Speeches & Writings
Reform of legislative councils, 1894
In moving the following resolution at the Tenth Indian National Congress held at Madras in 1894, PanditMadan Mohan Malaviya said:
(a) That this Congress, in concurrence with the preceding Congress, considers that the creation of a Legislative Council for the Province of the Punjab is an absolute necessity for the good governance of that Province and having regard to the fact that a Legislative Council has been created for the N.W. Provinces, requests that no time should be lost in creating such a Council for the Punjab.
(b) That this Congress, in concurrence with the preceding Congress, is of opinion that the rules now in force under the Indian Council Act of 1892 are materially defective and prays that His Excellency the Viceroy in Council will be pleased to have fresh rules framed in a liberal spirit with a view to a better working of the Act and suited to the conditions and requirements of each Province.
Now, gentlemen, this question concerns the Legislative Councils, which are practically the bodies which decide what taxation shall be imposed upon the people and how the revenues raised shall be spent, and in fact all questions which affect the weal and woe of the two hundred and odd millions of this country in the most important respect. You remember, gentlemen, that for years past the Congress labored to bring about the reform of the Legislative Councils, We labored earnestly to bring about a reform of these Councils by having an increase in the number of member who form those Councils, and by having a right of discussing the Budget, & C. Our request was conceded, but in a very partial and limited manner. The Indian Councils Act of 1892 was passed, by which the number of our members was partially increased and certain powers were conferred upon us. We might then have hoped that the Councils as now constituted, or rather reformed, would be something better than the Councils which existed before these reformed Councils. But, gentlemen, I will invite your attention only to some points, to some facts, which have happened within the last 12 months, and ask you to say whether you consider that with all the reform what has been brought to you in these Councils, the Legislative Councils of India, including that of the Governer-General in Council, are anything but shams, so far as the real and true interest of the people of India are concerned. (Cheers). Gentlemen, you will remember the debate on the Indian Tariff Bill, you will remember the debate on the Indian Council Bill; you will remember how while there was a strong desire on the part of the members of the Councils, including, so far as one could see. His Excellency the Viceroy himself, to levy, to reimpose the cotton duties, the Council left their hands fully restrained by a dictum of the Secretary of State for India; you will remember the piteous wailings of some of the members of the Council, the piteous tones in which some of the official members of the Councils tried to excuse their conduct by saying that they were bound, being official members to vote in obedience to the orders of the Secretary of State for India. (Shame, Shame). Gentlemen, if there is one characteristic of Englishmen which distinguishes them above all other people, which entitles them to the respect of nations more than anything else, it is their sense of duty. (Cheers). We thought we were under the impression that an Englishman taking up any position of responsibility would lay aside govern his conduct in relation to those for the betterment of whose condition and for the protection of whose interests he was appointed. But, gentlemen, here we have a sad confession of the weakness- shall I say something worse? No, gentlemen, I will only say weakness, or let me say the powerlessness – of the official members, as confessed by themselves so far as the protecting of the interest of India is concerned. When the question of re-imposing the cotton duties comes up again, the permission which the Secretary of State has granted is accompanied by the mandate that this duty so urgently needed by the distressed condition of Indian finance cannot be reimposed unless a countervailing excise duty is imposed upon Indian manufactures. (Hear, hear) Gentlemen, what does it show ? It fully demonstrates this said fact, that the Government of India is powerless to protect the interests of Indians. Unfortunately, they are not equally powerless when doing mischief to the people of India. (Cheers). You will remember, gentlemen, how the Exchange Compensation Allowance was granted. At that time the government of India and the Secretary of State agreed together the Exchange Compensation should be allowed, and it was allowed. Therefore as matters stand now, you find that the Government of India, as at present constituted, is powerless for the good of the Indians in all matters affecting the finance of India, and is potent for mischief in relation to matters affecting those interest. (Cheers).
Gentlemen, I have not referred to this without an object : I only wish to point out to you the extreme necessity of having a further reform of these Councils, by means of which we might have a larger number of non-official members in the Councils, armed with greater and more substantial powers to protect the interests of the people of this country. I was going to refer you to the division on the Indian Tariff Bill, simply to show you that so far as I see, every official member supported that measure which every non-official member of the Viceroy’s Council opposed. Here are the proceedings recorded; you have only this satisfaction, to see that the “Ayes” and the “Noes” are recorded, but beyond that they were powerless to protect you against the injustice wrought upon you. Therefore, gentlemen, it is a matter of extreme necessity, finding that the official members of the Government of India are bound by the dictum of the Secretary of State, and finding also to our great regret that the Secretary of State that high State dignitary is not guided by his own reasoning, by his own wishes, by his own convictions, so far as one could judge them, but that he is guided by paltry party considerations, by a desire to please a few persons in Lancashire – it becomes extremely necessary that you should unite in a body to pray to Her Majesty to grant further reform of the Councils (cheers), in order that our interests may be protected. And now, gentlemen, that is, no doubt, not before the Congress at this moment, but all that I have brought it in for is to show you how very little, how very small, is the measure of reform that we seek of the Government in asking them to give us all that could be given, that can be liberally given, justly given, under the Councils Act of 1892. If with the entire Council standing as it does against us, our interests cannot be fully protected, is there not the greatest reason why that should be conceded in the most liberal spirit, so that we might derive the greatest benefit we can from it? Has it been so conceded and has the Indian Councils Act of 1892 been so worked? You will remember your esteemed Chairman of the Reception Committee inviting you attention to the assertions of Mr. Gladstone and Lord Salisbury in that connection. With your permission I should like to read those words again, to show what hopes