Indian History IV

Delhi Law Academy

Simon Commission and the Nehru Report

Appointment of the Indian Statutory Commission

•            The Government of India Act, 1919 had a provision that a commission would be appointed ten years from date to study the progress of the governance scheme and suggest new steps.

•            An all-white, seven-member Indian Statutory Commission, popularly known as the Simon Commission (after the name of its chairman, Sir John Simon), was set up by the British government in November 1927.

•            The commission was to recommend to the British government whether India was ready for further constitutional reforms and along what lines.

•            Although constitutional reforms were due only in 1929, the Conservative government, then in power in Britain, feared defeat by the Labour Party and thus did not want to leave the question of the future of Britain’s most priced colony in “irresponsible Labour hands”.

•            Also, by the mid-1920s, the failure of the 1919 Act to create a stable imperial power had led to several parliamentary reports and inquiries.

•            The Lee Commission went into the Raj’s failure to recruit enough British officers; the Mudiman Commission looked into the deadlock within the diarchic dispensation; and the Linlithgow Commission inquired into the crisis of Indian agriculture.

•            The Conservative Secretary of State for India, Lord Birkenhead, who had constantly talked of the inability of Indians to formulate a concrete scheme of constitutional reforms which had the support of wide sections of Indian political opinion, was responsible for the appointment of the Simon Commission.

Indian Response

•            The Indian response to the Simon Commission was immediate and nearly unanimous.

•            What angered the Indians most was the exclusion of Indians from the commission and the basic notion behind the exclusion that foreigners would discuss and decide upon India’s fitness for self-government.

•            This notion was seen as a violation of the principle of self-determination, and as a deliberate insult to the self-respect of Indians.

Congress Response

•            The Congress session in Madras (December 1927) decided to boycott the commission “at every stage and in every form”. Meanwhile Nehru succeeded in getting a snap resolution passed at the session, declaring complete independence as the goal of the Congress.

Other Groups

•            Those who decided to support the Congress call of boycott of the Simon Commission included the liberals of the Hindu Mahasabha and the majority faction of the Muslim League under Jinnah.

Public Response

•            The commission landed in Bombay on February 3, 1928. On that day, a countrywide hartal was organised and mass rallies held.

•            Wherever the commission went, there were black flag demonstrations, hartals and slogans of ‘Simon Go Back’.

•            A significant feature of this upsurge was that a new generation of youth got their first taste of political action.

•            They played the most active part in the protest, giving it a militant flavour. The youth leagues and conferences got a real fillip.

•            Nehru and Subhash Bose emerged as leaders of this new wave of youth and students. Both travelled extensively, addressed and presided over conferences.

•            This upsurge among the youth also provided a fertile ground for the germination and spread of new radical ideas of socialism reflected in the emergence of groups such as the Punjab Naujawan Bharat Sabha, Workers’ and Peasants’ Parties and Hindustani Sewa Dal (Karnataka).

Police Repression

•            The police came down heavily on demonstrators; there were lathi-charges not sparing even the senior leaders.

•            Jawaharlal Nehru and G.B. Pant were beaten up in Lucknow.

•            Lala Lajpat Rai received severe blows on his chest in October 1928 which proved fatal and he died on November 17, 1928.

Impact of Appointment of Simon Commission on the National Movement

The impact of the appointment of the Simon Commission on Indian politics was two-fold:

(i)          It gave a stimulus to radical forces demanding not just complete independence but major socio-economic reforms on socialist lines.

•            When the Simon Commission was announced, the Congress, which did not have any active programme in hand, got an issue on which it could once again forge mass action.

(ii)         The challenge of Lord Birkenhead to Indian politicians to produce an agreed constitution was accepted by various political sections, and thus prospects for Indian unity seemed bright at that point of time.

The Simon Commission Recommendations

•            The Simon Commission published a two-volume report in May 1930.

•            It proposed the abolition of dyarchy and the establishment of representative government in the provinces which should be given autonomy.

•            It said that the governor should have discretionary power in relation to internal security and administrative powers to protect the different communities.

•            The number of members of provincial legislative council should be increased.

