Why Did B.R. Ambedkar Accept the Poona Pact?
17 February 2023 The ConstitutionofIndia.net Podcast
On 6 December 2022, the Governor of Tamil Nadu made a controversial statement. He argued that B.R. Ambedkar’s decision to accept the Poona Pact, which dropped separate electorates for the so-called ‘Depressed Classes’, was targeted at the British ‘divide-and-rule’ policy.
Is this claim true? What do we mean by separate electorates? Why did Ambedkar accept the Poona Pact? Find out here.
Recently, the Governor of Tamil Nadu made a controversial statement. He argued that Ambedkar’s decision to accept the Poona Pact was targeted at the British divide-and-rule policy. As you know, the Poona Pact dropped separate electorates for the so-called ‘Depressed Classes’.
So, is it true that Ambedkar accepted the Pact with the British in mind?
First, let us clarify what we mean by separate electorates. Under the system, only the voters of a particular community vote for representatives from their community, for whom seats are reserved in legislatures. This political device has often been viewed as a critical tool for the protection of minorities. Others, however, have argued that separate electorates sharpen communal differences and prevent nation-building.
The tension over separate electorates played out quite strongly within the freedom movement. At various points, Muslim, Dalit and Sikh leaders demanded separate electorates. Leaders of India’s dominant political parties like the Congress opposed these demands, as they felt that separate electorates would hamper national unity.
Things reached a boiling point when the British, through the Communal Award of 1932, introduced separate electorates for the ‘Depressed Classes’. M.K. Gandhi was not pleased with this provision, and announced a fast unto death to reverse the Award. Ambedkar was stupefied by this decision. He could not understand why Gandhi was so adamant to drop this important political safeguard for the Dalit community. Ultimately, Ambedkar had no choice but to save Gandhi’s life by accepting his demands. The resultant Poona Pact dropped separate electorates for the ‘Depressed Classes’.
Now, Ambedkar’s own writings and speeches never mention the British as a factor in accepting the Poona Pact. In fact, he clearly rejects the notion that separate electorates would lead to divisions in Indian society. He was also concerned about the violent reprisal against the Dalit community, if anything happened to Gandhi.
“Whether he knows it or not, the Mahatma’s act will result in nothing but terrorism by his followers against the Depressed Classes all over the country.”
Ambedkar continued to denounce the Poona Pact repeatedly in both private and public. The States and Minorities Report prepared by him in 1945 for the Scheduled Castes Federation explicitly rejected the Poona Pact.
All this goes to show, that Ambedkar’s motivations to accept the Poona Pact had nothing to do with thwarting British divide and rule policy. It had everything to do with tensions between Ambedkar and the dominant political parties of the time on the question of political protection for the Dalit community.