Simon Commission

Simon Commission / Indian Statutory Commission(1927-29)

This article deals with ‘ Simon Commission  – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Modern History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here


  • Govt of India Act,1919 had provision that further constitutional changes were to be considered within 10 yrs but since 1919, Indian leaders were demanding early consideration . British government remained adamant that they will consider anything after 10 years
  • 1927: Conservative Party was expecting their defeat in elections & they didn’t want to leave this important matter in hands of Labour government . They appointed Statutory Commission to Report working of Act of 1919 with view to modify or amend it

Other Reasons

  • At this time, Communal situation in India was at its ebb. Tory government wanted to send Commission at this time to give expression that India wasn’t yet ready to govern themselves
  • Result of activities of Swarajist Party and youth activities led by Nehru and Bose which made real nature of Govt of India Act 1919 public

Boycott of Simon Commission

  • 7 member All White Commission under Sir Simon
  • Note – 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
  • Commission was to decide whether Indians were fit to govern themselves & nothing referred wrt Swaraj.
  • Indians considered it as insult that no Indian is considered fit enough to decide political future of India

Hence , All parties boycotted the commission

(Note : Muslim League led by  Shafi, Justice Party of madras ,  Unionist Party of Punjab, central Sikh Sangh & All India Achut Federation didn’t boycott)

British government gave following reasons for not taking any Indian Member

  • Since  committee had to report its proceedings to  British Parliament so it was justified to appoint British members only. Argument don’t hold weight because there were two Indian Members of British Parliament- Lord Sinha and Mr. Saklatwala.
  • As there was no unanimity of Indian opinion on the problem of Constitutional development, it was not possible to appoint any Indian as its member.
  • Actually Birkenhead was afraid that in a mixed commission, there could be an alliance between the Indian and British Labour representatives.
  • Irwin declared that Indians had been excluded from the membership of Commission because they could not give an accurate picture of their capacity to govern to the Parliament and their judgement was bound to be coloured.

Methods used in Anti-Simon Protests

  • Congress session in Madras (December 1927) meeting under the Presidency of M.A. Ansari decided to boycott the commission “at every stage and in every form”.
  • Congress converted boycott into popular movement
  • It temporarily united different groups in India . Different  parties were trying to lay common political program
Bombay Hartal in whole city when Simon commission landed here ( 3Feb1928)
Rallies , processions & black flag demonstrations
Madras T Parkasam  led processions
Punjab Huge demonstrations
Other places Lucknow (kites flown with Simon go back on it) , Vijaywada, Poona, Calcutta – wherever they went welcomed with black flag & Slogans of Simon go back

Government Repression

  • Tried to suppress with heavy hand . There were lathi charges & brutal beating
Lahore Lala Lajpat Rai was beaten by police & succumbed to death . Bhagat Singh & comrades avenged his death
Lucknow Jawahar lal Nehru &  Govind Ballab Pant  beaten up
  • Revived Revolutionary Activities in some parts  (especially Bengal & Punjab) 

Birkenhead challenge & Nehru Report 1928

Lord Birkenhead, the Conservative Secretary of State responsible for the appointment of the Simon Commission, had constantly harped on the inability of Indians to formulate a concrete scheme of Constitutional Reforms which had the support of wide sections of Indian political opinion. This challenge was taken up and meetings of the All-Parties Conference were held to finalise a scheme which popularly came to be known as the Nehru Report after Motilal Nehru.

Main Provisions of Nehru Committee Report

  • Same constitutional status to India wrt Self Government as enjoyed by Canada, Australia  & its Parliament should have power to make laws & should be known as Commonwealth of India
  • Constitution should include Declaration of Rights guaranteeing Freedom of Conscience & Free profession & practice of religion
  • There would be no state religion & state shouldn’t directly or indirectly endow to any religion
  • Constitution would define Citizenship
  • NWFP & Sind (to be separated from Bombay) would have same constitutional status as other provinces
  • Abolition of separate electorates & instead of that reservation of seats for Muslims at center & also in provinces having Muslims in minority
  • Princely states to  transfer exercise of Paramountcy from Governor General to Govt of India & conflicts between Commonwealth of India & Princely states to be decided by Supreme Court
  • Governor General would be Kings representative who would act on advice of Executive Council & similar arrangement in Provinces where Governor would be representative of Govt of India
  • Hierarchy of Courts with Supreme Court at its apex
  • Nehru Report contained virtually no federal features although committee conferred the establishment of a federal constitution . But it didn’t take concrete steps for its establishment
  • Residuary subjects with Centre ( like in Govt of India Act 1919)
  • Later  more proposals added – Communal Representation was to be reconsidered after ten years

Nehru Report as a reversal of Lucknow pact:

  • Reservation of seats for Muslims only in Provinces where they were a minority 
  • Proposed to abolish the Separate Electorate and discard the reservation of seats for Muslim majorities in Punjab and Bengal
  • This was the reversal of Lucknow pact

