Today is the birth Anniversary of Dr. Bhimrav Ambedkar. Whole of Indian landscape is dotted with statues of Dr. BR Ambedkar, while it is very rare to find anyone who has read him. The father of Indian constitution has been pigeonholed into “Dalit” thinker and leader. This disservice to his memories and this grave injustice to a great scholar, philosopher and sociologist has been done by none other than people who themselves go with the label of “dalit” writer and thinker. As a writer, I have always found such labels as absurd as I find them insulting to the profession of writing, in general. Since when your birth began flowing through your pen- is what I always want to tell those people. Most writers who proudly tag themselves such have largely done so to pass off their shrill, poorly-researched work as literature, succeeding in captive market, separated from the large open literary space. They thrive on ghettoizing and Dr. Ambedkar has been their greatest victim since the time Dalits became vote bank and was appropriated by forces which depended on the further deepening of social divide. It so came about that Dalits read Ambedkar, communists exploited Ambedkar, Congress erected mostly strangely unaesthetic statues of Ambedkar and mediocre minds like Mayawati claimed his legacy to hide greed and corruption.
I have not read Ambedkar much. Whatever I have read of him has been a revelation of sorts. We Indians, today take pride in being so far ahead, liberal and democratic nation, while protecting our identity all the time, when compared to nations that came into existence with our freedom. Our constitution which wonderfully stood all the tests of time is the biggest reason as to why we are where we are in terms of our maturity as a nation. Every time I get into a debate with a Pakistani national on Twitter, I am confident of winning every argument, knowing that I have Ambedkar's constitution on my side. It is important that we learn about Ambedkar and his thoughts, so that he is take out of the narrow confines of Dalit politics and is placed on the high pedestal of national greats. The fact that he was turned into a vote-grabbing idol who was brought out, dusted and shined every five years during election and then placed back into the cobweb-infected shelves, damp and neglected in public apathy is evident from the fact that he was given Bharat Ratna , the highest citizen award in the year 1990, much after Mother Teresa and Actor-turned politician, MG Ramachandran.
Borne on 14th of April 1891, to a father in Army, Ramji Maloji Sakpal, in Mhow, in the then Central Province (now MP), moved to Satara after his father’s death. His teacher Mahadev Ambedkar, a Deshashtha Brahmin who grew to be very fond of his sharp student, Bhimrav, gave him his surname, Ambedkar, with which he was known all across. His academic records turned out to exemplary. He passed his matriculation exam in 1907 and completed his graduation in Economics and Political Science from Bombay University in 1912. In 1913, with a scholarship from Baroda Royals, he moved to the US to do is Post-graduation from Columbia University. He completed MA in economics in 1915 and moved to London School of Economics for his PhD. He then went on to become Bar-at-Law in London, did his LLD in 1952, D. Litt from Usmania University and MSc from London. The profundity of his mind is visible in the fact that weather it is discussion on GSTN or it be on any other current issue, mostly we find answers in Ambedkar. Dr. Subramaniam Swamy, very appropriately said in a speech that on all our political luminaries, one person who deserved the name of Panditji (the learned teacher), it was Dr. Ambedkar. It is very unfortunate that not only his political career was messed up, his thoughts were appropriated by those who valued him little, and turned into political slogans. Ambedkar suffered much due to much prevalent caste-ism in his days, but strangely his story is also representative of the benevolence of many from what is called as upper-caste of the society who stood behind the making of this extraordinary man- the Brahmin teacher who taught and gave him his surname, his patron, the Gaikwar king of Baroda who gave him scholarship to travel to the US for higher education, the King of Kolhapur who supported him with his weekly Mooknayak and eventually the Kayasth who brought him into the making of the constitution, bringing him back into parliament after he lost the seat to Partition. Ambedkar, a victim of his times, did have many complains towards the religion he was born into and in which he remained till six months before his death (he converted to Budhism in October 1956, having evaluated Islam, Christianity and Sikhism).
