Indian Councils Act 1909

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Indian Councils Act 1909
Citation9 Ed. VII c. 4[1]
Royal assent12 March 1909

The Indian Councils Act 1909 (9 Edw. 7 Ch. 4), 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.


Lord Minto met with the Muslim delegation in June 1906. The Minto-Morley Reforms of 1909 called for separate Muslim electorates.

A small educated elite met for the first time as the Indian National Congress in 1885. Provincial associations had already emerged. One of the main grievances of the associations was the difficulties for Indians to enter the civil service. In 1858, Queen Victoria had proclaimed equal treatment for Indians.[2] But very few Indians had received an opportunity to join the civil service, even after reforms in 1878, with a maximum age for admission set at 19 and competitive examinations only being held in Great Britain.[3] British officials were hesitant to accept Indians in administration, fearing that Indians showing their competence would undermine justifications for British rule in the subcontinent.[3] With that perspective, it appeared that granting a few concessions of representation in the provincial and imperial legislatures to the native elite would be a lesser evil.

The non-monopolising participation of Indians in the legislatures was to be an enhancement for British rule. Such a limited reform initiated in 1892 clamour by the Indian National Congress for more legislative representation. The process was limited to proposing candidates, whom the government could nominate for the parliaments. Indians were still outnumbered by British members in the legislatures, and their abilities were limited to speeches and debates. Nonetheless, the restricted enterprise attracted the attention of the Indian leadership, and clamour of the Indian National Congress declined as leaders became busy working in the new councils.[3]

The British Liberal Party won a landslide victory in 1906. Subsequently, the liberal philosopher John Morley became the British Secretary of State for India and wished to gather moderate Indians because of the armed activities by the young nationalists[3] and thought that would keep the moderates away from the radical members of the Congress.[4] The moderates were enthusiastic and expected more from Morley than he had countenanced. Additionally, Morley's judgement was guided by Lord Minto, the viceroy, and Herbert Hope Risley, the Home Secretary. The latter opposed territorial representation and urged representation on the basis of the different interests in what he perceived to be the Indian social structure.[3] Minto had received in 1906 a delegation from the newly founded Muslim League which sought to prevent the creation of any parliamentary system which would allow the Hindus to dominate the Muslim minority permanently.[5] Seeking to dilute the ability of the Hindu majority to exercise control in the provincial assemblies, Risley pushed into the reforms a bifurcated electoral structure.[5]

Morley–Minto Reforms

The act itself, also called the Morley–Minto Reforms, conferred some political reforms which encouraged the constitutionalists in the Indian National Congress. More Indians could be elected to the legislatures on the basis of the Indian Councils Act.[4] Various provincial councils had the size of their memberships expanded.[6] The "official majorities" – where a majority on each provincial council was appointed from civil service officials – previously imposed on all provincial councils were lifted; the official majority on the viceroy's council, however, was retained due to the possible need for the viceroy to legislate for any province.[7] The executive remained under strong British control, and the government's consultative mode remained unchanged, with "a non-parliamentary system where the legislature acted as a kind of permanent opposition in the face of an irremovable executive".[8]

The reforms established Indian dominance in the provincial but not central legislative bodies. Elections, mainly indirect, were affirmed for all levels of society.[9] Special seats were also created to represent provincial landowners, tea plantations, various regional merchants, etc. Electoral rolls were drawn up requiring substantial property qualifications or otherwise honours or degrees from universities or public service.[10] The elected Indians were also enabled to debate budgetary and complementary matters and table resolutions.[4][9] The British executive, however, retained an absolute veto over all legislation.[11] Councillors also were granted very limited interrogatory powers to request information from the government.[12]

Despite the reforms, the members still reeled over electoral apportionment. The provinces were delegated electoral allocations, and administrative changes hindered harmful moves against the British rule. A major hindrance to coalitions was the separate electorates.[4]

