When the Indian leadership failed to come up with a constitutional solution of the communal issue, the British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald announced his own formula for solving the problem. He said that he was not only a Prime Minister of Britain but was also a friend of the Indians and thus wanted to solve the problems of his friends.
After the failure of the Second Round Table conference, Mr. MacDonald announced the ‘Communal Award’ on August 16, 1932. According to the Award, the right of separate electorate was not only given to the Muslims of India but also to all the minority communities in the country. The Award also declared untouchables as a minority and thus the Hindu depressed classes were given a number of special seats, to be filled from special depressed class electorates in the area where their voters were concentrated. Under the Communal Award, the principle of weightage was also maintained with some modifications in the Muslim minority provinces. Principle of weightage was also applied for Europeans in Bengal and Assam, Sikhs in the Punjab and North West Frontier Province, and Hindus in Sindh and North West Frontier Province.
Though the Muslims constituted almost 56 percent of the total population of Punjab, they were given only 86 out of 175 seats in the Punjab Assembly. The Muslim majority of 54.8 percent in Punjab was thus reduced to a minority. The formula favored the Sikhs of Punjab, and the Europeans of Bengal the most.
The Award was not popular with any Indian party. Muslims were not happy with the Communal Award, as it has reduced their majority in Punjab and Bengal to a minority. Yet they were prepared to accept it. In its annual session held in November 1933, the All India Muslim League passed a resolution that reads; “Though the decision falls far short of the Muslim demands, the Muslims have accepted it in the best interest of the country, reserving to themselves the right to press for the acceptance of all their demands.”
On the other hand, the Hindus refused to accept the awards and decided to launch a campaign against it. For them it was not possible to accept the Untouchables as a minority. They organized the Allahabad Unity Conference in which they demanded for the replacement of separate electorates by joint electorates. Many nationalist Muslims and Sikhs also participated in the conference. The Congress also rejected the Award in Toto. Gandhi protested against the declaration of Untouchables as a minority and undertook a fast unto death. He also held meetings with the Untouchable leadership for the first time and try to convince them that they were very much part of the mainstream Hindu society. He managed to sign the Poona Pact with Dr. B. R. Ambedker, the leader of Untouchables in which the Congress met many of the Untouchables’ demands.
This article was last updated on Sunday, June 01, 2003