The Indian Councils Act of 1909: Morley-Minto Reforms

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The Indian Councils Act of 1909, also known as the Morley-Minto Reforms, was a significant piece of legislation during British colonial rule in India. It was named after Viceroy Lord Minto and Secretary of State John Morley and aimed to address the growing demand among Indians for greater involvement in the governance of British India. This blog on Indian Councils Act of 1909 will delve into the background, main provisions, reactions, and long-term impact of the Morley-Minto Reforms.


During the late 19th century, nationalist sentiments were on the rise in India, leading to the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885. A key concern for Indian leaders was the limited representation of Indians in the civil service and administrative roles. Despite promises of racial equality made in the Government of India Act of 1858, actual Indian participation in positions of power remained minimal. Examinations for government service were conducted exclusively in Britain, and age restrictions further hindered Indian entry into these roles.

The 1892 Reforms

In response to Indian demands, the Indian Councils Act of 1892 introduced some reforms, such as increasing the number of council members and allowing universities to recommend representatives. However, these concessions fell short of Indian expectations, as the government still retained significant power and control.

Rise of Nationalist Sentiments

The failure of the 1892 reforms to meet Indian aspirations led to the emergence of more radical nationalist movements within the Indian National Congress. Many believed that the moderate approach had not yielded sufficient results, leading to increased agitation for a more assertive strategy against British rule.

John Morley’s Appointment

In 1906, John Morley, a liberal philosopher, became the Secretary of State for India after the Liberal Party’s victory in the general election. Morley aimed to implement the promised equality of opportunity for Indians while also countering the growing wave of radical nationalism.

The Simla Deputation

In response to Morley’s willingness to consider reforms, the Muslim League sent the Simla Deputation to advocate for Muslim interests. The Muslim League was concerned about the rise of a Hindu-dominated political system and demanded separate electorates for Muslims in provincial and imperial councils.

Separate Muslim Electorates: Most Controversial Provision Of Indian Councils Act of 1909

Under the influence of British administrators and Herbert Risley, the Home Secretary, separate Muslim electorates were included in the final plan of the Morley-Minto Reforms. This decision aimed to prevent the rise of an Indian majority in the legislature and address Muslim discontent.

Morley-Minto Reforms

The Morley-Minto Act introduced significant political reforms. Both central and provincial legislative councils saw an increase in size and expanded memberships. Local bodies would elect an electoral college, which, in turn, would elect members of provincial legislatures and the central legislature. However, Muslim members were elected only by Muslim voters, further dividing the electorate.

The act abolished the “Official Majority” system in provincial councils, which had previously appointed a majority of members from civil service officials. However, the Official Majority was retained in the Central Legislative Council. Elected Indian members gained the ability to table resolutions, debate budgetary matters, and ask supplementary questions. Nevertheless, discussions on foreign policy and relations with princely states remained off-limits, and the British executive retained an absolute veto over all legislation.

Reactions and Legacy

Following the passage of the Morley-Minto Reforms, John Morley appointed Indian members to his council in Whitehall and persuaded Viceroy Lord Minto to appoint the first Indian member to the Viceroy’s Executive Council, Satyendra P. Sinha. While the act did increase Indian participation in legislative councils, it fell short of addressing the Indian National Congress’s demands for colonial self-government.

The introduction of separate electorates for Muslims was seen by the Congress as an imperial strategy to divide and rule. However, the First World War significantly changed Indian expectations for representation, as India’s substantial support for the British war effort would lead to stronger demands.

In 1917, Indian Secretary Edwin Montagu announced further constitutional reforms toward responsible government, culminating in the Government of India Act of 1919. The Morley-Minto Reforms, while falling short of full self-government, marked a crucial step in India’s journey toward increased political participation and representation during the colonial era.

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