‘Both BJP and Congress have used Ambedkar’

Interview with noted policymaker Narendra Jadhav

April 29, 2015 02:49 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:08 pm IST

Narendra Jadhav. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

Narendra Jadhav. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

Economist and educationist Narendra Jadhav has written and edited 35 books. Four years ago, Mr. Jadhav was asked by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to chair a committee and prepare a master plan for a memorial and an international centre for B.R. Ambedkar. The committee finalised its report on September 12, 2012, and waited for things to move. They never did. As political parties clamoured to honour Ambedkar on his 125th birth anniversary that went by recently, Mr. Jadhav spoke to Anuradha Raman on how the Congress frittered away an opportunity to work on the master plan, and how the Bharatiya Janata Party has, in turn, also let him down. Excerpts:

When Mr. Modi laid the foundation for the Ambedkar International Centre on April 20, what was going through your mind?

I was very happy that Mr. Modi has carried on from the earlier proposals of the previous government to create an international centre in honour of Dr. Ambedkar.

You were the chairman of a committee set up by Dr. Singh four years ago, to do exactly what Mr. Modi did a few days ago. Why didn’t the Congress act before?

That it has taken so long hurts. In 1991, Ambedkar’s birth centenary was celebrated. He was also given the Bharat Ratna posthumously. Two very important projects were discussed then — one, to create a National Memorial at the place where Ambedkar lived and breathed his last in a bungalow on 26, Alipore Road. He had moved in after resigning from Nehru’s Cabinet in 1951 and stayed in this house till 1956. A lot of Dalits, including me, regard the place as Nirvana Bhumi. The second idea was to have an international centre in Lutyens’ Delhi, which could become a place for scholars to come together and share thoughts and ideas dear to Ambedkar, particulary in the area of social justice. There were many movements and agitations in the Congress regime by several pressure groups to get the projects started. Not much happened.

Mr. Modi said it’s taken 20 years for the Ambedkar centre. The Congress was in power for 15 of those years.

The National Democratic Alliance was in power for five years. In 2004, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government took over the bungalow and converted it into a makeshift memorial.

Was this done to appease the Dalit community before elections?

Possibly. But I don’t think there is anything wrong in that. In a parliamentary democracy, to understand the vote banks of different strata of society is perfectly normal. What makes me a little unhappy was that this was just a makeshift memorial. There was nothing extraordinary about it. It did not do justice to the idea of a memorial. It was like, ‘you want a memorial. Here it is’.

Was that an insult to the memory of Ambedkar?

I don’t see it as an insult. But I saw it as a strategic move and not a move from within. There were some pictures and books of Ambedkar, that’s all. There was no move to work on the international centre. When UPA-I came, nothing happened. There were strong demands, particularly in the early part of UPA- II; so, finally, in 2011, Dr. Singh decided to do something about it and created a high-level committee with me as the chair and other experts, with a mandate to create a master plan for a world-class memorial of Ambedkar. The second [demand] was to create an international centre, which the NDA government had not done. In record time, in September 2012, my committee completed the master plan for both. Regrettably, things did not move as rapidly as they should have even after that.

Did you bring it to the attention of the Prime Minister?

Yes. Time and again. In fact, they could have laid the foundation stone before the code of conduct was announced. They could have done something, which Mr. Modi eventually did.

How do you reconcile the BJP’s attempts to woo Dalits with the party’s stand on ‘ghar wapsi’?

Going by newspaper reports, two things are happening. Some people in the BJP and RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] are giving an impression that Ambedkar was a hindu sudharak (reformer) and the corollary to that is he was against Muslims and Christians. ‘Ghar wapsi’ is being compared to Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism. Both are misleading and untrue. In fact, he took the Muslim League’s support to get into the Constituent Assembly. On Hinduism, Ambedkar said he was born a Hindu, but would not die a Hindu. He made a distinction between Vichar Dharma and Aachar Dharma. The former, the philosophical underpinning of Hinduism, is wonderful. It is the practical aspect — how you practise Hinduism in everyday life — where problems arise. So, in asking Dalits to come into the fold, where is the BJP going to place them in the social structure? Which caste are you going to assign Dalits?

How have the Congress and the BJP treated Ambedkar?

Both parties have made use of Ambedkar and not given him a dignified treatment. In fact, both parties have offended him when he was alive. And these issues range from the Hindu Code Bill, to personal insults, to the non-implementation and diversion of the Tribal and Scheduled Castes sub-plan.

Though the BJP did not have much exposure at the Centre, they still have lots to explain for. What is the attitude of the BJP government to the Tribal and Scheduled Castes sub-plan? During this year’s budget, the Finance Minister has reduced the allocation for the sub-plan by Rs. 19,000 crore. A lot of people feel you have reduced the income tax on corporates [on the one hand], and on the other, you reduce the budgetary allocation [to the sub-plan]. Where Dalits are concerned, there is not much to choose between the two national parties as far as their views on Ambedkar is concerned.

Then how do you say the BJP has honoured Ambedkar?

I will support anyone, including the MIM [Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen] of the Owaisis, if they do something strongly to honour Ambedkar. My loyalty is to Dr. Ambedkar and I will stand by anybody who works to honour his memory and work.

You were once associated with the Congress?

I was never part of any political party. I had the privilege of working with Dr. Singh for nearly 30 years and then, later on, I also had an opportunity to work with Sonia Gandhi as a member of the National Advisory Council. That association makes some people think I am a Congressman, but I am not a formal member of any political party.

Yet, you chose to contest from a Congress ticket?

I was hoping to contest on behalf of the Congress. The BJP, too, has been trying to persuade me to contest from 2004. In 2004, when I was with the RBI [Reserve Bank of India], the Congress approached me. In 2009, I was inclined to contest. I knew nobody in the top level of the Congress. Dr. Singh was the only contact. Unfortunately, he was unwell. I could not connect [with him]. The BJP approached me, but I did not want to betray Dr. Singh, who had been a father figure to me. Then, in 2014, I spoke to Dr. Singh and he was keen that I contest from the Congress. By then, the idea of holding primary elections had come up from Rahul Gandhi. Of 16 constituencies chosen for the primaries, two were from Maharashtra. I thought this was a terrible idea.

They compared it to the American primaries. Not comparable at all. All those elected through the primary process lost their deposits in 2014. That tells you something. So, I didn’t contest, though I was confident of winning the actual elections and losing the primaries. In principle, holding primaries was a good idea but badly implemented.


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