Gandhi-Irwin Pact, 1931

 

Introduction

  • Gandhi-Irwin Pact, was an agreement signed on March 5, 1931, between Mohandas K. Gandhi, leader of the Indian nationalist movement, and Lord Irwin, British viceroy (1926–31) of India
  • It marked the end of a period of civil disobedience (satyagraha) in India against British rule that Gandhi and his followers had initiated with the Salt March (March–April 1930)

 

Background

  • Before the pact, Lord Irwin, the Viceroy, had announced in October 1929 a vague offer of ‘dominion status‘ for British-occupied India in an unspecified future and a Round Table Conference to discuss a future constitution
  • By the end of 1930, thousands of Indians, including Jawaharlal Nehru, were in jail. The Civil Disobedience movement had generated worldwide publicity, and Irwin was looking for a way to end it
  • Gandhiji was released from custody in January 1931, and the two men began negotiating the terms of the pact
  • Gandhiji was authorised by the then President of the Congress, Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel and Congress Working Committee (CWC), to negotiate with Lord Irwin
    • He told the people that the nation had suffered a great deal and needed an interval to fight the next phase with more vigour
    • The outcome of these talks was the Gandhi Irwin pact
  • Also, the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, also known as the Delhi Pact, equalized Congress and the government and was to lay the groundwork for the Round Table Conference to be held in England

 

The Gandhi-Irwin Pact

  • Irwin on behalf of the government agreed on:
    • immediate release of all political prisoners not convicted of violence
    • remission of all fines not yet collected
    • return of all lands not yet sold to third parties
    • lenient treatment to those government servants who had resigned;
    • right to make salt in coastal villages for personal consumption (not for sale);
    • right to peaceful and non-aggressive picketing; and
    • withdrawal of emergency ordinances
  • The viceroy, however, turned down two of Gandhi’s demands:
    • public inquiry into police excesses, and
    • Commutation of Bhagat Singh and his comrades’ death sentence to life sentence.
  • Gandhi on behalf of the Congress agreed
    • to suspend the civil disobedience movement, and
    • to participate in the next Round Table Conference on the constitutional question around the three lynch-pins of federation, Indian responsibility, and reservations and safeguards that may be necessary in India’s interests

 

Outcomes of the Pact

  • Many British officials in India, and in Great Britain, were outraged by the idea of a pact with a party, whose avowed purpose was the destruction of the British Raj
  • Despite boycotting the first Round Table Conference, members of the CWC attended the second conference in September 1931.
  • Further, Bans on the INC were lifted, and it was permitted to hold peaceful meetings that were not intended to be anti-establishment.

 

Significance of the Pact

  • Gandhiji’s technique of Satyagraha got highlighted in the pact
    • The satyagraha (quest for truth) movements were commonly described as “struggles”, “rebellions” and “wars without violence”
    • The object of satyagraha was, however, not to achieve the physical elimination or moral breakdown of an adversary—but, through suffering at his hands, to initiate a psychological processes that could make it possible for minds and hearts to meet.
    • In such a struggle, a compromise with an opponent was neither here nor treason, but a natural and necessary step.
    • Also, If it turned out that the compromise was premature and the adversary was unrepentant, nothing prevented the satyagrahi from returning to non-violent battle which aimed at coercing the oppressor to accept the real truth and not the truth that had been imposed via violence and oppression
  • As a significant fact, this was the second high-level meeting between Gandhi and a Viceroy in 13 years after the initiation of the Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms in 1919