we were allowed to entertain, what promises were made to us. Mr. Gladstone speaking as the head of the Liberal party said, “I believe I am justified in looking forward not merely to a nominal but to a real living representation of the people.” Lord Salisbury, on his side, speaking on the same subject, said in the House of Lords, “If we are to do it, and if it has to be done, of course accepting that it must be done, let us do it systematically, taking care that the machinery provided shall effect the purpose of giving representation, not to accidentally constituted bodies, not to small sections of the people here and there, but to the living strength and vital forces of the whole community of India.” (Cheers). Gentlemen, if the persons entrusted with framing of the rules under the Act here had been good enough to carry out the promises given by these responsible statesmen, given by the Under Secretary of State for India and the Secretary of State for India in that connection, we should have had little reason to complain so far as the rules of the Councils Act are concerned. But, gentlemen, while there is an extreme solicitousness to bring in the latest improvements of western science into India, where the interests of the people of India are not directly concerned, there is an extreme unwillingness on the part of some of our Anglo-Indian Administrators to introduce reforms in the political Administration of the country, which centuries ago were pronounced to be beneficent, and which centuries ago were adopted in England. You must have read, gentlemen, most of you, that before the Reform Bill of 1832, there were what was called “rotten boroughs” in England. What has become of those boroughs? I am sorry I am not able to lay my hands upon the book in which I read of them; and cannot therefore quote it in detail, but, as far as I remember, it was simply this, that there were half-a-dozen, seats in Parliament owned sometimes by one rich man, ten seats owned by another rich man, and I believe there was one gentleman, a large landowner so far as I can remember, who had eleven seats in Parliament under his thumb (Laughter). Gentlemen, we thought that those times had gone by, that the constitutional battles which the England people had fought, that the agitation which they had carried on, had established the principle that “in the multitude of councilors there is wisdom” – that the greater the number of men who are admitted to a voice in the administration of the country, the greater is the chance of the administration being best conducted. Therefore, gentlemen, what we expected in every way was that the franchise would be conferred under the present Act – the Indian Council Act of 1892 – in a liberal a spirit as it could be (Cheers).
I will refer you to what has happened chiefly in Bombay and in the Norht-Western Provinces. I should not trespass upon the ground which will be taken up by my Bombay friends. I will only briefly refer to it and then I will say a few words with reference to the North-Western Provinces. In Bombay, gentlemen, eight seats have been thrown open to the non-officials, of these eight seats two have been given to the Bombay Corporation and Senate of the Bombay University, of the remaining six seats two together have been given to the Zemindars of Sind and the Chamber of Commerce at Kurrachee, one has been given to the Bombay Chamber of Commerce, and two only to the general public. A very important division, the Central division, which includes Poona and Satara, has been excluded. (Shame, Shame). Now, gentlemen, I will only say this, that a system which leaves out a historical and well known place, a place which has been noted for the keenness of the intellect of its Barhmans and its other people, (cheers), a place which is regarded by the people of the Deccan as the seat of the learning and piety – a system which leaves out such a place, is a system which stands condemned by itself. (Hear, hear). A few words with regard to the North-Western Provinces. There it has been our lot to have the greatest share of this illiberal dispensation of the franchise. Gentlemen, there are 103Municipalities in the North-Western Provinces and Oudh; and there are 44 District Boards. While this privilege of electing members has been conferred upon all these 44 District Boards, they being grouped together in two groups and having the right to send one member form each group, only 10 out of the 103 Municipalities in the entire Provinces have been thought fit to be entrusted with this privilege. Now, you will please consider that, in the first place, this system which requires representatives delegates to be elected, not by the people directly but by their elected representatives, is in itself a very objectionable system; we want the people themselves to be allowed to elect; (Hear, hear) and we do not see any reason why they should not. In England, when the organization and the system of administration had not attained half the perfection, which I may say for administrative purposes the administration has attained in India, they extended the franchiese to people enjoying a certain property qualification; while persons enjoying in this country a certain income, it may be a hundred rupees a month or two hundred rupees a month are considered to be fit to be elected Municipal Commissioners or members of the District Board. If the Government do not see their way to conferring this privilege upon all the electors who elect members for the Municipallity and District Boards, where on earth is the difficulty, where is the justification for not allowing those persons who are entitled by reason of their property qualification to sit as members of the District Boards and Municipalities to elect members for the Council directly? (Hear, hear). However, if this is not done, gentlemen, let at least the members composing the Municipalities and District Boards meet at one central place – the railway makes the journey very easy – and vote for the men directly. (Cheers). What is at present required is that the various District Boards and Municipalities hold meetings at their respective places and nominate one representative to vote at a central place. Out of a population of 40 millions, you find tenpersons meeting together in the province to return two members in the Council. What could be more unsatisfactory than that? Gentlemen, I am very much afraid of the President’s gong, and I do not wish to disobey the authority of the chair; so I will not take up any more time. I will only say this; that if the different administrators in this country really and honestly desire to give effect to the provisions of the Indian Councils Act, as explained by the Secretary of State and the Under Secretary of State, and by Mr. Gladstone and Lord Salisbury, they should extend the franchise to all those persons who are entitled to sit as members of the Local and Municipal Boards or at least if they cannot venture on such a scheme as that so soon, let them confer this power at least on all the members of the District and Local Boards, and, instead of having a distilled representation, let the people elect the members themselves. Gentlemen, I will not take up more of your time, but I hope that the Government may yet see the urgency and the necessity of this reform, and that it may grant it before long. (Loud cheers)