Reactions & response to Nehru Report

1 . Within Congress

  • Opposition from young group led by JL Nehru & Bose for acceptance of Swaraj & not Poorna Swaraj as goal
  • Compromise reached at Calcutta Session of 1928 .  Either British government accept  Nehru Report in its entirety in one year else their demand will shift to Poorna Swaraj & they will start Civil Disobedience Movement for its achievement.
  • Note – Already in August 1928, the “Independence of India League” was formed with Jawahar Lal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose as Secretaries and S. Srinivasa Iyengar as President for the cause of Poorna Swaraj

2. Muslim League

  • At the All Parties Conference held at Calcutta in December 1928 to consider the Nehru Report, Jinnah, on behalf of the Muslim League, proposed three amendments to the report:
    • 1/3rd representation to Muslims in the Central Legislature
    • Reservation to Muslims in Bengal and Punjab legislatures proportionate to their population, till adult suffrage was established
    • Residual powers to Provinces.
  • This wasn’t accepted & he joined group led by Aga Khan & Mohammad Shafi . 1928 breakdown did contribute considerably to the aloofness and positive hostility of most Muslim leaders towards Civil Disobedience two years later. Hence, Hindu – Muslim Unity atleast of Elites of both Religion was lost.

3. Hindu Mahasabha

  • They also rejected Report on communal basis

4.  British Government

Outrightly rejected by British government because

  • Not made after taking permission from the Government
  • Even not accepted  by all parties at All Party conference . Hence, donot represent all people

Jinnah’s 14 Points

  • March 1929 : Jinnah gave 14 points which were to become the basis of all future propaganda of Muslim League
    • Federal Constitution with Residual Powers to Provinces.
    • Provincial autonomy.
    • No Constitutional Amendment by the Centre without the concurrence of the states constituting the Indian federation.
    • All legislatures and elected bodies to have adequate representation of Muslims in every province without reducing a majority of Muslims in a province to a minority or equality.
    • Adequate representation to Muslims in the services and in self-governing bodies.
    • One-third Muslim representation in the Central Legislature.
    • In any cabinet at the Centre or in the Provinces, one- third to be Muslims.
    • Separate electorates.
    • No bill or resolution in any Legislature to be passed if three-fourths of a minority community considers such a bill or resolution to be against their interests.
    • Any territorial redistribution not to affect the Muslim majority in Punjab, Bengal and NWFP.
    • Separation of Sindh from Bombay.
    • Constitutional reforms in the NWFP and Baluchistan.
    • Full religious freedom to all communities.
    • Protection of Muslim rights in religion, culture, education and language.

Differences between Nehru Report & Simon Commission Report

Simon Commission Nehru Report
Appointed by British Government Appointed by all major parties of India
All members were English All members were Indians
No mention of idea of Self Government Contained its imminent application
Executive was to remain supreme & independent of legislative control Executive was to be responsible to legislature both at centre & provinces
Separate electorate for minorities Rejected separate electorate & instead proposed reservation of seats for muslims
No provisions regarding Fundamental Rights Provisions regarding Fundamental Rights were there
No provision regarding reducing Governor General power Governor General reduced to constitutional head with no real power
No provision of Adult franchise Present

Delhi Manifesto

  • June 1929, a Labour Government headed by Ramsay MacDonald took power in Britain and Lord Irwin, the Viceroy, was called to London for consultations.
  • Oct 1929 : Lord Irwin’s Declaration that government intends to draw a new constitution after asserting various shades of Indian political opinion at Round Table Conference to be held in London
  • Two days later, a conference of major national leaders met and issued what came to be known as the Delhi Manifesto, in which they demanded that it should be made clear that the purpose of the Round Table Conference was not to discuss when Dominion Status should be granted, but to formulate a scheme for its implementation.
  • Later Irwin told Gandhi personally that he was not in position to give any assurance they are demanding

Lahore Session , 1929 & Moving toward Poorna Swaraj

  • Honour of hosting what was, perhaps, the most memorable of the Congress annual sessions went to Lahore, the capital city of Punjab, and the honour of declaring ‘Purna Swaraj’ as the only honourable goal Indians could strive for went to the man who had done more than any other to popularize the idea — Jawaharlal Nehru.
  • Jawaharlal Nehru’s Presidential Address was a stirring call to action: ‘We have now an open conspiracy to free this country from foreign rule and you, comrades, and all our countrymen and countrywomen are invited to join it.
  • On the banks of the river Ravi, at midnight on 31 December 1929, the tricolour flag of Indian independence was unfurled amid cheers and jubilation. Amid the excitement, there was also a grim resolve, for the year to follow was to be one of hard struggle.
  • It was on 26 January 1930 , public meetings were to be held at which the Independence Pledge would be read out and collectively affirmed. This programme was a huge success, and in villages and towns, at small meetings and large ones, the pledge was read out in the local language and the national flag was hoisted

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