SIMON COMMISSION, designated after the name of its chairman, Sir John Simon (1873-1954), was constituted in 1927 as a royal parliamentary commission. As proposed by the Viceroy, Lord Irwin (later Halifax), all of its seven members were British, selected from among the members of the two Houses of Parliament. However, only the chairman of the Commission was at the time of his appointment a statesman of the first rank who was well-known in India. The other members of the Commission were : Baron Strathcona, Edward C. G. Cadogan, and George R. Lane Fox, all three Conservatives; Viscount Burnham, a Unionist; and Vernon Hartshorn and Clement R. Attlee, Socialist or Labour. Another Labourite, Stephen Walsh, initially accepted appointment but was too ill to serve and so was replaced by Hartshorn before the Commission commenced its work. Although Attlee was not well-known to India at the time, two decades later he would lead the British government during the period when India gained independence. Two members, Strathcona and Burnham, represented the House of Lords on the Commission, while all the others were from the House of Commons.
Although it took until 23-24 November for the Commission to receive formal parliamentary approval of its personnel and royal assent which were required for it to be duly constituted under English law, in India Lord Irwin announced its appointment on 8 November 1927. Its members and staff came ashore at Bombay for a short preliminary tour of India on 3 February 1928, leaving for London again on 31 March. A second and more thorough tour of India lasted from 11 October 1928 to 13 April 1929. The next year, after its deliberations were completed at home in England, in May the Commission's findings were put into a formal report to Parliament. Then on 10 to 24 June 1930 they were published in London in two separate volumes, the first a survey of the situation in India (Cmd. 3568) and the second the commission's recommendations (Cmd. 3569).
The Simon Commission became the focus of public discussion in India as soon as the Viceroy announced its formation. Whether to boycott it or to co-operate with it became the most pressing political question. The main objection to co-operation was that India was not represented on the Commission; also that it had been empowered to proceed independently rather than charged to work in close consultation with Indian political leaders. On 12 November 1927, the Working Committee of the Indian National Congress resolved that all parties should abstain from co-operating with the Commission, and virtually all Indian leaders and organizations initially adopted this policy. When the Commission arrived in India it was faced by an all-ndia haṛtāl, black apparel and flags, and signs reading "Simon go back." Boycott demonstrations remained a dramatic presence throughout both tours by the Commission leading to police action at several places that injured many protesters. But unanimity of support for the boycott strategy was broken, just a few days following the Congress resolution, by the Punjab Muslim League. It resolved to co-operate with the Commission. So did the Punjab Provincial Hindu Sabhā. In March 1928 the Punjab Legislative Council nominated a committee with Ujjal Siṅgh as its secretary to report to the Commission.
Throughout the period from 1927 to 1930, there was a broad range of Sikh opinion about what strategy to adopt in response to the Simon Commission, and it varied with changes in the political situation. Sikhs in the Congress like Sardūl Siṅgh Caveeshar, Amar Siṅgh Jhabāl, and Maṅgal Siṅgh Gill were obliged to boycott. But many others accepted the boycott in order to participate in the All-Parties Conference, which began its proceedings in February 1928 as a Congress alternative to the Commission. The Conference was a response to the challenge to India made by Lord Birkenhead when he moved the Statutory Commission Bill in Parliament. The challenge, met in the Nehrū Report that was published in August and debated in December 1928, was to write a national constitution for India independently of the British. Leaders of the Shiromaṇī Gurdwārā Parbandhak Committee, the Shiromaṇī Akālī Dal, and the Central Sikh League joined the boycott on that basis, and convened an All Parties Sikh Conference in Amritsar on 30 January 1928 at which about 150 prominent Sikhs were selected delegates to the national conference. Before the end of the year, however, Sikh dissatisfaction with the terms of the Nehrū Report called into question the boycott strategy, too.
Already at the beginning of 1928, Sikhs who were early to decide to co-operate had formed the Central Sikh Association as a coalition organized to represent Sikh interests. In May, the Sikhs placed a memorandum of representation before the Commission, signed by Sundar Siṅgh Majīṭhīā, Shivdev Siṅgh Oberoi, Harbaṅs Siṅgh of Aṭārī, Raghbīr Siṅgh Sandhāvālīā, and Mohan Siṅgh Raīs of Rāwalpiṇḍī. The memorandum said : "While anxious to maintain their individuality as a separate community, they [the Sikhs] are always ready to co-operate with their sister communities for the development of a united nation. They would, therefore, be the first to welcome a declaration that no considerations of caste or religion shall affect the matter of organisation of a national government in the country. They are prepared to stand on merit alone provided they, in common with others, are permitted to grow unhampered by any impediments, in the way of reservation for any other community." Then in November a delegation of nine from the Chief Khālsā Dīwān appeared before the Commission at Lahore, where Sundar Siṅgh Majīthīā, Bhāī Jodh Siṅgh, Ujjal Siṅgh and the other delegates responded to questions put by the commissioners. The delegation reaffirmed that Sikhs had been a distinct community since the time of the Gurūs, and their distinctiveness was acknowledged by the Montagu-Chelmsford Report. They proposed 30 per cent representation for Sikhs in the Punjab legislature by reservation or by separate electorates. In March 1929, at Delhi, thirty-six from among the original delegation of about 150 Sikhs gave a banquet in honour of the commissioners, at which they again drew their attention to the need for a political framework which would safeguard the rights and interests of the Sikh community.
The report of the Simon Commission published in 1930 satisfied neither those who had been steadfast in support of boycott nor those who had taken trouble to represent Sikh interests to the Commission. The Commission proposed to introduce dyarchy at the centre and to advance from dyarchy to fully responsible government in the provinces, but with little improvement of the Sikh position other than calling into question the statutory majority for Muslims in the Punjab. Since the Simon Report did not provide a new way to resolve the question of communal representation and since it did not answer the question of dominion status which led the Congress to launch a major campaign of Civil Disobedience in March, only a fresh initiative could open the way to progress on the outstanding constitutional issues. This came from the Viceroy, against the resistance of the Commission. What Lord Irwin announced the previous October and reaffirmed in the summer of 1930 was a Round Table Conference, at which the Simon Commission Report would in no way limit free constitutional discussion. Here was a fresh initiative which had the effect of setting aside the Commission's findings, even though an impasse developed later which led to the Communal Award that was incorporated into the Government of India Act of 1935.
G. R. Thursby