•            It also recommended that separate communal electorates be retained (and extended such electorates to other communities) but only until tensions between Hindus and Muslims had died down.

•            There was to be no universal franchise.

•            But by the time the report came out, it was no longer relevant because several events overtook the importance of its recommendations.

Nehru Report

•            As an answer to Lord Birkenhead’s challenge, an All Parties Conference met in February 1928 and appointed a sub-committee under the chairmanship of Motilal Nehru to draft a constitution.

•            This was the first major attempt by the Indians to draft a constitutional framework for the country.

•            The report was finalised by August 1928.

•            The recommendations of the Nehru Committee were unanimous except in one respect—while the majority favoured the “dominion status” as the basis of the Constitution, a section of it wanted “complete independence” as the basis, with the majority section giving the latter section liberty of action.

Main Recommendations

•            The Nehru Report confined itself to British India, as it envisaged the future link-up of British India with the princely states on a federal basis. For the dominion it recommended:

(i)          Dominion status on lines of self-governing dominions as the form of government desired by Indians

(ii)         Rejection of separate electorates which had been the basis of constitutional reforms so far; instead, a demand for joint electorates with reservation of seats for Muslims at the Centre and in provinces where they were in minority

(iii)        Linguistic provinces.

(iv)        Nineteen fundamental rights including equal rights for women, right to form unions, and universal adult suffrage.

(v)         Complete dissociation of State from religion.

(vi)        Responsible government at the Centre and in provinces:

(a)         The Indian Parliament at the Centre to consist of a 500-member House of Representatives elected on the basis of adult suffrage, a 200-member Senate to be elected by provincial councils; the House of Representatives to have a tenure of 5 years and the Senate, one of 7 years

(b)         Provincial councils to have a 5-year tenure, headed by a governor acting on the advice of the provincial executive council.

Reaction to Nehru Report

•            Not only were the Muslim League, the Hindu Mahasabha and the Sikh communalists unhappy about the Nehru Report, but the younger section of the Congress led by Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Bose were also angered.

•            The younger section regarded the idea of dominion status in the report as a step backward, and the developments at the All Parties Conference strengthened their criticism of the dominion status idea.

•            Nehru and Subhash Bose rejected the Congress’ modified goal and jointly set up the Independence for India League.

Lahore Congress and Purna Swaraj

•            Jawaharlal Nehru, who had done more than anyone else to popularise the concept of purna swaraj, was nominated the president for the Lahore session of the Congress (December 1929).

The following major decisions were taken at the Lahore session.

•            The Round Table Conference was to be boycotted.

•            Complete independence (Purna Swaraj) was declared as the aim of the Congress.

•            Congress Working Committee was authorised to launch a programme of civil disobedience including non-payment of taxes and all members of legislatures were asked to resign their seats.

•            January 26, 1930 was fixed as the first Independence (Swarajya) Day, to be celebrated everywhere.

December 31, 1929

•            At midnight on the banks of river Ravi, the newly adopted tricolour flag of freedom was hoisted by Jawaharlal Nehru amidst slogans of Inquilab Zindabad.

January 26, 1930: The Independence Pledge

•            Public meetings were organised all over the country in villages and towns and the independence pledge was read out in local languages and the national flag was hoisted.

This pledge made the following points:

•            It is the inalienable right of Indians to have freedom.

•            The British Government in India has not only deprived us of freedom and exploited us, but has also ruined us economically, politically, culturally and spiritually. India must therefore sever the British connection and attain purna swaraj or complete independence.

•            We are being economically ruined by high revenue, destruction of village industries with no substitutions made, while customs, currency and exchange rate are manipulated to our disadvantage.

•            No real political powers are given – rights of free association are denied to us and all administrative talent in us is killed.

•            We hold it a crime against man and God to submit any longer to British rule.

Civil Disobedience Movement – Salt Satyagraha

Why Salt was Chosen as the Important Theme

•            As Gandhi said, “There is no other article like salt, outside water, by taxing which the government can reach the starving millions, the sick, the maimed and the utterly helpless… it is the most inhuman poll tax the ingenuity of man can devise.”

