The "Nehru Report"
(1928) was a memorandum outlining a proposed new Dominion (see dominion status
) constitution for India. It was prepared by a committee of the All Parties Conference chaired by Motilal Nehru
with his son Jawaharlal
acting as secretary. There were nine other members in this committee including two Muslims.
Right of Indians to Draft their Own Constitution
British policy, until almost the end of the Raj, was that the timing and nature of Indian constitutional development was to be decided exclusively by the British parliament though, it was assumed that Indians would be consulted as appropriate. This was formally stated in the Government of India Act 1919. The British only conceded the right of Indians' to frame their own constitution in the he 1942 Cripps Declaration (see).
Indian unhappiness with this paternal approach was described by Mehrota (pp. 219-221) -
- All political parties in India in the 'twenties recognized the legislative supremacy of the Imperial Parliament. Even the Congress, which took its stand on the principle of self-determination, bowed to the sovereign and ultimate authority of Parliament. What it challenged was the assertion contained in the Preamble to the Act of 1919 that 'the time and manner of each advance can be determined only by Parliament'. 'Now, that is a proposition', said Motilal Nehru, 'which we cannot accept…. , Liberals, Independents and Muslim Leaguers-all alike claimed that Indians should have an equal voice in framing the future constitution for their country, however much they might have differed from Congressmen in the manner of asserting that claim. Dominion precedents were frequently quoted by Indian nationalists in support of their demand to frame their own constitution and submit the same to Parliament for ratification. The recent example of Ireland and the remarks made by Imperial statesmen justifying the procedure followed in her case only strengthened the claim of Indian nationalists. The latter noted and remembered what Lloyd George had remarked during the debate on the Anglo-Irish Treaty on December 14, 1921: 'Here we are going to follow the example which has been set in the framing of every constitution throughout the Empire. The constitution is drafted and decided by the Dominion, the Imperial Parliament taking such steps as may be necessary to legalize these decisions.'… Sir John Simon …. (in a) speech he … delivered in Parliament on November 27, 1922 … (said) 'I believe it would be true to say that Constitutions which promote prosperity and loyalty, and which have been found to be lasting Constitutions for subordinate States in our Empire, have, almost without exception, either actually or virtually, been formed by those who were to live under them themselves.
Lead-up to the Nehru Report
This was not the first attempt by Indians to draft a new constitution -
- ”A nonofficial effort to … (to draft a new constitution was) made by Mrs. Besant and a few of her Indian friends. Most of the leaders were rather cool toward her project, but it was somewhat revised by a so-called All-Parties Conference which met at Delhi in January-February, 1925, and was formally approved by a convention held at Cawnpore in April. It was drafted as a statute and introduced in the House of Commons by Mr. George Lansbury, December 9, 1925, under the title, "The Commonwealth of India Bill." The bill proposed to confer upon India at once the full status of a Dominion, subject to certain temporary reservations. The Viceroy, as the representative of the King-Emperor, was to have complete charge of military and naval forces and foreign relations until the Indian Parliament by its own act should signify its readiness to assume control. Any step taken by the Indian Parliament concerning the Indian States must have the previous approval of the Viceroy. There was a Bill of Rights which included, among other things, guarantees of personal liberty, freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, and equality of sex. This scheme did not arouse any popular enthusiasm, partly perhaps because it was not really an Indian product, but mainly because of the negative character of the Nationalist movement. The leaders were more interested in opposing the existing system than they were in preparing a constructive alternative.” (Smith pp. 372 ff)
The rejection by Indian leaders of the all-white Simon Commission led Lord Birkenhead, the Secretary of State for India to make a speech in the House of Lords in which he challenged the Indians to draft a Constitution implying that they could not produce one that would be widely acceptable among the leaders of the various Indian communities. In the words of Campbell (Campbell Pp. 753-4) -
- “I am entirely in favour [he (Birkenhead) wrote to Irwin] of inducing the malcontents to produce their own proposals, for in the first place I believe them to be quite incapable of surmounting the constitutional and constructive difficulties involved; in the second, if these were overcome, I believe that a unity which can only survive in an atmosphere of generalisation would disappear at once.”
The Nehru Report
The constitution outlined by the Nehru report was for Indian enjoying dominion status within the British Commonwealth. Some of the important elements of the report (details
- Unlike the eventual Government of India Act 1935 it contained a Bill of Rights
- All power of government and all authority - legislative, executive and judicial - are derived from the people and the same shall be exercised through organisations established by, or under, and in accord with, this Constitution
- There shall be no state religion; men and women shall have equal rights as citizens.
- There should be federal form of government with residuary powers vested in the center.(Some scholars, such as Moore in “The Making of India’s Paper Federation, 1927-35” (p. 39) in Moore 1988 considered the Nehru Report proposal as essentially unitary rather than federal.);
- It included a description of the machinery of government including a proposal for the creation of a Supreme Court and a suggestion that the provinces should be linguistically determined;
- It did not provide for separate electorates for any community or for weightage for minorities. Both of these were liberally provided in the eventual Government of India Act 1935. However, it did allow for the reservation of Muslim seats in provinces having a Muslim minority of at least ten percent, but this was to be in strict proportion to the size of the community.
- The language of the Commonwealth shall be Hindustani, which may be written either in Nagari or in Urdu character. The use of the English language shall be permitted. (details)
The Nehru Report, along with that of the Simon Commission was available to participants in the three Indian Round Table Conferences 1931-1933. However, the Government of India Act 1935 owes much to the Simon Commission report and little, if anything to the Nehru Report.
Muslim League's Reaction to the Nehru Report
With few exceptions League leaders rejected the Nehru proposals. In reaction Mohammad Ali Jinnah
drafted his Fourteen Points
in 1929 which became the core demands the Muslim community put forward as the price of their participating in an independent united India. Their main objections were:
- Separate Electorates and Weightage - the 1916 Congress-Muslim League agreement The Lucknow Pact provided these to the Muslim community whereas they were rejected by the Nehru Report;
- Residuary Powers – the Muslims relaized that while they would be a majority in the provinces of the North-East and North-West of India, and hence would control their provincial legislatures, they would always be a minority at the Centre. Thus they demanded, contra the Nehru Report, that residuary powers go to the provinces.
The inability of Congress to concede these points must be considered a major factor in the eventual partition of India. This was the major historical significance of the Nehru Report