A Critical Decade: India--Empire or Nation?
Written into the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms was provision for an inquiry into their operation after ten years: but in 1927 Britain's Tory government appointed a Commission of inquiry under Sir John Simon earlier than scheduled, to keep its composition out of the hands of the less conservative politicians who might replace them at the next General Election. The all- white Simon Commission provoked widespread political protest in India. Its members encountered hostile black-flag demonstrations as they perambulated the country taking evidence in the provinces. The work of the Commission, its reception and its report indicated that British and Indian alike recognized that the imperial bid for a new order on the subcontinent had failed. Although the 1939-45 war is commonly seen as the great upheaval out of which the subcontinent emerged politically independent yet agonizingly divided, the decade until India was engulfed in it was critical for the nature of British dominion, and for the development on the subcontinent of senses of public identity, particularly for a sense of Indian nationhood. The 1930s saw no sudden and dramatic change--in the strength or structure of the raj, in the economic base and social framework of Indian life, or in the daily life and attitudes of India's millions. Yet by 1940 it was clear that the decade had intensified trends and brought decisions crucial in the shaping of modern India. Many of these decisions were the result of drift and default, or of sheer pragmatism. There was never a clear 'point of no return'. But by 1940 the Indian empire was no longer viable in the long term, though it could be kept going in the short term as part of the allied war effort. Furthermore, the potential viability of an Indian nation incorporating British and princely India and the major religious communities was almost as dubious.
Certain themes of long-term significance stand out in the decade. One was a questioning of the legitimacy accorded to different types of authority, particularly that of the imperial government. Closely connected with it was the growth and articulation of public awareness. Those who were once described as the 'real India' for whom the district officer had to speak became vocal and demonstrative on a wide range of public concerns and