- TheCommunal Award (also known as MacDonald Award) was created by the British prime minister Ramsay MacDonald on 16 August 1932; and was announced after the Round Table Conference (1930–32)
- This was Britain’s unilateral attempt to resolve the various conflicts among India’s many communal interests
- The Communal Award, based on the findings of the Indian Franchise Committee (also called the Lothian Committee), established separate electorates and reserved seats for minorities, including the depressed classes which were granted seventy-eight reserved seats
- The debate over the separate and joint electorates as rival modes of election to the various representative institutions by the British began with the Simla deputation of 1906
- Also, since the early 19th century, there were awareness among Depressed classes to raise voices for legitimate rights and social equality, which the social hierarchy had denied them over years
- When Morley – Minto Reforms Act of 1909made provision for a separate electorate for the Muslims, many leaders of the Depressed Classes felt that they should also demand for reservation of seats for their representatives in legislative bodies.
- Later, Dr B.R. Ambedkar in his testimony to the Simon Commission, had stressed that the depressed classes should be treated as a distinct, independent minority separate from the caste Hindus
- But the Simon Commission rejected the proposal of separate electorate for the depressed classes; however, it retained the concept of reserving seats
- Eventually, the depressed class leaders succeeded in forcing the British Government to get invitation for their representatives in the Round Table Conference at London to deliberate on the prospective constitutional amendments.
- In the Second Round Table Conference held in London, Ambedkar again raised the issue of separate electorate for the depressed classes.
- Gandhi, who had declared himself the sole representative of India’s oppressed masses, rejected Ambedkar’s proposal
- Amidst such efforts, a consensus on the minority representation could not be worked out among the Indian delegates. In the wake of such a situation, Ramsay MacDonald, who had chaired the committee on minorities, offered to mediate on the condition and came up with the offer of an award
Main Provisions of the Communal Award
- Muslims, Europeans, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo- Indians, depressed classes, women, and even the Marathas were to get separate electorates. Such an arrangement for the depressed classes was to be made for a period of 20 years.
- In the provincial legislatures, the seats were to be distributed on communal basis.
- The existing seats of the provincial legislatures were to be doubled.
- The Muslims, wherever they were in minority, were to be granted a weightage.
- Except in the North West Frontier Province, 3 per cent seats were to be reserved for women in all provinces.
- The depressed classes to be declared/accorded the status of minority
- The depressed classes were to get ‘double vote’, one to be used through separate electorates and the other to be used in the general electorates
- Allocation of seats were to be made for labourers, landlords, traders and industrialists.
- In the province of Bombay, 7 seats were to be allocated for the Marathas.
- While strongly disagreeing with the Communal Award, the Congress decided neither to accept it nor to reject it
- The effort to separate the depressed classes from the rest of the Hindus by treating them as separate political entities was vehemently opposed by all the nationalists
- Gandhi saw the Communal Award as an attack on Indian unity and nationalism.
- He thought it was harmful to both Hinduism and to the depressed classes since it provided no answer to the socially degraded position of the depressed classes
- Once the depressed classes were treated as a separate political entity, he argued, the question of abolishing untouchability would get undermined, while separate electorates would ensure that the untouchables remained untouchables in perpetuity
- He instead demanded that the depressed classes be elected through joint electorate and if possible a wider electorate through universal franchise, while expressing no objection to the demand for a larger number of reserved seats
- He supported the Communal Award
- According to Ambedkar, Gandhi was ready to award separate electorates to Muslims and Sikhs. But Gandhi was reluctant to give separate electorates to scheduled castes
Thus, on the whole, the Communal Award was nothing but ‘a sign of determination [of the British Government] to warp the Indian question towards electoral politics’