Write angle Ziya Us Salam

Smothering with affection

B.R. Ambedkar   | Photo Credit: HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for the Dr. Ambedkar National Memorial, to be built at 26, Alipur Road in Delhi. It is said to be the place of Mahaparinirvan of Dr. Ambedkar. Drawing a parallel with Martin Luther King, Modi wondered why it had taken the nation 60 years for a memorial to be dedicated to the architect of our Constitution, saying “Perhaps this was written in my fate. Perhaps I had blessings of Baba Saheb on me.” A few months before that he had inaugurated Dr Ambedkar Memorial in London at the place where Dr Ambedkar had stayed for two years. On the face of it, the two inaugurations seem a belated attempt at righting a historical wrong –– remember how in 1949, the RSS burnt effigies of Dr Ambedkar when the Hindu Code Bill was taking shape and Dr Ambedkar was keen to get it passed as soon as possible. It is, however, no belated realisation of truth or even Dr Ambedkar’s worth. It is a natural progression from around a decade ago when the RSS sought to see in Dr Ambedkar a Hindu icon, drawing parallels between Dr Hedgewar and Dr Ambedkar, arguing that the two doctors knew the pulse of the nation. Today, if you look closely, and you will find this is, at the very least, an attempt to smother with affection.

It reminds faintly of the early attempts by Hindutva icons like Dr Hedgewar and Guru Golwalkar to draw an umbrella of religions which originated here (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism) leaving the rest (Islam, Christianity and Judaism) as the ‘other’. Some would argue that this appropriation of Dr Ambedkar is nothing but a wilful muzzling of a critical voice, a voice that fought against the inequities of the caste system; a man who famously said, “I am born a Hindu. I will not die as one.” He lived up to his word.

Yet today the youngsters are sought to be indoctrinated by the Hindutva brigade that all Dr Ambedkar wanted was reform within the Hindu society! It is akin to saying that the man who brought with him a spell of fresh rain seeking to clean every nook and corner of the society essentially engineered nothing more than a storm in a tea cup. How disrespectful to the memory of Dr Ambedkar! What a travesty! And to think he was the man responsible for including safeguards in the Constitution for the minorities, reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, etc. Much before the RSS started the campaign to accommodate Dr Ambedkar, post 1990 when VP Singh unleashed a social storm by accepting the recommendations of the Mandal Commission, he had written, “I am disgusted with Hindus and Hinduism because I am convinced they cherish wrong ideals and live a wrong social life.” At a time when a debate around conversions is raging, it is important to remember what Dr Ambedkar said about the phenomenon. He saw conversion as important for Dalit society as self-government for India.

For a true understanding of what Dr Ambedkar stood for, and how far away was he from the Right Wing forces, one only need to read his book, “Pakistan or The Partition of India”. While he takes on communal elements among Hindus and Muslims with equal disdain, it is his words on Hindutva that, in retrospect, appear to be a warning for the nation; more so when we hear calls about India being a Hindu Rashtra every other day. Dr Ambedkar wrote, “If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country. No matter what the Hindus say. Hinduism is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost.” According to him the pet slogan of Hindutva, Hindustan for Hindus was more than just arrogant. He later took to task VD Savarkar for advocating the cause of Hindu Rashtra, calling the Muslims as the ‘other’, yet denying them the right to their own separate nation.

Dr Ambedkar believed that Hindutva only helped reaffirm the power structure within Hinduism, enriching the rich, denying the poor. It also excluded the ‘other’ from a share of the resources. “They have a trait of character which often leads the Hindus to disaster. This trait is formed by their acquisitive instinct and aversion to share with others the good things of life. They have a monopoly of education and wealth, and with wealth and education they have captured the State. To keep this monopoly to themselves has been the ambition and goal of their life.

Charged with this selfish idea of class domination, they take every move to exclude the lower classes of Hindus from wealth, education and power...This attitude of keeping education, wealth and power as a close preserve for themselves and refusing to share it, which the high caste Hindus have developed in their relation with the lower classes of Hindus, is sought to be extended by them to the Muslims. They want to exclude the Muslims from place and power, as they have done to the lower class Hindus.”

Little wonder, the Hindutva brigade, so bereft of icons in freedom struggle, is keen to appropriate Dr Ambedkar as one of its own, somebody who denounced MA Jinnah. What is easily forgotten is the parallel he drew between Jinnah and Savarkar. Also sought to be consigned to dustbin of forgotten history are the Ambedkar effigies the organisation burnt on the issue of the Hindu Code Bill.

Incidentally, in telling developments between two inaugurations by the PM, a Dalit old man was charred to death in Hamirpur for seeking to visit a temple where Dalits are barred and a 28 year old “child” committed suicide in Hyderabad Central University. After both tragedies, Dalits organisations along with various minority bodies organised protests at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi to make themselves heard. It all leaves me wondering who is following Dr Ambedkar, who is merely appropriating. Yes, as a title of a booklet on the subject says it, “Ambedkar can neither be adopted nor appropriated”.

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