The Indian Statutory Commission was a group of seven British Members of Parliament of United Kingdom that had been dispatched to India in 1928 to study constitutional reform in Britain's most important colonial dependency. It was commonly referred to as the Simon Commission after its chairman, Sir John Simon. 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.
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. In the late 1920s, the Conservative government then in power in Britain feared imminent electoral defeat at the hands of the Labour Party, and also feared the effects of the consequent transference of control of India to such an "inexperienced" body. 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 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.
An All-India Committee for Cooperation with the Simon Commission was established by the Council of India and by selection by the Viceroy The Lord Irwin. The members of the committee were: Sir C. Sankaran Nair (Chairman), Sir Arthur Froom, Rajah Nawab Ali Khan, Sardar Shivdev Singh Uberoi, Nawab Sir Zulfiqar Ali Khan, Sir Hari Singh Gour, Sir Abdullah Al-Mamun Suhrawardy, Kikabhai Premchand and Rao Bahadur 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 Simon 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.
The Commission’s recommendations were:
· 'Future Advance The first principle was that the new constitution should, as far as possible, contain within itself provision for its own development. It should not lay down too rigid and uniform a plan, but should allow for natural growth and diversity. Constitutional progress should be the outcome of practical experience. Where further legislation is required, it should result from the needs of the time, not from the arbitrary demands of a fixed time-table. The constitution,while contemplating and conforming to an ultimate objective, should not attempt to lay down the length or the number of the stages of the journey…. It has been a characteristic of the evolution of responsible government in other parts of the British Empire that the details of the constitution have not been exhaustively defined in statutory language. On the contrary, the constitutions of the self-governing parts of the British Empire have developed as the result of natural growth, and progress has depended not so much on changes made at intervals in the language of an Act of Parliament, as on the development of conventions, and on the terms of instructions issued from time to time to the Crown's representative. The Preamble to the Government of India Act declares that progress in giving effect to the policy of the progressive realisation of responsible government in British India can only be achieved by successive stages; but there is no reason why the length of these successive stages should be defined in advance, or why every stage should be marked by a commission of enquiry." (Simon Report vol. 2 p. 5)
· Almost Responsible Government at the Provincial Level – Dyarchy should be scrapped and Ministers responsible to the Legislature would be entrusted with all provincial areas of responsibility. However, safeguards were considered necessary in areas such as the maintenance of peace and tranquility and the protection of the legitimate interest of the minorities. These safeguards would be provided, mainly, by the grant of special powers to the Governor.
· Federation – The Report considered that a formally federal union, including both British India and the Princely States, was the only long-term solution for a united, autonomous India.
· Immediate Recommendations at the Centre - to help the growth of political consciousness in the people, the franchise should be extended; and the Legislature enlarged. Otherwise, no substantial change was recommended in the Centre. The Report strongly opposed the introduction of Dyarchy at the Centre. It should be noted that Simon set great store on having a unanimous report. This could only be done if he recommended no change at the centre as: the diehards were opposed to any Indian responsibility at the Centre: the Conservative leadership would oppose any responsibility at the Centre which did not build in conservative-pro-British control (as they tried to do in the Government of India Act 1935; and, Labour would oppose the type of gerrymandering at the Centre necessary to meet the requirements of the Conservative leadership.
Protest and death of Lala Lajpat Rai
Almost immediately with its arrival in Bombay on February 3, 1928, the Simon Commission was confronted by throngs of protesters. The entire country started a strike, and many people turned out to greet the Commission with black flags. Similar protests occurred in every major Indian city that the seven British MPs visited. However, one protest against the Simon Commission would gain infamy above all the others. 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.In the Madras Presidency excluding the Chief Minister,P. Subaroyan the remaining 2 other Ministers resigned - Dewan Bahadur R.N.Arogyaswamy Mudaliar and A.Ranganatha Mudaliar. 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.
The Commission published its 2-volume 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.
Members of the Commission
- Sir John Simon
- Clement Attlee
- Harry Levy-Lawson, 1st Viscount Burnham
- Edward Cadogan
- Vernon Hartshorn
- George Lane-Fox
- Donald Howard, 3rd Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal
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- Indohistory.com: Simon Commission Boycott
- Lala Lajpat Rai Biography: Simon Commission
- Story of Pakistan: Simon Commission
- Banglapedia: Indian Statutory Commission
- Comprehensive Essay on the Simon Commission