Due to Ambedkar’s prominence and popular support amongst the untouchable community, he was invited to attend the Second Round Table Conference in London in 1932.Gandhi fiercely opposed separate electorate for untouchables, though he accepted separate electorate for all other minority groups such as Muslims and Sikhs, saying he feared that separate electorates for untouchables would divide Hindu community into two groups.
When the British agreed with Ambedkar and announced the awarding of separate electorates, Gandhi began a fast while imprisoned in the Yerwada Central Jail of Pune in 1932 against the separate electorate for untouchables only. Gandhi’s fast provoked huge civil unrest across India, and orthodox Hindu leaders, Congress politicians and activists such as Madan Mohan Malaviya and Palwankar Baloo organized joint meetings with Ambedkar and his supporters at Yeravada. Fearing a communal reprisal and genocide of untouchables, Ambedkar agreed under massive coercion from the supporters of Gandhi. This agreement, which saw Gandhi end his fast, was called the Poona Pact. As a result of the agreement, Ambedkar dropped the demand for separate electorates that was promised through the British Communal Award prior to Ambedkar’s meeting with Gandhi. Instead, a certain number of seats were reserved specifically for untouchables (in the agreement, called the “Depressed Class”).
Poona Pact, Agreed to by Leaders of Caste-Hindus and of Dalits, at Poona on 24-9-1932
The following is the text of the agreement arrived at between leaders acting on behalf of the Depressed Classes and of the rest of the community, regarding the representation of the Depressed Classes in the legislatures and certain other matters affecting their welfare
1. There shall be seats reserved for the Depressed Classes out of general electorate seats in the provincial legislatures as follows: -
Madras 30; Bombay with Sind 25; Punjab 8; Bihar and Orissa 18; Central Provinces 20; Assam 7; Bengal 30; United Provinces 20. Total 148. These figures are based on the Prime Minister’s (British) decision.
2. Election to these seats shall be by joint electorates subject, however, to the following procedure –
All members of the Depressed Classes registered in the general elec- toral roll of a constituency will form an electoral college which will elect a panel of tour candidates belonging to the Deparessed Classes for each of such reserved seats by the method of the single vote and four persons getting the highest number of votes in such primary elections shall be the candidates for election by the general electorate.
3. The representation of the Depressed Classes in the Central Legislature shall likewise be on the principle of joint electorates and reserved seats by the method of primary election in the manner provided for in clause above for their representation in the provincial legislatures.
4. In the Central Legislature 18 per cent of the seats allotted to the general electorate for British India in the said legislature shall he reserved for the Depressed Classes.
5. The system of primary election to a panel of candidates for election to the Central and Provincial Legislatures as i herein-before mentioned shall come to an end after the first ten years, unless terminated sooner by mutual agreement under the provision of clause 6 below.
6. The system of representation of Depressed Classes by reserved seats in the Provincial and Central Legislatures as provided for in clauses (1) and (4) shall continue until determined otherwise by mutual agreement between the communities concerned in this settlement.
7. The Franchise for the Central and Provincial Legislatures of the Depressed Classes shall be as indicated, in the Lothian Committee Report.
8. There shall be no disabilities attached to any one on the ground of his being a member of the Depressed Classes in regard to any election to local bodies or appointment to the public services. Every endeavour shall be made to secure a fair representation of the Depressed Classes in these respects, subject to such educational qualifications as may be laid down for appointment to the Public Services.
(Adult franchise but reservation has been provided for Dalits on population basis, till 1960),
9. In every province out of the educational grant an adequate sum shall be ear-marked for providing educational facilities to the members of Depressed Classes,