The Civil Disobedience Movement, Round Table Conferences, Gandhi-Irwin Pact, Communal Award,Poona Pact

The Civil Disobedience Movement, The Round Table Conferences,Gandhi-Irwin Pact, Communal Award,Poona Pact

The Civil Disobedience Movement

Purna Swaraj:

  • Before 1930, few Indian Political parties had openly embraced the goal of political independence from the United Kingdom. The All India Home Rule League had been advocating Home Rule for India: dominion status within the British Empire, as granted to Australia, Canada, the Irish Free State, Newfoundland, New Zealand, and South Africa. The All India Muslim League favoured dominion status as well, and opposed calls for outright Indian independence. The Indian Liberal Party, by far the most pro-British, explicitly opposed India’s independence and even dominion status if it weakened India’s links with the British Empire.
  • A Congress leader and famous poet Hasrat Mohani was the first activist to demand complete independence (Poorna Swaraj) from the British in 1921 from an All-India Congress Forum.
  • Veteran Congress leaders such as Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Aurobindo and Bipin Chandra Pal had also advocated explicit Indian independence from the Empire.
  • For youth Jawaharlal Nehru promoted Hindustan Sewa Dal and for radical congressman, asking for independence, in Dec 1927 he founded the Republican Party within Congress.
  • In August 1928, the “Independence of India League” was formed with Jawahar Lal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose as Secretaries and S. Srinivasa Iyengar as President
  • The Nehru Report(1928) demanded that India be granted self-government under the dominion status within the Empire. Younger nationalist leaders like Subhas Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru (Motilal Nehru’s son) demanded that the Congress resolve to make a complete and explicit break from all ties with the British.
  • In December 1928, Congress held in Calcutta, Mohandas Gandhi proposed a resolution that called for the British to grant dominion status to India within two years. If the British failed to meet the deadline, the Congress would call upon all Indians to fight for complete independence. Bose and Nehru objected to the time given to the British – they pressed Gandhi to demand immediate actions from the British. Gandhi brokered a further compromise by reducing the time given from two years to one. Jawaharlal Nehru voted for the new resolution, while Subhash Bose told his supporters that he would not oppose the resolution, and abstained from voting himself.
  • On 31 October 1929, the Viceroy of India, Lord Irwin announced that the government would meet with Indian representatives in London for a Round Table Conference. To facilitate Indian participation, Irwin met with Mohandas Gandhi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and out-going Congress President Motilal Nehru to discuss the meeting. Gandhi asked Irwin if the conference would proceed on the basis of dominion status and Irwin said he could not assure that, resulting in the end of the meeting.
  • Lahore Session of Congress (Dec. 1929): It  which was presided by Jawahar Lal Nehru. and veteran leaders like C. Rajagopalachari and Vallabhbhai Patel returned to the Congress Working Committee. The most land mark resolution was that the Nehru Committee Report had now lapsed and Dominion status will not be acceptable. A Poorna Swarajya Resolution was passed and it was Swarajya means complete Independence. In pursuance with this resolution, the Central and Provincial Legislatures had to be boycotted completely and all the future elections were also to be boycotted. A Programme of the Civil Disobedience was to be launched.
  • On the midnight of December 31, 1929 and January 1, 1930, the deadline of the Nehru Committee report expired and Jawahar Lal Nehru unfurled the tricolour flag of India’s independence on the bank of River Ravi in Lahore.
  • The Congress working committee met on January 2, 1930 and on that day it was decided that the January 26, 1930 should be observed as Poorna Swarajya Day.The Indian National Congress publicly issued the Declaration of Independence, or Purna Swaraj, on 26 January 1930.
  • The Congress regularly observed 26 January as the Independence Day of India – commemorating those who campaigned for Indian independence. In 1947, the British agreed to transfer power and political independence to India, and 15 August became the official Independence Day. However, the new Constitution of India, as drafted and approved by the Constituent Assembly of India, was mandated to take effect on 26 January 1950, to commemorate the 1930 declaration.

Why Salt?

