Dr Ambedkar Remembers the Poona Pact in an Interview on the BBC

 

Transcribed by: Prakash Holayar, Chamarajanagar

Dr Ambedkar was extensively interviewed by the BBC radio in New Delhi in 1955 on a range of topics including his memories of Gandhi, Round Table Conferences, Poona Pact and how political independence was obtained. A portion of the interview related to the famous Poona Pact, transcribed (as faithfully as possible) from the audio record, is reproduced here:

 

 

BBC: Coming back to the ‘Poona Pact’, Can you remember all of what Gandhi said to you and what you said to him?

BRA: Oh! I know it very well, the British government had, in the original award which MacDonald had given, had accepted my suggestion. I said look at the Hindus, (they) want there should be a common electorate so that there may be no separatist feeling between the Scheduled Caste and the Hindu. We think if we have a common electorate we would be submerged and the nominees of Scheduled Castes who would be elected would be really slaves of the Hindus not independent people. Now, I told Mr Ramsay MacDonald this is a sort of a thing that he might do! Give us a separate electorate and also give us a second vote in the general election so that Gandhi cannot say that “we are separated” in point of election.

First of all my contention was this that for five years we live separately from the Hindus with no kind of intercourse or intercommunication, of a social or a spiritual sort. What can one day’s cycle of participation in a common electorate do to remove this hard and crushed [feeling of] separatism which has grown for centuries..it is a foolish thing to think that “If two people vote together in a common polling booth that their hearts are going to change..nothing of that kind (will happen)”.

Mr. Gandhi had got the madness in him; well let him be satisfied by this kind of a system. Give the untouchables the right to vote, give them a population representation ratio so that the weightage would be in terms of votes not in terms of representatives so that Gandhi and others may not complain that Ramsay MacDonald accepted. The award was really my suggestion. I wrote to him a letter from Naples this is what I like him to do so that there may be no trouble......exactly what he did. He gave us a separate electorate and also a vote in the general electorate. Gandhi didn’t want that we should send our two representatives therefore he didn’t want the separate electorate part of the award and went on fast.

Then they all came to me... [.........Well]. The British government said ‘If he agrees to abandon the award we have no objection. But we can’t abandon the award ourselves. We have given the award we have taken all things into consideration, we think this is the best system. You have to read Ramsay MacDonald’s letter, it is a very clear statement: “We haven’t done anything to aggravate the separation in fact we are trying to bridge it up by bringing two sections together in a common electoral role” but Gandhi’s object was we should not get a free independent representation. Therefore he said no representation....... not to be given to us.. that’s what his stand was in the Round Table Conference.

He said I recognise only three communities, namely Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. These are the only three communities that will have a political recognition in the constitution. But the Christians or the Anglo-Indians or the Scheduled Castes will have no place in the constitution. They must merge themselves in the general community, that was the stand (on which) he acted. Well, all his friends, I know, were asking him how foolish was his attitude; his own friends had quarrelled with him on this subject. If you are prepared to give special representations to the Sikhs and Muslims one thousand times superior in strength and political and economic stamina how can you deny it to the Scheduled Castes.....

He always used to say you don’t understand our problem, that’s all he was saying. Alexander even, (who) was a great friend of his, had a serious quarrel with him as he told me. A Frenchwoman who his disciple, I forget her name now, she also had a great quarrel with him. We don’t understand this attitude, either you say we won’t give anything to anybody..let there be just a common role, then we can understand that is a democratic thing! (You) go on saying you will give it to the Muslims and you give it to the Sikhs but not to the Scheduled Castes it seems absurd, he could give no answer.

We suggested this method. He also didn’t [......] in the first, begging, when he wrote a letter, Mr Ramsay MacDonald said no. The Scheduled Castes should have nothing, no representation. Then his own friend said to him [......] nobody (was) supportive in this matter.

Malaviya and others came to me and said: Well, could you not help us to solve this problem? I said well, I don’t want to solve this problem by sacrificing what we have been able to get from the British premier.

BBC: So you went to......

BRA: I suggested alternative formula that was “I am not prepared to give up the separate electorate but am prepared to modify the things”. In this way, namely, that the candidates who would be standing in the final election on behalf of the Scheduled Castes should be first elected by the Scheduled Castes themselves, sort of a primary election, and they should elect four people and the four then should stand in the general electorate. Let the best one come. So that we get some assurance! ..... [There] you don’t put up your own nominees [there] we do get people who will express our voice in the parliament that Mr. Gandhi had to accept, so he accepted that. Of course we had the benefit of it only in one election in 1937. There you will see the federation swept the poll Gandhi was not able to get a single candidate of his party elected.

BBC: Did he... did he bargain very hard at the end of his fast?

BRA: Oh! Of course, he bargained and bargained I said nothing going...“I am prepared to save your life provided you do not make hard terms. But I am not going to save your life at the cost of life of my people” [this too my.... I have...] How much I have laboured and all these I know very well. I am not going to satisfy your whim. Sacrifice our people’s interest just for the sake of satisfying his whim. He had a whimsy. How can one day’s common election alter the situation! Simply cannot alter the situation.

BBC: Really he was [......] He worked entirely as a politician.

BRA: As a politician, he was never a Mahatma! I refused to call him Mahatma. I never in my life called him Mahatma. He doesn’t deserve that title not even from the point of view of his morality!

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