‘Must we see Gandhi and Ambedkar as rivals?’

deep thought:Historian Ramchandra Guha speaking at Ramjas College on special arrangement  

Someone may admire B.R. Ambedkar more than Mahatma Gandhi and someone may admire Gandhi more than Ambedkar, but to demonise one at the expense of the other is unfair to history, unfair to the past and unhelpful for the future, said historian Ramchandra Guha on Tuesday while speaking at Ramjas College on the topic ‘Must we see Gandhi and Ambedkar as rivals and adversaries?’.

The lecture was a part of a series called the Centennial Dialogues that the college is organising.

Giving details into the way both social reformers approached the issue of untouchability and the caste system in their lifetime, Mr. Guha said: “In the first half of the 20th Century India needed both Ambedkar and Gandhi and today in the first half of the 21st Century, India still needs both Ambedkar and Gandhi but for different reasons, in different proportions and with different emphasis.”

Both leaders were severely critical of one another but also learnt a lot from each other, said Mr. Guha while attacking ideologues for quoting both Gandhi and Ambedkar out of context to take a radical stance.

Calling the cast system the most sophisticated form of organised hierarchy known to humans that has been alive for thousands of years, Mr. Guha highlighted how the system was challenged before Gandhi and Ambedkar came to the fore — from the Bhakti movement, Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam, Christianity, urbanisation, industrialisation and from people like Jyotirao Phule.

The historian then went into detail about how Gandhi’s attitude gradually became more radical as he laid emphasis on purging Hinduism of the caste system as he was looking for a solution within Hinduism, while Ambedkar rejected Hinduism and was looking for an alternative from the outside.

The historian said that Gandhi believed change needed to be village-oriented while Ambedkar felt that urbanisation and industrialisation was the only way out.

Mr. Guha also mentioned how Gandhi was sceptical of giving too much power to the State and believed that change must come from within society while Ambedkar believed in the power of the State and was sceptical of society.

Mr. Guha said that although Gandhi and Ambedkar were political adversaries, there was no reason why India should still keep them as rivals 60-70 years after their death just because they approached the same problem from different perspectives.

The historian said that like in any social reform that we see in history, change needs to happen from above and below. “Gandhi did more to challenge untouchability than any other upper caste Hindu in the modern world while Ambedkar was the greatest emancipator of the Dalits. Both launched a lifelong struggle by putting their political and personal ambitions aside,” said Mr. Guha.

In the 20th Century India needed both Ambedkar and Gandhi, today India still needs them

but for different reasons, in different proportions and with different emphasisRamchandra Guha