Sept 1, 2005

Simon Commission

Essay by

David Steinberg

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Note - I originally posted this small essay on Wikipedia but decided to copy it to my own web site unmodified as it was bowdlerization on the Wikipedia site.

1. British Commitments to Self-government

2. Indian Lack of Confidence in British Good Faith and Its Basis

3. British Objectives in Designing a New Indian Constitution

4. British Responsibilities as Viewed by Most British Political Leaders in the 1920s

5. British Interests

6. The Statutory Commission

7. Indian Reaction to the Make-up of the Commission

8. Progress of the Commission and Its Recommendations

9. Impact of the Simon Commission


1. British Commitments to Self-government


Macaulay's Speech on the 1833 Renewal of the Charter of the British East India Company

 ‘It may be [he said], that the public mind of India may expand under our system till it has outgrown that system; that by good government we may educate our subjects into a capacity for better government; that, having become instructed in European knowledge, they may, in some future age, demand European institutions. Whether such a day will ever come I know not. But never will I attempt to avert or retard it. Whenever it comes, it will be the proudest day in English history.’



The two most important official statements of British policy concerning India were Queen Victoria’s Royal Proclamation, of 1858, when the crown took control of the East India Company’s Indian territories, and the statement of Secretary of State for India, Edwin Montagu (July 17, 1917 - March 19, 1922) to the House of Commons on 20 August 1917.

Queen Victoria’s Proclamation included the promise that “… so far as may be, Our Subjects, of whatever Race or Creed, be freely and impartially admitted to Offices in Our Service, the Duties of which they may be qualified, by their education, ability, and integrity, duly to discharge.” The British Government of India studiously subverted this promise denying Indians commissions in the Indian Army and almost completely excluding them from the Indian Civil Service and the higher ranks of the Indian Police.

Edwin Montagu’s statement included the following –

“The policy of His Majesty’s government, with which the Government of India are in complete accord, is that of the increasing association of Indians in every branch of the administration, and the gradual development of self-governing institutions, with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral Part of the British Empire…. I would add that progress in this policy can only be achieved by successive stages. The British Government , and the Government of India, on whom the responsibility lies for the welfare and advancement of the Indian people, must be the judges of the time and measure of each advance, and they must be guided by the co-operation received from those upon whom new opportunities of service will thus be conferred and by the extent to which it is found that confidence can be reposed in their sense of responsibility.”

Montagu had no political base and was a junior minister. Golant (pp. 156-7) wrote –

Conscious from the start of the rift between the waves of reasonable expectations in India and the tide of conservative opinion within the war-time coalition, the Montagu-Chelmsford Report gravitated towards a policy where 'a substantial step is to be taken at once'. The sheltered existence which Britain had given India, labelled not uncritically 'constitutional autocracy', was to be altered according to the logical application of past promises. 'Indians must be enabled in so far as they attain responsibility to determine for themselves what they want done. The process will begin in local affairs, which we have long since intended and promised to make over to them; the time has come for advance in some subjects of provincial concern; and it will proceed to the complete control of provincial matters, and thence, in the course of time and subject to the proper discharge of Imperial responsibilities, to the matters concerning all India.'

“This statement contained many of the ambivalent aspects of constitution-making: reform with qualifications, clear intentions muffled by vague reference to Imperial interests, the present made a hostage to the future. The phrase 'in so far as they attain responsibility' still made Indians free to determine policy only after they had shown themselves able and had been given the right to do so by the British Government. 'Attain' suggested trying to reach but not yet accomplished, which left the British authorities arbiters of what was attained. 'In so far' implied a continuing limitation. In another part of the paper a parlia­mentary commission was to report on the, working of the new constitution. The reference to ‘some subjects' meant that others, and these were significant, were kept from provincial control. This was subsequently known as dyarchy, a form of dual control and responsibility dividing government power between an elected and an official authority with transferred and reserved subjects respectively. 'In the course of time' held out the future promise of self-government for the whole of India, in a vague and uncharted way. 'Subject to the proper discharge of Imperial responsibilities’ could be construed to mean that British and Imperial needs were still superior to any popular measure. The word 'subject' applied a condition which could alter or under­mine any decision.

“Though subtle in his wording there can be little doubt that the Secretary of State intended a definite relaxation of British authority and power.”

The promise of “responsible government” together with the subsequent Indian representation on international bodies clearly implied a commitment to move India to dominion status (see Mehrota pp. 238-241 and Keith p. 268, 467, 468) as was explicitly confirmed by the viceroy, Lord Irwin (1926–1931) on 31 October 1929 (see India, Gwyer & Appadorai pp. 224-225)-

The goal of British policy was stated in the declaration of August 1917 to be that of providing for the gradual development of self-governing institutions, with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire…. I am authorized on behalf of His Majesty's Government to state clearly that in their judgement it is implicit in the declaration of 1917 that the natural issue of India's constitutional progress, as there contemplated, is the attainment of Dominion Status.



2. Indian Lack of Confidence in British Good Faith and Its Basis

The commitment to dominion status seems as clear as that of Queen Victoria to opening all positions to Indians and there was every reason to believe that most supporters of the dominant Conservative Party would have liked to make it as ineffectual.

Views and Statements of Senior British Officials and Politicians

·                     “(British prime minister) Mr. Lloyd George's "Steel Frame" speech in the House of Commons on August 2, 1922, was another contribution to the radical cause. In the course of his remarks … he made several references to the Indian Reforms as an experiment. He also spoke of the British Civil Service as the steel frame of the Indian administration and said that he could see no time when India could dispense with its guidance and assistance. This language was regarded in India as a repudiation of the Reforms.… The government of India tried to put a conciliatory interpretation upon the Premier's language, but the Legislative Assembly … passed a resolution expressing the grave apprehension of the people of India. The question was kept alive by the appointment of the Lee Commission on the Public Services. The fear that India would have to pay larger salaries and pensions to European officials and that the improved conditions would encourage European recruitment was too strong to be offset by the prospect that the commission would also recommend a more speedy rate of Indianization. It is doubtful whether the feeling would have been so bitter if the British civilians as a class had not been so obviously Reforms. hostile to the Reforms." (Smith pp. 120-121.)

