The Poona Pact refers to an agreement between Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi signed on 24 September 1932 at Yerwada Central Jail in Pune (now in Maharashtra), India. It was signed by Pt Madan Mohan Malviya and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and some Dalit leaders to break the fast unto death undertaken by Gandhi in Yerwada jail to annul Macdonald Award giving separate electorate to Dalits for electing members of state legislative assemblies in British India.
To draft a new Constitution involving self-rule for the native Indians, the British invited leaders of different parties in the Round Table Conferences in 1930-32. Mahatma Gandhi did not attend the first and last but attended the second of the Conferences. The concept of separate electorates for the Untouchables was raised by Dr. Ambedkar. Similar provisions were already available for other minorities, including Muslims, Christians, Anglo-Indians and Sikhs. The British government agreed with Ambedkar’s contention, and British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald‘s Communal Award to the depressed classes was to be incorporated into the constitution in the governance of British India. Gandhi strongly opposed the Communal Award on the grounds that it would disintegrate Hindu society. He began an indefinite hunger strike at Yerwada Central Jail from September 20, 1932 to protest against this Award. A compromise was reached on September 24, 1932.
The text uses the term “Depressed Classes” to denote Untouchables who were later called Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes under India Act 1935, and the later Indian Constitution of 1950.
Terms of the Pact
The Terms of the Poona Pact were as under:
1. There shall be seats reserved for the Depressed Classes out of general electorate. Seats in the Provincial Legislatures were as follows: –
|Bombay with Sindh||15|
|Bihar and Orissa||18|
These figures are based on the total strength of the Provincial Councils announced in the (British)Prime Minister’s decision.
2. Election to these seats shall be by joint electorates subject, however, to the following procedure –
All members of the Depressed Classes registered in the general electoral roll of a constituency will form an electoral college which will elect a panel of four candidates belonging to the Depressed Classes for each of such reserved seats by the method of the single vote and four persons getting the highest number of votes in such primary elections shall be the candidates for election by the general electorate.
3. The representation of the Depressed Classes in the Central Legislature shall likewise be on the principle of joint electorates and reserved seats by the method of primary election in the manner provided for in clause above for their representation in the provincial legislatures.
4. In the Central Legislature 18 per cent of the seats allotted to the general electorate for British India in the said legislature shall be reserved for the Depressed Classes.
5. The system of primary election to a panel of candidates for election to the Central and Provincial Legislatures as herein-before mentioned shall come to an end after the first ten years, unless terminated sooner by mutual agreement under the provision of clause 6 below.
6. The system of representation of Depressed Classes by reserved seats in the Provincial and Central Legislatures as provided for in clauses (1) and (4) shall continue until determined otherwise by mutual agreement between the communities concerned in this settlement.
7. The Franchise for the Central and Provincial Legislatures of the Depressed Classes shall be as indicated, in the Lothian Committee Report.
8. There shall be no disabilities attached to any one on the ground of his being a member of the Depressed Classes in regard to any election to local bodies or appointment to the public services. Every endeavour shall be made to secure a fair representation of the Depressed Classes in these respects, subject to such educational qualifications as may be laid down for appointment to the Public Services.
9. In every province out of the educational grant an adequate sum shall be ear-marked for providing educational facilities to the members of Depressed Classes.
Transcribed by: Prakash Holayar, Chamarajanagar
Dr Ambedkar was extensively interviewed by the BBC radio in New Delhi in 1955 on a range of topics including his memories of Gandhi, Round Table Conferences, Poona Pact and how political independence was obtained. A portion of the interview related to the famous Poona Pact, transcribed (as faithfully as possible) from the audio record, is reproduced here:
BBC: Coming back to the ‘Poona Pact’, Can you remember all of what Gandhi said to you and what you said to him?
BRA: Oh! I know it very well, the British government had, in the original award which MacDonald had given, had accepted my suggestion. I said look at the Hindus, (they) want there should be a common electorate so that there may be no separatist feeling between the Scheduled Caste and the Hindu. We think if we have a common electorate we would be submerged and the nominees of Scheduled Castes who would be elected would be really slaves of the Hindus not independent people. Now, I told Mr Ramsay MacDonald this is a sort of a thing that he might do! Give us a separate electorate and also give us a second vote in the general election so that Gandhi cannot say that “we are separated” in point of election.
