Early Legislative Assembly

Early Legislative Assembly in India

The Indian Legislative Assembly in the Report on Indian Constitutional Reforms by Edwin S. Montagu and Lord Chelmsford, 1918

“We now come to the changes required in the Indian Legislative Council. Its existing composition we have already explained. No argument is needed to show that under present conditions twenty-seven elected members, many of them returned by small class electorates, cannot adequately represent the interests of the entire country in the supreme assembly. Indeed no council, the composition of which is conditioned by the necessity of maintaining an official majority, could possibly serve that purpose. We recommend therefore that the strength of the legislative council, to be known in future as the legislative assembly of India, should be raised to a total strength of about one hundred members, so as to be far more truly representative of British India. We propose that two-thirds of this total should be returned by election; and that one-third should be nominated by the Governor-General, of which third not less than a third again should be non-officials selected with the object of representing minority or special interests. We have decided not to present to His Majesty’s Government a complete scheme for the election of the elected representatives; our discussions have shown us that we have not the data on which to arrive at any sound conclusions. Some special representation, we think, there must be, as for European and Indian commerce, and also for the large landlords. There should be also communal representation for Muhammadans in most provinces and also for Sikhs in the Punjab. There is no difficulty about direct election in the case of special constituencies. It is in respect of the general or residuary electorate, including therein the communal electorates for Muhammadans and Sikhs that complexities present themselves. Our decided preference is for a system of direct electorates, but the immensity of the country makes it difficult, it may be impossible, to form constituencies of reasonable size in which candidates will be able to get into direct touch with the electorates. Moreover there is the further difficulty (which, however, presents itself in any system of constituencies) of the inequalities of wealth existing between the different communities. If constituencies are to be approximately even in size, it may be necessary to concede a special franchise to the Muhammadans, who, taken as a whole, are poorer than the Hindus: and this means giving a vote to some Muhammadans who would not be entitled to vote if they were Hindus. That is an undesirable anomaly, to which we should prefer the anomaly of unequal constituencies; but on our present information we find it impossible to say how great the practical difficulties of variation in size might be. Similar problems will present themselves in respect of constituencies for the elections to provincial councils. It is obviously desirable to deal on uniform lines with the electoral arrangements both in the provincial and Indian councils. As regards the former, we have already recommended the appointment of a special committee to investigate questions of franchises and electorates; and to that body we would therefore also commit the task of determining the electorates and constituencies for the Indian Legislative Assembly. They may find it wholly impracticable to arrange for direct election. In that case they will consider the various possible systems of indirect election. We are fully aware of the objections attaching to all forms of indirect election; but if the difficulties of direct election compel us to have recourse to indirect, we incline to think that election by non-official members of provincial councils is likely to prove far more acceptable to Indian opinion, and, in spite of the smallness of the electoral bodies, certainly not open in practice to greater objection than any of other alternative methods which have been from time to time proposed.

For reasons similar to those which we have given in the case of the provincial legislative councils, we recommend that members of the Indian Legislative Assembly should not be designated ‘Honourable’, but should be entitled to affix the letters M.L.A. to their names.”

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