  • The Congress Working Committee gave Gandhi the responsibility for organising the first act of civil disobedience, Gandhi’s plan was to begin civil disobedience with a satyagraha aimed at the British salt tax. The 1882 Salt Act gave the British a monopoly on the collection and manufacture of salt, limiting its handling to government salt depots and levying a salt tax.Violation of the Salt Act was a criminal offence. Even though salt was freely available to those living on the coast (by evaporation of sea water), Indians were forced to purchase it from the colonial government.
  • Initially, Gandhi’s choice of the salt tax was met with incredulity by the Working Committee of the Congress,Jawaharlal Nehru and Dibyalochan Sahoo were ambivalent; Sardar Patel suggested a land revenue boycott instead.
  • The British establishment too was not disturbed by these plans of resistance against the salt tax. The Viceroy himself, Lord Irwin, did not take the threat of a salt protest seriously, writing to London, “At present the prospect of a salt campaign does not keep me awake at night.”
  • Gandhi had sound reasons for his decision. The salt tax was a deeply symbolic choice, since salt was used by nearly everyone in India. An item of daily use could resonate more with all classes of citizens than an abstract demand for greater political rights.
  • The salt tax represented 8.2% of the British Raj tax revenue, and hurt the poorest Indians the most significantly.
  • Explaining his choice, Gandhi said, “Next to air and water, salt is perhaps the greatest necessity of life.”
  • Gandhi felt that this protest would dramatise Purna Swaraj in a way that was meaningful to the lowliest Indians. He also reasoned that it would build unity between Hindus and Muslims by fighting a wrong that touched them equally.

Dandi March (Salt Satyagraha) (March 12 – April 6, 1930)

  • On March 2, 1930, Gandhi informed the viceroy of his plan of action. According to this plan (few realised its significance when it was first announced), Gandhi, along with a band of seventy-eight members of Sabarmati Ashram, was to march from his headquarters in Ahmedabad through the villages of Gujarat for 240 miles.
  • On reaching the coast at Dandi, the salt law was to be violated by collecting salt from the beach.
  • Even before the proposed march began, thousands thronged to the ashram. Gandhi gave the following directions for future action:
  1. Wherever possible civil disobedience of the salt law should be started.
  2. Foreign liquor and cloth shops can be picketed.
  3. We can refuse to pay taxes if we have the requisite strength.
  4. Lawyers can give up practice.
  5. Public can boycott law courts by refraining from litigation.
  6. Government servants can resign from their posts.
  7.  All these should be subject to one condition—truth and non-violence as means to attain swaraj should be faithfully adhered to.
  8. Local leaders should be obeyed after Gandhi’s arrest.
  • The historic march, marking the launch of the Civil Disobedience Movement, began on March 12, and Gandhi broke the salt law by picking up a handful of salt at Dandi on April 6.
  • The violation of the law was seen as a symbol of the Indian people’s resolve not to live under British-made laws and therefore under British rule. The march, its progress and its impact on the people was well covered by newspapers. In Gujarat, 300 village officials resigned in answer to Gandhi’s appeal.
  • Gandhi created a temporary ashram near Dandi. From there, he urged women followers in Bombay (now Mumbai) to picket liquor shops and foreign cloth. He said that “a bonfire should be made of foreign cloth. Schools and colleges should become empty.”

Spread of Salt Disobedience:

  • Once the way was cleared by Gandhi’s ritual at Dandi, defiance of the salt laws started all over the country.
  • In Tamil Nadu, C. Rajagopalachari led a march from Tiruchirapally to Vedaranniyam.
  • In Malabar, K. Kelappan led a march from Calicut to Poyannur.
  • In Assam, satyagrahis walked from Sylhet to Noakhali (Bengal) to make salt.
  • In Andhra, a number of sibirams (camps) came up in different districts as headquarters of salt Satyagraha.
  • Nehru’s arrest in April 1930 for defiance of the salt law evoked huge demonstrations in Madras, Calcutta and Karachi. Gandhi’s arrest came on May 4, 1930 when he had announced that he would lead a raid on Dharsana Salt Works on the west coast. Gandhi’s arrest was followed by massive protests in Bombay, Delhi, and Calcutta and in Sholapur, where the response was the fiercest.

After Gandhi’s arrest, the CWC sanctioned:

  1. Non-payment of revenue in Ryotwari areas;
  2. No-chowkidara-tax campaign in zamindari areas; and
  3. Violation of forest laws in the Central Provinces.

Other Forms of Upsurge:


  • Surya Sen’s Chittagong Revolt Group carried out a raid on two armouries and declared the establishment of a provisional government.


  • Here, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan’s educational and social reform work among the Pathans had politicised them. Gaffar Khan, also called Badshah Khan and Frontier Gandhi, had started the first Pushto political monthly Pukhtoon and had organised a volunteer brigade ‘Khudai Khidmatgars’, popularly known as the ‘Red-Shirts’, who were pledged to the freedom struggle and non-violence.
  • On April 23, 1930, the arrest of Congress leaders in the NWFP led to mass demonstrations in Peshawar which was virtually in the hands of the crowds for more than a week till order was restored on May 4.
  • This was followed by a reign of terror and martial law. It was here that a section of Garhwal Rifles soldiers refused to fire on an unarmed crowd. This upsurge in a province with 92 per cent Muslim population left the British Government nervous.


