of these developments. The British cabinet approved of it and in February 1909 parliament made the bill into an Act.

The Muslim leadership became worried when it was clear that the government was contemplating to introduce representative government in India. They apprehended that under any electoral system, the Muslim interests were likely to remain unrepresented because of their social and political backwardness compared to the Hindus. A large delegation of Muslim elites headed by Aga Khan met Lord Minto in October 1906 in Simla, and submitted a memorandum pleading that the Muslims made ‘a nation within a nation’ in India and that their special interests must be maintained in case of any constitutional reforms in the future. They especially demanded for election of Muslims to the central and provincial councils through separate Muslim electorates, and in numbers not in proportion to their population, but in accordance with their political importance. Lord Minto assured the delegation of his support to a constitutional arrangement of separate representation for the Muslim community.

In collaboration with Lord Morley, secretary of state for India, Minto appointed a committee to go into details and prepare a dispatch regarding constitutional reforms. This dispatch was ready in 1907 and was sent to London on March 19. It served as the basis of the reforms which were enacted into law by the Indian Councils Act of 1909.

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  • The number of the members of the Legislative Council at the Center was increased from 16 to 60.
  • The number of the members of the Provincial Legislatives was ‘3lso increased. It was hexed as 50 in the provinces of Bengal, Madras and Bombay, and for the rest of the provinces it was 30.
  • The member of the Legislative Councils, both at the Center and n the provinces, were to be of four categories i.e. ex-office 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).
  • Right of separate electorate was given to the Muslims.
  • At the Center, official members were to form the majority but in provinces non-official members would be in majority.
  • 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.
  • The Secretary of State for India was empowered to increase the number of the Executive Councils of Madras and Bombay from two to four.
  • Two Indians were nominated to the. Council of the Secretary of State for Indian Affairs.
  • The Governor General was empowered to nominate one Indian member to his Executive Council.

Despite many defects in this scheme, the Morley-Minto reforms were important in several aspects. For Muslims, the most important change brought about by the reforms was the establishment of separate electorates. The Simla deputation demand was met, and a system of separate Muslim representation was introduced.

All Hindu and several British observers of the Indian scene criticized the creation of communal electorates as a breach of democratic principle. But Morley saw the force of the Muslim argument to make Muslim seats dependent on Hindu votes would embitter communal relations. Mere reservation of seats would not have gone to a Muslim candidate who identified himself wholeheartedly with the interests of his own community. Another argument in support of this was that it was the unanimous demand of a large community. But Hindu politicians and the Congress immediately began a campaign of criticism and opposition.

At the 1910 Congress session, it condemned the provision of separate representation for Muslims and demanded withdrawal of the resolution. From then on up to the passing of the 1935 Act. The Congress made a habit of it to condemn separate electorates and to advocate their removal. The lndian Councils Act of 1909 is remarkable in some very important aspects. First, the most spectacular change wrought by the Act was the abandonment of the majority of the official members in the provincial legislative councils. Second, the system of election who introduced though t could not be held through genera’ territorial constituencies but through such bodies as municipalities, district boards, chambers of commerce, landlords and other groups of special interests. Third, he principle of full-scale election was recognized for the first time. Fourth, the principle of a separate electorate for the Muslims was established fifth, in the Governors General’s Council, the number of non- official members was raised. Sixth, the scope of discussion in the council was enlarged. The budget estimates were to be presented to the Council. Resolutions on official matters could be moved, and supplementary questions were allowed the sober, welt-reasoned and constitutional advocacy of the Muslim League thus did not fail to achieve its ciectwe.

Within two years of its inception, the Muslim League scored major political victory against a more powerful political organization. The day, the demanded for separate electorate was conceded, the course for the Muslim freedom movement changed. It laid down the foundation for the growth of the Muslim national consciousness which, after a forty year struggle, was to achieve for the Muslims the culmination of their aspirations as a distinct nation. The reform did not at all intend to create any representative government its only object was to make a start towards representative government. The far reaching significance of the reform was the grant of separate electorate to the Muslim community. This provision of the reform, which directly led to the growth of separatist Muslim politics.

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