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The Simon Commission

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The Simon Commission

  1. 1. THE SIMMONCOMMISSION: By 1927, communalism in India threatened to undo any cooperation between Hindu and Muslim. The British, however, were soon to take action which restored that cooperation. The Government of India Act of1919 had stated that a commission was to be set up after 10 years to enquire into the workings of the reforms set up in 1919. The British Conservative government, however, feared that it might soon lose power to the Labour Party, which it thought was too sympathetic to the beliefs of Indian nationalism. A Labour government might make too many concessions. So the Conservative government therefore decided to bring the date of the commission forward. In 1927 it appointed a seven man committee under the chairmanship of Sir John Simon to consider the situation in India. All members of the committee were British and not one of them was Indian. Not surprisingly the composition of the committee was considered an insult in India, and all parties became convinced that they must settle their differences and work together in opposition to the Simon Commission. Opposition to the Simon Commission: At its Madras session in December1927, Congress decided that it would boycott the Commission and called for mass demonstrations when the members of the Simon Commission arrived in India. It also made a very important decision for the future of the subcontinent when for the first time it came out in favour of complete independence. The Commission faced regular protests and demands that its unrepresentative members return to England. In May 1928 members of the Congress, the League, the Liberals, the Hindu Mahasabha and the Central Sikh League met in an All- Party Conference to draft the constitution which the Indian people thought should be used to govern their country. Pundit Motilal Nehru chaired the committee that devised this constitution, and was contained in the `Nehru Report’. This was overwhelmingly approved by the All- Party Conference in September 1928.
  2. 2. The Nehru Report: The report called for: Immediate Dominion status for India. This meant that India would become independent, but would remain a member of the Commonwealth and accept the British monarch as Head of State. India to be a federation with a two- chamber parliament. There would become universal suffrage to elect the lower house and the provincial councils. Not separate electorates for any community or weightage for minorities. There was, however, to be protection of the minorities through a system of reserving seats in the central parliament. No state religion and men and women saying that the British should have equal rights as citizens. Hindi to be made the official language of India Gandhi proposed a resolution saying that the British should be given one year accept the recommendations of the Nehru Report or a campaign of non-co- operation should begin. The resolution was passed. The Nehru Report Rejected Although the Nehru Report had been drawn up by an All- Party Congress, many Muslims were horrified by its proposals. It seemed that the views of the Muslims had been ignored and that Congress was turning its back on the agreements it had made In the Lucknow Pact. On January 21, 1929, the All India Muslims Conference rejected the report. In an attempt to save the Report Jinnah proposed four changes which laid down the demands of the Muslims in India in the clearest possible terms: 1. One- third of the elected representatives of both the houses of the central legislature should be Muslims.
  3. 3. 2. In the Punjab and Bengal, in the event of adult suffrage not being established, there should be reservations of seats for the Muslims based on population for ten years. 3. Residuary powers should be left to the provinces and should not rest with the central legislature. 4. The North- West Frointer Province and Sindh should have full provincial status. Jinnah`s Fourteen Points: 1. Any future constitution should be federal, with power resting with the provinces. 2. All provinces should have the same amount of autonomy. 3. All legislatures and local bodies should be constituted with adequate representation of minorities. 4. Muslims should have one- third of the seats in the Central Assembly. 5. Election should be by separate electorates. 6. Any territorial changes should not affect the Muslim majority in Bengal, the Punjab and the NWFP. 7. Full liberty of belief and worship shall be granted to all communities. 8. No bill shall be passed in any elected body if 3|4 of any community in that body opposed it. 9. Sindh shall be separated from Bombay. 10. There should be reforms in the NWP and Balochistan to put them on the same footing as other provinces. 11. Muslims should have an adequate share in the services of the state. 12. Muslim culture, education, language, religion and charities should be protected by the constitution. 13. All Cabinets (at central or local level) should have at least 1/3 Muslim representation. 14. The federation of India must not change laws without the consent of the provinces. The failure of Congress to accept these proposals was to have major impact on the history of the sub- continent. Jinnah described this moment as the ` the parting of
  4. 4. the ways’ and it was certainly an important step in the eventual partition of India. Jinnah would not try to reconcile Congress with the Muslim League again. Instead it was time to make clear what was acceptable from the Muslim Point of view. Jinnah`s Fourteen Points: In January 1929 the All- India Muslim League met in conference in Delhi, where Jinnah presented his Fourteen Points. In them he stated that `… no scheme for the constitution of the Government of India will be acceptable … unless all the following basic principles are given effect to’. He then set out points which were to be the basis of Muslim demands from this time to the creation of Pakistan. Although the events of the 1920s had divided the Muslims into a number of fractions, they were united in agreeing that Jinnah`s Fourteen Points should form the basis of any further discussions with Congress on the future of India. These were formally accepted by the conference in March 1929. As Fourteen Points were shortly followed by a rejection of the Nehru Report, it was apparent that any Hindu- Muslim cooperation had now come to an end. Both groups, however, continued to campaign separately against the British plans. In December1929 Congress met in Lahore for what was to prove to be a historic occasion. Jawaharlal Nehru was elected President of the session which now rejected the idea of dominion status and instead called for complete independence. At midnight on 31st December Nehru led a procession to the banks of River Ravi, where the Indian flag was raised amidst cries of `Long live the revolution’. Three weeks later a declaration of Indian independence, written by Gandhi was read out across India. More non- cooperation: As it had threatened, Congress also re- launched its non- cooperation campaign. Gandhi was placed in charge of the campaign which began on 12 March with the
