India Signs the Delhi Pact

Mahatma Gandhi and the British viceroy of India agreed to the Delhi Pact, which ended a civil disobedience campaign and provided for talks between the Indian National Congress party and the British.

Summary of Event

In 1928, Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress Indian National Congress party decided to mount vigorous opposition to the appointment of the Simon Commission, which the British sent to India to decide how the next step of constitutional reforms should take place. Gandhi decided that the opposition would take the form of a noncooperation movement. This would be a movement of civil disobedience begun with deliberate breaking of the salt laws, which gave a monopoly on salt production to the British government. Accordingly, on March 12, 1930, Gandhi and his followers started a twenty-five-day march to the sea to collect salt and thus break the law. The Salt March Salt March (1930) started off a nationwide protest over a wide variety of issues involving millions of Indians of all ages, classes, and religions. On May 5, Gandhi and the leaders of the Indian National Congress were arrested and imprisoned. Eventually, the British incarcerated more than sixty thousand people in their efforts to stop this protest movement, which led people to block streets, disobey police orders, and march through city centers curtailing business and disrupting all normal activities. [kw]India Signs the Delhi Pact (Mar. 5, 1931)
[kw]Delhi Pact, India Signs the (Mar. 5, 1931)
[kw]Pact, India Signs the Delhi (Mar. 5, 1931)
Delhi Pact (1931)
Gandhi-Irwin Pact (1931)[Gandhi Irwin Pact]
India;noncooperation movement
Noncooperation movement (India)
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[g]South Asia;Mar. 5, 1931: India Signs the Delhi Pact[07780]
[c]Indigenous peoples’ rights;Mar. 5, 1931: India Signs the Delhi Pact[07780]
[c]Diplomacy and international relations;Mar. 5, 1931: India Signs the Delhi Pact[07780]
[c]Independence movements;Mar. 5, 1931: India Signs the Delhi Pact[07780]
Gandhi, Mahatma
Halifax, Lord (Edward Frederick Lindley Wood)
Nehru, Jawaharlal

The Congress leaders were held in prison for nearly a year, until January 26, 1931, when they were released by the viceroy, Lord Irwin (also known as Lord Halifax). They were set free because the British wanted a truce with the Congress. The British were anxious to bring the Congress into the ongoing constitutional discussions—the Second Round Table Conference, Second Round Table Conference to be held in London at the end of the year—so that Indians would accept the new constitution the British wanted to introduce into India. Because of this, they needed an end to the civil disobedience movement and Gandhi’s participation and cooperation.

The Congress saw the noncooperation movement as a success, achieving a response never before seen in India, but many people, including Gandhi, were exhausted and ready for peace with the government. The rank-and-file members of the Congress who had led the demonstrations against the government were tired, and Indian businesspeople, who had in some cases lost a substantial sum of money because they were stopped from selling British products, wanted an end to disruptive practices. At this time, one of the most radical members of the Congress, Jawaharlal Nehru, came firmly under Gandhi’s influence after the death of his father, Motilal Nehru. In addition, many of the more moderate politicians in India wanted an end to illegal activities. The result was that Gandhi responded positively to the viceroy’s January 17 invitation to talks.

The formal meetings between Gandhi and Lord Irwin began in New Delhi on February 17, 1931. There was a total of eight meetings over a period of three weeks. Gandhi and Irwin got along well together, as both men were very religious and appreciated that quality in each other. The talks represented the highest point of Gandhi’s political career and led to the Delhi Pact (popularly known as the Gandhi-Irwin Pact) of March 5, 1931.

The meetings did not meet with everyone’s approval. Many Indians, including one of the most radical and forceful advocates of violent opposition to the British, Subhas Chandra Bose, Bose, Subhas Chandra wanted total opposition to British rule instead of talks and cooperation. Even they saw that opposition to Gandhi, who was immensely popular among the elite politicians as well as among the masses, would weaken their own position. Many conservatives in England were also strongly opposed to the meetings. Winston Churchill, Churchill, Winston
[p]Churchill, Winston;opposition to Delhi Pact the leading opponent in the Conservative Party, made the most famous comment when, referring to Gandhi, he complained about “the nauseating and humiliating spectacle of this one-time Inner Temple lawyer, now seditious fakir, striding half-naked up the steps of the Viceroy’s palace there to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor.”

This comment revealed the new reality of the political situation in India and the significance of the Delhi Pact: An Indian was talking as an equal with the British viceroy for the first time in history. Through their noncooperation and their mass opposition, Indians, under the leadership of Gandhi, had forced the British to establish a new relationship with the colonized people. Gandhi had aroused significant opposition to the British raj (rule), and India was no longer the docile and profitable country it had once been. The British knew they could no longer ignore Indian public opinion or ride roughshod over Indians’ civil rights. As a result, they seriously planned to hand over the government of India to the Indians. The end of nearly two hundred years of foreign rule was clearly near.

Gandhi and the viceroy discussed a large number of issues. In the end, they came to an agreement on most and agreed to disagree on the others. The agreement began over the salt laws. The salt laws were not repealed, but local residents of areas where salt was made were allowed to produce some for domestic consumption and for sale within their villages. They were not, however, allowed to sell or trade their salt outside their villages. An amnesty was given to the many thousands of people arrested during the noncooperation movement who were not guilty of violent crimes, and all special ordinances passed to control the campaign were withdrawn. Those properties that were confiscated, forfeited, or attached because of a failure to pay fines and had not yet been sold by the government were restored to their owners. People were given back their government jobs if they had resigned from them as part of the noncooperation movement, provided that the jobs had not been offered to someone else in the meantime. Gandhi demanded an inquiry into police behavior during the campaign, but Irwin refused. Gandhi gave in on this point.

