What is Simon Commission and What are the Reasons for its Boycott?

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What is Simon Commission

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“Go back Simon” is a popularised slogan that one often recalls when coming across the Simon Commission while turning the pages of history. Although the events behind might get blurry, the slogan remains intact on the mind. Moreover, people also might remember how Lala Lajpat Rai, a great freedom fighter lost his life quite painfully because of the ensuing events of the Simon Commission. To inform you, the slogan was first raised by one of the lesser-known hero of India’s struggle for freedom, Yusuf Meherally. 

Further, to help you recall the history behind the Simon Commission, in this article we’ll talk about “What is Simon Commission?”, “Members of the Simon Commission”, “Simon Commission report”, “Why Was Simon Commission Boycotted” and several other historical facts. Also, if you are preparing for UPSC, it will prove useful to you. 

So, without delaying any further let us start our reading journey! 

What is Simon Commission? 

  • The Simon Commission also known as the Indian Statutory Commission was a political group consisting of 7 members of the Parliament. The Simon Commission is named after the leader of this group or the chairman, Sir John Allsebrook Simon. 
  • The main objective of this commission was to study the constitutional reform in Britain’s one of the largest and highly significant colony, India. It was severely opposed by Indian leaders like Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, Jinnah, the Muslim League and Indian National Congress etc. 

Members of the Simon Commission 

The seven members of the Simon Commission are as follows: 

  • Sir John Simon was the MP for Spen Valley. 
  • Clement Atlee – Clement Atlee was an MP for Limehouse (Labour party) who became committed to the cause of self-government for India. He also held the position of the Prime Minister during India’s independence and partition in 1947 
  • Harry Levy-Lawson was the first viscount Burnham 
  • Edward Cadogan was the MP for Finchley (Conservative) 
  • George Lane-Fox was the MP for Barkston Ash (Conservative) 
  • Vernon Hartshorn was the MP for Ogmore (Labour) 
  • Donald Howard was the 3rd Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal 

 Why was Simon Commission sent to India?  

  • An Act was passed in 1919 by the British Parliament to introduce the provincial diarchy system of governance in British India. The Act was named “The Government of India Act 1919”.  
  • As per the Act, some areas of the government would be looked after by ministers responsible to the provincial legislature while other areas like public order and finance would be taken care by officials responsible to the British-appointed Governor. 
  • Under the Act, a system of review of reforms would take place 10 years from the implementation of the Act. In other words, a commission would be formed to track the overall progress in India. 
  • Moreover, the constitutional progress would be analysed and more reforms would be brought in. Inspite of the scheduled time, the Conservative government which was in power decided to establish the Commission before the appointed time to study the constitutional progress of India and produce a report accordingly. 
  • The Conservative government decided to pre-launch the Simon Commission out of fear of losing the elections and simultaneously power to the contesting Labour party. 
  • The Simon Commission left England in January 1928 and landed in Bombay, India on February 4, 1928 (Feb-Mar and Oct 1928 – April 1929) amidst a crowd of protesters and huge uproar. 

Why was Simon Commission boycotted?  

  • Indians deserved to have its say while framing the recommendations of the Simon Commission. However, not a single Indian was consulted for the matter. This was a humiliation enough to provoke Indians including nationalist leaders and common people. 
  • As a result, the Simon Commission was heavily criticized and strongly opposed by Indian political parties and their leaders. This opposition largely took place both as individual and group protests which sought the British administrators to review the Constitution of the Commission. 
  • Mahatma Gandhi opposed the Commission because he believed that outsiders can never judge the internal condition of India. By this he meant that only true Indians are well-aware of the flaws within the system and passionate about finding solutions to them. 
  • The Secretary of State for India, Lord Birkenhead sharply criticized India’s inability to have a mutual consensus in formulating a concrete scheme of reforms amidst all sections of Indian political scene. He was responsible for bringing the Simon Commission into existence. 
  • In December 1927, the Indian National Congress organized a meeting in Madras that decided to boycott the Simon Commission. Some members of the Muslim League including its leader Mohammed Ali Jinnah was against the Commission and decided to boycott it. Thus, the two major Indian political associations in collective denial made up their minds to dismiss the Simon Commission. 
  • Certain members led by Muhammad Shafi who was a scholar and a jurist, supported the British Government’s decision to form the Simon Commission. Apart from that, other factions and the Justice Party of the South also inclined towards the imperial government. 
  • Additionally, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar presented a report on education of the backward and oppressed sections in the Bombay Presidency. He presented this on behalf of his institution (Bahishkrit Hitakarini Sabha) that aims to inculcate socio-political awareness among the Dalits or the untouchables. 

