Simla Deputation

Simla Deputation organized by the Indian Muslim leaders, met the Governor General and Viceroy lord Minto in Simla on 1 October 1906. The aim of the deputation was to win the sympathies of the Raj on their side concerning matters relating to their interests as a community. The meeting was extremely significant. As such it has gone down in the history of the subcontinent as the Simla Deputation.

The Simla Deputation occupies a very important place in the history of modern Muslim India. For the first time, Hindu- Muslim conflict was lifted to the constitutional plane. The rift in society was now to be translated into legal and political institutions. The Muslims had made it clear that they had no confidence in the Hindu majority, that they were not prepared to put their future in the hands of assemblies elected on the assumption of a homogeneous Indian nation. By implication they rejected the idea of a single Indian nation on the ground that the minority could not trust the majority. From this it was but a short step to demanding a separate state for the Muslims of India It is in this sense that in the beginnings of separate electorates may be seen the glimmerings of the two-nation theory. The significance of the Simla demand lay in the reservations which the Muslims had about their Indian nationality.

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Soon after the War of Independence of 1857, the British government realized that it was not safe to legislate for millions of people with few means of knowing-- except by a rebellion--whether the laws suit them or not. Undoubtedly, Syed Ahmad Khan’s pamphlet Causes of the Indian Revolt contributed to this realization on part of the British. It asserted that the absence of Indians from the councils of the country was mainly responsible for the troubles of 1857.

In 1861, the governor general’s council was enlarged to include 50% non- officials nominated by the governor general. Their appointment indicated a desire on the, part of the government to obtain unofficial cooperation and advice in making laws. On January 15, 1883, when the bill for local self-government was moved, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, a member of the Lord Ripon’s legislative council, argued that in India, a homeland of different peoples believing in different modes of life, western democracy would not work, because the Hindu majority would dominate the minorities. As a result of his constant efforts for the nomination system, the Indian Councils Act of 1892 indirectly introduced the principle of election. The use of the word election was avoided; some unofficial members were still nominated, and others were appointed on the recommendation of important communities and interests represented by such bodies as landlord associations, municipal and district boards, universities, or chambers of commerce. The government of India issued directions to provincial government that representation should be provided for certain classes’ and interests, including Muslims. Thus, the new act introduced a semi-electorate system and the principles of representation and election in India. But this system proved totally futile, as from 1892 to 1906, not even a single Muslim representative could secure a seat in the legislative councils as the local bodies were also dominated by Hindus, who always voted on religious grounds.

The turning, point in the early phase of the Muslim political movement came in the summer of 1906. The elections in England in 1905 changed the whole sphere of politics. The new Liberal government in England announced that it intended to introduce constitutional changes in India. The viceroy, Lord Minto, had already appointed a committee of his executive council to inquire into the working of the Indian Councils Act of 1892 and to examine the question of’ further constitutional reforms. The committee expressed the opinion that the Muslims had not been sufficiently represented on the existing councils, that the few elected members had not been really represented and that nomination had failed to secure the appointment of Muslims of the class desired by the community.

On 20 July “1906, Secretary of State for India Lord Morley announced in the House of commons reforms concerning the Indian constitution. The announcement created much ‘excitement among the Muslim leadership. The Indian Councils Act of 1892 had badly hurt Muslim interests. The process envisaged in the Act for sending representatives to the Central and Provincial Assemblies had failed to ensure a fair representation of the Muslims. In this situation, the leaders of the Muslim community felt the need for bringing into the notice of the government their own views regarding the formation of the proposed council which would preserve the interests of the Muslims in the future constitution of India.

With this end in view, Nawab Mohsinul-Mulk, secretary of Aligarh College, appealed through the Principal of the college Mr. Archbold to the Viceroy Lord Minto to kindly accept a deputation of Muslim leaders to discuss the forthcoming constitutional reforms. Lord Minto agreed to see the proposed deputation. Following this, Muslim leaders joined in an informal meeting chaired by Sir Abdur Rahman in Lucknow on 6 September. In the meeting a memorandum of demands of the Indian Muslims for presentation to the Viceroy was drawn up. On 1 October 1906 a deputation of 35 Muslim leaders led by Aga Khan met Lord Minto in Simla. The deputation included five members from West Bengal and ‘only Nawab nawab au chowdhury from East Bengal and Assam.

The demands the deputation put forward to lord Minto were:
  • Employment of Muslims to Civil administration, the military and the Judiciary in sufficient numbers; no competitive examinations should bar employment to the higher posts;
  • Preservation of a certain number of seats for Muslims in the municipal and district boards and in the university senate and syndicate;
  • Separate election of Muslims to the Provincial council based on their political importance and not on the population ratio;
  • Election of a sufficient number of Muslims to the Imperial Legislative council in order to avoid reducing the Muslims to an insignificant minority; and
  • Establishment of a Muslim University which would stand as a glory to the religious and cultural life of the Muslims.

The demand for separate electorate was made on two grounds: that in the prevailing state of communal tension no Muslim elected through a joint electorate would genuinely reflect the will of the community, and that in the absence of separate electorates every contested election would lead to communal riots. The demand of weightage was supported by two arguments: Muslims still owned much of the landed property in India, and they formed a very large proportion of the Indian army. The address presented by the deputation was a model of mature thinking and sober expression. The viceroy accepted both demands.
In response Lord Minto expressed his indirect support ‘to the principal demand of the Muslim leaders as enunciated in the memorandum, eg, a separate electorate for the Muslims. This showed the success of the deputation. Eventually in 1909 the Morley - Minto reforms made provisions for a separate electorate for the Muslims of India. The acceptance of the Deputation’s demands proved to be a turning point in the history of the Sub-continent. For the first time, the Hindu-Muslim conflict was raised to the constitutional plane. The Muslims made it clear that they had no confidence in the Hindu majority and that they were not prepared to put their future in the hands of an assembly elected on the assumed basis of a homogenous Indian nation. It is in this sense that the beginning of separate electorate may be seen as the beginning of the realization of the Two- Nation Theory, its final and inevitable consequence being the partition of British India in 1947.

Though the demand for separate representation of Muslims had been acceded to by the Viceroy, sustained efforts had to be made over the next three years in order to secure the separate electorate in the Morley-Minto reforms of 1909.The Simla Deputation was successful because the Muslims were strongly urged to protect’ their separate identity, whereas the British responded to their demands, as Lord Minto was anxious to pull them out of their political discontent. Separate electorates were given statutory recognition in the Indian Councils Act of 1909. Muslims were accorded not only the right to elect their representatives by separate electorates, but also the right to vote in general constituencies.’ In addition, they were also given weightage in representation.

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