·                     Ambiguities in Irwin's Dominion Status announcement "This declaration, hailed as a solemn oath 'to Indian advance', was no more forthright than previous declarations. In a country inured to sincere words with substantial qualifications, Irwin's 'we cannot at present foresee on what lines this development may be shaped' left undefined (1) what was being offered in the present, (2) the meaning of 'dominion status', (3) what part Indians had in the 'attainment', a word which had more future than present connotation." (Golant p. 168)

·                     The reaction to Irwin's Dominion Status announcement (see above). As described by Gopal (pp. 48-50)-

"He (Irwin) had already, in January 1929, emphasized that the 1917 Declaration still stood as a solemn pledge to assist India to obtain full national political stature; but this was stale and too vague. An 'indefeasible assurance' of Dominion Status, a declaration of India's right to it, would do much to remove the surface misunderstandings and distrust. For whereas to the English Dominion Status connoted an achieved constitutional position, to Indians it was mainly a promise of full rights to come. Motilal Nehru himself informed Geoffrey Dawson, then on tour in India, that what was really wanted was an assurance that Dominion Status was on the way.... Simon at first resented the suggestion of a conference, but later, following Reading's lead, focused his criticism on the reference to Dominion Status. This soon became the general attitude in both (Conservative and Liberal) parties. While they accepted the suggestion that Indian opinion be formally consulted after the report was published they disliked a categoric recognition of Dominion Status as India's goal.... The contention of the Viceroy and The Times that Dominion Status was implicit in the 1917 Declaration and the Instrument of Instructions to the Governor-General did not find unanimous acceptance in England. Even in May 1928 Birkenhead had informed Irwin that the British Government were averse to using the phrase to describe even the ultimate and remote goal of Indian political development because this meant 'the right to decide their own destinies', and this right the Government were not prepared to accord to India just then or in any way to prejudge the,question whether it should ever be accorded. So, in other words, references to 'full partnership', 'selfgovernment within the Empire', and India's 'acquiring her due place among the Dominions really meant little."

·                     "The pronouncement of August 1917 spoke of 'the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government in India'. That is also the term used in the Preamble to the Act; that is the term used in the Royal Warrant of Instructions which adds that 'thus will India be fitted to take her place among the other Dominions'. The term has its significance; we know that it was deliberately chosen. The Congress and the League had asked the Imperial Government to proclaim its intention to confer self-government on India at an early date and the Cabinet chose the present term. The expression used in the Act is a term of precision, conveying that the Executive in India would be responsible to the Indian Legislature instead of to the British Parliament. If you analyse the term 'full Dominion Self-Government', you will see that it is of somewhat wider extent,conveying that not only will the Executive be responsible to the Legislature, but the Legislature will in itself have the full powers which are typical of the modern Dominion. I say there is some difference of substance, because responsible government is not necessarily incompatible with a Legislature with limited or restricted powers. It may be that full Dominion self-government is the logical outcome of responsible government, nay, it may be the inevitable and historical development of responsible government, but it is a further and a final step." (Sir Malcolm Hailey, Home Member to the Government of India on the grant of full self-governing Dominion Status to India, 8 February 1924 – Gwyer and Appadorai p. 220)


Appointment of Lord Birkenhead as Secretary of State for India


‘Dawson … conceded that Birkenhead “would like to take back everything that has been done in India since Montagu, or perhaps since Macaulay. So would many of us, but it hardly seems to be practical politics.”’[i]

Quoted in p. 92


Birkenhead, who was Secretary of State for India from November 1924 to October 1928. "He believed that if Britain lost India it would be 'a tragedy of inconceivable magnitude'." (Golant p. 165). As Campbell states (pp. 729, 733-4) -

"He was very bad at receiving deputations of visiting Indians, tended to treat them with scant courtesy if not actual rudeness, and often refused to see them on the constitutional ground that Indians should not think they could appeal over the Viceroy's head to London….

(He wrote) 'To me it is frankly inconceivable that India will ever be fit for Dominion self-government. My view is that …. it is not likely, unless matters change in the interval, that such a re-examination (i.e. the Statutory Commission) will slightest extension (of self-government)….'

"In January 1925, commenting on a speech of Reading’s, he went further and revealed the deeply cynical basis of his certainty that India would never be fit for self-government

'In a later passage of your speech, you lamented the recent renewal of outbreaks between Hindu and Mahomedan. Both you and I must of course speak of these outbreaks in the terms you used. . . But surely the breakdown of a Hindu-Mahomedan anti-reform unity, looked at very broadly, spells a death blow to Das [leader of the swaraj party since 1923] and the whole of his campaign. . . His task is absolutely hopeless when the fundamental strength of our position is advertised to all India by the resolute determination of the powerful and virile Mahomedan community that they cannot and will not have any form of Home Rule on terms which are acceptable to Das and Nehru.

'I have always placed my highest and most permanent hopes … upon the eternity of the communal situation. The greater the political progress made by the Hindus the greater … will be the Moslem distrust and antagonism….'

"Of course, he was not so frank in public. In public he was committed, as the representative of the British government, to preserve with the 1919 reforms and bound to pay lip-service to the 1917 promise that self-government, however distant, was the ultimate goal. But he was easily able to shelter behind the disunity and obstructiveness, the unrealism and irresponsibility of the Indian politicians, whom he regarded as a small westernized caste utterly unrepresentative of the numberless peasant masses, clamouring for further advance before they had shown that they could work the present system, as a persuasive reason for moving cautiously"


Derisory British Support for Education and the Indianization of the Army

Two key reasons, given by the British, as to why India was not ready for self-government at the Centre were lack of education {e.g. Montagu's 5 June 1919 speech to the House of Commons on the Government of India Bill)and an inability to run the Indian army without British officers who must remain under the control of parliament.

·                     British economic priorities during the economically stressed decades between the wars were to give: (a) top priority to meeting Stirling liability (debt payment, pensions of ex-ICS and army officers, payments to the British Government for services, repatriation of capital and profits, imports of all sorts of goods and services etc.); (b) second priority for the needs of the Indian Army, the central Government of India, provincial governors and civil servants, provincial services related to law and order and revenue collection. N.b. at this time the Government of India was funding the construction of its magnificent new capital New Delhi designed by Edwin Lutyens; and, (c) the miniscule residual resources were divided among the many needy services including education which received meager financing. As noted by Brown (p. 259),"Government expenditure on education actually dropped in the early 1930s, then leveled off in 1936-7 at a lower figure than at the start of the decade." All this while the population was increasing.

