Legislatures of British India

Flag of British India

The Legislatures of British India included legislative bodies in the presidencies and provinces of British India, the Imperial Legislative Council, the Chamber of Princes and the Central Legislative Assembly. The legislatures were created under Acts of Parliament of the United Kingdom. Initially serving as small advisory councils, the legislatures evolved into partially elected bodies, but were never elected through universal suffrage. Provincial legislatures saw boycotts during the period of dyarchy between 1919 and 1935. After reforms and elections in 1937, the largest parties in provincial legislatures formed governments headed by a Prime Minister. A few British Indian subjects were elected to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which had superior powers than colonial legislatures. British Indian legislatures did not include Burma's legislative assembly after 1937, the State Council of Ceylon nor the legislative bodies of princely states.

Advisory councils (1861-1919)

Legislative councils were first formed in each province under the Indian Councils Act 1861. Members would include nominees of the Lieutenant Governor who had to receive consent from the Governor General of India. Native Indian subjects were a minority in the early councils, which were dominated by Europeans and Anglo-Indians. The Lieutenant Governor could nominate a maximum of 12 members to these councils, which did not have fixed term limits. The councils were merely advisory bodies for the provincial governments.[1]

Under the Indian Councils Act 1892, the legislative councils expanded to 20 members. The councils were empowered to address questions to the executive and discuss budgets without voting. The Lieutenant Governor would nominate 7 members from the recommendations of universities, city corporations, municipalities, district boards and chambers of commerce.[1] The majority of councilors continued to be European and a minority were Indian.[1]

The Morley-Minto Reforms were the brainchild of John Morley, the Secretary of State for India, and Earl Minto, the Viceroy of India. The reforms were enacted under the Indian Councils Act 1909, which brought amendments to the Acts of 1861 and 1892. However, they did not go as far as the demands for home rule put forward by the Indian National Congress. Colonial administrators were not keen to grant parliamentary powers to India, possibly for fear of subversion. Britain was also a unitary state and little power was given its regional or colonial units. Under the Act of 1909, the number of seats in legislative councils were expanded.[2] Councils were established at the central level and for gubernatorial provinces. Under the reforms, the majority of councilors would be elected and a minority would be nominated from the government. Property owners, including the zamindars, became voters. Muslims were given the status of a "separate electorate". The Act increased the powers of legislative council to discuss budgets, suggest amendments and vote on limited matters. Representatives from plantations, commercial chambers, universities and landholders were given seats in the assembly. Education, local government, public health, public works, agriculture and cooperative societies were made "transferred subjects" to be administered by the elected representatives. The "reserved subjects" were to be administered by the Executive Council. Reserved subjects included finance, police, land revenue, law, justice and labour.[3][4][1]

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