Did the Poona Pact Disenfranchise the ‘Depressed Classes’? An Analysis of the 1936–1937 and 1945–1946 Provincial Elections

Date01 December 2021
AuthorSujay Biswas
DOI10.1177/23210230211043025
Published date01 December 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Did the Poona Pact
Disenfranchise the ‘Depressed
Classes’? An Analysis of
the 1936–1937 and
1945–1946 Provincial Elections
Sujay Biswas1
Abstract
This article contests the conventional view that the ‘Depressed Classes’ lost out on representation by
agreeing to joint electorates in the Poona Pact. It analyses the results of the elections to the provincial
legislatures in British India that took place in 1936–1937 and 1945–1946 under the Government of
India Act, 1935, to concretely appraise the working of the Poona Pact. The article argues that reserved
seats, primary elections and cumulative voting redeemed the ability of the Poona Pact to provide both
descriptive and substantive representation for the ‘Depressed Classes’.
Keywords
Ambedkar, cumulative voting, Gandhi, joint electorates, Poona Pact, primary elections, reserved seats
Introduction
History pitted Gandhi and Ambedkar as adversaries. Their public exchanges were marked by acrimony.
The debate between Gandhi and Ambedkar continues even after the departure of both. The bitterness
also continues as part of that discourse. Three interrelated and overlapping issues constituted the core of
their exchanges—the issue of representation of the ‘Depressed Classes’ (Biswas, 2018a), the removal
of untouchability (Biswas, 2021) and the caste question (Biswas, 2018b). Among their partisan inheritors,
there is ‘a standardised positioning of [Gandhi and Ambedkar] as each other’s enemies’, (Palshikar,
1996, p. 2070) particularly on the issue of Gandhi’s ‘fast-unto-death’ against separate electorates for the
‘Depressed Classes’. It is stated that the ‘Depressed Classes’ were deprived of representation by giving
up separate electorates, as under the ‘system of joint electorates, the Scheduled Caste candidate who
[was] elected to the legislature [was] virtually nominated by the [caste] Hindus’ (Ambedkar, 1945,
1 Department of History, Ramjas College, University of Delhi, Delhi, India.
Article
Corresponding author:
Sujay Biswas, Department of History, Ramjas College, University of Delhi, Delhi 110007, India.
E-mail: dr.sujaybiswas24@gmail.com
Studies in Indian Politics
9(2) 239–253, 2021
© 2021 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Reprints and permissions:
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DOI: 10.1177/23210230211043025
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