The Indian Statutory Commission also known as Simon Commission, was a group of seven Members of Parliament under the chairmanship of John Simon. The commission arrived in India in 1928 [1] to study constitutional reform in Britain's largest and most important possession. One of its members was the future leader of the Labour Party Clement Attlee, who became committed to self-government for India.

At the time of introducing of Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms in 1919, the British Government declared that a commission would be sent to India after ten years to examine the effects and operations of the constitutional reforms and to suggest more reforms for India.[2]

In November 1928, the British government appointed the Simon Commission two years ahead of schedule to report on India's constitutional progress for introducing constitutional reforms, as promised. The Commission was strongly opposed by many Indians. It was opposed by Nehru, Gandhi, Jinnah, the Muslim League and Indian National Congress because it contained seven members of the British Parliament but no Indians. However, it was supported by Dr. Babasaheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar, Periyar E. V. Ramasamy and Chaudhary Chhotu Ram.[3]

Prominent Indian nationalist Lala Lajpat Rai led a protest in Lahore. He suffered a police beating during the protest and died of his injuries on 17 November 1928.

Background

The Government of India Act 1919 had introduced the system of diarchy to govern the provinces of British India. Indian opinion clamored for revision of this form of government, and the Government of India Act 1919 stated that a commission would be appointed after ten years to investigate the progress of the government scheme and suggest new steps for reform. The Secretary of State for India F.E Smith feared that the ruling Conservative government was facing imminent electoral defeat at the hands of the Labour Party, and hence feared that the commission would be filled by its members and sympathizers. Hence, the commission was appointed ahead of time, and seven MPs were selected to constitute the promised commission to examine the state of Indian constitutional affairs. He also ensured that there were no Indians in the commission, as he believed the Labour MPs and Indian members would join. The Viceroy of India Lord Irwin too supported the decision to exclude Indians as he too thought they would vote together with the Labour MPs but also because he thought the Indian representatives would fight each other.[4]

Some people in India were outraged and insulted that the Simon Commission, which was to determine the future of India, did not include a single Indian member. The Indian National Congress, at its December 1927 meeting in Madras (now Chennai), resolved to boycott the Commission and challenged Lord Birkenhead, the Secretary of State for India, to draft a constitution that would be acceptable to the Indian populace. A faction of the Muslim League, led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, also decided to boycott the Commission.

In face of the opposition from the Congress, F.E Smith wanted to publicize the meetings of the Commission with "representative Moslems" in order to "terrify the immense Hindu population by apprehension that the Commission is being got hold of by the Moslems and may present a report altogether destructive of the Hindu population."[4]

However opinion was divided, with support for co-operation coming from some members of the Muslim League and also both Hindu Mahasabha and members of the Central Sikh League.[5] An All-India Committee for Cooperation with the Simon Commission was established by the Council of India and by selection of the Viceroy, Lord Irwin. The members of the committee were: C. Sankaran Nair (Chairman), Arthur Froom, Nawab Ali Khan, Shivdev Singh Uberoi, Zulfiqar Ali Khan, Hari Singh Gour, Abdullah Al-Mamun Suhrawardy, Kikabhai Premchand and Prof. M. C. Rajah.

In Burma (Myanmar), which was included in the terms of reference of the Simon Commission, there was strong suspicion either that Burma's unpopular union with India would continue, or that the constitution recommended for Burma by the Commission would be less generous than that chosen for India; these suspicions resulted in tension and violence in Burma leading to the rebellion of Saya San.[6]

The commission found education was denied to untouchables and untouchables were ill-treated in the name of caste.

Protests and death of Lala Lajpat Rai

The Simon Commission left England in January 1928. Almost immediately with its arrival in Bombay on 4 February 1928, its members were confronted by thongs of protesters, although there were also some supporters among the crowds who saw it as the next step on the road to self-governance.[7] A strike began and many people turned out to greet the Commission with black flags which was written 'Simon Go Back'. Maghfoor Ahmad Ajazi led the demonstrations against Simon Commission in Patna.[8] Similar protests occurred in every major Indian city that the seven British MPs visited.[9]