·                     British sabotage of the Indianization of the army officer corps is described by Mason

"In 1918 it had been announced that in future the King's Commission would be open to Indians and that ten places a year would be reserved for Indians at Sandhurst. They were to be in every way on a footing with British officers and were posted in the same way…. The fear that British officers 'of the right kind' would not come forward was strong in the ‘twenties and it was to meet this that the ‘eight unit scheme’ was devised. The scheme was announced on February 17th, 1923; the essence of it was that two cavalry regiments and six infantry battalions should be 'Indianized' as a first step; Indians with the King's Commission in other units should be encouraged to transfer to them and no new British officers would be posted there. This, it was said officially, would give Indians 'a fair chance' to show that such units as efficient as those with British officers. But there can be no doubt that it was primarily a solution of the difficulty of 'serving under natives.'… the India Office proposed that a beginning should be made with four units only. Now nobody thought the British officer's fear of serving under an Indian was quite the sort of reason for segregated units that ought to be given in public. The official reason was that only by this means could we be sure that a unit officered by Indians was thoroughly efficient. Considering the whole operation as a scientific experiment, this could not be proved until there were Indian lieutenant-colonels in command of regiments; this would occur in twenty-six years' time. If the experiment took so long and was confined to four units it was hard to see when the process would be complete. It cannot really be regarded as an honest attempt to implement the policy; it meant that the War Office refused to take seriously the proclamation of 1918 and put up a token proposal as a way of shelving the question…. it did not take much knowledge to see that the real reason for segregated units was dislike for serving under a 'native' -and the reason publicly given was not much less wounding, while it seemed to postpone completion of the process indefinitely. No one could disguise the fact that most Englishmen believed that hardly any Indians were really good enough to lead Indian troops."


3. British Objectives in Designing a New Indian Constitution


a. The Key Objective Shared by British Political Leaders

The most important aim of a new constitution, from a British point of view, was to retain control of the Indian Army, Indian Foreign relations, finance and ultimately of the machinery of internal law and order while attracting to their support the Liberals, moderate Congress members and moderate Muslim Indian nationalists and retaining the support of most Muslims and the rulers of the princely states. This was summarized by Irwin as

"I don't believe is impossible to present the problem in such a form as would make the shop window look respectable from an Indian point of view, which is really what they care about, while keeping your hand pretty firmly on the things that matter."

Irwin to Stonehaven, 12 November 1928

Most British political leaders considered that one of Britain's greatest gifts to India was unity. The whole of the subcontinent was under British control saving it from internecine fighting and allowing integrated economic development. British leaders wanted this unity to persist into the future.

As a matter of practical politics, virtually all British political leaders recognized that, as a minimum, responsible government, would have to be conceded at the provincial level. However, safeguards could be built in to ensure the meeting of overriding British responsibilities and interests. It should be remembered, that the period 1922-1939 was one of Conservative party domination in the UK.

Beyond this, British political leaders, and the leadership of the Government of India, in the 1920s could be divided into three categories regarding Indian self-government:


b. Objectives of Supporters of Indian Progressive Achievement of Dominion Status Within a Westminster Type, Democratic Framework

This was the Labour Party position see Ahmed espoused most notably by Sir [Stafford Cripps] see Moore 1979. Labour’s inclination was to transfer power as soon as Indian’s were capable of taking on the job. However, the Labour Party was never securely in power between the wars and, really, its priorities and experience lay in domestic issues. As Gopal (p.49) states

"But when the usual mid-term leave enabled Irwin to discuss his plan in England, the elections were over and Ramsay Macdonald had formed the Labour Government, and Irwin could again bring forward his plan in full. The new Prime Minister, while greatly interested in India, had no policy of his own; and he gladly agreed with the Viceroy if only because he had earlier, when still out of office, looked forward to India becoming a Dominion within a period of months."


c. Objectives of Supporters of Indian Progressive Achievement of Dominion Status Within a Constitutional Framework Excluding Congress from Power

This group included Stanley Baldwin, Sam Hoare and much of the official leadership of the Conservative Party. This position was supported by the last two viceroys prior to World War II; the Marquess of Willingdon and Lord Linlithgow. This group represents the purest continuation of the traditional British policy in India.

"The rationale for British Empire in India varied with time and personality, but a persistent theme runs through the period of colonial rule. Maintenance of order and with it survival of the bureaucracy rested on the government's ability to operate within a complex and expanding political system. The British stood at the apex of the system.... High on the list of imperial priorities was retention of decision-making and policy functions. This control in turn necessitated satisfactory handling of pressures and expectations from numerous sources.... The foreign-dominated bureaucracy learned to compromise and to manipulate patronage so as to maintain support groups and isolate opponents." (Barrier p. 3)

The Conservative view was well described by Lord Linlithgow, in a letter to the Secretary of State in 1939 when he wrote (Bridge 1986 p. 153)

"After all we framed the constitution as it stands … because we thought that way the best way given the political position in both countries-of maintaining British influence in India. It is no part of our policy, I take it, to expedite in India constitutional changes for their own sake, or gratuitously to hurry the handing over of the controls to Indian hands at any rate faster than that which we regard as best calculated, on the long view, to hold India to the Empire."

The [Government of India Act 1935] largely reflects the views of this group pushed somewhat further to the right by the "diehards." Their gameplan was to gradually develop a conservative, strongly pro-British unified India within the Empire by strengthening the position of the Muslims and the Princes to the point that Congress could never capture leadership regardless of its degree of popular support. The Conservatives' hope was that by granting responsible government at the provincial level, including much opportunity for patronage, while delaying or denying it in the Centre, they would gain several advantages from a British point of view:

·                     It might undermine the unity of the Indian National Congress by encouraging the development of provincial parties, inside or outside congress, which would have major incentives to play ball with the British;

·                     Muslims would be sure to control two major provinces – Punjab and Bengal whereas they would be a permanent minority in a democratic Centre and thus might be expected to support continued British control of the Government of India; and,

·                     The best hope for the Princes to retain their states, status and wealth was by maintaining British control of the Centre.


d. Objectives of the "Diehards”

This group, representing the views of Birkenhead and Winston Churchill, was out of favour with the Conservative party leadership but enjoyed wide support within the Conservative and Liberal parties. Their views could be summarized as:

·                     If it were possible, they would have liked to go back to the pre-1917 situation where:


o                                            There was no publicly proclaimed long-term goal for British rule in India. In particular, they considered that authoritarian bureaucratic government was, and would always remain, the most suitable form of government in Indian conditions;


o                                            Indians were consulted but held no power at the central or provincial government levels;


o                                            The Indian Civil Service and the senior ranks of the police would be overwhelmingly British and the officers of the British Indian Army would be exclusively so; and,


o                                            If it were desired to associate Indians more closely with the bureaucracy running India, the Indians so favored would be rich and conservative with a special emphasis on colourful princes.