  • This industrial town of southern Maharashtra saw the fiercest response to Gandhi’s arrest. Textile workers went on a strike from May 7 and along with other residents burnt liquor shops and other symbols of government authority such as railway stations, police stations, municipal buildings, law courts, etc. The activists established a virtual parallel government which could only be dislodged with martial law after May 16


  • On May 21, 1930, Sarojini Naidu, Imam Sahib and Manilal (Gandhi’s son) took up the unfinished task of leading a raid on Dharsana Salt Works. The unarmed and peaceful crowd was met with a brutal lathicharge which left 2 dead and 320 injured.
  • This new form of salt Satyagraha was eagerly adopted by people in Wadala (Bombay), Karnataka (Sanikatta Salt Works), Andhra, Midnapore, Balasore, Puri and Cuttack.


  • A campaign was organised for refusal to pay chowkidara tax and a call was given for resignation of chowkidars and influential members of chowkidari panchayat who appointed these chowkidars.
  • This campaign was parti­cularly successful in Monghyr, Saran and Bhagalpur. The Government retaliated with beatings, torture and confiscation of property.


  • Anti-chowkidara tax and anti-union-board tax campaign here was met with repression and confiscation of property.


  • The impact was felt in Anand, Borsad and Nadiad areas in Kheda district, Bardoli in Surat district and Jambusar in Bharuch district. A determined no-tax movement was organised here which included refusal to pay land revenue.
  • Villagers crossed the border into neighbouring princely states (such as Baroda) with their families and belongings and camped in the open for months to evade police repression. The police retaliated by destroying their property and confiscating their land.

Maharashtra, Karnataka, Central Provinces:

  • These areas saw defiance of forest laws such as grazing and timber restrictions and public sale of illegally acquired forest produce.


  • A powerful agitation was organised against the infamous ‘Cunningham circular’ which forced parents, guardians and students to furnish assurances of good bahaviour.

United Provinces:

  • A no-revenue campaign was organised; a call was given to Zamindars to refuse to pay revenue to the Government. Under a no-rent campaign, a call was given to tenants against Zamindars.
  • Since most of the Zamindars were loyalists, the campaign became virtually a no-rent campaign. The activity picked up speed in October 1930, especially in Agra and Rai Bareilly.

Manipur and Nagaland:

  • These areas took a brave part in the movement. At the young age of thirteen, Rani Gaidinliu of Nagaland raised the banner of revolt against foreign rule. She was captured in 1932 and sentenced to life imprisonment.
  • Gaidinliu (1915–1993) was a Naga spiritual and political leader who led a revolt against British rule in India. At the age of 13, she joined the Heraka religious movement of her cousin Haipou Jadonang. The movement later turned into a political movement seeking to drive out the British from Manipur and the surrounding Naga areas. Within the Heraka cult, she came to be considered an incarnation of the goddess Cherachamdinliu.Gaidinliu was arrested in 1932 at the age of 16, and was sentenced to life imprisonment by the British rulers. Jawaharlal Nehru met her at Shillong Jail in 1937, and promised to pursue her release. Nehru gave her the title of “Rani”, and she gained local popularity as Rani Gaidinliu.She was released in 1947 after India’s independence, and continued to work for the upliftment of her people. An advocate of the ancestral Naga religious practices, she staunchly resisted the conversion of Nagas to Christianity. She was honoured as a freedom fighter and was awarded a Padma Bhushan by the Government of India.

  • Mobilisation of masses was also carried out through prabhat pheries, vanar senas, manjari senas, secret patrikas and magic lantern shows.

Impact of Agitation:

  1. Imports of foreign cloth and other items fell.
  2. Government income from liquor, excise and land revenue fell.
  3. Elections to Legislative Assembly were largely boycotted.

Extent of Mass Participation:

Several sections of the population participated in the movement.


  • Gandhi had specially asked women to play a leading part in the movement. Soon, they became a familiar sight, picketing outside liquor shops, opium dens and shops selling foreign cloth.
  • For Indian women, the movement was the most liberating experience and can truly be said to have marked their entry into the public sphere.


  • Along with women, students and youth played the most prominent part in boycott of foreign cloth and liquor.


  • The Muslim participation was nowhere near the 1920-22 level because of appeals by Muslim leaders to Muslim masses to stay away from the movement and because of active government encouragement to communal dissension. Still, some areas such as the NWFP saw an overwhelming participation.
  • Middle class Muslim participation was quite significant in Senhatta, Tripura, Gaibandha, Bagura and Noakhali. In Dacca, Muslim leaders, shopkeepers, lower class people and upper class women were active. The Muslim weaving community in Bihar, Delhi and Lucknow were also effectively mobilised.

Merchants and Petty Traders:

  • They were very enthusiastic. Traders’ associations and commercial bodies were active in implementing the boycott, especially in Tamil Nadu and Punjab.


