Government of India Act 1909


After the 1904 Partition of Bengal escalated the political tempo of the country and widened the gulf between the Hindus and the Muslims in India, the British rulers believed that a dramatic step was required to reassure loyal elements of the Indian upper classes and the growing Westernized section of the population.

In 1906, Lord Morley, the Secretary of State for India, announced in the British parliament that his government wanted to introduce new reforms for India in which the locals were to be given more powers in legislative affairs. A committee was appointed by the Government of India to propose a scheme of reforms. The committee submitted its report, and after the approval of Lord Minto, the Viceroy for India, and Lord Morley, the Act of 1909 was passed by the British parliament, commonly known as the Morley-Minto Reforms. Its key features were as follows

  1. The members of the Legislative Councils, both in the center and in the provinces, were to be of four categories: ex officio members, nominated official members (government officials), nominated non-official members (civilians), and elected members.

Significance of the Government of India Act 1909

Although the Government of India Act 1909 did not go any significant distance toward meeting the Indian National Congress’s demand for ‘the system of government obtaining in Self-Governing British Colonies, the Act was important for the following reasons:

1. It effectively legitimized the election of Indians to the various legislative councils in India for the first time. Earlier, only a limited number of Indians were appointed to legislative councils. The majority of the councils remained British government appointments. Moreover, the electorate was limited to specific classes of Indian nationals.

2. The introduction of the electoral principle laid the groundwork for a parliamentary system even if this was contrary to the intent of Morley,

3. The British conceded the demand of Muslim leaders for separate electorates by stipulating that in councils and the imperial legislature, the number of reserved seats to be over their relative population (25 percent of the Indian population), and that only Muslims should vote for candidates for the Muslim seats (‘separate electorates’).



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