Between Non-cooperation and Civil Disobedience
The Swaraj Party Gandhi’s suspension of non-cooperation movement could not but upset his own colleagues. Many of them were hurt and some were bitter with anger. Both Motilal Nehru and Lala Lajpat Rai wrote him letters from jail condemning his action. When the All-India Congress Committee met on February 24th at Delhi, Gandhi was assailed for calling off the movement. C.R. Das coming out of the jail said in his speech at Amrati that Gandhi had “bungled and mismanaged”. Although the Mahatma defended his case quite firmly, yet his action widened the split between those who were already opposed to non-co-operation and boycott of Councils and those who blindly followed Gandhi.
The differences between the Gandhi-ites (non-changers) and their opponents (pro-changers) became sharper at the Gaya session of the Congress held at the close of 1922 . On this occasion, C.R. Das, the President of the Congress, elaborated his scheme of entering the legislatures with a view to offer “uniform, continuous and consistent obstruction” to the Government. But his scheme was outvoted by the non-changers who clung to the conservative programme of spinning, weaving, temperance, removal of untouchability, and similar other social reforms. Das, thereupon, submitted his resignation as Congress President and announced his intention to form the Swaraj Party to contest the ensuring elections. Motilal Nehru supported him. Thus were laid the foundations of the Swaraj Party (1923) which proposed to remain within the Congress and carry forward the fight on the parliamentary plane within the new legislatures. The party was also known as the Swarajaya Party as also the Congress-Khilafat Swarajaya Party.
The Swarajists and the Gandhi-ites continued as those opposing each other till Gandhi came out of the prison in 1924 and blessed the pro-changers. The Swarajists and the two wings -the non-changers and the pro-chargers came together in the Belgaum session of the Congress.
The Swarajists believed in wrecking the Act of 1919 from within, i.e., in the legislative councils. They believed in capturing seats. “Obstruction” to the Government in its working was the keynote of their policy, while mending or ending of the new constitution (1919) was their immediate objective. By rejecting all important legislative measures and budgets, they planned to bring the Government machinery to a stand-still. The Swarajists also hoped to infuse enthusiasm among the masses by fighting elections.
The achievements of the Swaraj party were, indeed, significant. In accordance with their programme, they fought elections to the legislatures in 1923 . They emerged the largest and the best – disciplined group in the Central Legislative Assembly with 45 members out of 145 . Although short of working majority, the Swarajists were able to hinder the smooth flow of Government-inspired legislations, in co-operation with the Nationalist Party and some Independents. In the provincial elections, the Swarajists’ success was no less spectacular : they won a clear majority in the Central Provinces and were the largest party in Bengal. In both the provinces, they succeeded in wrecking the experiment of dyarchy by refusing to form ministers.
In 1924, the Swarajists moved an amendment in the Central Assembly urging the Government
(i) to take early steps for the revision of the new constitution
(ii) to call a Round Table Conference including the native representatives
(iii) to recommend a new constitution for India, and to submit the same to the British Parliament for enactment.
The amendment met with a great success and Muddiman Committee was appointed shortly after, to enquire and report as to how far the Reforms of 1919 had worked. The Muddiman Committee was appointed in 1924 and completed its work, but was divided into a majority and minority views of the reports. The British Government, then, appointed a commission, known as the Simon Commission, in 1927.
Simon Commission, 1927
The Simon Commission, an all-white commission landed in Bombay on February 3, 1928. It was composed of seven British members of the Parliament with John Simon as its chairman. There was no Indian as a member of the Simon Commission and this made all sections of the Indian society agitated who resented the commission’s arrival. The boycott of the Commission wherever it went in India was its policy. The Congress and the Muslim League denounced the Commission as a body deliberately packed with Britons for the purpose of sabotaging India’s political advancement. The liberals and other moderate groups called for a boycott of the commission. Hence the commission was greeted with complete hartals, black flags and loud slogans of ‘Simon go back’. Despite these hostile demonstrations, the Simon Commission managed to tour the country with the help of a few bureaucrats and also carried on its investigations. On the basis of these investigations, the commission submitted its report in 1930.