In the light of his trilogy, “Ambedkar Speaks”, author and member of Planning Commission Narendra Jadhav tells Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty why the chief architect of our Constitution should be looked beyond the Dalit ambit

Three hardbound volumes in navy blue weighing over three kilograms together. Certainly, this is no reading material for the faint hearted! Author and member of Planning Commission Narendra Jadhav has recently rolled out in English this impressive voluminous three-part series Ambedkar Speaks (Konark Publishers) by stitching together “300 seminal public speeches” made by the father of our Constitution B.R. Ambedkar and dissected them in relation to the landmark developments of the times then and in Ambedkar’s life.

At his office in New Delhi, Jadhav, a well-known Marathi writer with his name on the cover of 22 books by now, is all keyed up to talk about Ambedkar Speaks, first released in his mother tongue Marathi. “This trilogy is the first ever attempt at a systematic study of all the speeches attributed to Dr. Ambedkar,” he states. The key reason why he wrote this book “was that most people today identify Ambedkar as a Dalit leader and are not aware of his huge contributions in diverse fields, his broad vision as a national leader.” One could look at this omission as innocuous, an accident but Jadhav is resolute in his belief, “I am afraid it is not. There has been a systematic effort to suppress such information.”

His arguments are mordant here. “Imagine, what would have happened if Ambedkar converted to Islam or Sikhism or any other religion along with the Dalits.”

“This would have changed the entire social dynamics of the country. He wanted to renounce Hinduism for the caste system but he was careful in choosing a religion to convert himself. He chose Buddhism with a lot of care. Buddhism is based on Indian ethos, Indian origin; and is consistent in respecting the basic philosophy of liberty, equality and justice.” Along with five lakh people who converted to Buddhism along with Ambedkar in 1956 were his parents, adds the Nasik native. “My father had great potential to do well in life but he worked all his life as a grade four employee, all thanks to the caste system,” he says. Jadhav has penned his family’s story of facing discrimination due to his Dalit status in a well-known Marathi book Amcha Baap An Aamhi.

“This June, I will be releasing its 161st edition, unprecedented in the 700 year history of Marathi literature,” he says. The book has been translated into 20 languages and six lakh copies have sold so far. “A film based on the story is also in the offing. Actor Nana Patekar is to play my father’s role”.

Coming back to talk about the Ambedkar’s broader vision, Jadav, himself a well known economist, argues his contribution in the evolution of Indian economic thought. “Ambedkar is the highest educated Indian economist of all times. He did his masters in Economics from Columbia University, U.S., then did his PhD in Economics in Columbia again, way back in 1917. He then went to England, did his Doctor of Science in Economics from London School of Economics in 1920. Show me an economist in India with such high education. His PhD thesis was on the discipline of Indian economic thought, how it evolved. Sadly, till 1991, all the books on the history of Indian economic thought had no mention of Ambedkar or at best in footnotes. I ask, why when every Tom Dick and Harry who has anything to say about Indian economic thought is reflected in these books and not Ambedkar?”

However, Ambedkar’s PhD dissertation at Columbia, “Evolution of Provincial Finances in British India”, underlines Jadhav, “is the main source of reference for all the reports so far by the Finance Commissions.”

“The man who started the provision for a finance commission every five years in the Constitution was none other than Ambedkar.” He also lists his contribution in creating employment exchanges in India as the labour member in Provincial government in British India, so also the tripartite mechanism of settling labour issues through trade unions, labours and the government representatives, and introducing skill development initiative in the government sector.

“He also created the Damodar Valley Project, he even went into the engineering of it,” adds Jadhav, a member of the National Advisory Council.

So what could be the reasons for not highlighting these contributions to nation building? “It is very difficult to say, it would be attributing motives. He was always a crusader, worked for the establishment and fought it too.” One example of fighting the government was his campaign for the Hindu Code Bill failing which he resigned from the post of the first Law Minister of India. “No women’s organisation talks about it but the contribution of Ambedkar for women empowerment in India was a lot. For three years, he fought to get the Bill passed. It spoke of giving back dignity to Indian women and giving equal rights to boys and girls. The orthodoxy in the ruling party led by Shyama Prasad Mukherjee didn’t allow this bill to be passed.”

Here, Jadhav makes an interesting observation. “As a society, we have been confining our leaders to their respective castes and regions. It is very unfortunate but even the Dalit leaders have done this.” Jadhav signs off saying, “People are talking about scams after scams now, but in my opinion, the biggest and the most brilliantly administered scam in the history of mankind is the caste system in India.”

Narendra Jadhav is thankful to the Maharashtra Government’s 22 part documentation of Ambedkar’s speeches Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches (BAWS). He used it as a base but points out their intrinsic flaws, “There was no method followed in putting them together.”