·                     Although the Royal Warrant for the Commission spoke of reporting "... as to whether and to what extent it is desirable to establish the principle of responsible government, or to extend, modify. or restrict the degree of responsible government then existing therein. However, as politicians living in the real world, they recognized that the clock could not be put back and that they would have to accept responsible government at the provincial level. Their reluctance to do so is shown in Churchill's April 22, 1931 speech in Parliament where he said "I thought the Simon Report went much too far, but the Simon Report has long been left behind....." (James p. 5015). The motives of the diehards, including the protection of British commercial interests and the desire to permenantly maintain British rule were exposed in the following -

“On February 11, at the close of the second reading of the Bill, Churchill made the final opposition speech, warning that to give India self-government at the centre would give Indians the power to whittle away all trading safeguards, and to hold Lancashire ‘as hostages’, and would enable a small group of politically motivated men to trample on the rights of millions of inarticulate and ill-represented minorities. Those who would speak against the Bill at each of its stages, he said, hoped ‘to kill the idea that the British in India are aliens moving out of the country as soon as they have been able to set up any kind of governing organism to take their place’. Instead, they wished to establish the idea ‘that we are there for ever’, as ‘honoured partners with our Indian fellow-subjects whom we invite in all faithfulness to join with us in the highest functions of Government and administration for their lasting benefit and for our own’”. (Gilbert 1976 p. 603)

In this connection, Aiyer (pp. 335-336) wrote -

What is the next step to be taken? Three courses may be suggested; to go back, to stand still, or to go forward. The first course is hardly likely to be suggested by any Indian politicians. But it has been recommended as an escape from the present position in some schemes of a reactionary and fantastic character put forward by retired bureaucrats. It is hardly necessary to deal with these proposals at length, for though the provisions of the Act empower the Statutory Commission to report whether it is desirable to restrict the degree of responsible government now existing, it is difficult to imagine that Parliament will stultify itself by going back upon the policy of the declaration of 1917 and the Act of 1919. The common feature of these schemes is the assumption that British India will never be fit for responsible government and that the interests of India require that she should be under the perpetual tutelage of Britain or, at any rate, for as long a period as their imagination can con template. The advocates of these schemes belong to the school which holds that the policy of giving western education to an oriental people, which was embarked upon in pursuance of Lord Macaulay's minute, was a grievous blunder, inasmuch as it tended to fill the heads of the educated classes with dangerous aspirations to political freedom and constitutional government wholly unsuited to Indian conditions…. They consider that the declaration of 1917 by the Parliament was a solemn mistake of thoughtless generosity and that parliament should now retrace its steps. According to them, India was never more than a mere geographical expression. It was never a united country and can never hope to be one. Its only destiny in the scheme of a benevolent Providence is to be a perpetual dependency of the British Empire.

The diehards probably realised that provincial autonomy, full Indianization of the Provincial Services and substantial Indianization of the Higher Services meant that British rule in India would have to be put on a completely new basis if it were to endure.

·                     Britain’s responsibilities and interests were mainly at the Government of India level. The Diehards wanted to exclude Indian politicians from power, and to minimize their influence, at this level. Although they did not spell it out, their ideal outcome would have probably been modeled with the Crown's relationship with the Princely States. it would have probably taken the form of a very loose confederation of Princely States and Indian provinces with Britain controlling foreign affairs, the army and finances with a right to intervene in the case of the breakdown of law and order. This could be seen as a continuation of earlier British political thinking. Thus J.L. Jenkins (in "Note by the Hon'ble J.L. Jenkins," June 24,1911" in "Transfer of the Seat of Government of India from Calcutta to Delhi and the Creation of a New Lieut.-Governorship at Patna." quoted in Johnson (p. 33) -

"The maintenance of British rule depends on the ultimate supremacy of the Governor-General in Council...Yet it is certain that in the course of time the just demands of Indians for a greater share in the government of the country will have to be satisfied,and the question is how they can be satisfied without impairing the supreme authority of the Governor-General in Council,which is the basis of British rule. It appears to me that the only possible answer is - by gradually giving the provinces a greater measure of self-government,until, at last, India will consist of a number of provinces, autonomous in all provincial affairs, with the Government of India above all of them, possessing power to intervene in case of misgovernment, but whose functions will ordinarily be restricted to matters of imperial concern."

·                     Distrust, conflicts of interest, indeed hostility between the Hindu political class, on the one hand, and the Muslim leadership, the Princes and the mass of land owners and peasants and the “martial races” would likely prevent the emergence of a self-governing India. Some of these reactionaries would have really liked to achieve the Indian unity that they fundamentally believed to be impossible. Others, such as Birkenhead (see above) and Churchill, would do everything possible to carry on ruling India by the age-old stratagem of “divide and rule.” Even in 1939, according to Moore (Moore 1979 p. 28)

"Churchill advocated a firm stand against Congress…. he did not share the anxiety to encourage and promote unity between the Hindu and Muslim communities. (His view was that) Such unity was, in fact, almost out of the realm of practical politics, while, if it were to be brought about, the immediate result would be that the united communities would join in showing us the door. He regarded the Hindu-Muslim feud as the bulwark of British rule in India."


4. British Responsibilities as Viewed by Most British Political Leaders in the 1920s


“Hailey stated that the demand for immediate Dominion Status was at odds with the policy of advancing by stages and that the obstacles to Dominion Status were the problems of defence, relations between British India and the states, and the position of the minorities. These problems could mean that India’s status would fall short of that of the dominions. Indeed, Hailey pointed out that India had not been promised ‘full self-governing Dominion Status’ but simply ‘responsible government’, which did not preclude the retention of certain powers by parliament. Dominion Status might be a step beyond responsible government.”

