MONTAGU-CHELMSFORD REFORMS AND THE SIKHS, The first time the elective principle was introduced to choose representatives for legislative bodies in India was with the introduction of the scheme known as Morley-Minto reforms of 1909. By then the Muslims had succeeded in persuading Lord Minto, Governor-General of India, that since they were in a minority, proper representation should be ensured them by reserving for them seats which they alone could contest and for which they alone could vote, with weightage given them to offset the Hindu preponderance in numbers. The Chief Khālsā Dīwān, speaking on behalf of the Sikhs, asked for similar concessions for them. The Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab supported the dīwān and wrote to the Governor-General that "In the Punjab the Sikh community is of the greatest importance and it should be considered whether any and what measures are necessary to ensure its adequate representation." But no notice was taken of the Chief Khālsā Dīwān's representation nor of the Lieutenant-Governor's recommendation. Under this scheme, Muslims were conceded separate representation as also weightage in provinces in which they were in a minority as well as at the centre but these concessions were denied to Hindus and Sikhs in the Punjab.
In 1917 when Edwin Samuel Montagu succeeded Sir Austin Chamberlain as the Secretary of State for India, the introduction of responsible government in India was declared to be the goal of British policy. Montagu visited India soon after. He and the Governor-General, Lord Chelmsford, prepared a report which, published in July 1918, conceded the principle that what had been given to the Muslims could not in any fairness be denied to the Sikhs. They wrote : "The Sikhs in the Punjab are a distinct and important people; they supply a gallant and valuable element to the Indian army; but they are everywhere in a minority, and experience has shown that they virtually go unrepresented. To the Sikhs, therefore, and to them alone, we propose to extend the system already adopted in the case of Muhammadans..."
To consider the report, the Chief Khālsā Dīwān convened a representative conclave of the Sikhs at Amritsar on 18 September 1918. In the memorandum which was prepared on their behalf, government was urged to carry out the assurance given them. The Punjab Legislative Council debated the Montagu-Chelmsford proposals in its joint committee. To baulk the Sikhs, the Muslim leader, Sir Fazl-i-Husain, moved a resolution that the Muslim proportion in the Punjab Legislative Council be based on the Lucknow Pact. The Sikh representative, Sardār Gajjan Siṅgh of Ludhiāṇā, proposed that the words "subject to the just claims of the Sikhs" be added to the resolution. The amendment was opposed by both Muslim and Hindu members, and was lost when put to vote.
The publication of the Montagu Chelmsford report was followed by the appointment of Franchise Committee, under the chairmanship of Lord Southborough, to go into the matter of the composition of the new legislatures. It had three Indian members, but none of them was a Sikh. When the Sikhs protested, Sardār Sundar Siṅgh Majīṭhīā was taken as a co-opted member for the Punjab, but their demand for one-third of the total number of non-official seats held by Indians in the Punjab, 7 out of 67 non-official seats in the Assembly of India and 4 seats in the Council of States for the Sikh community remained largely unfulfilled. The Franchise Committee recommended 15 per cent Council seats for the Sikhs. In Bihār and Orissā where they formed no more than l0 percent of the total population, the Muslims were given 25 per cent seats by the Franchise Committee. In the Punjab where they constituted 12 percent of the population and were otherwise an important factor in the life of the province, Sikhs' share was fixed at a bare 15 per cent.
To get this invidious distinction rectified, the Sikhs made representations to the government. The Chief Khālsā Dīwān made a last effort to influence the British government to revise its decision. A deputation consisting of Sardār Sewārām Siṅgh, Sardār Shivdev Siṅgh Uberoi, Sardār Sohan Siṅgh of Rāwalpiṇḍī and Sardār Ujjal Siṅgh was sent to England in 1920 to place the Sikhs' case before the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Indian Reforms, but nothing availed. The only satisfaction the delegation could derive was the knowledge that the Committee had on its own initiative increased the Sikh representation in the Punjab by two.
Montagu-Chelmsford reforms had already passed through the legislative procedure in the form of Government of India Bill, 1919. After being considered by a joint select committee of the two Houses of the British Parliament, it was passed by the House of Commons on 5 December and by the House of Lords on 18 December. 1919. It received Royal assent on 23 December 1919. The first elections under the new Act took place in November 1920 and the new reforms came into operation on the first day of the year 1921.
Under the new constitution, the Punjab Legislative Council with a total membership of 93 had 18 Sikh members including 3 nominated by the Lieutenant-Governor. In the Central Assembly of 145 members, 3 were Sikhs; and there was a solitary Sikh, Sardār Jogendra Siṅgh, in the 60-member Council of States. Sardār Sundar Siṅgh Majīṭhīā, a nominated member of the Punjab legislature, was appointed Revenue Minister.
K. S. Thāpar