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The Nehru Report of 28-30 August, 1928 was a memorandum outlining a proposed new dominion status constitution for India. It was prepared by a committee of the All Parties Conference chaired by Motilal Nehru with his son Jawaharlal Nehru acting as secretary. There were nine other members in this committee. The final report was signed by Motilal Nehru, Ali Imam, Tej Bahadur Sapru, Madhav Shrihari Aney, Mangal Singh, Shuaib Qureshi, Subhas Chandra Bose, and G. R. Pradhan. Qureshi disagreed with some of the recommendations.
Right of Indians to Draft their Own Constitution
British policy, until almost the end of the Raj, was that the timing and nature of Indian constitutional development was to be decided exclusively by the British parliament, but it was assumed that Indians would be consulted as appropriate. This was formally stated in the Government of India Act 1919. Right of Indians to frame their own constitution only in the 1942 Cripps Declaration ().
Indian unhappiness with this paternal approach was described by im monaam Mehrota (pp. 219–221):
- All political parties in India in the 'twenties recognized the legislative supremacy of the Imperial Parliament. Even the Congress, which took its stand on the principle of self-determination, bowed to the sovereign
Lead-up to the Report
This was the first attempt by Indians to draft a new constitution -
- "A nonofficial effort to ... (to draft a new constitution was) made by Mrs. Besant and a few of her Indian friends. Most of the leaders were rather cool toward her project, but it was somewhat revised by a so-called All-Parties Conference which met at Delhi in January–February, 1925, and was formally approved by a convention held at Cawnpore in April. It was drafted as a statute and introduced in the House of Commons by Mr. George Lansbury, December 9, 1925, under the title, "The Commonwealth of India Bill." The bill proposed to confer upon India at once the full status of a Dominion, subject to certain temporary reservations. The Viceroy, as the representative of the King-Emperor, was to have complete charge of military and naval forces and foreign relations until the Indian Parliament by its own act should signify its readiness to assume control. Any step taken by the Indian Parliament concerning the Indian States must have the previous approval of the Viceroy. There was a Bill of Rights which included, among other things, guarantees of personal liberty, freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, and equality of sex. This scheme did not arouse any popular enthusiasm, partly perhaps because it was not really an Indian product, but mainly because of the negative character of the Nationalist movement. The leaders were more interested in opposing the existing system than they were in preparing a constructive alternative.
In November 1927, the British government appointed the Simon Commission to review the working of the Government of India Act 1919and propose constitutional reforms for India. The Commission did not have a single Indian member which irked leaders of the nationalist movement. While the British acknowledged the discontent, it did not consider making changes to the composition of the Commission; it instead asked Indians to prove that they could draw up a constitution themselves. A similar challenge was made in 1925 by Lord Birkenhead, Secretary of State for India, in the House of Lords: ‘…let them [Indians] produce a constitution which carries behind it a fair measure of general agreement among the great peoples of India...’. Leaders of the nationalist movement responded to the challenge by drafting the Nehru Report.
In December 1927, at its Madras session, the Indian National Congress, took two major decisions in response to the setting up the Simon Commission: first, it decided to not cooperate with the Commission; second, it set up an All Parties Conference to draft a Constitution for India.
The constitution outlined by the Nehru Report was for Indian enjoying dominion status within the British Commonwealth. Some of the important elements of the report: Element of Nehru report...
- Unlike the eventual Government of India Act 1935 it contained a Bill of Rights.
- All power of government and all authority - legislative, executive and judicial - are derived from the people and the same shall be exercised through organisations established by, or under, and in accord with, this Constitution.
- There shall be no state religion; men and women shall have equal rights as citizens.
- There should be federal form of government with residuary powers vested in the centre.(Some scholars, such as Moore 1988 considered the Nehru Report proposal as essentially unitary rather than federal);
- It included a description of the machinery of government including a proposal for the creation of a Supreme Court and a suggestion that the provinces should be linguistically determined.
- It did not provide for separate electorates for any community or weightage for minorities. Both of these were liberally provided in the eventual Government of India Act 1935. However, it did allow for the reservation of minority seats in provinces having a minorities of at least ten percent, but this was to be in strict proportion to the size of the community.
- The language of the Union shall be Indian, which may be written either in Devanagari (Hindi/Sanskrit), Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali or Tamil in character. The use of the English language shall be permitted.
The Nehru Report, along with that of the Simon Commission was available to participants in the three Indian Round Table Conferences (1930–1932). However, the Government of India Act 1935 owes much to the Simon Commission report and little, if anything to the Nehru Report.
Muslim League's reaction to the Nehru Report
With few exceptions League leaders rejected the Nehru proposals. In reaction Mohammad Ali Jinnah drafted his Fourteen Points in 1929 which became the core demands the Muslim community put forward as the price of their participating in an independent united India. Their main objections were:
- Separate electorates and weightage — the 1916 Congress-Muslim League agreement Lucknow Pact provided these to the Muslim community whereas they were rejected by the Nehru Report.
- Residuary powers — the Muslims realized that while they would be a majority in the provinces of the North-East and North-West of India, and hence would control their provincial legislatures, they would always be a minority at the Centre. Thus they demanded, contra the Nehru Report, that residuary powers go to the provinces.
According to Mohammad Ali Jinnah,“The Committee has adopted a narrow minded policy to ruin the political future of the Muslims. I regret to declare that the report is extremely ambiguous and does not deserve to be implemented.” The inability of Congress to concede these points must be considered a major factor in the eventual partition of India.
R. Coupland in The Constitutional Problem in India sees the Report as the ‘frankest attempt yet made by Indians to face squarely the difficulties of communalism...’ and finds its objective of claiming dominion status as ‘remarkable’. However, he argues that the Report‘had little practical result’. Granville Austin in India’s Constitution: Cornerstone of a Nation, highlights that the fundamental rights section of the Nehru Report was ‘a close precursor of the Fundamental Rights of the Constitution [of India, 1950]…10 of the 19 subclauses re-appear, materially unchanged, and three of the Nehru rights are included in the Directive Principles’. Neera Chandhoke’s in her chapter in The Indian Constituent Assembly (edited) argues that ‘the inclusion of social and cultural rights in a predominantly liberal constitution appears extraordinary’. Niraja Jayal in Citizenship and Its Discontents suggests that the Nehru Report, in the context of the international discourse of rights around the late 1920s, was a ‘rather exceptional document in its early envisioning of social and economic rights’.
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