- Under Section 84 of the Government of India Act, 1919, a Statutory Commission was to be appointed “at the expiration of ten year after the passing of the Act for the purpose of inquiring into the working of the system of Government, and the development of representative institutions in India, with a view to extend, modify or restrict the degree of responsible government then existing in India.” In view of this section, a commission was to be appointed in 1929.
- It was actually appointed in 1927 i.e. two years earlier. Outwardly, this was done as a concession to the Indian demand for an early revision of the Constitution.
- Two more explanations are usually put forward. One is that the Conservative Government decided to send the Commission in 1927, because it was a year of the worst form of communal riots in India, so that the commission should firm a poor impression of the Indian social and political style.
- Another is that general elections were to be held in England in 1929 and there was a great possibility of the Labour Party coming into power. If the commission had been appointed two years later, the task might have fallen into the hands of the Labour Government, which might not have safeguarded the Imperial interests so well.
- The commission was to consist of 7 members of the British parliament, with Sir Simon as its Chairman. The most objectionable feature of the Commission, from the point of view of Indians, was its “all-White” composition. Not a single Indian was considered fit to undertake the inquiry.
- When the Commission landed in Bombay on February 7, 1926, it was greeted with a countrywide hartal. The boycott of the commission was successful beyond all expectations. The commission was confronted with wild demonstrations, black flags and slogans of “Simon, Go back” everywhere, it went. In Lahore, Lajpat Rai led a mammoth procession of demonstrations against the commission. He was given several lathi blows by the police as a result of which he died some weeks later. It was in this atmosphere of non-compromising hostility that the commission continued and completed its inquiry.
Why Indians Protested?
- All members of the Commission were Englishmen.
- No Indian was included in the Commission.
- Denial to Indians of the right to participate in determination of their constitution.
- Britain posed as sole arbiter of India’s destiny.
Forms of Protest
- Congress opposed Simon Commission ‘at every stage and every form’.
- Hartals in principal towns.
- Black flag demonstrations against the Commission.
- Police oppression angered the people and this became a further grievance.
- Dyarchy, because of its inherent effects, should be scrapped and the whole field of provincial administration entrusted to Ministers responsible to the Legislature.
- Safeguards were considered necessary for some specific purposes like the maintenance of peace and tranquility of a province and the protection of the legitimate interest of the ministry.
- A unitary type of Government, as then existed, was considered unsuitable for India.
- In order to help the growth of political consciousness in the people, “franchise should be extended, and the Legislature enlarged.”
- A strong and stable government at the Centre was considered essential, “while the provincial councils were learning by experience to bear the full weight of new and heavy responsibilities.’’
- The method of periodical parliamentary inquiry should be abandoned, and the new Constitution should be so elastically framed as to enable it to develop by itself.
- The method of indirect election, through the provincial councils, was recommended for both the Houses of the Central Legislature.
- The power of the Indian Council was to be limited.
- Central legislature was to be inlarged and elected by the provincial councils.
- Burma was to be separated from India and Sind from the Bombay Presidency.
- Most of the recommendations found a place in the subsequent Act (The Act of 1935). Safeguards were recommended against full responsible governments in the provinces, but what came in 1937 was even worse in this matter.
- The Commission failed to mention the future goal of India as Dominion status, which was rightly resented.
- The wholly irresponsible Central Government and the indirect election to the Central Legislature recommended were retrograde steps.
- In 1920-22, the main technic stressed for the achievement of Swaraj (independence) was non-cooperation with the imperial system. The civil disobedience part of the 1921 programme was not put into practice. The legislative experiences of 1923-1927, were not satisfying for the realization of Swaraj and, hence, at the Madras Congress of 1927 and in 1928, it was decided to boycott the Simon Commission. The Simon Commission did not win Indian confidence because it was an all-white body and was opposed also by the Indian liberals.
- Although immediate provocation for the launch of Salt Satyagraha was Simon Commission, the phase of 1930-34 in the freedom movement-time of Salt Satyagraha and Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) should be viewed at the backdrop of xatent Indian grievances and unfulfilled expectations. These alongwith the following events coalesced to propel the Struggle during this phase:
- Appointement of Simon Commission.
- Nehru Report of 1928 demanded Dominion status for India.
- Economic Depression of 1930’s had its impact:
(a) World economic depression affected Indian industry, commerce and labour.
(b) Cotton prices crashed in world market affecting Indian cotton exports.
(c) Rationalisation in textile mills, rendering shunting of labour.
(d) Large-scale labour strikes in Bombay, Calcutta, Jamshedpur during 1928-29.
(e) Arrest of Labour leaders and trial of Meerut Conspiracy case in 1929.
Youth Unrest in India:
(a) Formation of Youth organisations all over India.
(b) Increase in revolutionary terrorist activities.
(c) Arrest of Bhagat Singh and Comrades and Lahore Conspiracy case.
(d) Death by hunger strike in jail of political prisoner like Jatin Das in Sept. 1929.
Independence Day Pledge on 26 Jan. 1930 demanded:
(a) Indians’ inalienable right to be free.
(b) Protest against economic exploitation by Britain through:
(i) Excessive land revenue demand;
(ii) Destruction of Indian cotton industry;
(iii) Manipulation of customs and currency;
(iv) Extravagant administrative machinery;
(v) Manipulation of exchange ratio;
(vi) Drain of wealth from India
Political exploitation of India through:
(i) Fraud of constitutional reforms;
(ii) Denial of freedom of speech and association;
(iii) Denial of higher services to Indians;
Cultural exploitation through slavish system of education.
Discontentment also due to:
(i) Disarmament of the Indian nation;
(ii) Stationing of British army of occupation in India;
(iii) Refusal to grant licences to citizens to keep arms.
- Although the resolution affirming complete independence as the goal of the Congress, and moved by Gandhi himself, was passed in 1929, the Mahatma put forward before the Viceroy Lord Irwin, on 30 January 1930, his Eleven Demands which were:
(1) Total Prohibition.
(2) The rupee to be valued at 16 pence.
(3) At least 50 per cent reduction in land revenue.
(4) Abolition of Salt tax.
(5) Reduction of military expenditure to at least 50 per cent to begin with.
(6) Reduction in Government expenditure and salaries of Government officials.
(7) Protective tariff on the foreign cloth.
(8) Indian ships to discharge the duty of coastal transport.
(9) Release of all political prisoners and elimination of Section 124–A from the Indian Penal Code.
(10) Doing away with the services of the C.I.D. (The Criminal Investigation Department).
(11) Freedom to keep firearms.
- On March 2, 1930, Gandhi wrote a letter to the Viceroy wherein he declared the British rule to be a ‘curse’ which had to be combated by civil disobedience. The Viceroy refused to accept the demands put forward by Gandhi and regretted the contemplated recourse to Satyagraha because there would be violation of law.
- Gandhiji and the Congress decided to start a nation-wide civil disobedience by breaking the Salt Law. With his select band of 78 followers, Gandhi marched on 12 March, 1930, from the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad to Dandi on the sea—coast-a distance of nearly 200 miles. Gandhi prepared salt out of sea water on April 6 and a nation-wide breaking of the Salt Law started.