  • Tribals were active participants in Central Provinces, Maharashtra and Karnataka.


  • The workers participated in Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, Sholapur, etc.
  • Peasants were active in UP, Bihar and Gujarat.

Government Response—Efforts for Truce:

  • The Government’s attitude throughout 1930 was ambivalent; it was puzzled and perplexed. It faced the classic dilemma of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t—if force was applied, the Congress cried ‘repression’, and if little was done, the Congress cried ‘victory’. Either way the hegemony of the Government was eroded. Even Gandhi’s arrest came after much vacillation.
  • But once the repression began, the ordinan­ces banning civil liberties were freely used, including gagging of the press. Provincial governments were given freedom to ban civil disobedience organisations. The CWC was, however, not declared illegal till June. Lathi charge and firing on unarmed crowds left several killed and wounded, while 90,000 satyagrahis including Gandhi and other Congress leaders were imprisoned.
  • The government repression and publication of the Simon Commission Report, which contained no mention of dominion status and was in other ways also a regressive document, further upset even moderate political opinion.
  • In July 1930 the viceroy suggested a round table conference (RTC) and reiterated the goal of dominion status. He also accepted the suggestion that Tej Bahadur Sapru and M.R. Jayakar be allowed to explore the possibility of peace between the Congress and the Government.
  • In August 1930 Motilal and Jawaharlal Nehru were taken to Yeravada Jail to meet Gandhi and discuss the possibility of a settlement.
  • The Nehrus and Gandhi unequivocally reiterated the demands of:
  1. Right of secession from Britain;
  2. Complete national government with control over defence and finance; and
  3. An independent tribunal to settle Britain’s financial claims.

Talks broke down at this point.

The Round Table Conferences:

  • The three Round Table Conferences of 1930–32 were a series of conferences organized by the British Government to discuss constitutional reforms in India. They were conducted as per the recommendation by the report submitted by the Simon Commission in May 1930.
  • Before this, the viceroy Lord Irwin announced, on behalf of the Government of England, on October 1929, a vague offer of ‘dominion status’ for India in an unspecified future and a Round Table Conference to discuss a future constitution.
  • Congress leaders were not satisfied with the limited purpose and scope of the proposed Round Table Conference. What they really wanted was the convening of a Constituent Assembly.
    • However, an interview took place between the Viceroy and Gandhiji but led to no fruitful agreement, and the Congress meeting at Lahore under the Presidentship of Jawaharlal Nehru, resolved to boycott the Round Table Conference, declared the nation’s aim to win complete independence and authorised the All India Congress Committee to launch a Civil Disobedience Movement, which was actually started in March 1930.

First Round Table Conference (November 1930 – January 1931)::

  • The Round Table Conference was opened officially by Lord Irwin on November 12, 1930 at London and chaired by the British Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald.
    • This was the first ever conference arranged between the British and the Indians as equals.
    • It was boycotted by the Congress.
  • Here the nominated representatives of British India and princely states discussed the need for a federal government of India free of British control.
  • The Congress leaders being behind the prison bars, ‘safe’ men of other parties, communities and services were nominated by the Government to represent India, as well as men like Sir Mirza Ismail, Sir Akbar Hydari and the Maharaja of Bikaner to represent the Indian States.
  • The three British political parties were represented by sixteen delegates.
    • There were fifty-seven political leaders from British India and sixteen delegates from the princely states. In total 89 delegates from India attended the Conference.
  • While the Congress and most business leaders boycotted the First RTC, the Muslim League, the Hindu Mahasabha, the Liberals and princes attended it. Many of Congress leaders were in jail for their participation in Civil Disobedience Movement.
  • Among leader of British-Indian delegation were: Muslims: Aga Khan III, Maulana Mohammad Ali, Muhammad Shafi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, etc, Hindus: B. S. Moonje, M. R. Jayakar,           Justice Party: Arcot Ramasamy Mudaliar, Liberals:, Tej Bahadur Sapru,                      Depressed Classes: B. R. Ambedkar, Rettamalai Srinivasan Women: Begum Jahanara Shahnawaz, Radhabai Subbarayan.
  • The idea of an All-India Federation was moved to the centre of discussion.
    • All the groups attending the conference supported this concept.
  • The responsibility of the executive to the legislature was discussed, and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar demanded a separate electorate for the so-called Untouchables.
  • After lengthy discussions, three basic principles were agreed to by the Conference, and accepted by the British Government:
    • the form of the new Government of India was to be an All India Federation;
    • the Federal Government, subject to some reservations would be responsible to the Federal Legislature, and
    • the Provinces were to enjoy autonomy.
  • On the conclusion of the conference, Ramsay Macdonald, the British Prime Minister, made the momentous declaration:
    • “The view of His majesty’s Government is that responsibility for the Government of India should be placed upon legislatures, Central and Provincial, with such provisions as may be considered necessary…and also with guarantees…required by minorities.”
  • Virtually every delegate reiterated that a constitutional discussion to which the Congress was not a party was meaningless. Also, at the conference, the British Prime Minister hinted at an olive branch to the Congress and expressed the hope that the Congress would attend the next RTC.
  • So, the First Round Table Conference could not get any fruitful result due to the absence of Congress and as the Conservative-dominated National government in power in London was not in a mood to take the federal idea seriously.
    • The absence of Congress representation in the First Round Table Conference led to the decision to have a second one in which, it was hoped, that Congress representatives would take part.
    • Efforts in that direction by Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru and Sir MLR. Jayakar led to the famous Gandhi Irwin Pact, being signed in March 1931.