  5. 5. famous Salt March from his ashram (retreat) near Ahmedabad to the seaside village of Dandi. This twenty- four day march became a triumphal procession which was widely reported in the newspapers. The British forbade the making of salt, except under licence from the government. The march was not only an attack on the unfair Salt Laws, but was seen as the opportunity for Indians to disregard all unfair laws and show opposition to British rule in any way possible. British cloth shops were picketed and British schools, colleges and services boycotted. In response, the British outlawed Congress, censored the newspapers and began widespread arrests. Both Gandhi and Nehru were amongst the many Congress leaders arrested. Jinnah disapproved of the non- cooperation plan as he felt that Congress was aiming not only for independence for Britain, but also dominance over the Muslims. Consequently, most Muslims did not join in the campaign. The Allahabad Address: At this time however, there was a very important moment in the history of Pakistan. In 1930 the famous philosopher poet Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal was asked to chair a meeting of the Muslim League in Allahabad. In his presidential address he called for the Muslims of the subcontinent to work towards achieving an independent homeland. He argued that Islam had given its followers a creed which united the Muslims of the subcontinent into one nation. There could be no peace unless they were recognized as a nation and under a federal system the areas of Muslim majority given the same privileges as the areas of Hindu majority. He stated that he would like to see Punjab, NWFP and Balochistan amalgamated into a single state, either within the British Empire, or outside it. `The formation of a consolidated North- West India Muslim state appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims’. It is interesting to note that Allama Iqbal did not call for Kashmir or Bengal to be included, even though they were both Muslim- majority areas. Allama Iqbal`s contributes were extremely important to the Pakistan movement.
  6. 6.  He was the first Muslim leader to suggest partition of the subcontinent in keeping with the Two- Nation Theory. He has, therefore, been called the father of the ideology of Pakistan.  His views acted as an inspiration to many Muslims who were uncertain about how to defend their religion and culture. Iqbal gave them a clear- cut objective, as he set out a goal for Muslims to work towards.  Allama Iqbal was also the inspiration for other Muslim leaders. In 1933 Rahmat Ali`s Pakistan scheme was built upon his ideas. They were also to be the basis of Jinnah’s `Pakistan Resolution’ in 1940.  Iqbal`s poetry was a source of inspiration for the Muslims of India. It kindled a sense of nationhood and motivated them to work hard to achieve their goal. The Round Table Conferences: Despite the opposition it faced, the Simon Commission still managed to produce a two- volume report in 1930. The report had little in it to cheer the Muslim community. Although it supported the idea of separate electorates, it rejected Muslims having a one- third share of seats in the Central Assembly and the idea of Sindh being separated from Bombay. The British then called a Round Table Conference to discuss the Commission`s recommendations. The Round Table Conferences- November 1930: The first conference was held in London in November1930. It was attended by the Muslim League, the Liberals and representatives of the Princely States. However, Congress refused to attend unless there was guarantee that anything agreed at the conference would be implemented. No such guarantee was given. Instead of attending, Congress began its programme of non- cooperation. Since Congress was India`s largest party, it was difficult for significant progress to be made in the talks in its absence. However, some advances were made:
  7. 7.  The princes declared that they would join a future federation of India as long as their rights were recognized.  The British agreed the representative government should be introduced at provincial level. Some ground had been gained. The Muslims, whose representatives included Jinnah, Maulana Muhammad Ali and the Agha Khan, left the conference feeling some ground had been gained. The Second Round Table Conference September 1931: When the Indian representatives returned from the first Round Table Conference, they urged Gandhi to stop his non- cooperation and agree to attend the next set of talks. In February 1931 Gandhi met the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, in the first of a series of meetings to agree the terms of future progress. Some British politicians, especially Winston Churchill, objected to Irwin holding talks with someone who had just been imprisoned for opposition to British rule. Irwin, however, understood the need to bring Congress into the discussions. So on 5 March 1931 the `Gandhi- Irwin Pact’ was signed. Irwin agreed to release most political prisoners and return property seized by the government; Gandhi agreed to call off the non- cooperation campaign and attend the next round of talks. He also agreed to give up his demand for full independence in return for a promise that in a federal India, Indians would have a genuine say in how they governed.  The Labour Party had lost power in Britain and the new coalition government was less keen to reach a compromise in India.  Gandhi took a hard line in the talks and refused to recognize the problems of the minorities in the subcontinent. Consequently little was achieved at the conference, other than an agreement that the NWFP and Sindh should be made provinces with their own governers.
  8. 8. The British warned that if agreement could not soon be reached, they would impose their own solution to the ` Indian problem’. The Communal Award 1932: The British Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, saw himself as `a friend of the Indians’ and wanted to thus resolve the issues in India. After the failure of the Second Round Table conference, he announced the ` Communal Award’ on August 16, 1932. This gave the right of separate electorate to all the minority communities in the country. The principle of weightage was also applied. The Award was not popular with the Muslims as it hard reduced their majority in Punjab and Bengal. For example in the Punjab, although the Muslims constituted almost 56 percent of the total population of Punjab, they were given only 86 out of 175 seats in the Punjab Assembly. However, they were prepared to accept the Award and the League passed a resolution saying “though the decision falls far short of the Muslim demands, the Muslims have accepted it in the best interest of the country, reserving to themselves the right to press for the acceptance of all their demands.” Congress rejected the Award and decided to launch a campaign against it. Gandhi protested against the declaration of Untouchables as a minority and undertook a fast unto death. He also held meetings with the Untouchable leadership for the first time to persuade them that they were not minorities, but part of mainstream Hindu society.

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