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Updated: March 3, 2014 17:18 IST

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Mahatma Gandhi: After a meeting with the Viceroy. Photo: The Hindu Photo Library
Mahatma Gandhi: After a meeting with the Viceroy. Photo: The Hindu Photo Library

On March 5, 1931 Gandhiji and Lord Irwin signed the Gandhi-Irwin Pact.

March 5

On March 5, 1931 Mahatma Gandhi and the then Viceroy of India, Lord Irwin signed a political agreement. This was prior to the second Round Table Conference to be held in London. The Round Table Conference was a series of conferences organised by the British Government to discuss constitutional reforms in India.

In 1929, Lord Irwin had announced an offer of “dominion status” for India. But the whole thing was rather vague and the Round Table Conference was to discuss a future constitution.

British officials in India and in England were angered by the very idea of the pact as it was drawn up with a party whose sole purpose was to demolish the British Raj.

Premier Ramsay MacDonald (the first Labour Party Prime Minister) and Secretary of State William Wedgewood Benn wanted peace and wished to get it without weakening the position of the Labour Government. The also knew that the Round Table Conference would not be a success without the presence of Gandhiji and the Congress.

At the closing session of the Round Table Conference in January 1931 MacDonald expressed hope that the Congress would be able to attend the next session. The Viceroy promptly released Gandhiji and members of the Congress Working Committee. It was this gesture that prompted the Mahatma to meet the Viceroy.

Movements were commonly described as "struggles", "rebellions" and "wars without violence". Owing, however, to the common connotation of these words, they seemed to lay a disproportionate emphasis on the negative aspect of the movements, namely, opposition and conflict. 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 heresy nor treason, but a natural and necessary step. If it turned out that the compromise was premature and the adversary was unrepentant, nothing prevented the Satyagrahi from returning to non-violent battle.

Gandhiji and Irwin had eight meetings (a total of 24 hours) and Gandhiji was impressed with Irwin’s sincerity. However, the terms of the Pact fell short of what Gandhiji had prescribed as the minimum for a treaty.

Some of the proposed conditions

- Discontinuation of the civil disobedience movement by the Indian National Congress (INC)

- The participation of the INC in the Round Table Conference

- Withdrawal of all ordinances issued by the British Government imposing curbs on the activities of the INC

- Release of prisoners arrested for participating in the civil disobedience movement and so on.

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