Morley-Minto Reforms (1909) launched the constitutional journey towards the introduction of representative government and eventually the freedom from British rule. As an imperial control system, limited electoral institutions were first introduced at district and municipal levels in the 1880s with a promise to introduce elected legislature in British India. Under the pressure of the Indian nationalist demands and the need for enlisting Indian political support, government introduced very limited electoral system at provincial level under the India Act of 1909, popularly known as Morley-Minto Reforms. This reform Act is linked to India Act of 1892, which strengthened further the nominated elements of the Legislative Council of the Governor General as well as that of the Council of the Provincial governors by increasing the number of non-official nominated members, again with a promise of introducing electoral system soon. Since then the Congress had been clamouring for the introduction of electoral system for the provincial and central lagislative councils. In response to the Congress demands, the Governor General Lord Minto (1905-1910) agreed in principle to introduce some limited electoral system in constituting the provincial and central legislative councils.
The Congress demands for constitutional reforms led the Muslim League to launch a campaign for ensuring separate electorate for the Muslims in view of the relative backwardness of the Muslim society and its socio-cultural differences with the Hindus. The Muslim leadership became worried when it was made clear that the government was contemplating to introduce limited representative government in the provinces. They apprehended that under any electoral system, the Muslim interests were likely to remain ignored because of their social and political backwardness compared to the Hindus. A delegation of Muslim elites headed by Aga Khan met Governor General Lord Minto in October 1906 at 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 to be made in the future. They especially demanded for election of Muslims to the central and provincial councils through separate Muslim electorates. Lord Minto assured the delegation of his support to the idea of a constitutional arrangement of separate electorates for the Muslim community and accordingly he recommended to Morley, the Secretary of State, for considering the idea of introducing separate electorate for the Muslims in the next reform measures.
The reform ideas of Morley and Minto were embodied in the India Act of 1909. The leading features of the Act are the introduction of separate electorate for the Muslims, inclusion of an Indian on the central and provincial councils and also on the council of the Secretary of State for India and introduction of elected members in the provincial and central councils. The reform proposal, however, did not at all intend to create any representative government. Its only object was to make a start towards representative government. This was the most important feature of the Act. The far reaching significance of the Act was the grant of separate electorate for the Muslim community. For the central legislature, it was provided that the elected members of the provincial councils would elect members for the legislative council of the governor general. But both in the centre and in the province, the elected members made a minority, the majority members were to be nominated by the governor general for the central council and by the governor for the provincial council. Bengal's legislative council was to be consisted of 50 members. The governor general's legislative council consisted of 60 members. As a precedent of the introduction of separate electorate for the Muslims, Morley cited the cases of Cyprus and Bohemia where separate electorates were operative with great success. But the introduction of separate electorate for the Muslims was interpreted by the Congress as a measure of imperial control system by adopting an elective policy of divide and rule.
The Morley-Minto reforms made a land mark towards the development of constitutional government. The Act, however, contributed to the growth of separatist politics in communal line. The Act increased the functions of the legislatures. Now the budgets made by the governor general and provincial governor were to be presented for discussion in the councils. The councils got the power to make recommendations to governor and governor general for making changes in the budgets. But budgets could be discussed, but no resolutions could adopted on it. The members got the privilege to move resolution on matters of public interest. But such resolutions could be adopted only in the form of recommendations. Questions could be asked on the state of affairs of the province, but no resolution could be taken after discussion. The Act also provided for the removal of the Indian capital to a suitable place so as to enable the central government and central legislature to act uninterfered by local circumstances.
Morley-Minto reforms registered a major landmarks towards the growth of constitutional government not immediately, because it did not enact anything very important constitutionally other than introducing separate electorate for the Muslims. The Act of 1909 just paved the way to future constitutional reforms. After the First World War, the state of affairs changed so radically that major constitutional reforms had to be undertaken immediately, and for that Morley-Minto reforms provided a good background exercises. [Sirajul Islam]