Mahamana Madan Mohan Malaviya

Mahamana Madan Mohan Malaviya
Speeches & Writings

Reform of Legislative Councils


In supporting the following resolution of the sixth Indian Nationa Congress held it Calcutta in 1890 Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya said:


That this Congress, having considered the draft Bill recently introduced into Parliament by Mr. Charles Bradlaugh, entitled, "An Act to amend the Indian Councils Act of 1861" approves the same as calculated to secure a substantial installment of that reform, in the administration of India, for which it has been agitating, and humbly prays the Houses of Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland to pass the same into law; and further that its President, Mr. Pherozhshah Mehta, is hereby empowered to draw up and sign, on behalf of this assembly, a petition to the House of Commons to the foregoing effect and to transmit the same to Mr. Charles Bradlaugh for presentation thereto in due course.


I am happy to find that we are to-day discussing the leading features of the scheme for the reform and expansion of the Legislative Councils. You know since we met last. our position has somewhat improved in this matter, and the difference between us and Government is not now quite so great as it was a year ago. The four principal points which the Congress has been urging on the Government in relation to the reform of the Councils have been, Ist, that the number of members on the Council should be increased; 2ndly, that the privilege of electing at least half of these members should be given to the people; 3rdly, that the Budget should be laid every year before the Council; 4th1y, that the members should have the right to interpellate the executive on questions of public concern. Of these, gentlemen, His Excellency the Viceroy assured us in his speech on the occasion of the last discussion of the Budget, in his Council, that Her Majesty's Government had decided to grant us three, viz., the enlargement of the Council; the presentation to them of the Budget every year, whether there be any new tax: to be imposed or not; and the right to interpellate the Government in regard to an y branch of the administration. Of course there are some limitations to be put upon the exercise of this latter right; but His Excellency's words made it perfectly clear that the right itself will be conceded.


The only vital point of difference between us and Government now, therefore, is with regard to the manner, of appointing members to the Council. The Government wish to nominate all the members, and we ask for the privilege of electing half of them. How evidently simple and just our prayer how utterly in-defensible the unwillingness of Government to grant it. (Cheers) You know, gentlemen that in the reformed Councils the Government- will 'be exactly what they now are-the final arbiter of all questions that may be brought before the Council. Even in cases where the majority, of the members are opposed to any measure and vote against it, the Government will still posses the power to veto their decision, an carry things entirely according to their own will and pleasure. In other words, they will occupy the position of a judge in deciding all questions affecting, our purses, our character, in fact our whole well being The sale privilege which we are praying for is to be lowed to choose our own Counsels to represent our and condition fully before them. And the Government seem unwilling to allow us even that! (Shame.) They will appoint Counsels of their own choice to plead our cause. Now, gentlemen, we thank them for this overflow of kindness towards us (laughter) but we feel, and we have good reasons to feel, that we should be much better off if they allowed us to exercise our own discretion in the choice of the Counsels, who are: to plead our cause, defend our rights, and protect our interests. (Cheers.) The Legislative Council is the great tribunal before which measures of the greatest possible moment, affecting not only ourselves, but even our posterity, are continually coming up for decision and justice requires that before the Council passes its final judgment upon them, we should be allowed to have our say with regard to them, through our chosen and accredited representatives. We do feel, gentlemen and feel strongly that we should no longer be debarred from exercising this simple and rightful privilege. The privilege of selecting one's own Counsel is not denied even to the most abandoned of criminals under the British rule. Why, then, should it be denied to the loyal and intelligent subjects of Her Gracious Majesty? When a jury is being empanelled, the judge asks the person whose fate is to be decided by that jury, to say if he has any objection to any person composing it, and in case he has any such objection that person is removed from the panel. But the Government of India and our Secretary of State-if the reports published in the newspapers represent their views faithfully-seem unwilling to allow the vast millions of Her Majesty's subject in this country any voice whatever in the appointment of persons who decide questions which concern not merely any one man or any set of men amongst them, but the entire nation of them and their posterity. Could there be anything more in conflict with reason and justice? (Loud cheers.)



If, gentlemen, the choice of Government in the selection of non-official members had, even generally, been exercised in a manner tending to promote the interests of the people we might not have been so anxious to burden ourselves with the responsibility of electing our representatives ourselves. But, unhappily, as you know, in a large majority of cases, their choice bas been exercised in favour of persons who have proved to be the least qualified or willing to advocate the interests, and plead fearlessly for the rights, of the people, nay, not unfrequently, in favour of persons whose presence in the Council has helped to contribute to the miseries of the people. We would much rather that there were no non-official members at all on the Councils than that there should be members who are not in the least in touch with the people (hear, hear) and who being ignorant of their true conditions and requirements, betray a cruel want of sympathy with them, in heedlessly supporting measures which tend to increase suffering and discontent among them.



I will recall to your mind only two instances to illustrate what I have said. A couple of years ago, you remember, the Government was driven by reason of its excessive and, as we think, wasteful military expenditure to find some fresh means of increasing its revenue, and it resolved upon drawing the required money from the poor, the class least able to offer any resistance or protest. (Shame.) The question came up before the Legislative Council and unofficial honourable members, the so-called representatives of our people, so far from protesting against the proposal gave their ready consent to it. Some of these gentlemen even went the length of declaring that the enhancement of the duty on salt would not inflict any hardship on the poorer classes of the people. (Shame.)


