Minto-Morley Reforms – 1909

John Morley, Secretary of State for India (1905-1911)

Following the Liberal Party’s whopping success in the 1906 British general election, John Morley became the Secretary of State for India. In contrast to the Conservative Party’s autocratic approach to India, the Liberals were more susceptible to Indian demands for more political representation.

So far, Indians were limited to proposing candidates whom the British could consider for the Imperial Legislative Council – but even then, those candidates could only give speeches and take part in debates rather than vote on legislation – despite the best efforts of the INC[1]. Nonetheless, the new government presented an opportunity for Congress to redouble its efforts. To avoid being left out, the Muslim elite formed the AIML to guarantee Muslim representation.

For the next three years, the AIML campaigned and lobbied London to see the introduction of separate electorates and reserved seats. On the 1st October 1908, draft proposals for future reforms provided Muslims with reserved seats in all councils, resulting in limited Muslim representation in the provincial and imperial legislatures. For the AIML, this was not enough as Morley, who oversaw the reforms, still opted for a mixed electoral college. In response, the League and Muslim press began to protest what they saw as a betrayal of the Simla Deputation discussed in the previous essay.

On the 23rd February 1909, the AIML got Morley to voice his support for separate Muslim representation marking the League’s first victory. Despite this, the reforms still did not meet the League’s demands as they provided an inadequate number of Muslim seats. The League’s London branch opposed the bill, winning some support within parliament, meanwhile back in India, they organised a protest[2].

The Reforms Committee advised Lord Minto, the Viceroy, to seek a settlement with the AIML. Minto believed that the Muslims had already had enough representation. However, Morley was weary of the potential obstacles that dissatisfied Muslims could pose to British rule following the Rebellion of 1857 and Lord Mayo’s assassination in 1872[3].

On the 12th September 1909, the League once again pressed for more Muslim representation. Despite Minto’s ardent opposition, Morley was sure the bill would not pass without the League’s support and opted to sit down with their leadership. The Aga Khan, then President of the AIML, compromised for the inclusion of two additional reserved seats for Muslims in the Imperial Legislative Council. The rest of the League hesitantly agreed[4].

The Indian Councils Act of 1909 (aka the Minto-Morley Reforms) increased the number of members of the Imperial Legislative Council from 16 to 69, of which only 27 were to be elected[5]:

  • Viceroy’s Executive Council (9)
  • Nominated by the Viceroy (33)
    • Officials (28)
    • Non-officials (5):
      • Commerce (1)
      • Punjabi Muslim (1)
      • Punjabi Landowner (1)
      • Others (2)
  • Non-officials elected from provincial legislatures (27)
    • General (13):
      • Bombay (2)
      • Madras (2)
      • Bengal (2)
      • United Provinces (2)
      • Central Provinces (1)
      • Assam (1)
      • Bihar & Orissa (1)
      • Punjab (1)
      • Burma (1)
    • Landholders (6):
      • Bombay (1)
      • Madras (1)
      • Bengal (1)
      • United Provinces (1)
      • Central Provinces (1)
      • Bihar & Orissa (1)
    • Muslim (6):
      • Bengal (2)
      • Madras (1)
      • Bombay (1)
      • United Provinces (1)
      • Bihar & Orissa (1)
    • Commerce (2):
      • Bengal Chamber of Commerce (1)
      • Bombay Chamber of Commerce (1)

The Minto-Morley Reforms in and of themselves did not do much for the everyday Indian. Most of the Indians in the Imperial Legislative Council were not given official status and could not vote on legislation. However, they could discuss the budget, present resolutions, and ask questions[6]. Furthermore, it also made it a requirement to have Indian members on the council. Before, it was only a courtesy[7].

The reforms provided a platform for Indian politicians to build upon. In essence, they were getting a foot in the door for independence. For the League, in particular, it ensured a limited amount of representation in government to see to the interests of India’s Muslims. That being said, the main takeaway from the reforms was separate electorates.

In a separate electorate system, a certain number of seats in a constituency are reserved for a particular community. For example, a total of 7 seats were reserved for Muslims in the Imperial Legislative Council. The candidates that occupy those seats must belong to that community. The voters that get to vote for which candidate occupies the seat must also belong to that same community. Other communities do not get to participate in the elections that determine who occupies the reserved seat.