Moore 1974 p. 57



·                     defence of India;

·                     preserving law and order;

·                     protection of minorities, mainly Muslims in Hindu majority areas;

·                     maintaining the unity of Indian which had been increasingly expressed by India, encompassing both British India and the Princely States, having separate intra-empire and international (e.g. at the League of Notions) representation;

·                     maintaining the treaty provisions between the crown and the Princely States; and,

·                     ensuring that British members of the higher Services (Indian Civil Service, Police and Army) would be treated fairly.


5. British Interests

British leaders’ view of long-term British Interests in India was probably similar to that outlined, for an earlier period by Tomlinson (1979 p. 20, 126, 127)

"In the years before 1914 India's imperial commitment meant three things in practice: that India should be retained as a market for British exports. which meant that the Government of India should not impose insurmountable barriers, especially tariffs, to the flow of British merchandise to India; that the Indian army be kept available for the imperial cause; and that the Indian administration should ensure that repayment of interest on guaranteed debt bonds was made smoothly and that adequate revenue and remittance was available for the Home Charges. Isolating the imperial factor in India policy allows us to pin-point the fundamental dichotomy of British rule in India. Each prong of its triple commitment cost the Government of India money…. As an India Office memorandum pointed out in June 1931: If a Federal Government were established in India, the aggregate charges under these three heads (Defence, Service of the Debt, and Salaries and Pensions) would, at a very conservative estimate, absorb three-quarters of the total revenues of the Federation, and a very large proportion of these payments would have to be made in sterling. This fact illustrates vividly the direct interest which the British Government must continue to retain in the financial administration of India, and explains why it is necessary to impose such measures of Parliamentary control as may be sufficient to ensure that these obligations are met. . . There is no escape from the conclusion that so long as the British Government retains obligations which absorb so large a proportion of the total revenues of India, it must retain a direct interest in the financial administration of the country. This by no means implies that financial administration must remain under close or detailed control, but merely that provision must be made to ensure that the financial stability and credit of the country will be maintained, as unless this can be ensured the obligations falling on the British Government could not be met. This, from the purely British point of view, is the primary object of the [financial] safeguards."

In practice British latitude was constrained.

·                     India as a market for British exports – The Fiscal Autonomy Convention of 1922, a bid to win the support of industrial and political India, allowed the Government of India to set protective tariffs even if they hurt UK exports. As described by Tomlinson (1979 p. 123-4)

"The real crisis over the cotton tariff came in September 1931. The Government of India, in financial difficulties again and under pressure from London to balance its budget to boost confidence in the rupee, proposed a further 5 per cent increase in all tariff levels. … Sir Samuel Hoare (Secretary of State for India August 25, 1931 – June 7, 1935), thought that as ‘an extreme measure in a time of national emergency’ the Convention could be set aside…. But although Hoare thought that the Government of India’s new tariff proposals were ‘disastrous upon [sic] Lancashire’, there was little that he was able to do about them…. But the new Viceroy, Lord Willingdon…. Argued that any dictation by London of Indian tariff policy would cause a storm in India, and revealed that three of the Indian and two of the British members of his Executive Council were prepared to resign if the Cabinet’s proposals went through. In the face of this opposition there was little that the British Government could do but give in…. By the end of 1931 the National Government had accepted that it could not interfere directly in the general tariff policy of the Government of India and that this method of maintaining a British commercial advantage was closed to it. The stick of imperial command now had to be replaced by the carrot of bilateral’ consultation."

·                     Sterling Charges on the Government of India – The British Government ensured that the Rupee was maintained at the high rate of R.1=1s 6d in the face of strong India opposition. This required an extremely tight monetary policy at a time of depression. It is clear now, and was clear then, that the interests of the Indian economy were being subordinated to those of the British tax payer who would have had to pick up the tab if the government of India could not meet its Sterling obligations.

·                     Indian Army - The financial stress on the Government of India put severe limits on the Indian Army. In the period after 1918 military expenditures continued to be the largest item of government expenditure (Sen pp. 152-3). ".. 35.7% ofIndia's national expenditure was devoted to the military... compared to that of Britain itself (16.8%) and Canada (0.6%)" (Cell p. 84). In this context, there was a strong reaction when Imperial planners attempted to use Indian troops to cheaply garrison Britain’s new empire in the Middle East. This led to a struggle between, on the one side, the India Office, the Government of India and Indian political opinion vs., on the other side the Imperial General Staff.

The Indian position was (Tomlinson (1979 p. 117))

"The principle should be generally accepted that, except in the gravest emergency, the Indian Army should be employed outside the Indian Empire only after consultation with the Governor-General in Council. . . . The view of the Government of India that the Indian army should not be required permanently to provide large overseas garrisons is supported. Units required for such purposes should be maintained in addition to the establishment laid down for the Indian Army, and the whole cost, direct or indirect, of recruiting and maintaining such units should be borne by His Majesty's Government, or by the dependency or colony requiring their services. This position held for the rest of the decade; the Indian army could still play a limited imperial role, but at London's expense."


6. The Statutory Commission

Under section 84 of the Government of India Act, 1919, a Statutory Commission was to be appointed "at the expiration of ten years 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 1927, the national movement was at one of its periodic low points. Hindu-Muslim riots, financial stringency and the frustration of living under an almost unworkable constitution (see Keith p. viii) had taken their toll. A unifying and galvanizing issue was required and Britain supplied it.


a. Public Agenda - the Objectives, Makeup and Method of Operation of the Commission as Presented to the India Public by Lord Irwin on 8 November 1927

“The question of what should be the composition of the Commission is one to which the answer must inevitably be greatly influenced by the nature of the task which Parliament has to perform in the light of its advice. In order that the decision at which His Majesty's Government have arrived may be fully understood, it is necessary to state in a few words what they conceive that task to be. If it were simply the drawing up of a Constitution which Parliament, which must in any circumstances be the final arbiter, would impose on India from without, the problem would be comparatively simple. But that is not how His Majesty's Government conceive it. The preamble to the Act of 1919 recognized, in effect, that with the development of Indian political thought during the last generation, legitimate aspirations towards responsible government had been formed of which account must be taken. His Majesty's present Government desire no less to take account of those aspirations, and their hope is to lay before Parliament-after the investigation into facts prescribed by the Act-conclusions which shall, so far as is practicable, have been reached by agreement with all parties concerned. It is with this object steadily in view that His Majesty's Government have considered both the, composition of the Commission and the procedure to be followed in dealing with its Report.