When a man grows intellectually, his thoughts become bigger than him. It would be injustice to measure such a great man as a man, a mere mortal; instead he should be considered a man- the pure thought. The brilliance of this illuminated mind was such that his could rise above himself, above his circumstances with a rare objectivity of idea and infinite spread of wisdom. I would not want to get into the circumstances in which Ambedkar sought separate electorate for Dalits, granted by the British in 1932, possibly under there much known “Divide and Rule” policy, just as at the beginning of century, Lala Lajpat Rai spoke of separate Hindu nation and was still respected figure for atheist Bhagat Singh. Those times were different and men from those times cannot be judged by today’s narrow benchmarks. Ambedkar decided to give away that demand with Poona Pact with Mahatma Gandhi. Poona Pact was signed on Ambedkar (representing the depressed classes) and Mahamana Malviya (representing others) which agreed on reserved seats instead of separate electorates for the depressed classes, on 25th of September, 1932, within unified electorate. Ambedkar formed Independent Labour Party in 1936 and contested Mumbai election in 1937. His party later transformed into Scheduled Caste Federation and fared badly in 1946 elections. It would be a great fun to hit out at Congress, since Congress of today which is nothing of INC of pre-independence claims all the glory of then congress. The fact remains, unlike the corrupt dwarfs of today, the leaders were of much greater stature. They could see beyond their immediate interest and personal rivalry. This is pretty much evident in the mechanization which went into the making of the Constituent Assembly with Dr. Rajendra Prasad writing to Mr. Malvankar of Congress to withdraw in favor of non-congress, Dr. Ambedkar, because he was needed by the nation to frame the constitution.
296 legislatures were elected from across the country for Constituent assembly out of the election of 1946, before independence. Ambedkar was one of the member of the assembly, and was one of only 14 elected under the banner of Scheduled caste federation (out of 148 reserved seats). Ambedkar was elected from Bengal. However by the time India became independent as fate would have it, his constituency went into Pakistan. The leaders rose above party lines and decided that Ambedkar’s talent was much needed for the constitution of the newly formed nation and that he needed to be re-elected. He was then re-elected to the Constituent Assembly on Congress ticket from Bombay and designated as the head of Drafting Committee. His political positions notwithstanding, what places him head over shoulders above most men is his intellectual capability and his ability to look beyond prejudices, even his own. The attempt to limit Ambedkar to politician is as foolish as to measure the RSS or BJP today basis what it did do or did not do before independence, ignoring latter’s role during Emergency which had all the potential to make India into a bigger Pakistan. In fact, Ambedkar was quite pronouncedly pro-British and anti-congress for most his life, primarily because he believed politically, British rule brought more benefits and hope to his political constituency. But we must not judge the men of past with yardstick of today. His words on may matters answer the questions of today and tomorrow. Though I would say, we must desist from deification of men who lived before us, however great they may be, because no one can be right in his positions, not at all the times. We must not forget at such times that he lived in times different from ours; that he lived as an individual intellectually superior than many his times; and that his political ambitions found no space in a world where Congress with upper-caste Hindus occupied the complete political narrative. So he needed his own space and needed to create his own conflicts and construct his constituency. It is confounding in political context that the man who later on claimed the politics of caste and creed as biggest danger for democracy built his political career with Scheduled Caste Federation. It is also equally baffling that a man with immense clarity of mind waited till the last six months of his life before finally leaving Hinduism, while he kept on saying all his life forewarning that he will not die as a Hindu. Let us leave his realities there buried in the past, let us allow our future shine in his vision. Let us look at some of his thought. It is important to know them because those who invoke his name so very often are the ones who trample over his thoughts most unhesitatingly. His thoughts are more important because a man is captive of his circumstances, his ideas are the testimony of his spirit. Let us look at some of his thoughts, he spoke and wrote about-
Ambedkar on Nationalism – On Individual choices and Freedom and collective nationalistic duties:
“Whenever there has been a conflict between my personal interests of the country as a whole, I have always placed the claims of the country above my personal claims.”
Ambedkar on Factionalism in Society – On religious and caste Identity:
“…in addition to old enemies in the forms of castes and creeds we are going to have many political parties with diverse and opposing creeds. Will Indians place country over their creed, or will they place creed over the country? I do not know. But this much is certain that if the parties place creed above country, our independence will be put in jeopardy a second time and will probably be lost forever. This eventuality we must all resolutely guard against. We must be determined to defend our independence with the last drop of our blood.”
Ambedkar on Rebellion against the state- Compare this with communist diatribe legitimizing even armed struggle against a democratic state, all the time rattling Ambedkar’s name:
“..Hold fast to constitutional method of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and Satyagraha…Where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification of unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the grammar of anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.
Ambedkar on the dangers of Hero-worship in Democracy- Show it to those who consider a surname beyond reproach, who consider even Ambedkar beyond debate. The Emergency of 1976 shows we did not heed to him.
“..Not to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or trust him with a power which enables him to subvert their institutions.” He admonishes, “In politics, hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.”
