Throughout 1930, the government's attitude was marked by ambiguity. Gandhiji's arrest had been delayed for a long time. Following that, ordinances restricting people's civil liberties were freely issued, and provincial governments were given the authority to prohibit civil disobedience organisations. However, the Congress Working Committee was not declared illegal until the end of June, and Motilal Nehru, who was serving as Congress President at the time, was also free until then. It took until August for many local Congress Committees to be outlawed. Meanwhile, the release of the Simon Commission report, which made no mention of Dominion Status and was regressive in other ways, combined with the repressive policy, further enraged even moderate political opinion. M.S. Aney and Madan Mohan Malaviya were arrested.
• On July 9, the Viceroy made a conciliatory gesture by proposing a Round Table Conference and reiterating the goal of Dominion Status. He also agreed to Tej Bahadur Sapru and M.R. Jayakar exploring the possibility of a peace between the Congress and the Government, as proposed by forty members of the Central Legislature.
First round table conference:
• In August, the Nehrus family, father and son, were taken to Yeravada prison to meet Gandhiji and discuss the possibility of a settlement. The talks resulted in nothing, but the gesture ensured that some members of the political establishment would attend the Round Table Conference in London in November.
• The London proceedings, the first ever held on an equal footing between the British and Indians, at which virtually every delegate reiterated that a constitutional discussion in which the Congress was not a participant was a pointless exercise, made it clear that if the Government's survival strategy was to be based on constitutional advancement, then an olive branch to the Congress was required.
• In his statement at the conclusion of the Round Table Conference, the British Prime Minister hinted at this possibility. He also expressed his hope that the Congress would take part in the next round of discussions, which will take place later this year.
• On January 25, the Viceroy announced Gandhiji's and all other members of the Congress Working Committee's unconditional release, which could be interpreted as a response to the Prime Minister's statement of "freedom and fearlessness."
• The Congress Working Committee authorised Gandhiji to initiate discussions with the Viceroy after nearly three weeks of deliberation amongst itself, as well as long discussions with delegates who had returned from London and other leaders representing a cross-section of political opinion.
• The Gandhi-Irwin Pact, also known as a "truce" or a "provisional settlement," was signed on March 5, 1931, after a fortnight of discussions.
• The Pact was signed by Gandhiji on behalf of the Congress and Lord Irwin on behalf of the government, a procedure that irked officials because it put the Congress on an equal footing with the government.
The terms of the agreement included:
a. The immediate release of all political prisoners who had not been convicted of violence, the remission of all unpaid fines, the return of confiscated lands that had not yet been sold to third parties, and lenient treatment for resigned government employees.
b. Villages along the coast were also granted the right to make salt for consumption, as well as the right to peaceful and non-aggressive picketing.
c. The Congress' demand for a public inquiry into police abuses was denied, but Gandhiji's insistence on an investigation was noted in the agreement.
e. The Congress was also expected to participate in the next Round Table Conference.
• The terms on which the Pact was signed, its timing, Gandhiji's motivations for signing the Pact, and his refusal to make the Pact conditional on the commutation of the death sentences of Bhagat Singh and his comrades have all sparked considerable debate and controversy among contemporaries and historians alike.
• The Pact has been viewed as a betrayal, proof of the Indian bourgeoisie's vacillation, and Gandhiji succumbing to bourgeois pressure, among other things. It has been cited as proof of Gandhiji's and the Indian bourgeoisie's fear of a radical turn in the mass movement; as a betrayal of peasants' interests because it did not immediately restore confiscated land that had already been sold to a third party, and so on.
• These perceptions, like those relating to the Non Cooperation Movement's withdrawal in 1922 after Chauri Chaura, are based on a lack of understanding of the Indian national movement's basic strategy and character.
For one thing, this understanding ignores an earlier point
a. Mass movements are inevitably short-lived
b. They cannot last indefinitely
c. People's willingness to sacrifice, unlike activists', is finite.
• While students and other young people still had energy to spare in the towns, shopkeepers and merchants were finding it difficult to bear any more losses, and support from these groups, which had been critical to the boycott's success, had begun to dwindle by September 1930.
• Rural India, too, saw a drop in resistance in the second half of the year, compared to the first half of the year. This was true in Bengal and Bihar, as well as Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, where sporadic incidents of resistance and attacks on and clashes with police continued. Those areas, such as Uttar Pradesh, which began their no-rent campaigns only at the end of 1930, had more fight in them, but the few instances of militant resistance that persisted, as well as the ability of one or two regions to sustain activity, can hardly be cited as proof of the country's vast energy reserves.
• The government could change tack and suppress with a ferocity that could effectively crush the movement, as 1932 demonstrated. Surely the youth were disappointed, as they would have preferred their world to end with a bang' rather than a whimper', and the peasants of Gujarat were not pleased that some of their lands were not returned to them immediately (they were returned after the Congress Ministry assumed office in Bombay in 1937).
• The fact that the mighty British Government had to treat their movement and their leader as equals and sign a pact with him was undoubtedly impressive to the vast majority of the people. They interpreted this as recognition of their own power as well as a victory over the government.
• Thousands of prisoners were treated as soldiers returning from a victorious battle, not as prisoners of war returning from a humiliating defeat, as a result of the pact. They understood that a cease-fire did not imply surrender, and that the battle could be resumed if the enemy so desired. Meanwhile, their soldiers could rest and prepare for the next round, as long as they kept their faith in their General and themselves.