“It would be generally agreed that what is required is a Commission which would be unbiased and competent to present an accurate picture of the facts to Parliament, but it must also be a body on whose recommendations Parliament should be found willing to take action which a study of these facts may indicate to be appropriate.

“To fulfil the first requirement it would follow that the Commission should be such as may approach its task with sympathy and a real desire to assist India to the utmost of its power, but with a mind free from preconceived conclusions on either side. It is, however, open to doubt whether a Commission constituted so as to include a substantial proportion of Indian members and, as it rightly would, British official members also, would be thought to satisfy the first condition of reaching conclusions unaffected by any process of a priori reasoning. On the one hand, it might be felt that the desire, natural and legitimate, of the Indian members to see India a self-governing nation, could hardly fail to colour their judgement of her present capacity to sustain the role; on the other hand, there are those who might hold that British official members would be less than human if their judgement were not in some degree affected by long and close contact with the questions to which they would now be invited to apply impartial minds.

“But even after such a Commission had written its report Parliament would inevitably approach consideration of it with some element of mental reservation due to an instinctive feeling that the advice in more than one case represented views to which the holder was previously committed. It would move uncertainly among conclusions the exact value of which, owing to unfamiliarity with the minds of their framers, it would feel unable to appreciate.

“We should, however, make a great mistake if we supposed that these matters were purely constitutional or could be treated merely as the subject of judicial investigation. Indian opinion has a clear title to ask that in the elaboration of a new instrument of government their solution of the problem or their judgement on other solutions which may be proposed should be made an integral factor in the examination of the question and be given due weight in the ultimate decision. It is, therefore, essential to find means by which Indians may be made parties to deliberations so nearly affecting the future of their country.” ( Gwyer and Appadorai p. 206-207)


b. Covert Agenda - the Timing, Objectives and Makeup of the Commission

Indian nationalists had been demanding an early launching of the Commission since, under the 1919 Act, this was an necessary precursor to the further devolution of power from British to Indian hands. Thus when Birkenhead announced of the appointment of the Statutory Commission on November 8, 1927, two years ahead of the scheduled date, he could present it as a concession to Indian political opinion. However, the reality, as Birkenhead himself wrote (Campbell p. 743) was rather different -

When I made my speech in the House of Lords suggesting that it might be possible to accelerate the Commission of 1928, if some measure of co-operation were forthcoming in India, I always had it plainly in mind that we could not afford to run the slightest risk that the nomination of the 1928 Commission should be in the hands of our successors. You can readily imagine what kind of Commission in its personnel would have been appointed by (Colonel Wedgwood and his friends. [Wedgwood was a strongly pro-Indian ex-Radical tipped as a possible Secretary of State in a future Labour Government.] I have, therefore, throughout been of the clear opinion that it would be necessary for us, as a matter of elementary prudence, to appoint the Commission not later than the summer of 1927.

If, therefore, we take the view that we are not prepared to run the slightest political risks in a problem so grave and so decisive of the future of India, it becomes evident that we ought to aim for the best possible terms from our opponents in compensation for a concession which, rightly considered, is no concession at all, because our own interests imperatively require that we should make it.

The Act of 1919 did not clearly state that the Statutory Commission should be mainly, or wholly made up of members of parliament. In fact, major enquiries going back into the 19th century always included both British and Indian members. The newly appointed viceroy, Lord Irwin, making the worst misjudgment of his Indian career, wrote to Birkenhead that he would recommend a small parliamentary commission – “five men of the type of the late (Lord Cromer), – which would come to a well-considered judgement; while Birkenhead preferred a mixed commission, as "divergent Hindu and Muslim reports might. . . be of great assistance. . . to us if the Commission took the view that a very considerable advance was not to be recommended" (Bridge pp. 19-20). However, Birkenhead was also worried that the Indians might sink their differences and team up with the labour representatives to recommend a major shift of power to Indians. Probably, on the basis of this concern he accepted Irwin’s recommendation. (However,) "The official rationale for limiting to Englishmen membership of the Simon Commission ... was that if Indians or bureaucrats became members, they would bring to the evaluation preconceived notions and thereby affect the commission's findings and the readiness with which Parliament would accept its report." (Barrier p. 103)

To head the Commission he selected Sir John Simon. The other commission members were little known. However, one of the two labour members was Clement Attlee who, as British prime minister, was to grant India independence in 1947.

Simon was on the right wing of the declining Liberal party and would later become the leader of the National Liberals. Like Birkenhead he was a brilliant lawyer. The following is quoted from Bridge pp. 20-21 –

Simon was Bikenhead's choice. Although a front-rank Liberal, he had all the attributes Birkenhead required. He was persona' grata with the: Conservatives after his anti-Labour stance in the General Strike of May 1926. Moreover, he had been a close friend of Birkenhead's since they had played in the Wadham XV together at Oxford and gone on to the Bar and politics. Both were politicians' politicians as is witnessed by the probably apocryphal story that the two had tossed a coin to decide which would be a Liberal and which a Tory. Like Birkenhead, Simon had a brilliant legal career; unlike him, he had what Birkenhead called "great subtlety" and "tact", though others less friendly, like Neville Chamberlain, detected a "slyness which is rather disconcerting in a man of the first rank". Another Tory … reported later that "every-thing this brilliant man does seems shifty or even, worse; he has a lamentable reputation as a twister"; "adroit" and "suave"…. Birkenhead reported that "his views upon the fundamentals of the matter; are very largely in agreement with my own" ; and they played golf together "'nearly every day" in the summer recess that their views might be in even better accord…. Out of office since 1916 Simon welcomed the opportunity "to play my part in this tremendous' business"…. Geoffrey Dawson thought the Conservatives were taking quite a risk. Though Simon had great intelligence, the Commission was "a terribly weak team" and "it is really trusting him very highly to turn him loose with such a feeble band of colleagues."