Gandhi-Irwin Pact:

  • The Government now started to convince Congress to participate in the Second Round Table Conference in 1931.
    • On January 25, 1931 Gandhi and all other members of the CWC were released unconditionally. The CWC authorised Gandhi to initiate discussions with the viceroy.
  • Finally, Gandhiji was convinced to negotiate with the Viceroy Lord Irwin.
    • So Gandhiji and Lord Irwin met on 19th February, 1931. As a result of these discussions, a pact was signed between the viceroy, representing the British Indian Government, and Gandhi, representing the Indian people, in Delhi on February 14, 1931.
    • This Delhi Pact, also known as the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, placed the Congress on an equal footing with the Government.
  • ‘Gandhi-Irwin Pact’ was endorsed by the Congress in its Karachi Session on 29th March, 1931. It also reiterated the goal of ‘Poorna Swaraj’.
  • The terms of the “Gandhi-Irwin Pact” fell manifestly short of those Gandhi prescribed as the minimum for a truce.
  • British officials were outraged by the idea of a pact with a party whose avowed purpose was the destruction of the British Raj.
    • Winston Churchill publicly expressed his disgust “…at the nauseating and humiliating spectacle of this one-time Inner Temple lawyer, now seditious fakir, striding half-naked up the steps of the Viceroy’s palace, there to negotiate and parley on equal terms with the representative of the King Emperor.”

Below were the proposed conditions:

  • Discontinuation of the civil disobedience movement by the Indian National Congress
  • Participation by the Indian National Congress in the Round Table Conference
  • Withdrawal of all ordinances issued by the British Government imposing curbs on the activities of the Indian National Congress
  • Withdrawal of all prosecutions relating to several types of offenses except those involving violence
  • Release of prisoners arrested for participating in the civil disobedience movement
  • Removal of the tax on salt, which allowed the Indians to produce, trade, and sell salt legally and for their own private use

Irwin on behalf of the Government agreed on:

  • Immediate release of all political prisoners not convicted of violence;
  • Remission of all fines not yet collected;
  • Return of all lands not yet sold to third parties;
  • Lenient treatment to those government servants who had resigned;
  • Right to make salt in coastal villages for personal consumption (not for sale);
  • Right to peaceful and non-aggressive picketing; and
  • Withdrawal of emergency ordinances.

The viceroy, however, turned down two of Gandhi’s demands:

  • Public inquiry into police excesses, and
  • Commutation of Bhagat Singh and his comrades’ death sentence to life sentence.

Gandhi on behalf of the Congress agreed:

  1. To suspend the civil disobedience movement, and
  2. To participate in the next RTC on the constitutional question around the three lynch-pins of federation, Indian responsibility, and reservations and safeguards that may be necessary in India’s interests (covering such areas as defence, external affairs, position of minorities, financial credit of India and discharge of other obligations).

Evaluation of Civil Disobedience Movement:

Was Gandhi-Irwin Pact a Retreat?

  • Gandhi’s decision to suspend the civil disobedience movement as agreed under the Gandhi-Irwin Pact was not a retreat, because:
  1. Mass movements are necessarily short-lived;
  2. Capacity of the masses to make sacrifices, unlike that of the activists, is limited; and
  3. There were signs of exhaustion after September 1930, especially among shopkeepers and merchants, who had participated so enthusiastically.
  • Gandhi’s motives in concluding a pact with the Viceroy can be best understood in terms of his technique. The Satyagraha movements were commonly described as “struggles”, “rebellions” and “wars without violence”. Owing, however, to the common connotation of these words, they seemed to lay a disproportionate emphasis on the negative aspect of the movements, namely, opposition and conflict. The object of Satyagraha was, however, not to achieve the physical elimination or moral breakdown of an adversary—but, through suffering at his hands, to initiate a psychological processes that could make it possible for minds and hearts to meet. In such a struggle, a compromise with an opponent was neither heresy nor treason, but a natural and necessary step. If it turned out that the compromise was premature and the adversary was unrepentant, nothing prevented the Satyagrahi from returning to non-violent battle.
  • No doubt, youth were disappointed: they had participated enthusiastically and wanted the world to end with a bang and not with a whimper(as J. Nehru had said).
  • Peasants of Gujarat were disappointed because their lands were not restored immediately (indeed, were restored only during the rule of the Congress ministry in the province).
  • But vast masses of people were” jubilant that the Government had to regard their movement as significant and treat their leader as an equal, and sign a pact with him. The political prisoners when released from jails were given a hero’s welcome.