One protest against the Simon Commission became infamous. On 30 October 1928, the Commission arrived in Lahore where it was met by protesters waving black flags.[5] The protest was led by the Indian nationalist Lala Lajpat Rai, who had moved a resolution against the Commission in the Legislative Assembly of Punjab in February 1928. The protesters blocked the road in order to prevent the commission members from leaving the railway station. In order to make way for the Commission, the local police led by Superintendent James Scott began beating protestors. Lala Lajpat Rai was critically injured and died on 17 November 1928 due to the head injuries he had sustained.[9]

Recommendations

The Commission published its 2-volume report in May 1930. The commission proposed to abolish the diarchy, an extension to autonomy of provinces by establishing representative government in provinces. However it allowed the British governors of provinces to retain much of their emergency powers, hence in practice very little autonomy was to be given to the provinces. Most notably the commission's report did not mention dominion status at all.[4] The commission also recommended to retain separate electorates as long as inter-communal tensions between Hindus and Muslims remained.[10]

Aftermath

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 with complete internal self-government.

By the time it was published the commission was already overshadowed by a declaration by the Viceroy of India Lord Irwin on 31 October 1929 which reinterpreted the 1917 declaration (which had led to the Mortagu-Chelmsford reforms) as the British government's final policy goal always being India's attainment of dominion status. He also called for a round-table conference in London regarding this. Although this remained controversial among many conservatives in London, in reality there was no change in British policy as the promise was very vague and far in the future.[11]

The outcome of the Simon Commission was the Government of India Act 1935, which called for a "responsible" government at the provincial level in India but not at the national level—that is a government responsible to the Indian community rather than London. It 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.[12]

Clement Attlee was deeply moved by his experience on the Commission and endorsed the final report. However, by 1933 he argued that British rule was alien to India and was unable to make the social and economic reforms necessary for India's progress. He became the British leader most sympathetic to Indian independence (as a dominion), preparing him for his role in deciding on Indian independence as British Prime Minister in 1947.[13][14]

Members of the Commission

See also

References

  1. ^ "Simon Report | Making Britain".
  2. ^ C.F. Andrews (2017). India and the Simon Report. Routledge reprint of 1930 first edition. p. 11. ISBN 9781315444987.
  3. ^ "Dr. Ambedkar and Simon Commission – Evidence of Dr. Ambedkar before the Indian Statutory Commission - Velivada - Educate, Agitate, Organize". 3 September 2019.
  4. ^ a b c Reid, Walter (2016). Keeping the jewel in the crown : the British betrayal of India. Edinburgh. pp. Chapter 11. ISBN 978-0-85790-900-8. OCLC 949753978.
  5. ^ a b Nair, Neeti (May 2009). "Bhagat Singh as 'Satyagrahi': The Limits to Non-violence in Late Colonial India". Modern Asian Studies. 43 (3): 649–681. doi:10.1017/s0026749x08003491. JSTOR 20488099. S2CID 143725577.
  6. ^ See e.g. Maurice Collis, Trials in Burma (London, 1938).
  7. ^ venjaramood, suraj (2011). The Rediscovery of India. Penguin the UK. p. 210. ISBN 978-8-18475-566-4.
  8. ^ Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (2003). NMML Manuscripts: An Introduction. Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. p. 120. ISBN 9788187614050.
  9. ^ a b Ahmed, Ishtiaq (2020). Jinnah : his successes, failures and role in history. Gurgaon. pp. Chapter 5. ISBN 978-0-670-09052-5. OCLC 1257031805.
  10. ^ Ahmed, Ishtiaq (2020). Jinnah: his successes, failures and role in history. pp. Chapter 6. ISBN 978-0-670-09052-5. OCLC 1257031805.
  11. ^ Reid, Walter (2016). Keeping the jewel in the crown : the British betrayal of India. Edinburgh. pp. Chapter 13. ISBN 978-0-85790-900-8. OCLC 949753978.
  12. ^ Pew Ghosh (2012). Indian Government and Politics. pp. 20–21. ISBN 9788120346499.
  13. ^ Brasted Howard, Bridge Carl (1988). "The British Labour Party and Indian Nationalism, 1907‐1947". South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies. 11 (2): 69–99. doi:10.1080/00856408808723113.
  14. ^ R.J. Moore, Escape from Empire: The Attlee Government & the Indian Problem (1983).

9. Dr. Babasaheb AmbedkarWritings and Speeches Vol. 2 (Dr. Ambedkar in the Bombay Legislature; With the Simon Commission; at the Round Table Conferences) Education Department, Government of Maharashtra (India) 1982

Further reading