- The Indian Statutory Commission, commonly known as the Simon Commission, was appointed by the British government in 1927 to review and propose constitutional reforms for India.
- The Simon Commission, officially known as the Indian Statutory Commission, arrived in British India in 1928 to study and propose constitutional reforms. However, it faced strong opposition and protests from Indian political leaders and organizations, including Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Muslim League, and the Indian National Congress.
- One of the main reasons for the opposition was the composition of the commission, which consisted entirely of British members and had no representation from India. Indian leaders felt that they were not adequately consulted or involved in the process, and they believed that the commission’s recommendations would not adequately address Indian demands for self-government.
- The Indian National Congress, under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, called for a boycott of the commission and organized widespread protests and demonstrations. The boycott and protests aimed to highlight the lack of Indian representation and to assert the demand for full self-government and independence.
- The Simon Commission’s visit and the subsequent opposition it faced played a significant role in mobilizing and radicalizing the Indian nationalist movement. It further galvanized the demand for self-rule and strengthened the resolve of Indian leaders to fight for complete independence from British colonial rule.
Here are some key details about the Simon Commission:
- Appointment and Purpose: The Simon Commission was appointed under the Government of India Act 1919, which mandated the appointment of a commission to review the constitutional arrangements in India after ten years. Its purpose was to assess the progress of constitutional reforms and make recommendations for further changes.
- Composition: The commission was composed of seven members, all of whom were British. Sir John Simon, a prominent British statesman, served as the chairman. Clement Attlee, who would later become the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, was also a member of the commission.
- Arrival and Reception in India: The Simon Commission arrived in India in 1928 to gather information and conduct consultations with various stakeholders, including political leaders, organizations, and the public. However, the commission faced strong opposition from Indian political parties and organizations, as it consisted entirely of white members and had no representation from India.
- Boycott and Protests: The Indian National Congress and other political groups boycotted the Simon Commission’s proceedings, as it was seen as an undemocratic and inadequate attempt to address Indian demands for self-government. Massive protests and demonstrations took place across the country, demanding full Indian representation on the commission.
- Nehru Report: In response to the Simon Commission, the Indian National Congress appointed a committee led by Jawaharlal Nehru to draft a proposal for a new constitution. The committee’s report, known as the Nehru Report, advocated for full independence and a dominion status for India.
- Impact and Significance: The Simon Commission’s visit and subsequent protests played a crucial role in the mobilization and radicalization of the Indian nationalist movement. It highlighted the growing demand for self-rule and united Indians in their opposition to colonial rule.
- Despite the widespread protests and demands for Indian representation, the Simon Commission’s final report, known as the “Simon Report,” was published in 1930 without any significant concessions to Indian demands. However, the commission’s visit and the subsequent events further fueled the freedom struggle and strengthened the resolve of Indian leaders to fight for complete independence.
Background of Simon Commission
- The Simon Commission, also known as the Indian Statutory Commission, was established on November 8, 1927, by the British government under Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. The commission was created as a result of a provision in the Government of India Act of 1919, which stated that a commission would be appointed after ten years to study and propose constitutional reforms in India.
- The Simon Commission consisted of seven members, all of whom were British and white. This lack of Indian representation on the commission became a major point of criticism and led to widespread protests and opposition in India.
- The appointment of the Simon Commission was influenced by political considerations in Britain. The Conservative government, fearing electoral defeat by the Labour Party, sought to protect British interests in India by initiating the commission. The government believed that by appointing the commission, they could maintain control and influence over the process of constitutional reforms in British India.
- Lord Birkenhead, the Secretary of State for India at the time, played a significant role in establishing the Simon Commission. He held the view that Indians were not capable of devising a constitutional reform scheme that could satisfy the diverse political factions in India. As a result, he advocated for the appointment of the Simon Commission to study and make recommendations on constitutional reforms.
- The establishment of the Simon Commission and its composition without Indian representation deepened the distrust and discontent among Indian political leaders and the general population. It became a significant catalyst for the Indian nationalist movement and further fueled demands for self-government and independence from British rule.
- The Simon Commission was established by the British government to investigate the Government of India Act of 1919 and propose further reforms to the administrative system in British India. While the official objectives of the commission were to study and make recommendations, there were underlying political motives and concerns on the part of the British government.
Objective anad Recommendations of Simon Commission
The main objectives of the Simon Commission were:
- Reviewing the Government of India Act of 1919: The commission was tasked with examining the functioning and effectiveness of the Act, which introduced the dyarchy system and limited reforms in governance.
- Making recommendations for further reforms: The commission aimed to propose changes to the administrative system, with a focus on the structure of provincial governments and the relationship between the central government and the provinces.
