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Poona Pact : What Is Poona Pact 24, September ,1932 ? | INDIA | granting new rights to untouchables

Poona Pact was an agreement between M.K.Gandhi and Dr.B.R.Ambedkar for granting new rights to untouchables (low-caste Hindu groups)

Poona Pact : What Is Poona Pact  24, September ,1932 ? |  INDIA | An agreement between Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi

The pact, signed at Poona (now Pune, Maharashtra)

Poona Pact, (Sept. 24, 1932), agreement between Hindu leaders in India granting new rights to untouchables (low-caste Hindu groups). The pact, signed at Poona (now Pune, Maharashtra), resulted from the communal award of Aug. 4, 1932, made by the British government on the failure of the India parties to agree, which allotted seats in the various legislatures of India to the different communities. Mahatma Gandhi objected to the provision of separate electorates for the Scheduled (formerly “untouchable”) Castes, which in his view separated them from the whole Hindu community. Though in prison, Gandhi announced a fast unto death, which he began on September 18.

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the untouchable leader, who felt that his group’s special interests might be advanced by the government’s system, resisted concessions until Gandhi was near death. He and the Hindu leaders then agreed to the pact, which withdrew separate electorates but gave increased representation to the Scheduled Castes for a 10-year period. Ambedkar complained of blackmail, but the pact marked the start of movement against untouchability within the Indian nationalist movement.

Poona Pact, September 24, 1932
Poona Pact, September 24, 1932

Background 

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.

Key Points


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

Key outcomes


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.

Ambedkar was present in Poona Pact conference held on 24 september 1932 , representing the untouchable majority.

Ambedkar was present in Poona Pact conference held on 24 september 1932 , representing the untouchable majority.
"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."  -Poona Pact, September 24, 1932

 "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 endeavor shall be made to secure a fair representation of the Depressed Classes in these respects..." - Poona Pact, Section 8 of Central Legislature, 1932

"We must accept that in the country there are two groups belonging to two different ideologies and act accordingly, and I should get my compensation. I also want that a clear understanding should be arrived at which would recompense me in other respects also. The decision of the Government gives me seventy-one seats and I feel that is a just, reasonable and definite allocation." -B.R. Ambedkar, September 22, 1932

"From 1919, when Ambedkar gave evidence to the Southborough Committee (responsible for redefining the electoral franchise in the framework of the constitutional reforms of the Government of India Act of 1919), up to 1927, when the British authorities appointed him to the Bombay Legislative Council, Ambedkar steadily developed a case for separate electoral systems, in which only the members of the ’’depressed classes’’ (the term used at this time to designate the people called ’’untouchables’’) would vote for candidates who themselves would come only from the same ’’depressed classes’’. - Jules Naudet, Ambedkar and the Critique of Society, 2005 

"The showdown lasted several days. Ambedkar was finally forced to give in and to accept Gandhi’s alternative proposal of a system of reserved seats in which only members of the ’’depressed classes’’ would be elected, but by an electoral college open to all electors in the constituency. Yet in no constituency did the ’’depressed classes’’ amount to a majority." - Jules Naudet, Ambedkar and the Critique of Caste Society, 2005
  
’’[The untouchables] do not see that a separate electorate will create the kind of divisions among the Hindus that will lead to a bloodbath." -M.K. Gandhi

"In the light of these circumstances, it cannot but appear that the Poona Pact was only the first blow inflicted upon the untouchables and the Hindus who disliked it were bent on inflicting on it other blows as and when circumstances gave them the occasion to do so."- Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, States and Minorities, 1947



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