Compared to Non-Cooperation Movement:

  1. The stated objective this time was complete independence and not just remedying two specific wrongs and a vaguely-worded swaraj.
  2. The methods involved violation of law from the very beginning and not just non-cooperation with foreign rule.
  3. There was a decline in forms of protests involving the intelligentsia, such as lawyers giving up practice, students giving up government schools to join national schools and colleges.
  4. Muslim participation was nowhere near the Non- Cooperation Movement level.
  5. No major labour upsurge coincided with the movement.
  6. But massive participation of peasants and business groups compensated for decline of other features.
  7. The number of those imprisoned was about three times more this time.
  8. The Congress was organisationally stronger.

Karachi Congress Session—1931:

  • In March 1931, a special session of the Congress on held at Karachi to endorse the Gandhi-Irwin or Delhi Pact.
  • Six days before the session (which was held on March 29) Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru had been executed. Throughout Gandhi’s route to Karachi, he was greeted with black flag demonstrations by the Punjab Naujawan Bharat Sabha, in protest against his failure to secure commutation of the death sentence for Bhagat and his comrades.

Congress Resolutions at Karachi:

  • While disapproving of and dissociating itself from political violence, the Congress admired the “bravery” and “sacrifice” of the three martyrs.
  • The Delhi Pact was endorsed.
  • The goal of purna swaraj was reiterated.
  • Two resolutions were adopted—one on Fundamental Rights and the other on National Economic Programme— which made the session particularly memorable.
  • The resolution on Fundamental Rights guaranteed:
  1. Free speech and free press
  2. Right to form associations
  3. Right to assemble
  4. Universal adult franchise
  5. Equal legal rights irrespective of caste, creed and sex
  6. Neutrality of state in religious matters
  7. Free and compulsory primary education
  8. Protection to culture, language, script of minorities and linguistic groups
  • The resolution on National Economic Programme included:
  1. Substantial reduction in rent and revenue
  2. Exemption from rent for uneconomic holdings
  3. Relief from agricultural indebtedness
  4. Control of usury
  5. Better conditions of work including a living wage, limited hours of work and protection of women workers
  6. Right to workers and peasants to form unions
  7. State ownership and control of key industries, mines and means of transport
  • This was the first time the Congress spelt out what swaraj would mean for the masses—”in order to end exploitation of masses, political freedom must include economic freedom of starving millions.”
  • The Karachi Resolution was to remain, in essence, the basic political and economic programme of the Congress in later years.

Second RTC (September – December 1931) and Second Civil Disobedience Movement:

  • The Second Round Table Conference, which the Congress had agreed to attend under the Delhi Pact, was held in London.
  • Gandhi was persuaded to participate in the Second Round Table Conference in September-December 1931 on the basis of three vague principles of
    • federation,
    • responsible government and
    • reservation and safeguards.
  • There were three major differences between the first and second Round Table Conferences. By the second:
    • Congress Representation:
      • The Gandhi-Irwin Pact opened the way for Congress participation in this conference. Mahatma Gandhi was invited from India and attended as the sole official Congress representative accompanied by Sarojini Naidu and also Madan Mohan Malaviya, Ghanshyam Das Birla, Muhammad Iqbal, Sir Mirza Ismail (Diwan of Mysore), S.K. Dutta and Sir Syed Ali Imam.
      • Gandhi claimed that the Congress alone represented political India; that the Untouchables were Hindus and should not be treated as a “minority”; and that there should be no separate electorates or special safeguards for Muslims or other minorities.
    • National Government:
      • two weeks earlier the Labour government in London had fallen. Ramsay MacDonald now headed a National Government dominated by the Conservative Party.
    • Financial Crisis:
      • During the conference, Britain went off the Gold Standard further distracting the National Government.
  • Not much was expected from the conference because of the following reasons.
    • The Right Wing in Britain led by Churchill strongly objected to the British Government negotiating with the Congress on an equal basis.
      • They, instead, demanded a strong government in India.
      • The Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald headed a Conservative-dominated cabinet with a weak and reactionary secretary of state, Samuel Hoare.
    • An overwhelming majority of RTC delegates were conservative, loyalist, reactionary and communal, men who had been used by the colonial government to assert that the Congress did not represent all Indians vis-a-vis imperialism, and to neutralise Gandhi and his efforts.
    • The session soon got deadlocked on the question of the minorities. Separate electorates were being demanded by the Muslims, depressed classes, Christians and Anglo-Indians. All these came together in a “Minorities’ Pact”.
      • Gandhi fought desperately against this concerted move to make all constitutional progress conditional on the solving of this issue.
    • Princes were also not as enthusiastic about a federation, especially after the possibility of the formation of a Congress government at the centre had receded after the suspension of civil disobedience movement.
  • During the Conference, Gandhi could not reach agreement with the Muslims on Muslim representation and safeguards.
  • Negotiations at the Minorities Committee broke down on the issue of separate electorate, now demanded not only by the Muslims, but by the depressed classes (untouchables), Anglo-Indians, Indian Christians and the Europeans too. With the coming of a Tory ministry in Britain in September 1931, British official attitudes hardened even further.

