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Tide in the Affairs of Men - Carpe Diem
 
 

"There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads to fortune, Omitted, all the voyage of their life, Is bound in shallows and miseries"
       William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act IV, Sc. 3

Great events do not happen without a cause, nor do they happen all of a sudden, though sometimes they look to be so. Very often, it is coalescing of the Man and the Moment that brings about events with far-reaching consequences. In this category fall all the great constitutional, legislative and systemic political acts which tend to govern the destiny of millions of men. All the great reforms in the world; be they religious, social or political, have materialized when the right person/persons emerged at the right moment. Morley-Minto Reforms Act 1909, an act of the Parliament of United Kingdom, popularly known as the Minto-Morley Reforms was one such spectacular event in the history of India's Independence. Its two architects were two British personages with sound political vision, deft diplomatic skills and seasoned administrative experience. These were Lord Minto, the Viceroy and Governor General of India (1905-1910), from the conservative party of U.K. and Lord Morley, the Secretary of State for India (1905-1910) from the liberal party of U.K. It was the perfect synergy, cooperative team work, inexhaustible patience and diplomatic skill of these two British officials at the helm of affairs during this period of half a decade which brought about these path-breaking reforms and set the roadmap for the adoption of parliamentary democracy by India almost half a century later, soon after its independence. Despite their diverse and very often antagonistic political backgrounds and affiliations, these two men worked in perfect tandem and succeeded in bringing about landmark legislation. It was Lord Minto who took over as Viceroy of India in 1905 and who, like a brilliant psycho-analyst, felt the pulse of the times as well as understood the politico-historical past heritage of India. Being aware of both the comparative ignorance and immaturity of the vast majority of Indian Masses as well as the aspirations of the miniscule section of educated and enlightened Indians, he recommended the introduction of graded political and administrative reforms without compromising the sovereign authority of the British rule in India. These recommendations were strongly endorsed by Lord Morley, the Secretary of State for India in England who grasped the relevance, legitimacy and the urgent need for these reforms and put his weight behind his subordinate's recommendations. We get a glimpse into the working of the mind of these two men from an account written by Mary, Countess of Minto, wife of Lord Minto from her book "India-Minto And Morley (1905-1910) -- compiled from the detailed correspondence between the Viceroy and the Secretary of State with extracts from her own Indian Journal" (Macmillan and Co. Ltd, London 1934). This rare book (BK-004597) digitized and preserved by Panjab Digital Library not only gives a gist of these reforms, but also narrates the reasons and circumstances necessitating these reforms. It also gives an account of the deeply entrenched imperial, bureaucratic arrogance and procedural hurdles encountered during the passage of the bill in both houses of the parliament. Before we learn about the working of the mind of the two main architects of these reforms narrated by Lady Minto, it would be appropriate to give a gist of these reforms.

