1. Gandhi + Electorates - BRA & his fellow passenger, Maulana Shaukat Ali landed at the Mole station in Mumbai. Both the leaders were received amidst a burst of cheering. Addressing a huge crown of Muslims & DC Ali said that every man must have an undeviating faith in his cause, and he appreciated the courage shown by BRA in fighting his cause. To the DC BRA had now become a symbol of hope, strength & ambition. It was now proved that he could not be suppressed. The same evening at a mass meeting at Parel, BRA was presented with an address on behalf of 114 institutions. He stood motionless & embarrassed before such a vast gathering.
‘I am described as a traitor by Congressmen’, he observed, ‘because I oppose Gandhi’. I am not disturbed but it was a great shock to the world that Gandhi himself should have sponsored violent opposition to the breaking of your shackles. I am confident that the future generations of Hindus would appreciate my services when they study the history of the RTC’. He also disclosed how Gandhi went to secretly see Aga Khan with a copy of the Holy Koran in his hand and asked the Muslim leader to withdraw his support to the DC and how Aga Khan had refused to do so. He appealed to his people not to deify him as he hated deification.
BRA left for Delhi to take part in the franchise committee headed by Lord Lothian. DC greeted BRA with enthusiasm at every place. At Patna DC supported the scheme of separate electorates as they feared that in the system of joint electorates with reserved seats DC candidates would be at the mercy of the majority of electorates. Now another trouble brewed for BRA. Dr Moonje made a pact with M C Rajah on the basis of reserved seats & joint electorates. This put BRA in an awkward position. First Rajah a member of the Constituent Assembly supported separate electorates but now wanted joint electorates with reserved seats being his original demand. But BRA too had changed sides. In his report to the Simon Commission he had supported joint electorates with reserved seats & vehemently criticized the Muslim demand for separate electorates. But Gandhi’s determined demand to the DC demand for reserved seats worsened the situation and BRA now asked for separate electorates.
Rajah’s pact with Dr Moonje was denounced by most DC associations. BRA was congratulated by the Ratnagiri Hindu Sabha on his brilliant advocacy of the claims of the Untouchables – implying an appreciation of BRA by Savarkar. BRA realized that it was important to meet the British Premier in London before he gave his award on the communal issue. He asked his lieutenants to raise money for the trip. He also wrote to Aga Khan seeking his advice in the matter. He criticized the Hindu members of the Franchise Committee for being selfish, very aggressive inside their own camp, cowards outside.
The Lothian Franchise Committee finished its work on May 1, defined DC as those who were untouchables. This was a great victory for BRA as he had insisted in his note to the Committee that the test of untouchability must be applied.
2. BRA now attended the All India Depressed Classes Conference at Nagpur. He was greeted & cheered all the way. On day 1 about 200 messages supporting the demands for separate electorates as adumbrated in the Minorities Pact, repudiating the Rajah-Moonje Pact were read out. BRA’s control over the Congress was total. Next he went to Pune where too he was given a warm welcome.
On May 26 BRA left for England to see the British PM and other Cabinet ministers before the decision on the communal issue was announced. It was true that the sudden change in Rajah’s attitude worried BRA very much and the Lothian Committee’s findings were not favorable to him. When in London he presented his case to all Cabinet Ministers with heart & soul. There was a rumor that Dr Moonje was to go to London with Rajah. He asked his men in Bombay to give Rajah a black send-off. Meanwhile he extended his trip to spend a month in a German Sanatorium.
3. Communal Award, Gandhi fast - BRA returned to Bombay on Aug 17. Three days before his arrival the British Premier had given his Award on the communal issues in India. Accordingly, the DC were granted separate electorates in the provincial Assemblies & the right of double vote under which they were to elect their own representatives and also vote in general constituencies.
BRA said that the DC’s were upset. The Communal Award politically balkanized India. It gave separate electorates for Muslims, Sikhs, Europeans & Christians. Its main objective in the words of the Bombay Chronicle was to turn the national majority of the Hindus into a minority. It was thus condemned by all persons & the Press. Gandhi declared his resolve to fast unto death if separate electorates for the DC were not abolished. Yet he said not a word against separate electorates being conceded to others. By being a signatory to the requisition to the British Premier at the time of the last RTC, empowering the Premier to declare the Communal Award Gandhi was bound to accept his word. But politically frustrated, he declared the fast to rivet the attention of the world on India in general & BRA’s attempt to secure separate electorates in particular.
Gandhi’s fast shook the nation. People who refused to recognize BRA as the leader of the DC were now compelled to recognize his leadership of & spokesman ship of the DC. He now became the cynosure of the whole country. BRA said, ‘So far as I am concerned, I am willing to consider everything, thought I am not willing to allow the rights of the DC to be curtailed in any way. It is no use holding a conference in a vacuum or discussing things without any specific data’. Visitors, friends & leaders began to call on BRA. A furious campaign was launched against BRA but he was calm & collected.
