NEHRU COMMITTEE REPORT AND THE SIKHS
NEHRU COMMITTEE REPORT AND THE SIKHS. Constitutional reforms introduced under the Government of India Act, 1919, did not satisfy the Indian public opinion which continued to press for a fully responsible government in India. The Act itself contained a provision that after ten years a statutory commission would be appointed to review its working. A commission consisting of seven members of British Parliament, with SirJohn Simon as chairman, was constituted in November 1927 to survey the political situation in India.
Opinion in India was critical, especially because the country had been afforded no representation on the Commission. The Indian National Congress as well as the Sikhs resolved to boycott it. The Congress also proposed to work out a scheme of responsible government on behalf of the people. This it did in response to a challenge thrown by Lord Birkenhead, Secretary of State for India, in the House of Lords on 7 July 1925: “Let them produce a constitution which carries behind it a fair measure of general agreement among the great peoples of India.”
The Congress convened an All Parties Conference which at its meeting at Bombay, on 19 May 1928, appoined a committee of ten members headed by Pandit Motilal Nehru to draw up a political formula which would be acceptable to different elements in the national life. Marigal Singh, general secretary of the Central Sikh League, represented the Sikhs on the committee. The recommendations of this committee, adopted as resolutions at the next All Parties Conference held at Lucknow from 28 to 31 August 1928, came to be known as the Nehru Committee Report.
In order to arrive at an agreed solution of the most vexed question, namely communal representation, the committee sought, in an informal meeting, the advice of other prominent leaders of public opinion. The Nehru Report envisaged dominion status for India with a bicameral legislature at the centre and single chamber legislatures at the provincial level. A federal system with a strong centre at the apex was the basic principle of the proposed constitutional structure.
As regards franchise, the Report provided for adult suffrage and joint electorate, with reservation of seats for Muslim and non-Muslim minorities. However, Punjab and Bengal did not figure in the reservation scheme. There was thus no specific provision made for the Sikhs. The Sikhs had consistently opposed reservation of electoral seats on the basis of religion. Yet they had all along considered themselves a distinct community entitled to special consideration because of their status in the Punjab. Now, when reservations were an accepted principle, they claimed thirty per cent representation for themselves and thirty per cent for the Hindus to prevent Punjab from falling under Muslim hegemony statutorily guaranteed.
Sikh leaders attending the Lucknow Conference took strong exception to the proposals made in the Nehru Committee Report, and Master Tara Singh and Giani Sher Singh had their dissent recorded. Baba Kharak Singh, president of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee as well as of the Central Sikh League, also rejected the Report mainly on two counts. Delivering his presidential address extempore at the annual session of the Central Sikh League at Gujrariwala on 22 October 1928, he said that the Report had sinned against the self respect and dignity of India by limiting the national objective to Dominion Status. This meant that the people would have to fight twice-first to win Dominion Status and then Swaraj or self rule.
The second point of his criticism was that the Report had laid the foundation of communalism by accepting separate electorates. To press the Sikh viewpoint, almost all the important Sikh leaders, thirty in number, mustered at the last meeting of the All Parties Conference at Calcutta on 22 December 1928. Their efforts, however, were of no avail and the Sikhs were obliged to dissociate themselves from the proceedings of the Convention. In fact, Motilal Nehru, during his presidential address at the annual session of the Congress at Calcutta on 29 December 1928, dubbed the “dissentients” as only “a few communalists.” The Sikhs expressed their resentment by boycotting the next annual session of the Indian National Congress at Lahore in December 1929.
A call was given for a parallel Sikh conference at the time of the Congress meeting. The Sikh meeting was a spectacular success. Baba Kharak Singh, in his presidential address, reiterated the Sikhs` determination not to let any single community establish its political sway in the Punjab. The Congress leaders at last realized that the Sikh view deserved accommodation.
The Congress simply dropped the Nehru Committee Report. A resolution passed at its Lahore session read: ” In view of the lapse of the Nehru Report it is unnecessary to declare the policy of the Congress regarding communal question… But as the Sikhs in particular and the Muslims and other minorities in general, had expressed dissatisfaction over the solution of communal questions proposed in the Nehru Report, this Congress assures the Sikhs, Muslims and other minorities, that no solution thereof in any future constitution will be acceptable to the Congress that does not give full satisfaction to the parties concerned.”
The Nehru Committee Report thus got a formal burial. This was, however, of no practical consequence to the Sikhs. The Communal Award of 1932, which was accepted by the Congress Party with some changes regarding the depressed classes, gave a 51 per cent statutory majority to Muslims in the Punjab. The Sikh view that either there should be no reservation or, in case this was inescapable, no community should have an absolute majority in the Punjab was never accepted, the Congress resolution of 1929 notwithstanding.
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