But without biographical contextualisation, any collection of Ambedkar’s speeches becomes a mere assortment

Speaking on the on the issue of participation of India in the Second World War, on October 26, 1939, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar as a Member of Bombay Legislative Assembly said: “Let everybody here and everywhere understand … As between the country and myself, the country will have precedence; as between the country and the Depressed Classes, the Depressed Classes will have precedence — the country will not have precedence.” On the next day when B.G. Kher commented on Dr. Ambedkar’s speech: “My quarrel is with that statement of his. Because the part can never be greater than the whole. The whole must contain the part,” Ambedkar emphatically replied: “I am not a part of the whole. I am a part apart.”

Narendra Jadhav’s compilation of 301 speeches at one place brings us to remember the significance of Dr. Ambedkar: a radical orator, statesman, a “patriot of sterling worth”, and a constant inspiration to the million mutinies in India against societal oppression. Jadhav’s work on Dr. Ambedkar’s speeches emanates from Vasant Moon-edited Maharashtra Government’s Dr. Babasaheb Ambedka’s Writings and Speeches, which compiled Dr. Ambedkar’s speeches (and writings), but published Ambedkar’s Marathi speeches un-translated. This, Jadhav’s project now does.

Translation

Narendra Jadhav is known for translating his family’s story in Marathi (Amcha Baap aan Aamhi : Granthali:1993) into Outcaste: A Memoir (Penguin: 2003) which followed the trend of dalit autobiographies such as Viramma: Life of an Untouchable (Verso:1997) and Vasant Moon’s Growing up Untouchable in India (Rowman and Littlefield: 2000) . Jadhav’s only work on Ambedkar was in 1992, a collection of pieces on Ambedkar’s economic work, Dr. Ambedkar: Economic Thought and Philosophy (Popular Prakashan), published after Maharashtra Government’s volumes.

Jadhav’s project was to collect all the speeches of Dr. Ambedkar published so far and bring them to one place in English. The editor sieved published works of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Writings and Speeches (Maharashtra Government: 22 volumes); three Marathi collections of speeches; two Marathi biographies on Ambedkar; one English biography and one English collection of speeches for this purpose.

Dr. Ambedkar is known to have made speeches in English, Marathi, Hindi and Gujarati. The speeches were counted to 537. Then 500 of them were set into a bibliographic list and further shortlisted to 301 for publication. The 301 speeches were further categorised by Jadhav into seven parts: Autobiographical speeches, Social speeches, Guidance to followers, Economic, Religious, related to Law and Constitution and Political speeches explained with coloured pie charts and graphs.

These 301 speeches were packed into three volumes and are called a Trilogy. Celebrated editor and compiler of Maharashtra Government’s Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Writings and Speeches, Vasant Moon, picked up the “I am a part apart” statement of Ambedkar sifting tomes of Bombay Legislative Assembly Debates.

Jadhav found the compilation of Ambedkar’s Writings and Speeches published by Maharashtra Government as “non-exhaustive, limited editing and no thematic presentation”. But Jadhav’s compilation misses the mark as the landmark disposition of Ambedkar, “I am a part apart” and finds no mention of it.

After having done a large project of bringing all the speeches to one place, the editor distinctly falls short of presenting any scholarly insight into Ambedkar’s work. Jadhav makes short work of the compilation by inventorying speeches in 20-dd pages of notes. An opportunity to do primary research was lost.

Dhananjay Keer’s biography of Ambedkar, Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission (Popular Prakashan: 1954) now becomes a pre-requisite to understand the current compilation of speeches of Dr. Ambedkar by Jadhav. Without biographical contextualisation of Ambedkar, tracing his journey; his rise and growth as a leader; his interventions that had an impact on the history and dalit movements — any compilation of such speeches becomes a mere assortment. Jadhav’s compilation, a good idea and a bad execution, comes at an almost prohibitive price, whereas the complete collected works of the Maharashtra Government in 22 volumes is far more accessible to students of Ambedkar.

Nevertheless, let us remember Ambedkar’s 1942 speech: “My final words of advice to you are educate, agitate and organize; have faith in yourself. With justice on our side, I do not see how we can lose our battle. The battle to me is a matter of joy. The battle is in the fullest sense spiritual. There is nothing material or social in it. For ours is a battle, not for wealth or for power. It is a battle for freedom. It is a battle for the reclamation of human personality.” And this is the most inspiring speech for all dalit movements — even today it reads like a ready recipe for all movements fighting for justice in India.

(Raja Sekhar Vundru is an IAS officer with a doctorate on Ambedkar’s ideas on electoral representation)

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