He issued another statement excerpts, ‘It would have been ok if Gandhi had resorted to this extreme step for obtaining independence for the country. It is also a painful surprise that Gandhi should have singled out special representation of the DC as an excuse for self-immolation. Separate electorates were granted to the DC besides Indian Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, and Anglo-Indians & Europeans. The Mahatma is neither an immortal person, nor the Congress assuming that is not a malevolent force and is not to have an abiding existence. Mahatmas have come & gone but the Untouchables have remained as Untouchables’
The Mahatma knew what would happened to his fast unto death, had he entered upon one aimed at wresting independence from the hands of the Britishers, or had he started one to force the Muslims to drop separate electorates. Nor did he enter upon a fast unto death for the abolition of untouchability. BRA knew this bent of Gandhi & hit him hard. Gandhi’s declaration made the people learn more about the condition of the Untouchables & opened their eyes for a while to the passions that were seething in the bosom of the DC. BRA was talked about everywhere. What did fast did was to put DC problems & BRA center stage.
4. Gandhi BRA Pact - As declared a Conference of Hindu leaders was held in Bombay on 19/9/1932. Pandit M M Malaviya, BRA, Rajah, Dr Moonje, Walchand Hirachand attended amongst others. In a calm & firm voice BRA told the conference that it was proper that every man should try to save the life of Gandhi but in the absence of an alternative proposal from Gandhi there seemed no way out. ‘But one thing is decided. To save Gandhi’s life I will not be a party to any proposals that would be against the interests of my people’.
Amidst a lot of discussions between Hindu leaders & BRA, they went to see Gandhi in Pune’s Yerwada jail. The proposal made to BRA earlier evolved a scheme of primary & secondary elections for reserved seats. According to it the DC themselves were to select for every seat a panel of not less than three candidates and then out of these three one was to be selected by the joint electorates of the caste Hindus and DC. BRA agreed but demanded a much larger number of seats than the British PM had given. Later after meeting Gandhi Dr R Prasad etc suggested that the panel system be extended to all seats, again the atmosphere became heated.
Amidst the fierce whirlwind raging outside the jail & the entangling silence prevailing inside, BRA was calm & collected. A lesser man would have been buried alive in such a cyclone of happenings. But BRA’s love for his people, his agelong suffering – humiliations under which his people had groaned were keeping his heart & eyes under the pressure of his head. Besides BRA, as is typical of all great Maharashtrian leaders, kept his mind unaffected by the crisis.
BRA & Gandhi met, Gandhi said, ‘I agree to your panel system but you should make it apply to all seats’. BRA agreed and the leaders started to settle out the details regarding number of men in the panel, total nos of seats in the provincial assemblies, duration of the reserved seats and distribution of posts.
Marathon discussions followed but negotiations seemed to break down on the duration of primary election & referendum to decide duration of reserved seats. BRA wanted the referendum to be at the end of 25 years amidst a furor among the caste Hindu leaders. It was now 4pm. News came in that Gandhi’s health had taken a serious turn. Matter went to Gandhi who agreeing to the idea of referendum, said it should be held after five years.
The question of the total number of seats was decided by granting 148 seats to the DC’s in the Provincial Assemblies and it was also decided that 10 % of the seats of the Hindus from British India in the Central Assembly should be given to DC. The point came back to the timing of the referendum, Gandhi said 5 years, BRA refused to budge, wanted 10 years. After an hour or so they decide to make an agreement without the condition of referendum attached to it.
5. After Pact Notes - Immediately the contents of the agreement were cabled to the British Cabinet. All the leaders met at the Indian Merchants Chambers in Bombay. Presiding over the meeting Pandit M M Malaviya declared that no one should be regarded as untouchable by reason of his birth & appealed to Hindus to make the idea of untouchability disappear from the land. When BRA rose to speak a thunderous applause greeted him. BRA said that what happened the previous day was beyond his dream. Inspite of all the problems, at last, with the cooperation of Gandhi, Sapru & Rajagopalchari they could arrive at a solution.
‘My only regret is’, he added, ‘why did not Mahatmaji take this attitude at the RTC. If he had done so, it would not have been necessary for him to go through this ordeal’. The Poona pact thus vibrated the whole country & had repercussions world over. It proved BRA to be the true leader of the DC.
In the new arrangement both sides had to lose something. Caste Hindus had to grant 148 seats instead of 71. DC lost their chances of bending the caste Hindu leaders to their will as the DC were under the Award entitled to elect their own representatives to the Assemblies separately, and besides they were to vote in the general constituencies with the caste Hindus in electing the caste Hindu representatives. Now the caste Hindus got the power to elect the representatives of the DC. But one wonders why BRA opposed the Moonje-Rajah Pact, which was less troublesome & straightforward.
The third thing that was proved that whenever the Mahatma in Gandhi got the upper hand of the politician in Gandhi, he formed the marvel of making simple things complex & complicated. At the RTC the Mahatma in him dominated the politician & he was defeated. This time round it was the opposite. BRA was made a powerless man. But then as BRA rightly said the ordeal was of Gandhi’s own making.
The Pune Pact was closed. But did the war end on 14/8/1931. Or was it a second battle and the war was to continue even after the truce? ‘Friends this entire battle between Gandhi, BRA, Rajah was as to who would be the leader of the DC’s. Everyone was trying to protect his turf. Gandhi had charisma while BRA had brainpower.