Gandhi agreed that civil disobedience would be stopped. In particular, organized defiance of any law, the movement for the nonpayment of land-revenue and other legal fees, the publication of news sheets in support of civil disobedience, and attempts to influence civil and military officials or to persuade them to resign were to cease. Gandhi also agreed that Congress would attend the second meeting of the Round Table Conference, Round Table Conference to be held in London in the fall, to discuss a new constitution. Gandhi’s comment after the talks were over was that Indians now had proof that the British were serious about giving them freedom and self-government.

The Delhi Pact was an important breakthrough with regard to the rights of Indians. Gandhi and the Congress, which represented the majority of Hindus in India, had in the past been the major opponent of British rule. Previously, the British had ignored this opposition as much as they could. This was no longer possible. The Delhi Pact, which resulted from the Salt March and the noncooperation movement, created a new relationship between Indians and the British. The British had to respect Indians’ civil rights in a way they never had in the past.


As a result of the Delhi Pact, the Indian National Congress changed its policy of noncooperation with the British to one of working with them to write a new constitution and taking part in the government under that constitution. The pact also increased the determination of the British to work out a constitution that would be acceptable to Indians and would prevent any reoccurrence of noncooperation.

Gandhi attended the second session of the Round Table Conference, which opened in September, 1931, as the sole representative of the Congress. He did not get everything he wanted, but the Government of India Act of 1935, Government of India Act (1935) which followed from the conference, provided for representative government in the provinces and planned for independence at the center as well. One British concession at the conference was that minorities such as the Muslims were given special representation in regional parliaments and the national assembly. This increased their civil rights considerably. The pact established a new relationship between Indians and the British—they were now partners and not master and servant in the government of India.

The Government of India Act of 1935 called for general elections to be held in all the provinces of British India. These were held at the end of 1936 and the beginning of 1937. The Congress scored a major triumph, securing power in most of the provinces, and essentially ran the country from 1937 to 1939. The Congress members resigned from their government positions then because the British had declared war on behalf of India without consulting them. This had the unforeseen result of alienating elite Muslims, who believed they were excluded from government positions and contracts by the Hindus, who now had most of the power and patronage. In March, 1940, the leading Muslim political party, the All-India Muslim League, All-India Muslim League[All India Muslim League] called for the creation of a separate country for Muslims. When India received its independence in 1947, the country was split into the Hindu area of India and the Muslim area of Pakistan.

The Delhi Pact was a turning point in Indian history because it established a new relationship between the British and the Indians. The agreement of a viceroy of the world’s most powerful empire with Gandhi, a small man who dressed and acted as a saint, symbolized the triumph of Gandhi’s ideas of nonviolence and civil disobedience. Delhi Pact (1931)
Gandhi-Irwin Pact (1931)[Gandhi Irwin Pact]
India;noncooperation movement
Noncooperation movement (India)

Further Reading

  • Brown, Judith M. Gandhi and Civil Disobedience: The Mahatma in Indian Politics, 1928-34. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977. Provides an excellent detailed account of the events surrounding the signing of the Delhi Pact.
  • _________. Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1990. Places the Delhi Pact within the context of Gandhi’s long and complex political life.
  • Copley, Antony. Gandhi: Against the Tide. 1987. Reprint. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Brief biography shows the place of the Delhi Pact within the framework of the Indian struggle for freedom. A useful quick reference.
  • Erikson, Erik. Gandhi’s Truth: On the Origins of Militant Nonviolence. 1969. Reprint. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993. Psychoanalyst looks at the psychology of Gandhi’s actions and the psychological dimensions of his relationship with the British. Analyzes Gandhi’s decision to enter into negotiations with the British and the reasons for the Delhi Pact.
  • Fox, Richard G. Gandhian Utopia: Experiments with Culture. Boston: Beacon Press, 1989. Anthropologist shows how Gandhi was not only attempting to come to political decisions with the viceroy through the Delhi Pact but also trying to define the Indian nationalist movement in cultural terms congruent with traditional Indian culture.
  • Gandhi, M. K. An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth. 1957. Reprint. Boston: Beacon Press, 1993. Essential source shows how Gandhi’s coming to terms and negotiating with his opponents had its origins in his experiences in South Africa. Covers only up to 1920, so does not include discussion of the Delhi Pact.
  • _______. Mohandas Gandhi: Essential Writings. Edited by John Dear. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2002. Collection of Gandhi’s writings is organized thematically, with topics including nonviolent resistance, the search for God, and the pursuit of truth. Includes a chronology as well as a list of sources and recommended readings.
  • Nehru, Jawaharlal. Toward Freedom: The Autobiography of Jawaharlal Nehru. 1941. Reprint. Boston: Beacon Press, 1963. An insider’s account of the events surrounding the signing of the Delhi Pact by one of Gandhi’s most loyal followers. A classic work, essential for its firsthand account of the Indian nationalist movement of the 1920’s and 1930’s.
  • Parekh, Bhiku. Colonialism, Tradition, and Reform: An Analysis of Gandhi’s Political Discourse. Rev. ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 2000. Examines Gandhi’s political technique and explains how Gandhi was careful to use Indian symbols during his negotiations that led to the Delhi Pact. A rich analysis by a renowned Indian thinker.
  • Rudolph, Susanne Hoeber, and Lloyd I. Rudolph. Gandhi: The Traditional Roots of Charisma. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983. Analyzes Gandhi’s appeal and his use of all kinds of symbols—political, religious, and traditional—to impart his message.
  • Wolpert, Stanley. Gandhi’s Passion: The Life and Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Biography of Gandhi and evaluation of his life’s work inspired in part by India’s seeming abandonment of his vision of nonviolence in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Includes bibliography and index.

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