The Proudest Day: India's Long Road to Independence

By Anthony Read; David Fisher | Go to book overview
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'A Year's Grace and a Polite Ultimatum'

The Simon Commission landed at Bombay to begin the first of its two planned visits to India on 3 February 1928. Despite torrential rain, demonstrators had turned out in their thousands. A few from the minority groups were there carrying leaves and flowers to welcome the British politicians, but they were vastly outnumbered by protesters carrying black flags and banners inscribed 'SIMON GO BACK'. The city was closed down in a hartal: shops and offices were shuttered, and the streets were deserted apart from the demonstrators. Gandhi wrote to 'tender my congratulations to the organizers for the very great success they achieved ... It did my soul good to see Liberals, Independents and Congressmen ranged together on the same platform'. 1 Was it deliberate that he failed to mention the Jinnah League?

All the other major cities and towns staged hartals at the same time, with black flag processions and rallies. In Madras, demonstrators clashed violently with police, who opened fire, killing one of them. The commission moved on to Delhi, where its reception was as hostile as that in Bombay; Calcutta and Madras were only slightly less so. Nowhere could they escape the protestors their train from Bombay to Poona was escorted by young Maharashtrans waving black flags at them from a lorry on the road which ran alongside the track for most of the 70 miles between Poona and Lonavala. In Lucknow, the local Muslim League leader, Choudry Khaliquzzaman, conceived the brilliant notion of painting 'Go Back Simon' on kites and balloons and floating them over the official reception organized by the taluqdars in the Kaiserbagh gardens. 2 Only in country districts were the commissioners reasonably well received.

Simon put a brave face on what was clearly becoming a public relations disaster. One of the members of the commission who was close to him, George Lane-Fox, noted that he was on the verge of despair. The Labour members, Clement Attlee and Vernon Hartshorn, managed to make secret contact with at

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The Proudest Day: India's Long Road to Independence


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