As per the provisions of the Government of India Act, 1919, for the necessary improvements in the working of the Constitution, the British Parliament appointed a Statutory Commission under the Chairmanship of Sir John Simon. The ‘Simon Commission’ was appointed in 1928, consisting of 6 members of the British Parliament. Since, the Commission didn’t include any Indian member, the Indian National Congress ‘INC’, opposed the Simon Commission.
Mass agitation throughout the country was initiated by the INC against the Commission by welcoming the members of the Commission with the slogan- “Simon Go Back”. However, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar welcomed the Simon Commission. He was of the view that since, the prevailing Indian demands are variegated in nature due to the diverse groups & communities in the country, absence of Indian representative on the Commission would aid in unbiased solutions to all the issues. He believed, in the absence of any Indian member, the issues and demands of the Depressed Classes would be heeded without prejudice. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar placed his demands before the Commission of “separate electorates and reserved seats for the Depressed Classes”.
After the submission of the final report by the Simon Commission and in order to appease the agitation of the INC in India, the British government convened three Round Table Conferences in London. It was declared that the Round Table Conference will be attended by the Indian representatives for the discussion of framing the Constitution of India. On November 12, 1930, the First Round Table Conference was inaugurated by King George V, at House of Lords, London. The Chairman of the Conference was the then Prime Minister of Britain, Ramsay MacDonald. The Round Table Conference consisted of 89 members, out of which 16 were representatives of three British political parties, 53 were Indian representatives, 20 representative of Indian Princely states and 2 representatives of the Depressed Classes. The Depressed Classes was represented by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and Shri. Rao Bahadur Srinivasan. The INC denied to attend the Conference in view of the Civil Disobedience Movement called by Gandhiji in India. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar was glad that the British Government recognized independent status of the Depressed Classes and allowed them to be represented separately by their own representatives.
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar in the First Session of the Round Table Conferences suggested that the untouchables must be regarded different from the main Hindu-fold. They have separate existence unlike other Hindus. They were mostly slaves or labourers. Their economic and social status were dismal in comparison to caste-Hindus. They were only exploited or harrassed by the Hindus. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar in his speech, retorted the British rule in India by the poignant question- “Has the British government done anything to remove untouchability?” Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar reiterated his demand in the Conference of separate electorates and reserved seats for the Depressed Classes. He also supported the cause of Dominion Status for India. The First Round Table Conference appointed 9 Sub-committees. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar served on 3 such Sub-committees including the Minorities Sub-Committee. The First Round Table Conference ended on January 19, 1931.
As a result of the Gandhi-Irwin Pact in March 1931, the Civil Disobedience Movement was withdrawn in India. The INC agreed to attend the Second Round Table Conference in London. The Second Round Table Conference began on September 7, 1931. The INC was represented by Gandhiji, Sarojini Naidu and Madan Mohan Malviya.
In this session, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and Gandhiji argued on the issue of separate electorates and special representation of Depressed Classes. The highlight of this session was the unfaltering stand taken by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and the unrelenting attitude of Gandhiji. Gandhiji opposed Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s demands as he believed that giving separate recognition to the untouchables shall break and create divisions in Hinduism. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s gravitas overshadowed Gandhiji’s obdurate attitude. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar didn’t reply much to Gandhiji’s retorts. By the end of the Second Round Table Conference, members of the Minorities Committee issued a requisition authorizing the British PM Ramsay MacDonald to settle the communal dispute. Gandhiji signed it with other members. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar did not sign it. The Second Round Table Conference ended on December 1, 1931.
In August 1932, Ramsay MacDonald declared his decision on communal dispute. The British Government agreed to grant the ‘Communal Award’. Along with the separate electorates for the Depressed Classes it also gave right of double vote, one to be used through separate electorates and the other to be used in general electorates. This proved a remarkable achievement for Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s efforts & perseverance. Gandhiji on the other hand, resented the decision of granting Communal Award. Gandhiji went on fast unto death in Yeravada Central Jail, Pune, to oppose it. After a brief period of tense situation between the two icons, the issue was resolved by an agreement between the two in September, 1932. This went down in history as the Poona Pact. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar magnanimously acceded to the demands of Gandhiji, as the latter’s life was more precious for the country. The British Government accepted the Poona Pact and thereby abjured the Communal Award.
The Third Round Table Conference was convened on November, 17, 1932, in London. Only 46 delegates participated in this Session. The INC was not given invitation to attend it. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar attended it. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and Tej Bahadur Sapru were the only two Indians who attended all the Three Round Table Conferences. The Third Round Table Conference ended on December, 24, 1932. The recommendations given by the representatives in the Conferences were discussed, heeded & analyzed by the British Parliament. On the premises of that, the Government of India Act, 1935, came into existence.
The Round Table Conference embarked a renewed voyage for Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. His participation in the Conference established him as the sole national leader of the Depressed Classes in India. His averments on the issue of untouchability, his presenting of the issues of Depressed Classes in India, his erudite & coherent demeanor, grabbed the attention of even the British Parliament. The Three Round Table Conferences provided a new path for the Depressed Classes movement and so did for the struggle of Indian independence.