Ambedkar on Kashmir- How it erodes the argument of JNU-ites communists, who claim to be standing on the side of Ambedkar merely in order to obtain foot-soldiers from Dalit community exploiting the Goodwill Ambedkar continues to have, years after his demise. He told Shaikh Abdullah on the matter of drafting Article 370 on special status of Kashmir,
"Mr. Abdullah, you want that India should defend Kashmir, India should develop Kashmir and Kashmiris should have equal rights as the citizens of India, but you don’t want India and any citizen of India to have any rights in Kashmir. I am the law minister of India. I cannot betray the country.”
Dalits who get fooled by the Dalit-Muslim unity as the corner-stone of Kashmiri Jihadist must remember what Ambedkar said. Nehru maintained that Kashmir wasn’t ripe for integration with India in 1947 and therefore must be given time, unlike any other state. Ambedkar in his resignation speech said:
"In my view, the right solution is to partition Kashmir. Give the Hindu and Buddhist part to India and the Muslim part to Pakistan as we did in case of India. We are really not concerned with the Muslim part of Kashmir. It is a matter between Muslims of Kashmir and Pakistan. Or if you like, divide into three parts- the valley, Jammu and Ladakh region and have a plebiscite only in the valley. What I am afraid in the proposed plebiscite, the Hindus and Buddhists of Kashmir are likely to be dragged into Pakistan against their wishes."
Ambedkar on Hindu Polarization: It is a matter of big debate today. Ambedkar wrote on the matter:
“The muslims are howling against the Hindu Mahasabha and its slogan of Hindu Raj and Hindudom. But who is responsible for that? The Hindu Mahasabha and Hindu Raj are the inescapable nemesis which the Mussalmans have brought upon themselves by having a Muslim league.
Ambedkar on appeasement and silent support of “Liberal Muslims” to fundamentalism- In his book “Pakistan or Partition of India” he writes:
“It is notorious fact that many prominent Hindus who had offended the Muslim susceptibilities of the Muslims either by their writings or their part in the Shuddhi movement have been murdered by some fanatic Musalmans…But Mr. Gandhi has never protested against such murders. Not only have the Musalmans not condemned these outrages but even Mr. Gandhi has never called upon the leading Muslims to condemn them.”
He further writes at another place-
“The muslims have no interest in politics as such. Their predominant interest is in religion. ..Muslim politics is essentially clerical and recognizes only one difference, namely that existing between Hindus and Muslims. None of the secular categories of life have any place in the politics of Muslim community…
..The Hindus have their social evils..and a few of them are actively agitating for their removal. The muslims on the other hand, do not realise they are evils and consequently do not agitate for their removal. Indeed, they oppose any change in existing practices.”
“…The determining question with Muslims is how it will affect the Muslims vis-à-vis the Hindus…The dominating consideration is how democracy with majority rule will affect Muslims in their struggle against Hindus. Will it strengthen them or will it weaken them? If democracy weakens them, they will not have democracy."
Ambedkar on Inclusion of word Socialism in Constituent Assembly: When the motion was moved by Mr. KT Shah of Bihar seeking induction of the words Socialist and Secular in the preamble of the Constitution, Ambedkar maintained that Constitution merely marks the boundary guidelines for the state, and does not intend to define how the state should be run. He replied then,
"If you state in the constitution that the social organisation of the state shall take a particular form, you are, in my judgement taking away the liberty of the people to decide what should be the social organization in which they wish to live.
(It would be pertinent to note that the term socialist and secular was introduced by 42nd Amendment by Mrs. Indira Gandhi during the Emergency, giving further strength to Ambedkar contention of - Taking away the liberty. Sadly it stays even when it is against the united spirit of the constituent assembly)
He was a man of great vision and often self-damaging intellectual honesty. He had his faults, but truth was his biggest fault, which made him a political failure amid a world full for successful, fashionable, conniving pigmy politicians. In fact, one would find that his political thoughts closest resemblance to his most open political opponent, Sardar Patel, a great of equal stature and equally caught up in the middle of men with large egos and smaller intellect, resulting in almost similar political failure. Let us read more of Ambedkar and free him from the shackles of Dalit intellectuals. He is no Kancha Illaiah or Laloo Yadav that today's so-called JNU scholars worship and embrace. He was a towering mind, he was an extraordinary oracle. Let us silence the sloganeering and listen to the man that was Pandit Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar. Wisdom often descends in whispers, like midnight dew and vanishes with the first sunlight. Listen in carefully. Nations are defined in such moments.