•            Salt in a flash linked the ideal of swaraj with a most concrete and universal grievance of the rural poor (and with no socially divisive implications like a no-rent campaign).

•            Salt afforded a very small but psychologically important income, like khadi, for the poor through self-help.

•            Like khadi, again, it offered to the urban populace the opportunity of a symbolic identification with mass suffering.

Dandi March (March 12-April 6, 1930)

•            On March 2, 1930, Gandhi informed the viceroy of his plan of action.

•            According to this plan, Gandhi, along with a band of seventy-eight members of Sabarmati Ashram, was to march from his headquarters in Ahmedabad through the villages of Gujarat for 240 miles.

•            On reaching the coast at Dandi, the salt law was to be violated by collecting salt from the beach.

Gandhi gave the following directions for future action.

•            Wherever possible civil disobedience of the salt law should be started.

•            Foreign liquor and cloth shops can be picketed.

•            We can refuse to pay taxes if we have the requisite strength.

•            Lawyers can give up practice.

•            Public can boycott law courts by refraining from litigation.

•            Government servants can resign from their posts.

•            All these should be subject to one condition—truth and non-violence as means to attain swaraj should be faithfully adhered to.

•            Local leaders should be obeyed after Gandhi’s arrest.

•            The historic march, marking the launch of the Civil Disobedience Movement, began on March 12, and Gandhi broke the salt law by picking up a lump of salt at Dandi on April 6.

•            The violation of the law was seen as a symbol of the Indian people’s resolve not to live under British-made laws and therefore under British rule.

•            Gandhi openly asked the people to make salt from sea water in their homes and violate the salt law.

•            In Gujarat, 300 village officials resigned in answer to Gandhi’s appeal.

Spread of Salt Law Disobedience

•            Once the way was cleared by Gandhi’s ritual at Dandi, defiance of the salt laws started all over the country.

•            Gandhi’s arrest came on May 4, 1930 when he had announced that he would lead a raid on Dharasana Salt Works on the west coast.

•            Gandhi’s arrest was followed by massive protests in Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta and in Sholapur, where the response was the most fierce.

After Gandhi’s arrest, the CWC sanctioned:

•            non-payment of revenue in ryotwari areas

•            no-chowkidara-tax campaign in zamindari areas and

•            violation of forest laws in the Central Provinces

Satyagraha at Different Places

•            Tamil Nadu: In April 1930, C. Rajagopalachari organised a march from Thiruchirapalli to Vedaranniyam on the Tanjore coast to break the salt law.

•            Malabar: K. Kelappan, a Nair Congress leader famed for the Vaikom Satyagraha, organised salt marches.

•            Andhra Region: District salt marches were organised in east and west Godavari, Krishna and Guntur. A number of sibirams (military style camps) were set up to serve as the headquarters of the Salt Satyagraha.

•            Orissa: Under Gopalbandhu Chaudhuri, a Gandhian leader, salt satyagraha proved effective in the coastal regions of Balasore, Cuttack and Puri districts.

•            Peshawar: Here, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan’s educational and social reform work among the Pathans had politicised them. Gaffar Khan, also called Badshah Khan and Frontier Gandhi, had started the first Pushto political monthly Pukhtoon and had organised a volunteer brigade ‘Khudai Khidmatgars’, popularly known as the ‘Red-Shirts’, who were pledged to the freedom struggle and non-violence.

•            Dharasana: On May 21, 1930, Sarojini Naidu, Imam Sahib and Manilal (Gandhi’s son) took up the unfinished task of leading a raid on the Dharasana Salt Works.

•            The unarmed and peaceful crowd was met with a brutal lathicharge which left 2 dead and 320 injured.

•            This new form of salt satyagraha was eagerly adopted by people in Wadala (Bombay), Karnataka (Sanikatta Salt Works), Andhra, Midnapore, Balasore, Puri and Cuttack.

•            Manipur and Nagaland These areas took a brave part in the movement. At the young age of thirteen, Rani Gaidinliu, a Naga spiritual leader, raised the banner of revolt against foreign rule.

