A discussion on the Constitution of India and its framer, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, became an unlikely occasion for a debate on the Aryan invasion theory in Indian history, between Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) leader Mallikarjuna Kharge and Dattatreya Hosabele, Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) Sar Sah Karyavah or joint general secretary on Thursday.
The trigger for the debate was Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s introductory speech on the Constitution and Dr. Ambedkar, in the Lok Sabha. “However much Dr. Ambedkar may have felt discriminated against by the social system of the country, he never thought of abandoning the country,” he said in an obvious reference to actor Aamir Khan’s apprehensions about rising intolerance in the country. The actor had said his wife, film maker Kiran Rao, had considered leaving the country after such incidents.
As soon as the Home Minister had made this remark, Mr. Kharge was on his feet and said, “The Minister should not speak of this kind of controversial things. Running away? Dr. Ambedkar was a mool niwasi (original inhabitant) of this country. We (Dalits) are the original inhabitants of this country, we are not the ones who will run away; we are the ones who defend this country. For over 5,000 years we have been facing violence and discrimination and have stayed put.”
Not mentioning the word Aryan, the statement by Mr. Kharge, a Dalit, more or less conforms to the Aryan invasion theory, whereby the Aryan race came and settled in India, establishing the Varna system and keeping Dalits and Dravidians at the lowest rung of the caste hierarchy. It was also a reference to the ruling BJP’s perceived dominance by upper castes.
The matter was soothed within the Lok Sabha by the intervention of Speaker Sumitra Mahajan. Outside, however, it evoked a strong response from Mr. Hosabele, who said, “Mr. Kharge says Aryans came from outside. This is against Dr. Ambedkar’s view. He (Dr. Ambedkar) said Aryans were never a race, were not outsiders. Read his book ‘ Who Were the Shudhras’ .”
For the Sangh Parivar, and the ruling BJP, the biggest ideological challenge has been to break an image of being an upper caste party. Mr. Kharge’s charge, therefore, was combated by none other than Mr. Hosabele, otherwise a rather taciturn office bearer of the RSS. Dr. Ambedkar and the appropriation of his legacy continues to be fair game.