- However, it is important to note that the Simon Commission’s objectives were viewed with suspicion by Indian nationalists. They believed that the commission had ulterior motives and that its recommendations were designed to prolong British control and delay the process of granting Indians governance powers.
The commission’s recommendations, when they were eventually published in the Simon Report in 1930, included proposals such as:
- Establishment of a representative government in the provinces, with an increased number of members in the legislative councils.
- Abolition of the dyarchy system, which divided administrative powers between elected Indian ministers and appointed British officials.
- Retention and extension of separate communal electorates led to the division of Indian society along religious lines.
- Greater control of the Government of India over the Supreme Court and the appointment of cabinet members by the Governor General.
- Creation of local legislatures and representation rights in the northwestern frontier provinces, Balochistan, Sindh (separated from Bombay), and Burma (separated from India).
- Indianization of the Indian army.
- Formation of a Greater India Consultative Council.
- These recommendations were met with widespread opposition and were rejected by Indian political leaders and nationalist groups. The Simon Commission and its recommendations further fueled the demand for complete independence from British rule and intensified the struggle for self-governance in India.
The Simon Commission had significant impacts on the Indian independence movement and the political landscape of India. Here are some of the key impacts:
- Mobilization of youth and radical forces: The arrival of the Simon Commission sparked protests and demonstrations across India, with young activists taking an active role in political action. This marked the beginning of their involvement in the independence movement and laid the foundation for future political activism.
- Demand for total independence and socio-economic reforms: The Simon Commission’s presence and its recommendations led to a shift in demands from partial reforms to a call for complete independence from British rule. The radical forces within the nationalist movement started demanding not only political freedom but also significant socio-economic reforms to address the inequalities in Indian society.
- Unity among political parties: Lord Birkenhead’s challenge to produce an agreed-upon constitution prompted political parties to come together and find common ground. This led to efforts for unity among different factions within the nationalist movement and laid the groundwork for future collaborations.
- Publication of the Simon Report and future considerations: The Simon Report was published in 1930. Although it did not meet the expectations of Indian political leaders and nationalists, the government stated that Indian opinion would be taken into account in future constitutional reforms. This acknowledgement further strengthened the resolve of Indian leaders to fight for self-governance.
- Government of India Act 1935: The Simon Commission’s recommendations and the subsequent discussions played a significant role in shaping the Government of India Act 1935. This act served as the basis for many aspects of the Indian Constitution that was later adopted after independence.
- Provincial elections and Congress governments: As a result of the Government of India Act 1935, provincial elections were held in 1937. The Indian National Congress emerged as the dominant political force, forming governments in nearly all of the provinces. This marked a major milestone in the nationalist movement and demonstrated the growing strength and popularity of the Congress party.
- Galvanization of leaders and the masses: The presence of the Simon Commission and the subsequent protests and demonstrations galvanized leaders and the masses, energizing the Indian independence movement. It further united various sections of society and intensified the struggle for freedom from British colonial rule.
- Overall, the Simon Commission played a crucial role in shaping the political climate and accelerating the momentum towards independence in India. It heightened political consciousness, fostered unity among different groups, and set the stage for future constitutional developments.
Indian Response to Simon Commission
The response to the Simon Commission from Indians was overwhelmingly negative and marked by widespread protests, boycotts, and demonstrations. Here are some key aspects of the Indian response:
- Engagement and Indignation: Indians were deeply angered by the exclusion of Indians from the Commission and the idea that foreigners would decide on India’s self-government. This was seen as a violation of the principle of self-determination and an insult to Indian self-respect.
- Congress Boycott: The Indian National Congress, under the leadership of M.A. Ansari and Jawaharlal Nehru, resolved to boycott the Simon Commission at every stage and in every form. The Congress declared complete independence as its goal and called for mass resistance against the Commission.
- Support from Other Groups: The boycott call by Congress was supported by other political groups, including the liberals of the Hindu Mahasabha and the majority faction of the Muslim League under Jinnah. However, some groups like the Punjab Unionists and the Justice Party decided not to join the boycott.
- Public Protests: The arrival of the Simon Commission in Bombay was met with nationwide hartals (strikes) and mass rallies. Protesters displayed black flags, chanted slogans of ‘Simon Go Back,’ and expressed their discontent with the Commission’s presence. The protests often turned violent, and the police response, as seen in the lathi charge against Lala Lajpat Rai, resulted in casualties.
- Submissions and Reports: Various organizations and individuals, such as Dr. B.R. Ambedkar representing the Bahishkrit Hitakarini Sabha, submitted reports and memoranda outlining their concerns and demands to the Commission. These submissions highlighted the need for social and educational reforms for marginalized communities.
- The response to the Simon Commission reflected a strong sense of national pride, a demand for self-governance, and a rejection of foreign interference in India’s affairs. It played a significant role in galvanizing the Indian independence movement and increasing unity among various political groups in their fight for freedom.