In short, Muslims and only Muslims got a say in who occupied Muslim seats in government. If a party wanted to win a Muslim seat, they had to put forward a Muslim candidate, and that candidate must win the support of the Muslim community in that constituency.

A separate electorate system meant that Muslim politicians could give proper representation to their Muslim constituents without fear of being ousted by a non-Muslim majority. The alternative, a joint electorate, would have meant Muslim politicians got swamped out of government. Those who did get elected would be very watered-down to avoid upsetting the majority. The reforms allowed Muslims to get into government and rock the boat without fear of being tossed overboard. However, not everyone was happy.

The Quaid-i-Azam, for one, was not pleased. Still a firm believer in Congress, Jinnah moved the resolution deploring the extension of separate electorates to local boards at the 1910 annual INC session even though he had directly benefited from them[8]. Jinnah was elected to the Imperial Legislative Council as the Muslim candidate from Bombay.

The introduction of separate electorates is often interpreted as another successful attempt by the British to divide Hindus and Muslims[9]. And while there is merit to this argument, one must still be mindful of the already existing lack of Muslim representation in government and Congress. If the INC were not willing to see to the interests of Muslim India, it would fall to the AIML to do so with separate electorates.

Today, Muslims make up 14.2% of India’s population[10] but less than 4% in the Lok Sabha, India’s 545 seat lower house of parliament[11]. Given the current situation facing India’s Muslim minority, I would argue that a lack of Muslim political representation is more detrimental to Hindu-Muslim unity than the introduction of separate electorates. Had separate electorates for Muslims not been scrapped upon independence, I am confident India’s current communal landscape would be vastly different.

For the next three decades, separate electorates would continue to play a critical role in Indian politics and the direction of the Indian Independence Movement. Despite Jinnah’s objections, he would continue to utilise the separate electorate system to his strategic political advantage.


This essay is part of a larger series on the history of the Pakistan Movement called Jinnah’s Pakistan: Revisiting the Pakistan Movement


[1] Kulke, H. and Rothermund, D., 1986. A History Of India. Croom Helm Australia Pty Ltd.

[2] Robinson, F., 1974. Separatism Among Indian Muslims: The Politics Of The United Provinces’ Muslims, 1860-1923. Cambridge University Press.

[3] Robb, P., 2002. A History Of India. Palgrave Macmillan.

[4] Robinson, F., 1974. Separatism Among Indian Muslims: The Politics Of The United Provinces’ Muslims, 1860-1923. Cambridge University Press.

[5] Archive.org. n.d. Indian Constitutional Documents, 1773-1915. [online] Available at: <https://archive.org/stream/indianconstituti00mukeuoft#page/306/mode/2up> [Accessed 7 July 2020].

[6] Gul, S. and Neelam, M., 2018. M.A. Jinnah in the Imperial Legislative Council of India, 1910-13 and 1916-19. Pakistan Historical Society. Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society, [online] 66(3/4). Available at: <https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1P4-2224908890/m-a-jinnah-in-the-imperial-legislative-council-of> [Accessed 9 July 2020].

[7] Chandra, B., Mukherjee, M., Mukherjee, A., Panikkar, K. and Mahajan, S., 1988. India’s Struggle For Independence. Penguin.

[8] Jalal, A., 1985. The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, The Muslim League And The Demand For Pakistan. Cambridge University Press.

[9] Katju, M., 2013. The truth about Pakistan. The Nation, [online] Available at: <https://nation.com.pk/02-Mar-2013/the-truth-about-pakistan> [Accessed 30 June 2020].

[10] Firstpost, 2015. India has 79.8% Hindus, 14.2% Muslims, says 2011 census data on religion, Firstpost, [online] Available at: <https://www.firstpost.com/india/india-has-79-8-percent-hindus-14-2-percent-muslims-2011-census-data-on-religion-2407708.html> [Accessed 9 July 2020].

[11] Wolfe, D., Kopf, D. and Thaker, A., 2019. Why is Muslim political representation declining in India?. Quartz India, [online] Available at: <https://qz.com/india/1617067/indian-election-2019-why-few-muslims-make-it-to-the-lok-sabha/> [Accessed 9 July 2020].

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