The session ended with MacDonald’s announcement of:

  1. Two Muslim majority provinces—NWFP and Sindh;
  2. The setting up of Indian Consultative Committee;
  3. Three expert committees—finance, franchise and states; and
  4. The prospect of a unilateral British Communal Award if Indians failed to agree.
  • The Government failed to concede the basic Indian demand of freedom. Gandhi returned to India on December 28, 1931. On December 29, the CWC decided to resume the civil disobedience movement.

During Truce Period (March-December 1931):

  • Some activity during this period kept alive the spirit of defiance. In the United Provinces, the Congress had been leading a movement for rent reduction and against summary evictions. In the NWFP, severe repression had been unleashed against the Khudai Khidmatgars and the peasants led by them who were agitating against the brutal methods of tax-collection by the Government.
  • In Bengal, draconian ordinances and mass detentions had been used in the name of fighting terrorism. In September 1931, there was a firing incident on political prisoners in Hijli Jail.

Changed Government Attitude:

  • The higher British officials had drawn their own lessons from the Delhi Pact which had raised the political prestige of the Congress and the political morale of the people and had undermined British prestige.
  • They were now determined to reverse this trend. There were three main considerations in British policy:
  1. Gandhi would not be permitted to build up the tempo for a mass movement again.
  2. Goodwill of the Congress was not required, but the confidence of those who supported the British against the Congress government functionaries, loyalists, etc.—was very essential.
  3. The national movement would not be allowed to consolidate itself in rural areas.
  • After the CWC had decided to resume the civil dis­obedience movement, the new Viceroy Willingdon refused a meeting with Gandhi on December 31. On January 4, 1932, Gandhi was arrested.

Government Action:

  • A series of repressive ordinances were issued which ushered in a virtual martial law, though under civilian control, or a “Civil Martial Law”.
  • Congress organisations at all levels were banned; arrests were made of activists, leaders, sympathisers; properties were confiscated; Gandhi ashrams were occupied. Repression was particularly harsh on women. Press was gagged and nationalist literature, banned.

Popular Response:

  • People responded with anger. Though unprepared, the response was massive. In the first four months alone, about 80,000 satyagrahis, mostly urban and rural poor, were jailed.
  • Other forms of protest included picketing of shops selling liquor and foreign cloth, illegal gatherings, non-violent demonstrations, celebrations of national days, symbolic hosting of national flag, non-payment of chowkidari tax, salt Satyagraha, forest law violations and installation of a secret radio transmitter near Bombay.
  • This phase of the civil disobedience movement coincided with upsurges in two princely states—Kashmir and Alwar.

But this phase of the movement could not be sustained for long because:

  1. Gandhi and other leaders had no time to build up the tempo; and
  2. (ii) The masses were not prepared.

Communal Award (16 August 1932):

  • The constitutional history of India again took a dramatic turn when Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald announced his Communal Award on 16 August 1932.
    • It apportioned representation among communities and extended the provision of separate electorate to the untouchables as well.
    • This was yet another expression of British policy of divide and rule.
  • The Muslims, Sikhs and Christians had already been recognised as minorities.
    • The Communal Award declared the depressed classes also to be minorities and entitled them to separate electorates.
  • The ‘award’ attracted severe criticism from Mahatma Gandhi, the Akali Dal etc. Akali Dal, the representative body of the Sikhs, was also highly critical of the Award, since only 19% reservation was provided to the Sikhs in Punjab, as opposed to the 51% reservation for the Muslims and 30% for the Hindus.

