After the Third Round Table Conference, in November 1932, the then Prime Minister of Britain Ramsay McDonald gave an order which is known as the Communal Award. It was part of Britisher’s policy of ‘Divide and Rule. The award granted separate electorates in British India for the Forward Caste, Lower Caste, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, Europeans and Untouchables (Dalits) etc.
The Congress Party was unhappy at the extension of communal representation but became particularly outraged at the British offer of separate-electorate seats for “depressed classes”. Gandhi viewed the McDonald Award as a nefarious British plot to wean more than 50 million Hindus away from their higher-caste brothers and sisters.
The idea of a separate electorate for Muslims had been accepted by Congress as far back as 1916 as a part of the compromise with the Muslim League. Hence, Congress took the position it was opposed to separate electorates but not in favour of changing the Award without the consent of the minorities.
Gandhi demanded that the representatives of the Depressed Classes should be elected if possible by the universal, common franchise. At the same time, he did not object to the demand for a larger number of reserved seats for the Depressed Classes. He went on a fast unto death on 20 September 1932 to enforce his demand.
In the end, political leaders succeeded in bringing an agreement, known as the Poona Pact. In this pact, the idea of separate electorates for the Depressed Classes was abandoned but the seats reserved for them in the provincial legislatures and Central Legislature were increased. After being released from the prison Gandhiji shifted to Satyagraha Ashram at Wardha after abandoning Sabarmati Ashram at Ahmedabad for he had vowed in 1930 not to return to Sabarmati till Swaraj was won.
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