SIMON COMMISSION

  • The Indian Statutory Commission , popularly known as the Simon Commission (after the name of its chairman Sir John Simon),.was a group of seven British Members of Parliament of United Kingdom that had been dispatched to India in 1928 to study constitutional reform and recommend to the Government.One of its members was Clement Attlee, who subsequently became the British Prime Minister and eventually oversaw the granting of independence to India and Pakistan in 1947
  • There was a chorus of protest by all Indians against the appointment of an all-white, seven-member Indian Statutory Commission,
  • The Government of India Act 1919 had introduced the system of dyarchy to govern the provinces of British India. However, the Indian public clamoured for revision of the difficult diarchy form of government, and the Government of India Act 1919 itself stated that a commission would be appointed after 10 years to investigate the progress of the governance scheme and suggest new steps for reform.
  • Although constitutional reforms were due only in 1929, the Conservative Government, then in power in Britain, feared defeat by the Labour Party and thus did not want to leave the question of the future of Britain’s most priced colony in “irresponsible Labour hands”.
  • Hence, it appointed seven MPs (including Chairman Simon) to constitute the commission that had been promised in 1919 that would look into the state of Indian constitutional affairs. The people of the Indian subcontinent were outraged and insulted, as the Simon Commission, which was to determine the future of India, did not include a single Indian member in it. The Indian National Congress, at its December 1927 meeting in Madras (now Chennai), resolved to boycott the Commission. A faction of the Muslim League, led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, also decided to boycott the Commission.
  • The Conservative Secretary of State, Lord Birkenhead, who had constantly talked of the inability of Indians to formulate a concrete scheme of constitutional reforms which had the support of wide sections of Indian political opinion, was responsible for the appointment of the Simon Commission.
  • The Indian response against the commission was immediate and nearly unanimous. What angered the Indians most was the exclusion of Indians from the commission and the basic notion behind the exclusion that foreigners would discuss and decide upon India’s fitness for self-government. This notion was seen as a violation of the principle of self- determination, and a deliberate insult to the self-respect of Indians.

Parties’ Response:

  • The Congress session in Madras (December 1927) meeting under the presidency of M.A. Ansari decided to boycott the commission “at every stage and in every form”. Meanwhile Nehru succeeded in getting a snap resolution passed at the session, declaring complete independence as the goal of the Congress.
  • Those who decided to support the Congress call of boycott included the Liberals of the Hindu Mahasabha and the majority faction of the Muslim League under Jinnah.
  • Some others, such as the Unionists in Punjab and the Justice Party in the south, decided not to boycott the commission.

Public Response:

  • The commission landed in Bombay on February 3, 1928. On that day, a countrywide hartal was organised and mass rallies held. Wherever the commission went, there were black flag demonstrations, hartals and slogans of ‘Simon Go Back’.
  • A significant feature of this upsurge was that a new generation of youth got their first taste of political action. They played the most active part in the protest, giving it a militant flavour. The youth leagues and conferences got a real fillip. Nehru and Subhash emerged as leaders of this new wave of youth and students.
  • Both travelled extensively, addressed and presided over conferences. This upsurge among the youth also provided a fertile ground for the germination and spread of new radical ideas of socialism reflected in the emergence of groups such as the Punjab Naujawan Bharat Sabha, Workers’ and Peasants’ Parties and Hindustani Sewa Dal (Karnataka).

Police Repression:

  • The police came down heavily on demonstrators; there were Lathi charges not sparing even the senior leaders. Jawaharlal Nehru and G.B. Pant were beaten up in Lucknow.
  • On October 30, 1928, the Simon Commission arrived in Lahore where, as with the rest of the country, its arrival was met with massive amounts of protesters and black flags.  The Lahore protest was led by Indian nationalist Lala Lajpat Rai, who had moved a resolution against the Commission in the Legislative Assembly of Punjab in February 1928. In order to make way for the Commission, the local police force began beating protestors with their sticks. The police were particularly brutal towards Lala Lajpat Rai, who died later on November 17, 1928.

Aftermath:

  • The Commission published its report in May 1930. It proposed the abolition of dyarchy and the establishment of representative government in the provinces. It also recommended that separate communal electorates be retained, but only until tensions between Hindus and Muslims had died down.
  • In September 1928, ahead of the Commission’s release, Motilal Nehru presented his Nehru Report to counter its charges that Indians could not find a constitutional consensus among themselves. This report advocated that India be given dominion status of complete internal self-government.
  • Noting that educated Indians opposed the Commission and also that communal tensions had increased instead of decreased, the British government opted for another method of dealing with the constitutional issues of India. Before the publication of the report, the British government stated that Indian opinion would henceforth be taken into account, and that the natural outcome of the constitutional process would be dominion status for India. The outcome of the Simon Commission was the Government of India Act 1935, which established representative government at the provincial level in India and is the basis of many parts of the Indian Constitution. In 1937 the first elections were held in the Provinces, resulting in Congress Governments being returned in almost all Provinces.

Impact of Appointment of Simon Commission:

  1. It gave a stimulus to radical forces demanding not just complete independence but major socio-economic reforms on socialist lines.
  2. The challenge of Lord Birkenhead to Indian politicians to produce an agreed constitution was accepted by various political sections, and thus prospects for Indian unity seemed bright at that point of time.
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