top of page

1927-1930 Simon Commission and beginning of the new battle of Independence

India had slipped into a major inertia after the failure of the Non Cooperation Movement. Moreover the riots, the untimely death of Chittaranjan Das and the deprecation of Swaraj Party, the forced confinement of Subhas Chandra Bose, the feuds within the Congress, Gandhi's political sannyas and the widespread communal troubles had almost deprived India of the vital force that had resulted in its awakening and yearning for liberty. Fortunately for India the British made a costly mistake - the appointment of Simon Commission in 1928. In 1919 the Government of India Act had stipulated that every ten years working of the Reforms introduced by it should be inquired by a Commission with a view to determine further courses of actions on the responsible Government. Until then various attempts were made by the Indian political leaders to hasten the pace of the reforms without waiting until 1929, but the British Government never relented or acceded to the demands. But in Nov 1927, the British Primer Minister sprang a surpirse by announcing a cabinet decision to constitute the Commission. The thought process was that in 1929 the House of Commons would seek reelection and there was a strong possibility of bringing back the Labour party to power. The Labour Party would be more sympathetic to the demands of Indian leaders and hence the Conservative PM in post haste constituted the Commission. The PM announced that the Commission would have seven members of the British Parliament including Sir John Simon and no Indian would be part of that Commission. Writes Dr. R.C Majumdar in his History of Freedom Movement, Vol 3, "The exclusion of Indians from a body which was to prepare the future constitution of India was so unnatural and unreasonable, that the announcement was received with profound disappointment and righteous indignation by all political leaders in India, irrespective of their party affiliations, and they unanimously decided to boycott the Commission." Indian people was supposed to have their own Constitution drafted by themselves, decided through a Round Table Conference or other means. The "affront to the  Indian self-respect involved in the deliberate exclusion of Indians from the Commission" was highlighted as a key point by Srinivasa Iyengar, President of the Indian National Congress. Even the liberals came to regard this Commission as an insult. Thus the political leaders of all hue had for once reached a common ground. The proposal of Boycotting the Simon Commission was adopted by all political parties. Mass demonstrations were planned all over India on the day members of the Commission set foot into the country and similar demonstrations in every city visited by them. Also it was agreed that the legislatures would refuse to elect their own committee to cooperate with the Commission. The Commission was socially Boycotted and on February 3, 1928, day of visit of Simon Commission to Bombay, a complete hartal was observed in all important cities and towns of India. Huge crowd marched in procession everywhere with black flag and banners with the words "Simon Go Back." The Nationalist members in the Councils strongly opposed the appointment of the Committee and refused cooperation. 

A tragic incident occurred in Lahore in October 1928. Lala Lajpat Rai was leading the mass procession and demonstration against Simon Commission when a battalion of police led by Scott, showered blows on him. As a result of the blows Lala Lajpat Rai died in November, 1928. 

Lord Birkenhead had thrown an open challenge to the Swarajists "to produce a constitution which carries behind it a fair measure of general agreement among the great peoples of India." In the Madras session of Congress in 1927 the idea of drafting a Constitution was taken up. The Working Committee subsequently invited a large number of organizations. The all parties conference met for the first time in February 1928 and thereafter overcame many hurdles, chiefly on account of the differences between Hindu and Muslim points of view, accepted the recommendations of a committee headed by Motilal Nehru set up by it, in Lucknow conference in August 1928. However in December 1928 the Muslims came up with new demands under the leadership of M.A Jinnah. After a heated debate Jinnah's amendments were defeated and Muslims and Sikhs withdrew support. Jinnah had joined the extreme communal Muslim section headed by Aga Khan. Apart from Muslims, a section of the Sikhs, the non Brahmin party from Madras and representatives of the depressed and backward classes, did not approve of the Nehru Constitution. 

The younger section of the Congress led by Subhas Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru had established an Independence League and Congress had adopted independence as India's goal in the Madras session in 1927. However it took two more years for Congress under Gandhi to put independence over Dominion status as the clear goal worthy of fighting for. In Calcutta Congress of 1928 Subhas Chandra Bose had moved a resolution demanding that Congress should be satisfied by nothing short of independence, was defeated by a slender margin. A section of the Gandhi loyalists adopted a blackmailing tactics that claimed that if the resolution of Bose was passed, Gandhiji would take it as a lack of confidence on his leadership and would retire from politics. Gandhi's hope was that the demand for Dominion Status along with Nehru Constitution, would be acceptable to the British and the Government should be given time till 31st December, 1929. In short, Congress was postponing the demand for independence for a complete year. Gandhi declared that he would join the movement for independence in case the ultimatum given by the Congress is rejected. According to Subhas Chandra Bose, the decision to postpone the movement for complete independence was a costly mistake by the Congress as (as per Indian Struggle) "only madness or folly could have led one to hope that the mighty British Government would concede even Dominion Home Rule without a struggle." He also mentioned that the Congress made a mistake of letting go an opportunity while "there was tremendous enthusiasm all over the country." The Indian Struggle of Subhas Chandra Bose analyzes the situation cogently, "Everyone had expected the Congress to act boldly.” and “a procession of 10,000 workers visited the Congress pandal to demonstrate their solidarity with the struggle for national freedom. But all these signs of upheaval made no impression on the leaders,” for “while the country was ready, the leaders were not.’’ “The Mahatma, unfortunately for his countrymen, did not see light” and his “temporising resolution” “only served to kill precious time.” “The decision that should have been made soon after the appointment of the Simon Commission—and certainly not later than the Calcutta Congress—was not made till the Lahore Congress in December, 1929. But by then the situation was to deteriorate."

