Government of India Act 1909
Indian Council Act 1909

Indian Council Act 1909 was introduced by the Britishers in the early 20th century to disintegrate India on communal lines and create disharmony between Hindus and Muslims so to counteract the process of thriving nationalism in India. The present article attempts to analyze the background, objectives, provisions of the Indian Council Act 1909, and subsequently the reasons for its failure.


Since the establishment of colonial power, India was commonly witnessing the sociopolitical paralysis, economic exploitation, agricultural stagnation, artisanal decline, educational inefficiency, and increasing illiteracy rates. The dissatisfaction growing from the algebraic product of all these was reflected in the radical representation of Indians against British rule in the early 20th century in militant forms that was defined by colonizers as “Indian Unrest.”
Frightened by springing militant nationalism and political consciousness, the British regime partitioned Bengal in 1905 to cultivate communal divisions between Hindus and Muslims and to terminate the impact of nationalists. But interestingly, both religions collaboratively condemned the colonial decision of dividing Bengal and launched the “Boycott and Swadeshi Movement exemplifying their contention against the decision and encouraging indigenous and swadeshi goods in the popular leadership of Lal Bal Pal.
But the collaboration was short-lived. In December 1906, the All India Muslim League was founded by Aga Khan and Nawab Salaimullah of Dacca who advocated Partition of Bengal and negated the ongoing Swadeshi Movement. In Shimla Deputation, these elites urged for special safeguards and separate electorates for Muslims. These circumstances intensified the communal distinctions and conflicts between both religions.
Following this in 1907, the Indian National Congress broke down into moderates and extremists in Surat Split due to ideological disparities and dissension. The Viceroy of India Lord Minto criticized the extremists but realized it imperative to connect with moderates and provide them with political concessions, which were popularly remarked as the Indian Councils Act, 1909 or Morley-Minto Reforms.

Provisions of Indian Council Act 1909:

 Indian Council Act 1909
Indian Council Act 1909

The provisions laid out were as follows:

  • Enlargement of Central and Provincial Legislative Council: The numeric strength of non-official members was increased in the Central Legislative Council from 16 to 60 and non-uniformly in Provincial Legislative Council. The element of the election was installed in Central Legislative Council retaining the official majority but the non-official majority was ascertained in Provincial Legislative Council.
  • Extension of powers of non-official members: The powers of non-official members of the legislative Council were extended and they were now entrusted to discuss budget and matters of public interest. They could also move resolutions and ask supplementary questions to executives. 
  • It welcomed the association of Indians with the executive council of Viceroy and Governors. Satyendra Prasad Sinha was the first member to join the Viceroy’s executive council in 1909.
  • Communal Representation of Muslims: On the consistent demand of the Muslim League, the concept of communal representation i.e. separate electorates for Muslims were accepted. Under this act, some constituencies were set aside for Muslims and only Muslims could vote for their representatives. Therefore, it certified communalism in India and Lord Minto is known as “Father of Communal Electorates in India.”

For Understanding Long-term Impacts of Communalism, refer to Partition of India.

Drawbacks of Indian Council Act 1909:

The nationalists were profoundly dismayed by the communal representation of Muslims in this act because they believed that it was a demarcation of communalism and separatism in India but they welcomed it to gain privileges in Legislative Councils. The pace of nationalist spirit that had slowed down or almost halted after the breakdown of INC and the imprisonment of Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1907 on the pretext of preaching nationalism was revived by the launch of the Home Rule Movement in 1915.

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