Round Table Conferences
The political temperature was high during 1929, Gandhi announced for civil disobedience movement to counter the Simon commission report followed by a bomb blast in Meerut by Bhagat Singh. Lord Irwin, the Viceroy, promised a round table conference after the submission of the Simon commission report in his famous Irwin declaration. At its Lahore session in December 1929, Congress decided to boycott the conference, to launch the civil disobedience movement and Purna Swaraj as its goal under the president Jawahar Lal Nehru. The round table conferences were held to discuss the constitutional reforms in India on an equal basis, organized by Labour Party-led British government. The government was ready to accept the demands of Congress and Gandhi, to stop the movement, and to join the round table conference.
ROAD TO CONFERENCES
In fear of initiating civil disobedience and ahead of the release of the Simon Commission, the joint effort of the Labour Party and a Conservative Viceroy to restore faith in the ultimate goal of British politics, on October 31, 1929, Irwin made a declaration, known as Irwin’s declaration, in the form of a statement in the Indian Gazette.
Viceroy Lord Irwin announced an offer of “dominion status“, but there was no timetable. He also proposed to hold a round table conference to discuss a future constitution.
For attending the Round Table Conference, a conference of national leaders issued a ‘Delhi Manifesto’ on November 2, 1929, with certain conditions:
- The aim of the round table conference should be the implementation of the dominion status and the basic principle of the dominion status should be accepted immediately.
- A majority of the congress must be represented at the conference.
- There must be a general amnesty for political prisoners and a policy of arbitration.
Viceroy Irwin rejected the demands put forward in the Delhi Manifesto, by saying, that was not the purpose of the conference.
THE SIMON COMMISSION RECOMMENDATIONS
The Simon commission published a two-volume report in May 1930 and proposed the abolition of the diarchy and the establishment of a representative government in the provinces which would soon gain autonomy. The report disaffirmed the central governmental responsibility. The governor-general was to have full power to appoint members of the cabinet. He also recommended maintaining separate communal electorates. There wasn’t to be universal suffrage. He also declared “will accept the idea of federalism but not in the near future“.
The First Round Table Conference
The first round table conference took place in London between November 1930 and January 1931. It was inaugurated by King George five on November 12, 1930, and chaired by Ramsay McDonald. This was the first conference organized between the British and the Indians on an equal footing. The Congress refused to attend the conference, but the Indian princely states, the Muslim League, the Hindu Maha Sabha, the Sikhs, the Parsi, the liberals, the depressed classes, the Anglo Indians, and the Europeans attended the conference. Not much was achieved at the meeting, the British government recognized that it was necessary to attend the Indian National Congress in any discussion of the future of constitutional government in India.
On January 25, 1931, in Delhi, all other members of the Congress Working Committee and Gandhi were released unconditionally. On February 14, 1931, Irwin, on behalf of the government,
- Instant discharge of all political internees not condemned the violence;
- Cancellation of all outstanding fines;
- Return of all land not yet sold to third parties;
- lenient treatment of resigned government officials;
- the right to produce salt for personal consumption in coastal villages;
- Allow Right to peaceful and non-aggressive picketing;
- and repeal all of the emergency ordinances.
However, the viceroy refused two of Gandhi’s demands, i.e., public inquiry into police excesses, and the Commutation of Bhagat Singh and his comrades’ death sentence. Gandhi, on behalf of Congress, agreed to suspend the civil disobedience movement and attend the next roundtable.
Second Round Table Conference
From 7th September 1931 to 1st December 1931, the second round table was held in London. The Indian National Congress appointed Gandhi as its sole representative. E. Rangaswami Iyengar, Madan Mohan Malviya, and B.R. Ambedkar, representing the depressed classes, were also there. By this time, Lord Irwin had been replaced by Lord Willingdon as Viceroy in India, who believed that a major error had been made in signing a truce with the Congress.
Gandhi claimed to represent the entire Indian people against imperialism. Because of large no groups present at the conference, the government rejected Gandhi‘s claim. Gandhi put forward the demand for the immediate establishment of responsible government at the Centre and in the provinces. He also said there was no need for separate electorates or special protections for Muslims or other minorities. Again, the session closed with no productive output and announcement of the “Communal Award”.
The government refused to accede to India’s request for freedom. Gandhi returned to India on December 28, 1931, and resumed the civil disobedience movement. Gandhi and other leaders of the congress were again arrested on January 4, 1932, and once again Congress was declared illegal.
COMMUNAL AWARD AND POONA PACT
Communal Award was an outcome of the second round table conference. On August 16, Ramsay MacDonald, blazoned the Communal Award, furnishing, separate electorates and reserved seats for minorities, including the depressed classes with 78 reserved seats. B.R. Ambedkar was a person, who had repeatedly raised the issue of separate electorates. In the eyes of Gandhi, the Communal Award was a danger to Indian unity and nationalism. Gandhi and Ambedkar met and on September 24, 1932, the Poona Pact was inked by Ambedkar on behalf of the depressed classes to give up the idea of separate electorates in the benevolence of increased reserved seats. The government considered the Poona Pact as an amendment to the Communal Award.
Third Round Table Conference
The third round table conference, held between November 17, 1932, and December 24, 1932, Only forty-six delegates attended since did not see the participation of the INC or Gandhi and The Labour Party of Britain. In March 1933, the recommendations were printed on a White Paper and subsequently discussed in the British Parliament. A joint select committee was formed, which presented a bill in February 1935 and was implemented as the Government of India Act 1935 in July 1935.
The Round Table Conferences were carried out in contemporary to the Civil Disobedience Movement. After the First Round Table, the British government, for the first time was on backfoot, Irwin accepted almost every demand of Gandhi. The second round table conference was held under the new Viceroy, he broke the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. The police indulged in naked terror and committed innumerable atrocities on the freedom fighter. Nationalist literature was banned, whereas the nationalist newspapers were once more placed below censorship. Again in the third round table conference met without the leaders of Congress. B.R. Ambedkar attended all three conferences and was the happiest person because of the communal Award. The Award, which provides reserved seats for minorities, can be seen in present politics also. Many delegates were not supported Gandhi’s demand for Joint Electorates. Even the Indian princes were also not too enthusiastic about a federation. Lack of mutual agreement among the Indian delegates leads to the inconclusive result of the Round Table Conference.