Protests and the death of Lala Lajpat Rai in Simon Commission  

  • The Simon Commission members with its chairman Sir John Allsebrook Simon arrived in India on February 3 1928. People gathered up in mass protests against the Simon Commission. They demanded the Commission to leave the country with slogans like “Go Back Simon” or “Go Simon Go”. 
  • The whole of India were in strikes and greeted the members of the Commission with black flags written with “Go back” slogans. Several small cities also protested against the Simon Commission. One such protest became infamous because of the atrocities committed by the police against protestors. 
  • When the Commission arrived in Lahore (now Pakistan), protestors waved black flags and raised slogans. Lala Lajpat Rai who was one of the national trinities of Lal Bal Pal was heading the protest. He had also moved a resolution against the Commission in the Legislative Assembly of Punjab in February 1928. 
  • The protestors blocked the passage for which the commission couldn’t leave the railway station. For a clear exit, the local police led by Superintendent James Scott suddenly turned violent and charged the protestors with lathis ( iron-bound bamboo sticks). Lala Lajpat Rai was beaten brutally by the police and he succumbed to his injuries on 17 November 1928.   

Aftermath of the Simon commission  

  • Due to widespread protests in India, the Simon Commission in its report proposed the dismissal of the diarchy system and instead suggested the placement of representative government in different provinces. 
  • Way before in September 1928, Motilal Nehru submitted the “Nehru Report” which countered the Commission’s charges and suggested that India must be an integral part of the Commission. The “Nehru Report” facilitated the dominion status for India with internal autonomy. 
  • Before the report was published, the British government tried to pacify the public by promising that the consensus of Indians will be taken into account. Moreover, the final result of the constitutional reforms will always establish the dominion status for India in the future. 
  • The outcome of these deliberations of the Simon Commission was the Government of India Act 1935 that received a lukewarm response from India as it contained no particular promise of establishing a dominion status for India. The Commission called for a responsible government at the provincial level but not on a national level. 
  • The first provincial elections took place in 1937 that established a clear majority of the Congress party in all of its provinces. This gave rise to the Congress governments that would be responsible for the Indians.  
  • The Government of India Act 1935 seemed too radical for people back in Britain. However, the Act served as a fundamental for many parts of the existing Indian constitution. 

Other Recommendations of the Simon Commission 

  • The report of the Simon Commission also recommended to have separate electorates for Hindus and Muslims until the communal tension eases. 
  • The Governor will have complete control to maintain communal hatred and rift between separate religious entities. 
  • As per the recommendations of the report, there should be increase in the number of members of the Legislative Council. 
  • The Government of India should have complete control in order to have complete governance over the judiciary system including the High Court. 

Final Thought!  

There is a saying ” No motion without emotion”. It holds true in the context of the Simon Commission. The arrival of the Simon Commission fueled India’s Independence Movement by galvanizing leaders and common people. If the masses in India were casual with the Simon Commission or the British’s oppressive regime, they could neither have established the dominion nor could have gained freedom. Only a strong emotion produces strong results. 

If the reaction on the part of the Indians had been mild, what do you think would have exactly been the circumstances in the country? 

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