Now, gentlemen, these big honourable gentlemen, enjoying private incomes and drawing huge salaries, may find it hard to believe that the addition of a few annas every year to the burdens of the poor, can cause any serious hardship to them. But those who know in what abject misery and pinching poverty our poorer classes generally exist, know how painfully the slightest increase in their burdens presses upon them. But these honourable members were pleased to say "the people will not feel the increase in the tax." (Shame.)


I will remind you of only one more case. You remember a few months ago the Government again found itself badly in want of money. Those who regulate their income by their expenditure, and not their expenditure by their income, must frequently find themselves in that unhappy position. It became necessary to raise more revenue, and after misappropriating the Famine Insurance Fund, and mulcting the Provincial Governments (thereby starving education and arresting progress in all directions), Government then resolved again on squeezing something more out of the poor. It resolved to re-impose the Patwari Cess on the ryots of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh. Now you may know that when the Government of our good Lord Ripon had (cheers,) by a cessation of war and warlike operations (hear, hear,) effected a saving in the public expenditure, and desired to give relief to those who most needed it, they found after inquiry that the ryots of the, North-Western Provinces and Oudh stood most especially in need of some relief, and they remitted' the Patwari Cess to the extent of 20 lakhs. But the Government of Lord Lansdowne has this year re-imposed that same cess upon them! See, I beseech you, gentlemen, what gross injustice has been perpetrated in the re-imposition of this Patwari Cess? The Patwari Cess was remitted seven years ago, but the poor ryots have had to pay it, it seems all the same, year after year. (Shame.) It was said that the cess had been, amalgamated with other taxes and could be separated from them. If the money had had to go to the coffers of the Government, such a plea would never have been listened to for it moment. (Hear, hear.) But it was the poor ryot who was concerned, the plea was allowed to hold good, the Talukdars and Zemindars were thus allowed to enjoy the entire benefit of the measure which die Government of Lord Ripon had passed in the .interests of the ryots : and it is now on this very plea that the remission of the Cess did not benefit the ryot, that the Patwari Cess has been reimposed, not on the Zemindars but on the poor ryot, whereby he is now compelled to pay the Cess, twice over for no other fault of his than that he is poor and helpless. (Loud cheers and cries of "Shame shame")


The Hon'ble Mr. Quinton who represented the Government of Sir Auckland Colvin at the Viceroy's Council, said in his speech on the subject 'that the consent of the Talukdars of Oudh had been obtained to the measure. Fancy, gentlemen, the justice of adding to the burthens of the ryot on the strength of the consent of the Zemindar! But that was not all. There were -other honorable members present in the Council, who said that the re-imposition of the cess would not add much more than about X2 annas a year to the load of taxation on the ryot, any they said it was so slight a sum that the ryot would not feel the pressure at all. Well gentlemen, it is sinful to desire unhappiness to anyone. But when I hear these honorable members assert with cruel levity of heart that the addition of a few annas a year to the burthens of the insufficiently fed and clothed poor, whether it be in the shape of the Salt Tax or the Patwari Cess will not increase their wretchedness and misery. I feel tempted to exclaim with old Lear:



"Take physic pomp,


Expose thyself to-feel what wretches feel That thou may'st shake the super flux to them And show the heavens more just."


If these gentlemen had to live, even for a day or two on that coarse unpalatable diet which is the best our poor, often starving, can command in the brightest times, and if they had to brave the cold of our up-country winters without all those warm and soft clothing’s they themselves luxuriate in. they would understand what hardship the enhancement of the Salt Tax and the re- imposition of the Patwari Cess entails upon the people. (prolonged Cheer.) There are hundreds of thousands of ryots at this moment in the North-Western Provinces and Oudh who cannot buy sufficient cloth to cover even the upper half of their bodies properly, to protect themselves and their children from the piercing chill and cold of our northern winter nights; and remember, you gentlemen of the south, that the times are far more relentlessly severe with us there than with you here.


(Hear, hear.) These miserable people cover themselves, their wives and children, w hen the season becomes very severe, with grass at night and when the intensity of the cold drives away sleep, they warm themselves by burning some of the very grass. And even that is now and then taken away from them for feeding the cattle of officials on tour.


(Shame) Such is the condition of the people to whom the honorable members of the Viceroy's Council said that an increase of 12 annas a year in their burthens would not mean any serious hardship! Do you think, gentlemen, such members would be appointed to the Council if the people were allowed any voice in their selection? (No no never)! And even if they were by some mistake, once appointed, would they not be scornfully rejected at the next election?



(Yes, yes.)) But such men are appointed at present, to the great disgust of the people and the people are forced to submit to their legislatorship. {Prolonged cheering).


I fear, gentlemen, I have taken up too much of your time, and I won't detain you any longer. I hope I have made it clear why we pray the Government to allow the people the privilege of electing at least half of the members of the Council men whom the people esteem and confide in by reason of their loving sympathy with them in all their sorrows and joys. And I earnestly hope the Government will no longer delay granting us this simple rightful privilege, which while conducing greatly to our happiness, will not fail to add to the strength and glory of British rule in India. Gentlemen, I heartily support this resolution. (Cheers).



Mahamana Madan Mohan Malaviya