•            She urged the people not to pay taxes or work for the British—in the tradition established by the freedom struggle in the rest of India.

•            She was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1932. [It was the Interim Government of India set up in 1946 that finally ordered her release from Tura jail.]

Forms of Mobilisation

•            Mobilisation of masses was also carried out through prabhat pheries, vanar senas, manjari senas, secret patrikas and magic lantern shows.

Impact of Agitation

1.           Imports of foreign cloth and other items fell.

2.           Government suffered a loss of income from liquor, excise and land revenue.

3.           Elections to Legislative Assembly were largely boycotted.

Extent of Mass Participation

•            Several sections of the population participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement.


•            Gandhi had specially asked women to play a leading part in the movement. Soon, they became a familiar sight, picketing outside liquor shops, opium dens and shops selling foreign cloth.

•            For Indian women, the movement was the most liberating experience and can truly be said to have marked their entry into the public sphere.


•            Along with women, students and youth played the most prominent part in the boycott of foreign cloth and liquor.


•            The Muslim participation was nowhere near the 1920-22 level because of appeals by Muslim leaders to stay away from the movement and because of active government encouragement to communal dissension.

•            Still, some areas such as the NWFP saw an overwhelming participation.

•            In Dacca, Muslim leaders, shopkeepers, lower class people and upper class women were active.

•            The Muslim weaving community in Bihar, Delhi and Lucknow were also effectively mobilised.

Gandhi-Irwin Pact

•            On January 25, 1931, Gandhi and all other members of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) were released unconditionally.

•            The CWC authorised Gandhi to initiate discussions with the viceroy.

•            As a result of these discussions, a pact was signed between the viceroy, representing the British Indian Government, and Gandhi, representing the Indian people, in Delhi.

•            This Delhi Pact, also known as the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, placed the Congress on an equal footing with the government.

Irwin on behalf of the government agreed on—

1.           immediate release of all political prisoners not convicted of violence

2.           remission of all fines not yet collected

3.           return of all lands not yet sold to third parties

4.           lenient treatment to those government servants who had resigned

5.           right to make salt in coastal villages for personal consumption

6.           right to peaceful and non-aggressive picketing and

7.           withdrawal of emergency ordinances

The viceroy, however, turned down two of Gandhi’s demands—

(i)          public inquiry into police excesses and

(ii)         commutation of Bhagat Singh and his comrades’ death sentence to life sentence

Gandhi on behalf of the Congress agreed—

(i)          to suspend the civil disobedience movement, and

(ii)         to participate in the next Round Table Conference 

Karachi Congress Session—1931

•            In March 1931, a special session of the Congress was held at Karachi to endorse the Gandhi-Irwin Pact.

•            Six days before the session (which was held on March 29) Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were executed.

•            Throughout Gandhi’s route to Karachi, he was greeted with black flag demonstrations by the Punjab Naujawan Bharat Sabha, in protest against his failure to secure commutation of the death sentence for Bhagat and his comrades.

Congress Resolutions at Karachi

•            While disapproving of and dissociating itself from political violence, the Congress admired the ‘bravery’ and ‘sacrifice’ of the three martyrs.

•            The Delhi Pact or Gandhi-Irwin Pact was endorsed.

•            The goal of puma swaraj was reiterated.

•            Two resolutions were adopted—one on Fundamental Rights and the other on National Economic Programme— which made the session particularly memorable.

The Resolution on Fundamental Rights guaranteed—

*            free speech and free press

*            right to form associations

*            right to assemble

*            universal adult franchise

*            equal legal rights irrespective of caste, creed and sex

*            neutrality of state in religious matters

*            free and compulsory primary education

*            protection to culture, language, script of minorities and linguistic groups

The Resolution on National Economic Programme included—

*            substantial reduction in rent and revenue in the case of landholders and peasants

*            exemption from rent for uneconomic holdings

*            relief from agricultural indebtedness

*            control of usury

*            better conditions of work including a living wage, limited hours of work and protection of women workers in the industrial sector

*            right to workers and peasants to form unions

*            state ownership and control of key industries, mines and means of transport

•            The Karachi Resolution was to remain the basic political and economic programme of the Congress in later years.