The boycott of the Simon Commission by Indian political parties was a significant response to the exclusion of Indians from the commission and the perceived insult to Indian self-governance. Here are some key points related to the boycott:
- All-White Commission: The Simon Commission, consisting of seven members, was entirely composed of white individuals, with no Indian representation. This lack of Indian involvement was seen as an insult and a disregard for Indian perspectives on self-governance.
- Decision on Indian Self-Governance: The purpose of the Simon Commission was to investigate and determine the fitness of Indians to govern themselves. However, the commission’s terms of reference did not include any reference to the demand for Swaraj (self-rule). This omission further fueled the perception that the commission was not genuinely interested in Indian aspirations for independence.
- Boycott by Indian Political Parties: In response to the exclusion of Indians and the limited scope of the commission, major Indian political parties, including the Indian National Congress, resolved to boycott the commission. They refused to participate in any of its proceedings or engage with its members.
- Exceptions to the Boycott: While most political parties joined the boycott, some groups, including the Muslim League led by Shafi, the Justice Party of Madras, the Unionist Party of Punjab, the Central Sikh Sangh, and the All India Achut Federation, did not fully support the boycott.
- British Government’s Justifications: The British government provided reasons for not including Indian members in the commission. They argued that since the commission was required to report its proceedings to the British Parliament, it was justified to appoint only British members. They also claimed that the lack of unanimity among Indians on constitutional development made it challenging to appoint Indian members. However, these justifications were met with scepticism and seen as attempts to maintain control over the commission’s outcomes.
- The boycott of the Simon Commission was a significant moment in the Indian freedom struggle, reflecting the rejection of British interference in Indian self-governance and the demand for greater inclusion and representation of Indian voices in decision-making processes.
During the protests against the Simon Commission, various methods were used to express dissent and mobilize public support. Here are some key methods employed:
- Boycott: The Indian National Congress, in its session held in Madras, resolved to boycott the commission “at every stage and in every form.” This boycott sent a strong message of non-cooperation and refusal to engage with the commission.
- Popular Movement: The boycott of the Simon Commission by Congress was converted into a popular movement. It gained widespread support and participation from the Indian public, creating a united front against the commission.
- Hartals: In Bombay, a city-wide hartal (general strike) was organized when the Simon Commission arrived on February 3, 1928. This involved the closure of businesses, suspension of work, and mass participation in the protest.
- Rallies and Processions: Large-scale rallies and processions were organized in different cities to demonstrate opposition to the Simon Commission. Political leaders and activists led these gatherings, addressing the crowds and expressing their demands.
- Black Flag Demonstrations: The commission faced black flag demonstrations wherever they went in India. Protesters waved black flags as a symbol of their opposition and resentment towards the commission’s presence and actions.
- Slogans and Symbolic Gestures: Protesters used slogans like “Simon go back” to express their rejection of the commission. In Lucknow, kites were flown with the message “Simon go back” written on them, showcasing the widespread sentiment against the commission.
- Unity among Political Groups: The anti-Simon Commission protests brought together various political parties and groups in India. While differences remained, there was an attempt to find common ground and lay out a common political program in opposition to the commission.
- These methods of protest aimed to convey a clear message of discontent and resistance to the Simon Commission’s presence and purpose in India. They highlighted the unity and determination of the Indian people in their fight for self-governance and independence.
During the protests against the Simon Commission, the British government responded with repressive measures to suppress the movement. Here are some instances of government repression:
- Lathi Charges and Brutal Beatings: The police resorted to Lathi charges, which involved using batons or sticks to disperse the protesters. They also carried out brutal beatings, inflicting physical harm on the demonstrators.
- Death of Lala Lajpat Rai: In Lahore, Lala Lajpat Rai, a prominent Indian leader, was severely beaten by the police during a protest against the Simon Commission. He later succumbed to his injuries, leading to widespread outrage and anger among Indians. This incident became a catalyst for the revival of revolutionary activities.
- Assault on Jawaharlal Nehru and Govind Ballabh Pant: Jawaharlal Nehru and Govind Ballabh Pant, prominent leaders of the Indian National Congress, were physically assaulted by the authorities during the protests in Lucknow. This further fueled public discontent and resistance against the repressive actions of the government.
- Revival of Revolutionary Activities: The repressive measures by the government, particularly in Bengal and Punjab, led to a revival of revolutionary activities. Revolutionary groups, such as those associated with Bhagat Singh and his comrades, sought to avenge the death of Lala Lajpat Rai and fought against British rule.
- The government’s heavy-handed response to the protests not only intensified the resistance but also led to a radicalization of some sections of the freedom struggle. The incidents of repression further solidified the determination of Indians to fight for their rights and freedom from British colonial rule.
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