Poona Pact of September 1932
Poona Pact was an agreement between Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi signed on September 24, 1932. This pact ended Gandhi’s fast unto death.
The British Government had announced Communal Award, a proposal on minority representation in the provincial legislatures of India. It was about to declare the depressed classes / dalits or untouchables as minorities. The award would result in separate electorates for Muslims, Europeans, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Depressed classes etc. Gandhi perceived the separate electorates for depressed classes as an attempt to divide Hindu society. He wrote a letter to Prime Minister McDonald to take back the proposal of separate electorates for depressed classes and warned of a fast unto death.
On 20 September 1932, Gandhi sat on Fast unto Death in Yarawada Jail where he was lodged at that time. A negotiation went on Hindu leaders and Dr. Ambedkar and resulted in this agreement. It was also signed by Madan Mohan Malviya and some other leaders.
The essence of Poona Pact was more seats to depressed classes in return for their acceptance to continuance of joint electorate. Joint electorate meant that all the members of the depressed classes registered in the general electoral roll in a constituency would form an electoral college which would elect a panel of four candidates belonging to the depressed classes of the reserved seats by the method of the single vote. The four members getting the highest number of votes in such primary election would be candidates for each such reserved seats by the general electorate.
- While communal award promised 71 seats to depressed classes, the Poona Pact asked for allocation of 148 seats to depressed classes.
- Certain percentage of the seats allotted to the general non-Muslim electorate would be reserved for the depressed classes.
- Congress agreed that adequate representation would be given to the depressed classes in the civil services.
- The depressed classes agreed to adhere to the principle of Joint Electorate.
The seats reserved for the Depressed Classes out of the general Non-Muhammaden seats in the provincial legislatures were as follows:
- Madras 30
- Bombay plus Sind: 15
- Punjab : 8
- Bihar & Orissa : 18
- Central Provinces: 20
- Assam : 7
- Bengal : 30
- United provinces : 20
The Poona pact had both short term and long term outcomes. Gandhi was able to persuade the Dalit leaders to discard separate electorates but then this pact was more generous to depressed classes in comparison to the communal award. From the jail itself, Gandhi lunched the All India Untouchability League (1932), and virtually retired from active politics after coming out of jail to pursue the cause of untouchability removal. For depressed classes, this pact brought double the number of seats reserved for them.
However, biggest gainers were British. Their intention was to deviate the leaders from CDM and sustain dissension amongst Hindus, and they were fairly successful in that. In this process, the larger issues fade into the background for the time being. The common man was confused with the compromise formula of Poona pact. They thought that the agreement on communal award is the end of the movement, and thus brought a halt in the pace of the movement.