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Thus spoke Ambedkar…

Jacket of book on Ambedkar.   | Photo Credit: 26dmchindibelt

Exactly a month ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government celebrated Constitution Day to pay homage to the Dalit icon B. R. Ambedkar who had played the most important role in drafting the Constitution of independent India. This move was part of a conscious attempt by the Hindutva forces to appropriate Ambedkar as they have earlier tried to do with several other tall leaders of the freedom struggle like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. While it is a fact of history that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh kept itself away from the anti-British freedom struggle, its attempt to include national leaders among its pantheon is aimed at image correction.

On the other hand, its recent focus on Ambedkar seems to be inspired by electoral calculations as the Dalit vote is becoming very crucial in many parts of the country and the BJP has to contend with a Dalit leader of Mayawati’s stature in the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh that are scheduled to be held in early 2017.

Not many people may be aware that although he is hailed as the maker of the Indian Constitution, Ambedkar was not entirely happy with it. In fact, he felt that it did not offer adequate protection to the Dalits as well as linguistic minorities. On September 2, 1953, he went to the extent of declaring, “The first thing that I will do is to burn this Constitution.” I have no idea if this startling outburst of Ambedkar is available in his books in English because I have read it in Hindi.

L.G. Meshram’s “Vimalkirti” translated into Hindi all those writings and speeches of Ambedkar that were so far available only in Marathi. Radhakrisna Prakashan has published them in a five-volume set titled “Aur Babasaheb Ambedkar Ne Kaha….”. (And Thus Spake Babasaheb Ambedkar) This statement of Ambedkar occurs in volume 5 of this set and was originally published in the Marathi weekly “Janata” on December 5, 1953. It may be mentioned here that this weekly was one of those publications that were started by the Dalit leader to spread his message and create awareness among members of his community about their situation and the need to wage a struggle to change it. “Mooknayak” (Silent Hero) and “Bahishkrit Bharat” (Ostracized India) were some of the other prominent newspapers that he had founded.

How will the Hindutva forces reconcile their core ideology with the beliefs of a man who had declared as early as in 1935 that although he was born a Hindu, he would not die as one. He kept his word and shortly before his death in 1956, he embraced Buddhism along with thousands of his followers in Nagpur, the seat of the RSS.

These days, important BJP leaders are demanding that Gita should be accorded the status of National Book. Last week, while inaugurating a Gita Jayanti function, Haryana governor Kaptan Singh Solanki offered these pearls of wisdom to his audience, “If you don’t know Gita and don’t follow the path and teachings of Gita, you are not an Indian. The ideology and spirituality for which India is known is stored in Gita and that is why it is relevant even today.”

But what did Ambedkar think of Gita and saints like Eknath and Gyaneshwar who wrote commentaries on it? He saw it as a scripture that justified and protected caste-based discrimination while simultaneously offering lofty philosophical ideas.

Addressing a meeting organised by Marathwada Scheduled Castes Federation in July 1953, Ambedkar said, “And what is the essence of Gita? That Brahma (Supreme Being) resides in the entire universe. Then, why is it so that this Brahma does not reside in the untouchable castes like Mahar, Matang and Bhangis? When Gyaneshwar was excommunicated by the Brahmins, why did he not live among these castes?” While Hindtutva exponents are still talking of Aryans as a race, Ambedkar was clear in his mind that “The Aryans were not a race. The Aryans were a collection of people.” This fits well with the current understanding among historians that the Aryans were a linguistic group, not a race.

Both as a social and political leader as well as an intellectual, Ambedkar was the first Dalit to rise to such great heights. Little wonder that the Dalits have virtually deified him. It has become impossible to take a critical view of his life and work, as was amply illustrated when the cartoon controversy erupted a few years ago. However, had he been alive today, he would have felt greatly embarrassed by the attitude of his followers. It is worth remembering what he wrote about this phenomenon, “Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.” Nothing can be truer than this.

(The writer is a senior literary critic)

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2022 10:59:15 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/thus-spoke-ambedkar/article8029273.ece

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