Golant (p. 165) wrote -

"Attlee-along with Vernon Hartshorn, the Labour Party representative-wrote of Simon: 'He was at ,his best when a decision had not to be taken. ' The other four commissioners were staunchly conservative: Lord Burnham, editor of the Daily Telegraph was an unashamed imperialist, Edward Cadogan ( see) believed 'in the great imperial idea', George Lane-Fox was related to both Baldwin and Lord Irwin, and Lord Strathcona was decidedly anti-black. Strathcona believed they were 'sent on the Commission to give it a certain elegant demeanour and make things socially easier for Lord Irwin; the main purpose of the Commission was for it to be a show of strength, Indians liking the aristocracy and being great snobs'.... (They were called) the 'simple seven'."

Before these men, brilliant Indians (the 2 Nehrus, Sapru, Jinnah etc.) were to appear merely as witnesses. They would have done well to consider what Montagu had written about Jinnah a decade earlier (Read p. 137)-

"Chelmsford tried to argue with him, and was tied up into knots. Jinnah is a very clever man, and it is, of course, an outrage that such a man should have no chance of running the affairs of his own country"


c. Racial and Cultural Assumptions

As put by (Johnson)

"Though offering far more advanced constitutional reforms than ever before, the Government of India Act of 1919 expressed the underlying racial, cultural and social dichotomies of its authors. The continued authority of the British at the center, the reliance on race as an important element of politics, the pedagogical nature of the reforms, and the decision to appoint commissions to review and assess Indian compatibility with democratic institutions clearly reflected Britain's negative opinion of Indian political and intellectual thought. Hence, as Britain made political gestures toward greater Indian independence, it continued to undermine this political stance with its deeply embedded bias toward the west. The Simon Commission and constitutional reform in India must be seen within tills tension between Britain's political move to provide greater independence in India, through constitutional reform, and its inability to escape the racial, cultural, and social dichotomies that had long justified imperial rule assumptions shared by the Simon Commission.

"The Simon Commission was given two directives by Parliament: first, to assess India's progress toward responsible government since the Government of India Act of 1919, and second, to draft a report that made recommendations for further constitutional reform…. British officials and Indian leaders alike were well aware that its unspoken mission was to create the groundwork upon which a new constitution, which gave Indians more responsibility while securing British imperial rule…. The Round Table Conference was a direct response to the Simon Commission. By dismissing the Simon Report outright, Indian leaders were stating their rejection of British imperial paternalism of which the Simon Commission was the latest example…. Lord Irwin chose the path of conciliation because the administration of British-India had become impossible in the midst of the non-cooperation movement…. [F]or Govemment of India officials who understood the weakened position of British rule in India, the only viable option was to give India independence within an imperial framework. The offer of dominionhood would do precisely this. In contrast, the Simon Commission represented a form of British imperial discourse that no longer had any legitimacy in India. Its embedded paternal and racial constructions clearly expressed in the writings of Cadogan, Simon and the report itself, were hotly contested by Indian nationalist leaders…. Simon made the relationship clear in front of the House of Commons before leaving for India for the first visit:

'The British have a tremendous responsibility to the peoples of India… which cannot be denied or evaded, for it is rooted in history and in the facts of the world today. If therefore the future of India is to be one of peaceful can only come about by the action of the British Parliament combined with the cooperation of India itself. ..The Commission does not go to India with any idea of imposing Western ideas or constitutional forms from without; we go to listen, to learn, and faithfully to report our conclusions as to actual conditions and varying proposals from within.'

"Yet the very structure of the Commission - an all-white membership - made it impossible for the Commission to speak for the Indian public "within," and Indians were no longer convinced by the "rooted[ness]"of the historical fact that Britain was the only guide for India or that it even needed a mentor. The Commission's report as well as the way it was produced could only be seen by many Indians as another British imposition."


7. Indian Reaction to the Make-up of the Commission

The most important aim of a new constitution, from a British point of view, was to attract to their support the Liberals, moderate Congress members while retaining the support of most Muslims and the rulers of the princely states. However, when news reached India that the Commission would be “all-white”, the Congress and the Muslim followers of Jinnah announced that they would boycott all its proceedings. Much to the surprise of the British leadership the Liberals, led by Tej Bahadur Sapru and Jaykar also announced that they would boycott the Commission. Reed wrote (pp. 191-193) -

“Lord Lloyd rang me up in my Chiltern abode and said: "I have seen the personnel of the Commission; you will not like it, nor do I." Who could? Just consider the implications of this step. The Commission was to frame for the decision of Parliament the form of government under which Indians were to live for probably a generation. From it Indians were excluded. The chairman was a very distinguished lawyer; Lord Burnham was personally known to some Indian journalists for his kindly and generous hospitality as head of the Empire Press Union; Mr. Attlee had not emerged into the limelight,

“As for the other members, well, a kindly veil had better be drawn over their qualifications. Ministers who walk to their seats with steps solemn, ponderous and slow, with Parliamentary Private Secretaries proudly bearing the red boxes behind them; back-benchers who hold their heads higher when the police stop traffic for their march to Palace Yard, quite naturally think no small beer of themselves. They would be shocked at the repute in which they are held abroad….

“Indian politicians who had grown grey in the public life of their country were summoned to headquarters and told that they might be heard as witnesses; but they were to have no major part in fashioning the instrument of government…. No wonder they saw red and the greater the sense of esponsibility the hotter the indignation voiced by men like Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru (see Gwyer and Appadorai p. 210), …. the consequences of this act of folly were apparent to all who knew their India….

“The Commission staggered round India boycotted by all reputable people. It was soon apparent that no recommendations would have the slightest value unless Indian opinion was associated with them…. Within the fabric of the terms of reference the Commission did seek to enlist Indian support, and step by step the Joint Committee to work with it was established, but it was fatally handicapped by nomination; its members could not agree amongst themselves….

