Ideological Differences Between Gandhi and Ambedkar
The depressed classes so-called untouchables were one of the most debatable topics during the 1930s because of discussion on the separate electorate to the depressed classes. Gandhi and Ambedkar both declared themselves the leader of the depressed classes in India. They both shared many ideas, although in many ways they had different beliefs. There is a striking resemblance in symbolism inherent in some of the actions of both individuals. Gandhi who always talked about the unity of the Indian people, showed his beliefs towards Joint Electorates, whereas Ambedkar, who was born in a depressed class and was the victim of untouchability during his life, saw depressed classes as a religious minority in India and advocated the separate electorates and reserved seats in the Imperial Legislative Council at Round Table Conferences.
Separate And Joint Electorate
Electorates in one word mean Voters, so anyone who is above 18 yrs of age and eligible to vote in a particular constituency is called Electorates.
In a Separate Electorate, a particular seat in a constituency is reserved for a particular community, and people of the community would only context and participate in the election process. Let’s understand this with an example, suppose there is a constituency named Aligarh and it is reserved for a Muslim candidate. so in separate electorates only people belonging to the Muslim community would vote in the election process, while people from other communities would not vote.
In Joint Electorate, a particular seat is reserved for a particular community but here people from all communities can vote and participate in the election process. Ex- A constituency named Aligarh is reserved for a Muslim candidate. So in Joint Electorate, people of all communities could vote in the election process unlike only Muslims in a separate electorate.
Introduction of Separate Electorate in India
A separate electorate was introduced in the Indian Council Act of 1909, popularly known as Marley-Minto reform, for the first time in the history of India. In this act, Muslims were favored as they were given representation in the areas where their population was very less in comparison to other communities. These areas were reserved for the separate electorates. It was further extended in the Montague-Chelmsford reforms of 1919, where not only the communal electorate of 1909 was continued but it was also extended to other communities like Sikhs, Indian-Christians, Anglo-Indians, and Europeans. Now apart from Muslims, Sikhs, Indian-Christian, Anglo-Indians, etc could also choose their leaders through a separate electorate.
The award was also known as Communal Award. On 16th August 1932, British prime minister Ramsay Macdonald announced this award. As per this award Muslims, Europeans, Sikhs, and Harizans were to elect their representative through a separate electorate. The most important thing was the inclusion of Harijans in separate electorates. Harijans were not minorities but rather they were depressed class among Hindus. They were victims of untouchability and poverty. The inclusion of Harijans in the Communal Award was being seen as an attempt to divide the Hindu society under the divide and rule policy of the British.
Gandhi and Ambedkar’s views
Gandhi, the principal architect of the Indian Freedom Struggle, saw the Communal Award as an attack on Indian unity and nationalism. He thought it was dangerous to both Hinduism and the depressed classes since it handed no answer to the socially downgraded situation of the depressed classes. Once the depressed classes were acted like a different political being, he reasoned, the problem of rescinding untouchability would get undermined, while separate electorates would assure that the untouchables stayed untouchables in everlasting. Gandhi tried the untouchables as an inborn part of Hindu society. Gandhi demanded that the depressed classes be elected through joint if feasible a broad electorate through universal suffrage while expressing no protest to the claim for a larger composition of allocated seats. On September 18, 1932, he fasted indefinitely to insist on his claims. Poona pact was signed between Gandhi and Ambedkar to abandon the idea of separate electorates for the depressed classes. Gandhi named the depressed classes and the untouchables as “Harijan”, Ambedkar denounced it as a clever scheme. Gandhi also renamed the Depressed Classes League to “Harijan Sevak Sangh“. According to Gandhi, the practice of untouchability was a moral stigma on Indian society and wanted it to get blotted out by acts of atonement.
B.R. Ambedkar, the principal architect of the constitution of independent India, supported the idea of a separate electorate proposed by the British government. He advocated the theory of separate electorates for the depressed classes in all round table conferences. By signing the Poona act, he abandoned the idea of separate electorates for depressed classes just only because of Gandhi’s fast but later on, he continued to denounce the Poona Pact till 1947. Ambedkar viewed the Untouchables as a religious minority rather than part of the Hindu community, preferring to call them a “political minority” or a “minority by force“. Ambedkar wanted to unravel the matter of untouchability through constitutional laws and approaches.
Gandhi, who declared himself as the sole representative of India in the second round table conference, rejected the extension of a separate electorate to the depressed classes. At the same time, Ambedkar attended all three round table conferences and represented the depressed classes, raising the issue of separate electorates for depressed classes in each session. Ambedkar was awarded by the British government in form of the Communal Award. Gandhi rejected the idea of separate electorates mentioned in the Award, as it was an attack on the Hindu religion. Ambedkar who preferred to call the depressed classes a religious minority welcomed the Communal Award. Ambedkar thought the only way to remove the issue of untouchability was through rules and constitutional methods, while Gandhi treated untouchability as a moral stigma in the Hindu religion and will be erased by penance only.