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Minto-Morley Reforms Act 1909 envisaged for the first time representations to Indians both in the governing Central Legislative Council as well as in the provincial Legislative Councils by including Nominated as well as elected Indian members in these bodies. These members could discuss budget, suggest amendments, vote and ask supplementary questions. Since the number of nominated members together with official/ex-officio members exceeded the number of elected members, the final authority always remained vested with the ruling power due to its majority in the two councils. After the passage of this bill and becoming an Act, the strength of the Central Legislative Council increased from 16 to 60 while the strength of provincial Legislative Councils differed from province to province, for Bombay, Madras, United Provinces and Eastern Bengal being 50, and for Punjab and Burma being 30. Moreover, two eminent Indian members were nominated to the executive council of Secretary of State in UK and one Indian legal member nominated to viceroy's executive council in India. However, another disturbing but distinctive feature of this Act was the creation of separate electorates for the Muslims in the Municipal, District, Provincial and Imperial Legislative Councils. Only the Muslim members could be elected from these constituencies. Immediate cause for the introduction of these reforms was to soften the wide-spread anger and uprising among Indians following the partition of Bengal in 1905 by Lord Minto's predecessor Lord Curzon (1899-1905) and Indian demand for Swaraj. In fact, the British Strategy was to wean away a sizeable section of the English educated, enlightened Indians from the mainstream Indian masses. This section has been largely loyal to the British rule in India and approved of the British civilized way of life and British way of governance. The inclusion of this educated minority in the legislative councils and governance was aimed at empowering them by meeting their legitimate aspirations and stopping them from joining the ranks of the extremists. Similarly, empowerment of the Muslims after the creation of Eastern Bengal with a Muslim majority population and the creation of separate Muslim electorates was aimed at further strengthening the British divide and rule policy and keeping the Indian movement for independence under check. As a result, while these reforms were regarded merely cosmetic and vehemently opposed by the Indian National congress and Hindu majority for causing disunity among the Indians by the creation of separate Muslim electorates, the Muslims approved of these reforms. Despite these conflicting responses, these reforms were trend-setters and path-breaking. Even the two main architects of these reforms had never thought even in their wildest dreams that forty years later these reforms would pave the way for complete independence of India from the centuries' old British rule. Successive reforms on somewhat similar lines were carried on through the government of India acts of 1912, 1915 and 1919, the last act being based on Montagu-Chelmsford reforms. Thus, these reforms despite being too little and too notional at that time were seminal in nature. What strikes us most in this correspondence and in Mary Minto's account is the wide gap between Lord Minto's, and for that matter the British, perception about the issue of independence for India and that of the Indian leaders and Indian people. While majority of the Indian leaders like G.K. Gokhle believed that nothing less than complete independence from the British rule would satisfy them, Lord Minto believed that both India and Indians were neither capable of governing themselves at that stage, nor used to the concept of self-governance. Minto's belief was based on the fact that India had always been governed by their Native autocratic and monarchical rulers. He writes to Lady Minto, "From time immemorial in India the power of the state has rested in the hands of absolute rulers. Neither under Hindu kings nor Mohammadan Emperors had the people any voice in the affairs of the state." Justifying the continuance of British authority in India he asserts, "British authority in India may be traced historically to two-fold source; it is derived partly from the British Crown, partly from the Great Moghul and other Native Rulers of India (110). Any representative government for India on the Western parliamentary model at this juncture would be a western importation unnatural to Eastern tastes." (110) But feeling the temper and the signs of the times and marching in tandem with the rising aspirations of Indian people, neither an outright autocracy and undiluted sovereignty nor immediate independence and complete Indian representative government would resolve the prevailing tension or benefit India. By proposing graded reforms Minto, with the support of Morley, would like to usher in what he calls "Constitutional Autocracy"(110) which will continue to vest the sovereignty in the British but at the same time provide some representation to native Indians in power sharing. Minto also believed that the admission of one or two Native Indian representatives to Viceroy's and Secretary of State's Council would be "The Cheapest Concession" to the Indians. It will strengthen the British against the Congress and seditious elements as well as fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the fovourably inclined educated class among the Indians. This correspondence reveals Lord Minto as more mature, balanced and farsighted than his highly aggressive, tyrannical and autocratic predecessor Lord Curzon whose autocratic division of Bengal and repressive measures created turmoil in the country. It is more than a coincidence that Minto found a completely compatible match in Lord Morley who worked zealously to get Minto's reforms passed in the two houses of British Parliament and turned them into an Act of 1909. No wonder Morley writes to Minto into one of his dispatchs ?You and I are comrades in the toughest of battles...

"... We both understand India in the same way and look at our common business in the same spirit." (160) Lady Minto also believed that the minds of both these officials at the helm of affairs "were crystallizing in the same direction" (110). It was this similarity in their views and parity in their intellectual wavelengths, which resulted in perfect synergy between the two and culminated in these reforms and opened the path for further democratization. Their release of Indian prisoners like Lala Lajpat Rai and Ajit Singh and other deportees before demitting their offices further enhanced their stock among the Indians. The slogan: Ripon, Minto, Morley, England?s greatest three/India sing their praises till eternity (294) may be an exaggeration and smack of sycophancy on the part of some toadies of the British rule, but it does not appear to be completely wide of the mark. The contribution of these two men needs to be acknowledged. Mary, Countess of Minto's account also needs to be taken for arriving at a fair perspective on these reforms. Her account of British Aristocracy's hunting escapades and royal regalia narrated in this memoir are peripheral to the main concern.

- Prof. Kulwant Singh
  Senior Metadata Editor at Panjab Digital Library
 
 

 
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