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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.
At the time of introducing the Montague Chelmsford Reforms 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 .
In November 1927 the British government appointed a commission under the chairmanship of Sir John Simon to report on India's constitutional progress for introducing constitutional reforms as had been promised.
The Government of India Act 1919 had introduced the system of dyarchy to govern the provinces of British India. The Indian public clamoured for revision of this form of government, and the Government of India Act 1919 itself stated that a commission would be appointed after ten 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 to constitute the promised commission to examine the state of Indian constitutional affairs.
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.
However, opinion was divided, with support for co-operation coming from some members of the Muslim League and also both Hindus and members of the Central Sikh League. 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 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.
Protest and death of Lala Lajpat Rai
Almost immediately with its arrival in Bombay on 3 February 1928, the Simon Commission was confronted by throngs of protesters. A strike began 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.
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. The 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 17 November 1928. His death was widely believed to have been caused by the mental trauma of the beating.
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
- Nair, Neeti (May 2009). "Bhagat Singh as 'Satyagrahi': The Limits to Non-violence in Late Colonial India". Modern Asian Studies (Cambridge University Press) 43 (3): 649–681. JSTOR 20488099. (subscription required (. ))
- See e.g. Maurice Collis, Trials in Burma (London, 1938).