Journey of Indian Constitutional System: Pre-Independence Developments II
With the outbreak of war in 1857, Indian masses threatened the British authorities, it was a disastrous failure of Company’s administration. Thus, the British government decided to take direct control and to provide a new shape to the political system of India. It all started with the Royal assent to the Act of 1858 on 2nd August 1858 and the Queen proclaiming some principles for the future government of India, which were later followed so many reformative Acts.
- The government of India Act, 1858 (Queen’s Proclamation): The Act transferred the country’s governance to the British Government and ended the Company’s regime. Post of the Secretary of State was established at the place of Board of Directors and Board of Control. The Secretary was to be assisted by a body of 15 members, 8 of which were to be appointed by the Crown and rest to be elected by the Court of Directors. The Secretary of State got absolute control over administration through Governor-General in whom all civil and military, executive and military authority vested. The entire system became bureaucratic irrespective of public opinion.
- India Councils Act, 1861 and 1892: It was the first step through the Act of 1861 to associate Indians with legislative works. The Council of Governor-General was enlarged by minimum 6 to maximum 12 additional members of which at least half to be non-official members and barring them to hold any office for two years. The Legislative Council was given the power to make laws for all persons, places and things except the prior permission of Governor-General, who had veto power, for the matters related with public debt/revenue, religion, military. The Act also provided for the powers to the Presidency Government of Bombay and Madras to enact laws for the benefit of provinces.
An amendment to ratify the shortcomings of the Indian Councils Act,1861 was passed known as the Indian Councils Act, 1892. The Act increased the numbers of additional members in the councils. In Central Council, the minimum number was raised to 10 and maximum was made 16. For Bombay and Madras, the numbers were raised to 8 and 20. For UP and Bengal, the maximum limit was fixed to 15 and 20 respectively. The members were given the right to raise questions related to domestic issues, discuss the Budget. The Provincial Legislative Council got the power to make, amend or repeal laws with the prior permission of Governor-General. The Act empowered the council to put interpellation on the matters of public interest.
The Act of 1892 basically laid the foundation for representative government, which was actually attempted by Morley-Minto Reforms later on.
- Indian Councils Act, 1909 (Morley-Minto Reforms): Extremism, revolutionary nationalism and the public pressure on the administration led to the Morley-Minto (the then Secretary of State, Lord Morley and the Viceroy, Lord Minto) Reforms. To appease the Congress leaders and to repress the extremism was the intention of the authorities behind the reform. The features of the Act of 1909 were:
- It enlarged the Central as well as Provincial Councils. Viceroy’s Executive Council was raised from 16 to 60. Madras, Bombay, and Bengal were increased to have 60 members, While the Provincial Legislature of UP was increased to 50 and Punjab, Assam and Verma to have 30 members each.
- The most important part of the Act was to provide the separate communal Electorates, which sowed the seed of separatism. In the words of Nehru, “ It can hardly be overlooked that this idea of separate electorates for the synchronous with the formation of the Muslim League as a political party(1906).”[i]
The Moderate Congressmen were satisfied with the improvements made by the enactment and welcomed it but it was not like that in reality, actually, it retrograded the system. The biggest drawback in the Reform was the reservation of seats in the Councils for special interests like Muslims, Chamber of Commerce, Zamindars, etc. This act paved way for separatism in Indian Politics which later resulted in the partition of the country.
to be continued……
[i] Nehru, Discovery of India, 1956, p.155
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