Separate electorates

A momentous introduction in the reforms was the separate electorates, with seats reserved for Muslims in which only Muslims would be polled. The implication that Muslims and their interests could be protected only by Muslims would influence Indian politics in the ensuing decades.[9] The Muslim League had been founded in 1906 by an elite aiming to promote Muslim interests,[9] prevent Hindu dominance over Muslims through a parliamentary system[5] and advance the Muslim perspective in the deliberations regarding constitutional reforms after October 1907.[13] Minto heard in October 1906 a Muslim deputation, which comprised 35 Muslims from all Indian provinces except the Northwest Frontier.[14] The principal organisers of the delegation and main supporters of the movement for separate electorates were Muslims from the UP.[15] The delegation asked that the Muslims be given a fair share in representation. The fair share was to be determined by the numerical position of Muslims, their political significance and the Muslim contribution in defending the British Empire.[16]

The delegation stated that the existing Muslim representation was inadequate and that the election of Muslims was dependent on the Hindu majority and so the elected Muslims could not truly represent Muslims. Minto welcomed their representative character[17] and acknowledged and promoted the separate Muslim politics.[18] The official British sympathy for the delegation aroused suspicion that the viceroy had invited them, instead of only meeting them. However, the British officials shared the Muslim League's fear of legislative outnumbering and accepted any assistance against Morley's democratic inclinations.[5] The sympathy expressed by British administrators for Muslim concerns "gave rise to the suspicion that the deputation of 1906 was somehow invited, rather than simply received, by the viceroy".[5] But contrary to the "command performance" hypothesis, the evidence demonstrates that the initiative for this meeting was taken by Mohsin-ul-Mulk.[18]

British officials persuaded Minto of the deputation's representative character and the danger that Muslim discontent could pose to the British rule. The number of members in the central Legislative Council was raised from 16 to 60.[19] The British believed that by entreating separate Muslim representation, they would simply be acknowledging Indian realities.[20] Separate representation for Muslims was a subsidiary of the government's policy of identifying people by their religion and caste. Muslims were seen as a helpful and possibly-loyal counterbalance to Hindus but they were also feared as extreme because of their role in the Indian Rebellion of 1857[21] and in the 1872 assassination Lord Mayo, the viceroy of India.[22]

Morley wished a reconciliation between territorial representation and Muslim demands, but Risley backed the separate electorates was able to push his proposals into the final plan.[5] The Muslim League's insistence on separate electorates and reserved seats in the Imperial Council was granted in the Indian Councils Act after the League held protests in India and lobbied London.[13] The party's leadership was successful in converting Minto's unclear support of its 1906 delegation into a political fact.[23]


The First World War substantially changed Indian expectations for representation, with India providing substantial support for the British war effort in men, material, and money. The political demands emerging from India's sacrifice led Indian Secretary Edwin Montagu to announce further constitutional reforms towards responsible government in 1917,[24] leading to the Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms and the Government of India Act 1919.

See also


  1. Ilbert 1911, p. 243.
  2. Kulke & Rothermund 1982, p. 278.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Kulke & Rothermund 1982, p. 279.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Stein 1998, p. 295.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Kulke & Rothermund 1982, p. 280.
  6. Ilbert 1911, p. 246.
  7. Ilbert 1911, p. 247.
  8. Kulke & Rothermund 1982, p. 281.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Metcalf & Metcalf 2006, pp. 160–161.
  10. Ilbert 1911, p. 250.
  11. "Indian Councils Act of 1909". Encyclopædia Britannica. 4 February 2013. Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  12. Ilbert 1911, p. 254.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Talbot & Singh 2009, p. 30.
  14. Hardy 1972, p. 154.
  15. Robinson 1974, p. 162.
  16. Hardy 1972, pp. 154–155.
  17. Hardy 1972, p. 155.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Hardy 1972, p. 156.
  19. Hardy 1972, p. 157.
  20. Hardy 1972, p. 160.
  21. Robb 2002, p. 187.
  22. Robb 2002, p. 188.
  23. Robinson 1974, p. 161.
  24. Kulke & Rothermund 1982, pp. 280–281.


External links