The Round Table Conferences

•            The Viceroy of India, Lord Irwin, and the Prime Minister of Britain, Ramsay MacDonald, agreed that a round table conference should be held, as the recommendations of the Simon Commission report were clearly inadequate.

First Round Table Conference

•            The first Round Table Conference was held in London between November 1930 and January 1931.

•            It was opened officially by King George V on November 12, 1930 and chaired by Ramsay MacDonald.

•            This was the first conference arranged between the British and the Indians as equals.

•            The Congress and some prominent business leaders refused to attend, but many other groups of Indians were represented at the conference.


•            Nothing much was achieved at the conference.

•            The British government realised that the participation of the Indian National Congress was necessary in any discussion on the future of constitutional government in India.

Second Round Table Conference

•            Members of the Indian Liberal Party such as Tej Bahadur Sapru, C.Y. Chintamani and Srinivasa Sastri appealed to Gandhi to talk with the Viceroy.

•            Gandhi and Irwin reached a compromise which came to be called the Gandhi-Irwin Pact (the Delhi Pact).

•            The second Round Table Conference was held in London from September 7, 1931 to December 1, 1931.

•            The Indian National Congress nominated Gandhi as its sole representative.

•            There were a large number of Indian participants, besides the Congress.

•            The session soon got deadlocked on the question of the minorities.

•            Separate electorates were being demanded by the Muslims, depressed classes, Christians and Anglo-Indians.

•            All these came together in a ‘Minorities’ Pact’. Gandhi fought desperately against this concerted move to make all constitutional progress conditional on the solving of this issue.


•            The lack of agreement among the many delegate groups meant that no substantial results regarding India’s constitutional future would come out of the conference.

•            The session ended with MacDonald’s announcement of:

(i)          two Muslim majority provinces—North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Sindh

(ii)         the setting up of an Indian Consultative Committee

(iii)        setting up of three expert committees—finance, franchise and states and

(iv)        the prospect of a unilateral British Communal Award if Indians failed to agree

•            The government refused to concede the basic Indian demand of freedom.

Third Round Table Conference

•            The Third Round Table Conference, held between November 17, 1932 and December 24, 1932, was not attended by the Indian National Congress and Gandhi.

•            It was ignored by most other Indian leaders.

•            Again, like in the two previous conferences, little was achieved.

T•          he recommendations were published in a White Paper in March 1933 and debated in the British Parliament afterwards.

•            A Joint Select Committee was formed to analyse the recommendations and formulate a new Act for India, and that committee produced was enforced as the Government of India Act in 1935.

Communal Award and Poona Pact

•            The Communal Award was announced by the British prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald, in August 1932.

•            The Communal Award established separate electorates and reserved seats for minorities, including the depressed classes which were granted seventy-eight reserved seats.

•            Thus, this award accorded separate electorates for Muslims, Europeans, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, depressed classes, and even to the Marathas for some seats in Bombay.

•            The award was perceived by the national leaders led by the Congress as another manifestation of the British policy of divide and rule.

Gandhis Response

•            Gandhi saw the Communal Award as an attack on Indian unity and nationalism. He thought it was harmful to both Hinduism and to the depressed classes since it provided no answer to the socially degraded position of the depressed classes.

•            Gandhi demanded that the depressed classes be elected through joint and if possible a wider electorate through universal franchise, while expressing no objection to the demand for a larger number of reserved seats.

•            And to press his demands, he went on an indefinite fast on September 20, 1932.

•            Now leaders of various persuasions, including B.R. Ambedkar, M.C. Rajah and Madan Mohan Malaviya got together to hammer out a compromise contained in the Poona Pact.

Poona Pact

•            Signed by B.R. Ambedkar on behalf of the depressed classes on September 24, 1932, the Poona Pact abandoned the idea of separate electorates for the depressed classes.

•            The seats reserved for the depressed classes were increased from 71 to 147 in provincial legislatures and to 18 per cent of the total in the Central Legislature.

•            The Poona Pact was accepted by the government as an amendment to the Communal Award.