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The Poona Pact of 1932 was a negotiated settlement between Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar that significantly shaped the political representation of the depressed classes, now known as Scheduled Castes (SC). The Poona Pact was an agreement between Hindus and the Depressed Classes and was signed by 23 people including Madan Mohan Malaviya, on behalf of Hindus and Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar on behalf of The Depressed Classes.[1]


The backdrop of the Poona Pact can be traced to the Communal Award of August 1932, which reserved 71 seats in the central legislature for the depressed classes. The Poona Pact was resulted following the separate electorates proposed by British Government under Communal Award for the Depressed Classes, Muslims, Sikhs, Indian Christians and others in second round table conference. Gandhi disagreed with separate electorate for the Depressed Classes[2] and not for other groups. He began his fast unto death,[3] vehemently opposing this award, viewing it as a British attempt to divide Hindus.

Negotiations and Compromises

As tensions escalated, negotiations between Gandhi and Ambedkar became inevitable. The crux of the disagreement was Ambedkar's demand for separate electorates for the depressed classes, a proposition Gandhi vehemently opposed. Gandhi's resistance stemmed from his belief that such separation would perpetuate divisions within Hindu society.[1]

The turning point came on September 24, 1932, when the Poona Pact was signed by 23 representatives, including Madan Mohan Malaviya on behalf of Hindus, and Gandhi and Ambedkar representing the depressed classes. The Pact deviated from the Communal Award by allocating 148 seats instead of the originally allotted 80 for the depressed classes in legislative assemblies.[1]

Although Ambedkar was in favor of communal awards, he agreed to sign The Poona Pact. The Poona Pact was signed at 5 pm on 24 September 1932 at Yerwada Central Jail in Poona, India. Gandhi was not one of the signatories of the Poona Pact, but his son, Devdas Gandhi, did sign the pact.[4]

Gandhi, then imprisoned by the British, had embarked on a fast unto death to protest against the decision made by British prime minister Ramsay MacDonald, responding to arguments made by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar in the Round Table Conferences, to give separate electorates to depressed classes for the election of members of provincial legislative assemblies in British India. He wrote that separate electorates would "vivisect and disrupt" Hinduism. Ambedkar, for his part, argued that upper-caste reformers could not represent the depressed classes and that they needed their own leaders.[5]

The pact finally settled upon 147 electoral seats.[6] Nearly twice as many seats were reserved for Depressed Classes under the Poona Pact than what had been offered by MacDonald's Separate Electorate. 8 January 1933 was observed as 'Temple Entry Day'.

Provisions of the Poona Pact (1932)

The Poona Pact of 1932, a pivotal agreement between Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, laid down crucial provisions shaping the political representation of the Depressed Classes, now referred to as Scheduled Castes. The pact introduced a unique two-tier electoral system, altering the dynamics of elections in both provincial and central legislatures.[7]

Reserved Seats

The agreement stipulated the allocation of reserved seats for the Depressed Classes from the general electorate across various provinces. The distribution was as follows:

These numbers were determined based on the total strength of the Provincial Councils outlined in Ramsay MacDonald's decision.

Joint Electorates and Primary Elections

Elections to these reserved seats were to be conducted through joint electorates, with a unique procedural difference. All members of the Depressed Classes listed in the general electoral roll of a constituency would collectively form an electoral college.[8] This electoral college would then choose a panel of four candidates for each reserved seat through a single vote method. The top four candidates in the primary elections would become the final candidates for the general electorate's consideration.[9]

The same principle of joint electorates and primary elections applied to the representation of the Depressed Classes in the Central Legislature. In this context, 18% of the seats allotted to the general electorate for British India in the Central Legislature were reserved for the Depressed Classes.[7]

Duration and Termination

A significant point of contention during the negotiations was the duration of the primary election system and reserved seats. Ambedkar proposed automatic termination after a decade, with reserved seats subject to a referendum after 15 years. Gandhi suggested a shorter five-year referendum timeline.[10] The agreed-upon compromise stated that the system of primary elections for panel candidates would conclude after the first ten years, unless terminated earlier by mutual agreement between the communities involved in the settlement.[9]

Franchise and Non-Discrimination

The pact ensured that the franchise for the Depressed Classes in the Central and Provincial Legislatures aligned with the recommendations of the Lothian Committee Report.[11] Importantly, it guaranteed that no disabilities would be attached to individuals based on their membership in the Depressed Classes concerning elections to local bodies or appointments to public services. Efforts were to be made to secure fair representation for the Depressed Classes in these realms, with consideration for educational qualifications.[7]

Educational Facilities

In every province, a portion of the educational grant was earmarked to provide adequate educational facilities specifically for members of the Depressed Classes.[9]

Duration and Flexibility

The system of representation through reserved seats and primary elections would persist until otherwise determined by mutual agreement between the concerned communities. The provision aimed to maintain flexibility for potential adjustments based on evolving circumstances or consensus among the involved parties.[9]

Impact and legacy

The Poona Pact represented a clash between two contrasting views: Gandhi's emphasis on caste reform through social and spiritual means and Ambedkar's insistence on addressing caste as a political issue. Ambedkar argued that political democracy would be meaningless without the equal participation of the depressed classes.[10] The legacy of the Poona Pact endures in India's political landscape. The reserved seats in Parliament and assemblies, allocated based on the population of SCs, aim to provide political representation. However, the current system has faced criticism for diluting the influence of Dalit MPs, as they often represent constituencies where Dalits are a minority.[7]

Controversies and Perspectives

Controversies surrounding the Poona Pact include debates about whether Gandhi coerced Ambedkar into the agreement. Scholars like Perry Anderson and Arundhati Roy have raised questions about the dynamics of the negotiations. However, it is important to recognize that the Pact solidified Ambedkar's leadership of the depressed classes and made them a formidable political force.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "gandhi-ambedkar-and-the-1932-poona-pact".
  2. ^ "Communal Award", Wikipedia, 8 October 2023, retrieved 25 January 2024
  3. ^ "The Epic Fast" (PDF).
  4. ^ Guha, Ramachandra (2018). Gandhi: The Years that Changed the World 1915-1948. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-141-04423-1.
  5. ^ Guha, Ramachandra (2018). Gandhi: The Years that Changed the World 1915-1948. Penguin. pp. 428–29. ISBN 978-0-141-04423-1.
  6. ^ "Original text of the Poona pact". Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  7. ^ a b c d Balakrishnan, Uday (13 April 2020). "Ambedkar and the Poona Pact". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 30 January 2024.
  8. ^ Kumar, Ravinder (June 1985). "Gandhi, Ambedkar and the Poona pact, 1932". South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies. 8 (1–2): 87–101. doi:10.1080/00856408508723068. ISSN 0085-6401.
  9. ^ a b c d "Poona Pact 1932 (B.R Ambedkar and M.K Gandhi) Archives". Constitution of India. Retrieved 30 January 2024.
  10. ^ a b Basu, Swaraj (2000). "The Poona Pact and the Issue of Dalit Representation". Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. 61: 986–998. ISSN 2249-1937.
  11. ^ Kumar, Ravinder (June 1985). "Gandhi, Ambedkar and the Poona pact, 1932". South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies. 8 (1–2): 87–101. doi:10.1080/00856408508723068. ISSN 0085-6401.