The First Round Table Conference failed. No result came out of it. The Government therefore decided to step down for a compromise with Gandhi, the leader of the nation.
The Viceroy Lord Irwin praised for the first time Gandhi with attractive words,
“however mistaken any man may think him to be and however deplorable may appear the results of the policy associated with his name no one can fail to recognize the spiritual force which impels Mr. Gandhi to count no sacrifice too great in the cause, as he believes of the India he loves.”
On 26th January 1931 Gandhi and other members of the Congress Working Committee were released from the prison. The Viceroy was ready to welcome Mahatma in his palace at Delhi for a settlement. The talks between Gandhi and the Viceroy were held during the second half of February and early March of 1931. These talks became famous as Gandhi-Irwin Pact. To many conservatives in England those meetings and talks seemed unacceptable. They said that it was very painful that the Viceroy, the representative of the British Monarch should receive their arch-enemy who stood to destroy the mighty British Empire.
Winston Churchill while describing his own sock at the “nauseating and humiliating spectacle of this one-time Inner Temple lawyer now seditious fakir striding half-naked up the steps of the Viceroy’s palace there to negotiate and parley on equal terms with the representative of the king-emperor”.
The outcome of the talks between the Viceroy and Gandhi was the famous Gandhi-Irwin Pact signed on 5th March 1931. It was decided that the Civil Disobedience Movement would be discontinued and steps would be taken for Congress participation in the Second Round Table Conference. The Government expressed its approval of the encouragement of Indian’s industries. The Pact was approved by the Congress in its annual session at Karachi in March 1931. The execution of Bhaghat Singh, Raj Guru and Sukhdev connected with Lahore conspiracy case cast inevitably a dark shadow on the more critical and sensitive minds of the Congress session no doubt, yet the Pact was welcomed as a triumph of the Congress.
The President of the session Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel authorized Gandhi to attend the forthcoming Round Table Conference and to raise the Indian voice for complete independence. Gandhi pledged to attend the Conference in the true spirit of a Satyagrahi. After that Gandhi advised the nation to wait, watch, pray and hope for a better prospect for India. He was full of admiration for the people for their heroic struggle and hard suffering.
Many felt unhappy that Gandhi stopped his movement when the people were in high spirit of victory and while the Government stood demoralized. Gandhi gave his logic that the nation had suffered to a great extent and needed an interval to fight the next phase of the struggle with more vigour and vitality. Gandhi thus became the uncrowned monarch of the people.
Lord Irwin was succeeded by Willington who was unlike Irwin very rigid and ignored many provisions of the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. With doubts in mind but true to his commitments Gandhi left for England on 29 August 1931 to attend the Round Table Conference.
Civil Disobedience Resumed: The Poona Pact:
On his return Gandhiji was dismayed to see the repression in full swing. Government violated the agreement of honour and ruled the country by harsh ordinances. The new Viceroy regarded the Gandhi-Irwin Pact as dead and gone. He was terribly afraid of Jawaharlal Nehru and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan as most dangerous persons. Because Nehru had no faith in anything except complete independence Ghaffar Khan had in the meanwhile raised a pathan volunteers force in the frontier in the name of Khudai Khidmatgars. This body became a part of the Congress. The Viceroy observing the political nerve of India decided to face the situation with utmost iron hands.
As precautionary measures he ordered for the arrest of all prominent leaders throughout the country. Revolutionary activities were intensified in Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Frontier Provinces. The Civil Disobedience Movement was resumed and Gandhiji along with many other prominent leaders were arrested on 4th January 1932. The Congress was declared an illegal body and the Government resorted to sternest measures to crush the movement. Police excess surpassed even its own past records of shame.
Gandhiji expressed his desire for individual Civil Disobedience instead of mass Civil Disobedience. Accordingly the nation once again rose to suffer and sacrifice in order to carry on the struggle. Throughout the year 1932, the movement continued in full fury. Millions of Satyagrahis were arrested. By April 1932 the British Jails were overcrowded with the Satyagrahis only, numbering more than one lakh and twenty thousands.
Keeping the Congress leaders inside the prison the British Government went ahead with its constitution making. In August 1932 the British Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald announced his “communal award” giving separate electorate to Muslim, Sikhs and Europeans. He also promised to provide separate electorate for the depressed classes or the untouchables officially known as Scheduled Castes as a separate Community. He also promised reservation for women.
The Government issued a white paper on the future of the constitution of India. The constitution provided the proposals for the creation of several Muslim majority provinces and the formation of legislatures on the basis of separate electorate. Thus joint electorate system of the nation was abandoned. Gandhiji therefore on 20th September 1932 started his fast. It created a deep emotion among the leaders of the caste Hindus and the depressed classes who reached in an agreement in Poona to save Gandhiji’s life as well as the unity of the Hindu Community. This agreement became famous as the Poona Pact.
It was decided according to the Pact that there should be reserved seats for the Depressed Classes within the general seats and election to those seats should be by joint electorates. This Poona Pact was considered by many as an unfortunate shifting of emphasis from the main object of the Civil Disobedience movement. Gandhiji was more concerned with the Harijan Movement which had an adverse affect on the Civil Disobedience Movement.
The Third Round Table Conference met in London in November 1932 with the Congress holding away. It was attended by much smaller number of representatives than before. It served no purpose but the British Government published a White Paper on 15th March 1933 giving an outline of a new constitution for India. It became very clear that the Government would impose a constitution on India against the will of the majority, whether the Congress liked it or not. The imperialistic objective was projected in the Government of India Act of 1935 which was the main outcome of the Third Round Table Conference.
Gandhiji felt upset at these developments. As a moral challenge he began yet another fast for 21 days on 8th May 1933 inside the Yeravda Prison but intelligently enough the Government decided to release him on health ground. Out of prison but undergoing the fast in Poona Gandhiji decided to change his strategy to avoid the problems of Communalism.
He therefore advised the Congress to suspend the Civil Disobedience Movement which practically came to an end in May 1933. This decision was vehemently critised by Subhash Chandra Bose, a prominent leader of the Congress left wing.
Officially the Civil Disobedience Movement was brought to an end in 1934. The movement was however memorable in the history of India. All sections of the people, the women, the youth, the students and the workers joined the movement to break the British laws. The rural masses affected by industrial and agricultural slump showed remarkable courage in facing the police action. To them it was a struggle against an oppressive land system.
This mass participation lent the Congress a new status and prestige. The Congress could assess its strength when it received support of the masses and could come to the conclusion that it was strong enough to start its final struggle for freedom. The flames of the movement died down but the burning embers remained for a long time hot to stimulate India’s will for freedom.
The British administration was greatly demoralized. The foundation of the Empire trembled when a poor peasant in the village broke the laws of the Government by not paying the land tax. Any revolution of that magnitude in future appeared disastrous.