“The Simon Report, with all the labour it represented, was a dead letter…. (However, The first volume is the most masterly survey of the conditions of the problem in official literature; if the recommendations in the second volume run away from all this analysis that is no fault of the writer or writers, who did their own work well”

Mehrota (pp. 219-221) hit the nail on the head -

“All political parties in India in the 'twenties recognized the legislative supremacy of the Imperial Parliament. Even the Congress, which took its stand on the principle of self-determination, bowed to the sovereign and ultimate authority of Parliament. What it challenged was the assertion contained in the Preamble to the Act of 1919 that 'the time and manner of each advance can be determined only by Parliament'. 'Now, that is a proposition', said Motilal Nehru, 'which we cannot accept…. , Liberals, Independents and Muslim Leaguers-all alike claimed that Indians should have an equal voice in framing the future constitution for their country, however much they might have differed from Congressmen in the manner of asserting that claim. Dominion precedents were frequently quoted by Indian nationalists in support of their demand to frame their own constitution and submit the same to Parliament for ratification. The recent example of Ireland and the remarks made by Imperial statesmen justifying the procedure followed in her case only strengthened the claim of Indian nationalists. The latter noted and remembered what Lloyd George had remarked during the debate on the Anglo-Irish Treaty on December 14, 1921: 'Here we are going to follow the example which has been set in the framing of every constitution throughout the Empire. The constitution is drafted and decided by the Dominion, the Imperial Parliament taking such steps as may be necessary to legalize these decisions.'… Sir John Simon …. (in a) speech he … delivered in Parliament on November 27, 1922 … (said) 'I believe it would be true to say that Constitutions which promote prosperity and loyalty, and which have been found to be lasting Constitutions for subordinate States in our Empire, have, almost without exception, either actually or virtually, been formed by those who were to live under them themselves.’

“… What India needed in 1927 was not a judicial inquest into the 1919 reforms, such as was entrusted to the Simon Commission. The working of dyarchy had proved nothing and settled nothing. It had been a foggy episode in which all parties had been groping. Its results had been so diverse and confused as to make it impossible to base any confident conclusions upon it and extract from its records any sure guidance for the future. Howsoever intelligent the 'jury' they could not find a solution to the Indian puzzle…. The great need of the hour in India was to restore confidence in the good intentions of the Imperial Government. This could only be done by a sympathetic understanding of the Indian problem and by determining the political advance of the country in co-operation with its leaders. The most perfect and impartial findings of an excellent Commission could be of little use if they were not acceptable to the main body of Indian nationalists. The difficulties in the way of composing a mixed Commission were obvious and many, but certainly there were other ways of approaching the problem, and the considerations which prompted the Government of India and the Secretary of State not to search for these alternative methods do not reflect much credit on either.”


8. Progress of the Commission and Its Recommendations

The Commission was effectively boycotted by all important elements of Indian political opinion. Nevertheless, the members worked hard on its two volume report. As noted above, the first volume was a masterly review of the situation in India and retains its value, as a historical document, to this day.

The Commission’s recommendations were:

·                     Future Advance - The first principle which we would lay down is that the new constitution should, as far as possible, contain within itself provision for its own development. It should not lay down too rigid and uniform a plan, but should allow for natural growth and diversity. Constitutional progress should be the outcome of practical experience. Where further legislation is required, it should result from the needs of the time, not from the arbitrary demands of a fixed time-table. The constitution,while contemplating and conforming to an ultimate objective, should not attempt to lay down the length or the number of the stages of the journey…. It has been a characteristic of the evolution of responsible government in other parts of the British Empire that the details of the constitution have not been exhaustively defined in statutory language. On the contrary, the constitutions of the self-governing parts of the British Empire have developed as the result of natural growth, and progress has depended not so much on changes made at intervals in the language of an Act of Parliament, as on the development of conventions, and on the terms of instructions issued from time to time to the Crown's representative. The Preamble to the Government of India Act declares that progress in giving effect to the policy of the progressive realisation of responsible government in British India can only be achieved by successive stages; but there is no reason why the length of these successive stages should be defined in advance, or why every stage should be marked by a commission of enquiry." (Simon Report vol. 2 p.5)

·                     Almost Responsible Government at the Provincial Level – Dyarchy should be scrapped and Ministers responsible to the Legislature would be entrusted with all provincial areas of responsibility. However, safeguards were considered necessary in areas such as the maintenance of peace and tranquility and the protection of the legitimate interest of the minorities. These safeguards would be provided, mainly, by the grant of special powers to the Governor.

·                     Federation – The Report considered that a formally federal union, including both British India and the Princely States, was the only long-term solution for a united, autonomous India.

·                     Immediate Recommendations at the Centre - to help the growth of political consciousness in the people, the franchise should be extended; and the Legislature enlarged. Otherwise, no substantial change was recommended in the Centre. The Report strongly opposed the introduction of Dyarchy at the Centre. It should be noted that Simon set great store on having a unanimous report. This could only be done if he recommended no change at the centre as: the diehards were opposed to any Indian responsibility at the Centre: the Conservative leadership would oppose any responsibility at the Centre which did not build in conservative-pro-British control (as they tried to do in the Government of India Act 1935; and, Labour would oppose the type of gerrymandering at the Centre necessary to meet the requirements of the Conservative leadership.


9. Impact of the Simon Commission

a. The appointment of the “all-white” Simon Commission reinvigorated Indian Nationalism to a high pith of activity which would have a major impact throughout the remaining years of the British Raj. This led, in short order, to the boycott of the Commission the development of the all-party Nehru Report

b. The Indian Round Table Conferences 1931-1933 were an attempt to undo the damage caused by the mishandling of the appointment of the Commission;

c. When the Simon recommendations are compared to the Government of India Act 1935 the following may be noted:

·                     At the provincial level Simon’s recommendations were taken over by the Act but with even more stringent safeguards – i.e. even less true responsible government;

·                     At the Centre, contrary to Simon’s recommendations, the Act authorized the formation of an utterly unworkable federation (see Government of India Act 1935) that never came into being. Thus the Centre remained governed by Government of India Act 1919.

d. Clement Attlee got his education on India on the Commission and both he and Simon were involved in developing Indian policy during the Second World War and Attlee header the labour Government that Granted India independence in 1947.


Related Wikipedia articles

·                     British Empire

·                     British Raj

·                     Secretary of State for India

·                     India Office

·                     Governor-General of India

·                     Indian Civil Service

·                     Government of India Act

·                     Nehru Report

·                     Indian Round Table Conferences 1931-1933

·                     History of Bangladesh

·                     History of India

·                     History of Pakistan




[i] Dawson to Irwin, 14 November 1929, Mss. Eur. C. 152/18/304.