In this article we will discuss about the period of commissions and round-table conferences at the time of British government in India.
British government in India was under heavy strains and quite confident that unless the present Act was modified to the satisfaction of Indians, the situation was not likely to improve. Under the Act of 1919, it had been provided that the British government would set up a commission in 1931 to decide about the extent of political dose to be given to the people of India by modifying the existing system.
But it was forced by the circumstances to set up such a Commission in 1927. It was known as Simon Commission.
It was boycotted everywhere and at most of the places the demonstrators were mercilessly lathi charged. This all Whiteman Commission came to the conclusion that dyarchy should be abolished from the provinces and entire provincial administration should be given to elected Ministers responsible to the legislature.
The government should continue to look after rights of the minorities and that the central government should not be made responsible to the legislature. It was also suggested that the frenchise should be liberalised, legislatures enlarged and the new constitution should be so elastically framed that it developed by itself.
It also recommended enlargement of Provincial Legislative Councils and Constitution of a Provincial fund to ensure adequate financial resources for the provinces without infringing their autonomy. At the Centre there should be bicameral legislature consisting of Federal Assembly and Council of States.
It was of the view that Federal Assembly should be enlarged and should include elected members of Provincial Councils. It preferred federal rather than unitary system for India. It also proposed Council of Greater India to discuss matters of common interest. The Commander-in-Chief need not be a member of Viceroy’s Executive Council.
It was of the opinion that High Courts should be placed under the administrative control of Government of India. Sindh should be separated from Bombay and Burma from India. It also favoured Indianisation of army and extension of franchise.
The report did not find favour with Indian leaders. It failed to accept the demand of Indian public for introduction of responsible government at the Centre. Indirect election to central legislature and retention of communal representation Too was disliked by Indians.
A.B. Keith is of the view that Indian leadership should not have rejected this report out and out., “If it had been accepted, die British government could hardly have failed to work on it and responsible government in the provinces would have been achieved much earlier than it could be under any other later scheme.”
British government had all along been challenging Indian leadership that if they felt dissatisfied with what was being given to them, they should come out with a scheme which should be acceptable to all the sections of Indian public opinion. When India rejected Simon Commission recommendations, this challenge became still more meaningful.
In order to meet the challenge an All Parties Conference was convened in Bombay on 19th May, 1928 which appointed a sub-committee with Pandit Motilal Nehru as its chairman to frame a constitution for India. The Committee pleaded for immediate Dominion Status for India, felt dire necessity for provincial autonomy, favoured abolition of communal representation and proposed a federal polity for India.
It also recommended a bicameral system of legislature and also setting up of a Supreme Court, as the court of appeal in India. It also recommended that the Governor-General should act on the recommendations of the executive government.
The report was accepted by almost all the sections of Indian public opinion except by the Indian princes and extremist Muslims. It recommended same constitutional status for India in British empire as was enjoyed by the Dominions of Canada and Australia.
In the bicameral legislature Senate was to consist of two hundred members to be elected by provincial councils for a period of 7 years. The House of Representatives was to consist of 500 representatives to be elected on the basis of universal adult franchise. Its normal life was fixed at 5 years.
The Governor-General was to appoint Prime Minister while other Ministers were to be appointed by him on the recommendations of Prime Minister. Defence budget was to be subject to the vote of House of Representatives.
Governor-General was also to appoint a Public Service Commission. The judges of the Supreme Court were to be appointed by the Governor-General in Council and could be removed only on the recommendations of both the Houses of legislature.
It recommended that provincial councils should be constituted on the basis of adult franchise for a normal term of five years. The executive authority should vest in the Governor and his Council consisting of five Ministers.
It also recommended 19 Fundamental Rights to be embodied in the Constitution itself. It discarded communal or separate electorate but in Muslim majority provinces some seats were to be reserved for the Muslims.
The report had mixed reception but on the whole it proved to be a comprehensive document which contained aspirations of people of India. It provided basis for further discussions by national leaders during freedom struggle.
Jinnah’s Fourteen Point Programme:
In order to protect the Muslim interests Mr. Muhammad Ah Jinnah gave his own fourteen point programme. He also suggested federal system of government and autonomy for provinces. He, however, stressed that all legislatures should have adequate representation for minorities and in central legislature Muslim representation should not be less than 1/3 of its total strength.
There should be adequate share for the Muslims in the constitution of all services and there should also be adequate safeguards for projection and promotion of Muslim culture. In every cabinet should have at least 1/3 Muslim Ministers.
Both Nehru Report and Jinnah’s fourteen point programme provided sufficient input to British government. No less importance can be attached to Simon Commission, in so far input to the system is concerned.
In 1929, Gandhiji, along with some other leaders met the then Viceroy, but all were disillusioned and found that the British government was in no mood to give Dominion status to India. Accordingly it decided at its Lahore Session, held in that year, that complete independence of India would be the goal of national struggle in India.
Tri-colour was hoisted on the midnight of December 31, 1929 and January 26 was fixed as the day for the celebration of independence.
In order to check violence in national struggle, Gandhiji started civil disobedience movement in 1930-31 in which the people were persuaded not to pay taxes to the government. He also undertook his famous Dandi March on March 12, 1930.
As expected the government followed repressive measures to check the spread of the movement. National leaders of the Congress party and others were arrested and their number rose to about 60,000.
Some of the main demands at the time of Disobedience Movement included reduction of land revenue by 50%, abolition of sales tax, reduction in military expenses by at least 50%, reduction in the salaries of British officers, abolition of CID Department and protective tariff against foreign cloth.
Dandi March which started on 12th March, 1930 under Gandhiji from Sabarmati Ashram covered a distance of 241 miles and reached Dandi to break salt law. On April 5,1930 it reached Dandi where salt law was defied.
The programme included picketing of liquor shops, and leaving of government schools, colleges and services, etc. The response was very favourable. The Muslim attitude towards the movement was, however, not very co-operative.
In the words of Coupland Mr. Jinnah believed that, “We refuse to join Mr. Gandhi because his movement is not a movement for the complete independence of India but for making the seventy millions of Indian Musalmans dependent on Hindu Maha Sabha.” There was, however, complete confusion in the country and movement cheated serious law and order problem for the administrators and executive authorities.
In between George Solocombe, Dr. Jayakar and Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru tried to bring about a solution to the problem, but failed. Ultimately the British government decided to convene a Round-Table Conference in 1930 to find a solution to Indian political problem. Indian National Congress decided to boycott the same.
Obviously such a conference which had no representative from a national organisation could achieve nothing.
While discussing the nature of the Conference Brails-ford once said, “In St. James Palace there did assemble princes and untouchables, Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus and Christians, spokesman of landowners, trade unions and Chamber of Commerce, but Mother India was not there.” Though the Conference went on deliberating for quite some time, yet as expected nothing substantial came out of it.