First of all my contention was this that for five years we live separately from the Hindus with no kind of intercourse or intercommunication, of a social or a spiritual sort. What can one day’s cycle of participation in a common electorate do to remove this hard and crushed [feeling of] separatism which has grown for centuries..it is a foolish thing to think that “If two people vote together in a common polling booth that their hearts are going to change..nothing of that kind (will happen)”.
Mr. Gandhi had got the madness in him; well let him be satisfied by this kind of a system. Give the untouchables the right to vote, give them a population representation ratio so that the weightage would be in terms of votes not in terms of representatives so that Gandhi and others may not complain that Ramsay MacDonald accepted. The award was really my suggestion. I wrote to him a letter from Naples this is what I like him to do so that there may be no trouble……exactly what he did. He gave us a separate electorate and also a vote in the general electorate. Gandhi didn’t want that we should send our two representatives therefore he didn’t want the separate electorate part of the award and went on fast.
Then they all came to me… [………Well]. The British government said ‘If he agrees to abandon the award we have no objection. But we can’t abandon the award ourselves. We have given the award we have taken all things into consideration, we think this is the best system. You have to read Ramsay MacDonald’s letter, it is a very clear statement: “We haven’t done anything to aggravate the separation in fact we are trying to bridge it up by bringing two sections together in a common electoral role” but Gandhi’s object was we should not get a free independent representation. Therefore he said no representation……. not to be given to us.. that’s what his stand was in the Round Table Conference.
He said I recognise only three communities, namely Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. These are the only three communities that will have a political recognition in the constitution. But the Christians or the Anglo-Indians or the Scheduled Castes will have no place in the constitution. They must merge themselves in the general community, that was the stand (on which) he acted. Well, all his friends, I know, were asking him how foolish was his attitude; his own friends had quarrelled with him on this subject. If you are prepared to give special representations to the Sikhs and Muslims one thousand times superior in strength and political and economic stamina how can you deny it to the Scheduled Castes…..
He always used to say you don’t understand our problem, that’s all he was saying. Alexander even, (who) was a great friend of his, had a serious quarrel with him as he told me. A Frenchwoman who his disciple, I forget her name now, she also had a great quarrel with him. We don’t understand this attitude, either you say we won’t give anything to anybody..let there be just a common role, then we can understand that is a democratic thing! (You) go on saying you will give it to the Muslims and you give it to the Sikhs but not to the Scheduled Castes it seems absurd, he could give no answer.
We suggested this method. He also didn’t [……] in the first, begging, when he wrote a letter, Mr Ramsay MacDonald said no. The Scheduled Castes should have nothing, no representation. Then his own friend said to him [……] nobody (was) supportive in this matter.
Malaviya and others came to me and said: Well, could you not help us to solve this problem? I said well, I don’t want to solve this problem by sacrificing what we have been able to get from the British premier.
BBC: So you went to……
BRA: I suggested alternative formula that was “I am not prepared to give up the separate electorate but am prepared to modify the things”. In this way, namely, that the candidates who would be standing in the final election on behalf of the Scheduled Castes should be first elected by the Scheduled Castes themselves, sort of a primary election, and they should elect four people and the four then should stand in the general electorate. Let the best one come. So that we get some assurance! ….. [There] you don’t put up your own nominees [there] we do get people who will express our voice in the parliament that Mr. Gandhi had to accept, so he accepted that. Of course we had the benefit of it only in one election in 1937. There you will see the federation swept the poll Gandhi was not able to get a single candidate of his party elected.
BBC: Did he… did he bargain very hard at the end of his fast?
BRA: Oh! Of course, he bargained and bargained I said nothing going…“I am prepared to save your life provided you do not make hard terms. But I am not going to save your life at the cost of life of my people” [this too my…. I have…] How much I have laboured and all these I know very well. I am not going to satisfy your whim. Sacrifice our people’s interest just for the sake of satisfying his whim. He had a whimsy. How can one day’s common election alter the situation! Simply cannot alter the situation.
BBC: Really he was [……] He worked entirely as a politician.
BRA: As a politician, he was never a Mahatma! I refused to call him Mahatma. I never in my life called him Mahatma. He doesn’t deserve that title not even from the point of view of his morality!
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