Congress Stand:

  • Though opposed to separate electorates, the Congress was not in favour of changing the Communal Award without the consent of the minorities.
    • Thus, while strongly disagreeing with the Communal Award, the Congress decided neither to accept it nor to reject it.
  • The effort to separate the depressed classes from the rest of the Hindus by treating them as separate political entities was vehemently opposed by all the nationalists.

Gandhi’s Response:

  • Gandhi saw the Communal Award as an attack on Indian unity and nationalism and a sinister motive to divide the Hindu society as the untouchables, he believed, were an integral part of it.
    • He thought it was harmful to both Hinduism and to the depressed classes since it provided no answer to the socially degraded position of the depressed classes.
  • The provision of separate electorate, he argued, would politically separate them and would permanently block the path of their integration into Hindu society.
    • Once the depressed classes were treated as a separate political entity, he argued, the question of abolishing untouchability would get undermined, while separate electorates would ensure that the untouchables remained untouchables in perpetuity.
    • He said that what was required was not protection of the so-called interests of the depressed classes but root and branch eradication of untoucha­bility.
  • Gandhi demanded that the depressed classes be elected through joint and if possible a wider electorate through universal franchise, while expressing no objection to the demand for a larger number of reserved seats.
  • To press for his demands, he went on an indefinite fast unto death at Yerwada Central Jail in Pune on September 20, 1932.
    • The nation panicked, although some of the depressed classes leaders like M.C. Rajah favoured joint electorate, the most influential of them, Dr B.R. Ambedkar saw in the provision of separate electorate the only hope of securing political representation for the untouchables.
    • But Gandhi, though opposed to separate electorate, was not averse to the idea of reserved seats, and Ambedkar too ultimately agreed to it, as the proposed number of such reserved seats for the depressed classes was increased and a two-tier election system was recommended to ensure proper representation of such classes. This became the basis of the Poona Pact of September 1932, which the government subsequently accepted.
    • Leaders of various persuasions, including B.R. Ambedkar, M.C. Rajah and Madan Mohan Malaviya got together to hammer out a compromise contained in the Poona Pact.

Poona Pact:

  • 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.
  • The Poona Pact was accepted by the Government as an amendment to the Communal Award.
  • Provisions of the Pact:
  1. The Pact abandoned separate electorates for the depressed classes. But the seats reserved for the depressed classes were increased from 71 to 147 in provincial legislatures and 18 per cent of the total in the central legislature.
  2. Election to 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 system of primary election to a panel of candidates for election as before mentioned shall come to an end after the first ten years, unless terminated sooner by mutual agreement.
  4. The system of representation of Depressed Classes by reserved seats shall continue until determined otherwise by mutual agreement between the communities concerned.
  5. The Franchise of the Depressed Classes shall be as indicated, in the Lothian Committee (Indian Franchise Committe)Report.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Third Round Table Conference (November – December 1932):

  • The third and last session assembled on November 17, 1932. Only forty-six delegates attended since most of the main political figures of India were not present. The Labour Party from Britain and the Indian National Congress refused to attend.
  • After Third RTC, a White Paper was issued in March 1933, which gave details of the working basis of the new constitution of India- dyarchy at the Centre and responsible government in the provinces.
  • In February 1935, a Bill was introduced in the House of Commons by the Secretary of State for India, Sir Samuel Hoare, which when passed became the Government of India Act, 1935.

Assessment of Civil Disobedience Movement:

  • Salt Satyagraha succeeded in drawing the attention of the world. Millions saw the newsreels showing the march. Time magazine declared Gandhi its 1930 Man of the Year, comparing Gandhi’s march to the sea “to defy Britain’s salt tax as some New Englanders once defied a British tea tax.” Civil disobedience continued until early 1931, when Gandhi was finally released from prison to hold talks with Irwin. It was the first time the two held talks on equal terms,and resulted in the Gandhi–Irwin Pact. The talks would lead to the Second Round Table Conference at the end of 1931.
  • Salt Satyagraha produced scant progress toward dominion status or independence for India, and did not win any major concessions from the British.It also failed to attract Muslim support. Congress leaders decided to end satyagraha as official policy in 1934. Nehru and other Congress members drifted further apart from Gandhi, who withdrew from Congress to concentrate on his Constructive Programme, which included his efforts to end untouchability in the Harijan movement.
  • Even though British authorities were again in control by the mid-1930s, Indian, British, and world opinion increasingly began to recognise the legitimacy of claims by Gandhi and the Congress Party for independence.The Satyagraha campaign of the 1930s also forced the British to recognise that their control of India depended entirely on the consent of the Indians – Salt Satyagraha was a significant step in the British losing that consent.
  • More than thirty years later, Satyagraha and the March to Dandi exercised a strong influence on American civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., and his fight for civil rights for blacks in the 1960s

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