Simon Commission was a committee of 7 members which was constituted in 1928 to review how the –Mont-Ford constitutional reforms had worked in India and to suggest more reforms. The committee was headed by John Simon. Another member of significance to India is Clement Atlee who eventually became the Prime Minister of Britain. He was at the helm when India was granted independence. The Indian Statutory Commission became a reason for widespread protests. The reason for this was that the committee had no Indian presence. The Indian politicians contented that a Commission which was set to decide the future of India devoid of Indian presence is a farce and will not represent Indian sentiments in its final report.
Reason for Formation
The Government of India Act 1919 stated that a committee will be formed after a decade to estimate the progress of governance scheme and to suggest improvements if there is room for one. However, this committee was constituted only 8 years after the introduction of the Government of India Act 1919. This expediency can be attributed to the nervousness that had crept into the Conservatives – the ruling party of Britain. The conservatives feared that the Labor Party was in line to win the elections which were to be held in 1929. They also feared that the Labor party would be more lenient and generous towards the Indians and their political demands. This they feared will jeopardize Britain’s stronghold on India which was their most resourceful colony. In order to assuage these fears the Conservatives decided to constitute the committee before the scheduled time and safeguard their interests while they could.
SIMON, GO BACK!
Indian National Congress in its Madras session in 1927 decided that it will boycott the Simon Commission and fight for a constitution which is acceptable to the Indian populace. The reason for the protests was the absence of any Indian in the committee. This hurt the ego of the nation as it was said that no Indian was capable enough to merit a place in the committee. Other political parties such as the Muslim League, in factions, also decided to boycott the commission.
There were also parties in the landscape which wanted to co-operate with the commission. Some members of the Muslim league and the Central Sikh league wanted co-operation. An All Indian Committee for co-operation was also setup by the Council of India.
The Simon Commission reached India in Bombay on 3rd February 1928. There were protests all over the country and Simon could only look at black flags wherever he went. The Slogan SIMON GO BACK was all that the Simon Commission could hear. This was the first time that the country as a whole had stood up against anything after the Non-Cooperation movement ended. Every city where the commission went was painted black in protests. Lala Lajpat Rai led a silent protest when the Commission reached Lahore on 28th October 1928. The superintendent of Police James A. Scott ordered a Lathi Charge and Lalaji was made its main target. Lalaji succumbed to a heart attack on 17th November 1928. The doctors believed that the injuries had a part to play in his demise. This issue was raised in the British Parliament where the British Government denied any role in Lalaji’s unfortunate death. This incited Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev and Chandrashekhar Azad to take revenge of Lalaji’s death and revenge they took by killing John Saunders although this was a case of mistaken identity. The plot was to kill James A. Scott, the superintendent who had ordered the lathi charge. These events triggered a new era in the fight against Independence and brought Bhagat Singh and his Hindustan Socialist Republican Association into prominence.
The Simon Report
The Simon report was published in May 1930 and the main recommendations were –
- The report suggested that Diarchy in the provinces should be abolished and ministers should be responsible to the provincial legislatures in all departments, including the department of law and order.
- That the Governor retains the special powers for the safety of the province and for the protection of the minorities. He would also have full powers of intervention in the event of breakdown of the constitution.
- That the Franchise was to be extended and legislatures were to be enlarged.
- That a central Federal assembly be constituted based on commensurate representation of the provinces and other areas as per population.
- The council of state would continue as the Upper House but its members would be chosen not on the basis of direct election but on the basis of indirect election by the Provincial councils.
- No change in the central executive was suggested.
- The all India federation was deemed impractical for immediate execution.
- Burma be separated from India and provided with a constitution of its own.
- It also recommended that the communal electorates be retained until the tensions between the Hindus and Muslims died out.
The British belief that Indians can’t come to consensus over their constitution was quashed by the Nehru report which was released before the Simon report. The report stated and substantiated that India be given Dominion status. The British government paid heed to the report and stated that the ultimate aim of the constitutional reforms in India is dominion status for India.