The Poona Pact signed between Mahatma Gandhi and Dr BhimRao Ambedkar is still considered a very controversial event in Indian history. Who was right and who was not, and what would have happened if the pact was not made, these questions will linger in the minds of historians for years to come.
It all started back in 1909, when the All India Muslim League, took a proposal to the British general. According to them, Muslim majority areas should get a separate electoral, as they had fewer representatives in governing councils of India. Separate electoral means that in Muslim majority areas only Muslim candidates can participate elections and only the Muslim population would get to vote.
The British council agreed to this. In 1919, this decision was extended to the likes of Sikhs, Anglo-Indians, and Christians as well.
In 1930, Dr BhimRao Ambedkar, who was a popular leader of the depressed class proposed separate electoral for the depressed class as well. To solidify his chances, he even supported the Simon commission. He was invited to the three round table conference as a representative of the depressed class. Through these meetings, he convinced the British council that the depressed class is politically less represented in the governing of India. They were also economically weaker and were not given the right to education. The British council agreed to add the depressed class as a beneficiary of separate electoral.
When this news reached India, Gandhi Ji was in Poona jail for his involvement in the civil disobedience movement. He was against the idea of a separate electoral for depressed India. He sent some leaders on his behalf to talk to B.R. Ambedkar but Ambedkar was firm on his decision.
Mahatma Gandhi Ji started a fast unto death from jail until Ambedkar did not meet his demand. Many national leaders and huge masses of people requested Ambedkar to come to terms with Gandhi Ji. At the age of 63, Gandhi Ji’s health was declining rapidly.
After one month of fast, Ambedkar visited Gandhi Ji. Both of them had a long talk about their ideas for the upliftment of depressed classes. Ambedkar’s approach was constitutional and Gandhi’s approach was social. Ambedkar wanted constitutional support for upliftment while Gandhi wanted to bring social reforms. According to Gandhi social reforms would outlive laws and bills.
Finally, they agreed on a common pact known as the Poona Pact. In this pact, the number of reserved seats for depressed classes doubled, benefiting Ambedkar’s cause. Separate electoral was changed to joint electoral, supporting Gandhi’s idea. Now, both depressed and upper caste can jointly vote for their constituency.
Fortunately, Gandhi Ji correctly estimated the events of the future. The communities with separate electors began drifting more and more apart from the Indian identity. The Muslim majority demanded and achieved two separate nations, Pakistan and Bangladesh, after the independence. A lot of bloodshed happened in the process of separation and division of people from one nation to another.
Gandhi Ji, as promised, worked intensively on bringing social reforms to the depressed class. He gave them a new identity as Harijans, meaning people of God. His works against untouchability and caste discrimination planted the seeds of modern Indian society. Today the darkness of discrimination exists only in places where the light of education is yet to reach.