Lala Lajpat Rai died in hospital on Nov 17, 1928 after being badly injured by the brutal lathi charge. The revolutionaries of Lahore took revenge by killing Saunders, the asst. Superintendent of police. Bhagat Singh and his fellow revolutionaries were responsible for the assassination. Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt threw a bomb in the Assembly Hall in Delhi. A large number of young men were arrested and sent to prison. Bhagat Singh and the fellow prisoners started a hunger strike against the treatment meted out in prison, esp. with regard to the low quality food cooked in abominable and unhygienic condition. Jatin Das died after 63 days of fast when the Government did not budge to fulfill their demands. His death caused widespread grief and anger. As his body was brought from Lahore to Calcutta for cremation, thousands gathered in every railway station to pay respect. The family of Terence McSwiney, who had met his death under similar conditions for Irish independence, sent their condolence message, "Family of Terence McSwiney have heard with grief and pride of the death of Jatin Das. Freedom will come." It is worth mentioning here that Gandhi did not like the hunger strike by the revolutionaries and did not spare a word to recognize Jatin Das's martyrdom. 

The death of Jatin Das and the activities of Bhagat Singh had given a great impetus to the youth movement across India. Youth and Student organizations sprang up all over India and Nau Jawan Bharat Sabha, of which Bhagat Singh was a key member, played a major role. Throughout 1929 unrest erupted in the industries in the form of labour movement. Gandhi emerged into active politics and his mere wish became command for the Congress party. In order to tame the young brigade. Gandhi inducted Jawaharlal Nehru as the President of Congress. Jawaharlal, who along with Subhas Bose led the Left Wing of Congress, became an ardent Gandhi follower and this move weakened the left within the Congress considerably. In Bengal Congress, there was a split and Jatin Mohan Sengupta and his followers became adherent of Gandhi and Sengupta became a staunch rival of Subhas Chandra Bose. Party factionalism often led to ugly and bitter exchanges between the followers of the two leaders. It is to be noted that Subhas Chandra Bose and Srinivas Iyengar were left out of the Congress Working Committee.

After Labour Party came to power in Britain in 1929, there was a possibility of granting Dominion Status to India. Leaders of all parties in India held a conference in Delhi in November and released a manifesto signed by all prominent leaders led by Gandhiji and Motilal Nehru. It appreciated the Viceroy Irwin's pronouncement and offered cooperation for coming up with a Dominion Constitution for India. High optimisms were expressed on the proposed Round Table Conference. The left wingers within Congress. Jawaharlal Nehru atfirst hesitated to sign the manifesto but Gandhi prevailed upon him (Dr. R.C Majumdar, History of Freedom Movement of India Vol 3). A separate manifesto was issued by Subhas Chandra Bose, signed by Dr. S. Kitchlew and Abdul Bari, opposing the Dominion Status and the participation in the Round Table Conference. 

In December Gandhi and Motilal Nehru met the Viceroy and asked for a definite assurance on the Dominion Status. But the Viceroy did not give that assurance. After returning empty handed, Gandhi declared that he was for independence. The Lahore Congress of 1929 adopted Purna Swaraj or Complete Independence as a goal. The Congress also resolved to boycott the Central and the Provincial Legislatures and committees constituted by the Government and launch a Civil Disobedience whenever the conditions deemed fit. Writes Dr. R.C Majumdar, "As regards the adoption of independence as the goal of India it may be doubted whether Gandhi was really converted to the idea. It has been suggested that his heart was not in it, but he adopted this merely to fall in with the majority. Subsequent events seem to support this view." As regards the Communal question Congress committed to consideration of any demand by any communal interest. Dr. R.C Majumdar writes, "The Nehru Constitution got a decent burial in the hands of the Congress at Lahore. Apart from discarding Dominion Status in favour of the goal of complete independence, the Congress also definitely rejected its recommendations about the solution of the communal problem."  He continued on the communal question, "The Congress should have realized by this time that it was beyond human ingenuity to devise a scheme of communal settlement which would give full satisfaction to the parties concerned." The Congress, by passing the Lahore resolution, practically precluded itself from accepting any Constitution that might be proposed in future and it is difficult to imagine a more amazing instance of a political harikari than was done by the greatest political organization in India in 1929. It is no less amazing that this and other aspects of the Lahore resolutions received very little attention from the leaders and people who seem to have been carried away by the formal declaration of the ideal of complete independence."

As regards Civil Disobedience, no programme was fixed and there was no concrete plan. Gandhi had complete sway over Congress and he had sidelined Subhas Chandra Bose and other erstwhile Swarajist leaders within Congress. His word was the last word in Congress. 26th of January was decided to be observed as the Purna Swaraj day. The economic exploitation of the British Government and the consequent destruction of all indigenous industries, heavy taxation on the poor peasants, and the extreme poverty that the British rule had resulted in, were cited as the chief reasons for such an extreme step. The necessity of political freedom from a veritable reign of terror of the British raj, deprivation of the people from the higher echelons of administration, an education that deprived the youth of the cultural roots and pride in their own legacy and made them petty clerks for carrying on the heavy burden of the raj, were other reasons for the country to stop paying all taxes and withdraw all voluntary help to the administration. 

The euphoria over such declaration was hardly over when Gandhiji made a volte face and reached out to the Government to press for a few petty administrative reforms, that would help Congress to cooperate with the British Government. 

In the meanwhile the Government repressions continued unabated and the genuine fighters of independence including Subhas Chandra Bose, the then Mayor of Calcutta, were arrested. Subhas was severely injured by an assault by a mounted police on a procession and in that condition of severe injury was sentenced to imprisonment.

The Revolutionaries had in the meanwhile beginning to gain ground and they would strike terror in the heart of the administration, across the country. 


bottom of page