The Indian Statutory Commission, commonly referred to as the Simon Commission, was a group of seven British Members of Parliament under the chairmanship of Sir John Allsebrook Simon. The commission arrived in British India in 1928 to study constitutional reform in Britain's most important colonial dependency. One of its members was Clement Attlee, who became committed to Indian independence by 1934 and achieved that goal as Prime Minister in 1947 in the granting of independence to India and Pakistan.
At the time of introducing the Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms in 1919, 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 to report on India's constitutional progress for introducing constitutional reforms, as promised.
The Commission was strongly opposed by many in India and met with protests in every major Indian city it visited. Prominent Indian nationalist Lala Lajpat Rai led a protest in Lahore. He suffered a police beating during the protest, and died of his injuries two weeks later.
The Government of India Act 1919 had introduced the system of diarchy 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 ruling Conservative government 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.
Protests and death of Lala Lajpat Rai
The Simon Commission left England in January 1928. Almost immediately with its arrival in Bombay on 3 February 1928, its members were confronted by throngs of protesters, although there were also some supporters among the crowds who saw it as the next step on the road to self-governance. 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. Lala Lajpat Rai was critically injured and died a fortnight later.
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 called for "responsible" government at the provincial level in India but not at the national level—that is a government responsible to the Indian community rather than London. It 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.
Clement Attlee was deeply moved by his experience on the Commission, and endorsed the final report. However by 1933 he argued that British rule was alien to India and was unable to make the social and economic reforms necessary for India's progress. He became the British leader most sympathetic to Indian independence (as a dominion), preparing him for his role in deciding on Indian independence as British Prime Minister in 1947.
Members of the Commission
- Sir John Simon, MP for Spen Valley (Liberal, chairman)
- Clement Attlee, MP for Limehouse (Labour)
- Harry Levy-Lawson, 1st Viscount Burnham
- Edward Cadogan, MP for Finchley (Conservative)
- Vernon Hartshorn, MP for Ogmore (Labour)
- George Lane-Fox, MP for Barkston Ash (Conservative)
- Donald Howard, 3rd Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal
- John Bew (2017). Clement Attlee: The Man Who Made Modern Britain. Oxford UP. pp. 186–87. ISBN 978-0-19-020340-5.
- C.F. Andrews (2017). India and the Simon Report. Routledge reprint of 1930 first edition. p. 11. ISBN 9781315444987.
- Nair, Neeti (May 2009). "Bhagat Singh as 'Satyagrahi': The Limits to Non-violence in Late Colonial India". Modern Asian Studies. 43 (3): 649–681. doi:10.1017/s0026749x08003491. JSTOR 20488099. (Subscription required (help)).
- See e.g. Maurice Collis, Trials in Burma (London, 1938).
- Desai, Meghnad (2011). The Rediscovery of India. Penguin UK. p. 210. ISBN 978-8-18475-566-4.
- Pew Ghosh (2012). Indian Government and Politics. pp. 20–21. ISBN 9788120346499.
- Brasted Howard, Bridge Carl (1988). "The British Labour Party and Indian Nationalism, 1907‐1947". South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies. 11 (2): 69–99. doi:10.1080/00856408808723113.
- R.J. Moore, Escape from Empire: The Attlee Government & the Indian Problem (1983).
- Andrews, C.F. (2017). India and the Simon Report. Routledge reprint of 1930 first edition. p. 11. ISBN 9781315444987.
- Simon, John Allsebrook. Retrospect: The Memoirs of the Rt. Hon. Viscount Simon (1952) online pp 144–61.
- Somervell, D.C. The Reign of King George V, (1936) covers Raj 1910-35 pp 80-84, 282-91, 455-64 online free
- The New York Times, 29 June 1930