Ram Puniyani In popular perception Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar is mostly perceived as a leader of Dalits. His role in the building of modern India, the secular democratic India, many a times is underplayed. His contribution to the making of Indian Constitution does get highlighted but his contribution in the foundation of Indian state, Indian nation, Modern India needs to be highlighted as well if we want to carve the future which is egalitarian, which has the principles of democracy; social justice and equality.
Making of Modern India From medieval kingdoms the outline of Indian nation started emerging during the colonial period, mainly due to the changes in the field of industrialization and modern education. With these changes coming in, the social composition also started changing and newer historical classes started emerging. These new classes were industrialists, workers and the educated middle classes. At the same time the old feudal classes started declining, though they did not disappear.
British (East India Company) did come here looking for markets for their industrial products, gradually went on defeating one after another king, ruling in different areas and brought the whole subcontinent under a single rule, which became one of the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ for British as the whole wealth, raw material, resources from India were pumped out to Britain. In order to achieve this goal they did go on to introduce railways, communication network-postal, telegraph-telephone, modern administrative system and modern education to create the assistants for their officers ruling here. (1)
The lacuna in our systems were primarily because the primary goal of British was to plunder the country and as an incidental thing; as by product; the new institutions, rule of law and later some reforms against ghastly social practices also began (like abolition of Sati). These changes had major consequence on the social-political scenario; British also planted the seeds of divisive politics. At social level we see emergence of modern classes, industrialists-workers and modern educated classes while the old classes of feudal lords and kings survived though with some reduced influence and power. The modern classes came forward to build up anti colonial movement This movement tied the people together in the bond of ‘Indian-ness’ and had imbibed the values the central pillars of which were transformation of caste and gender relations. The latter aspects were most highlighted by Jotirao Phule, Bhimrao Ambedkar and Periyar Ramasamy Niacker on one side and introduction of girls’ education with Savitribai Phule opening the schools for girls on the other. This group underlined that ‘India is a nation in the making’. (2)
On the other hand the declining sections of landlords-upper castes, kings, both Hindu and Muslim, threatened by the modern changes and seeing the rise of their vassals who were escaping from their grip, shouted that their religion is in danger. They upheld the communal historiography introduced by British. Muslim elite and gradually came to form Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha. For them the raison d’être of their coming together was Islam being in danger or Hinduism being in danger respectively.
Muslim League held that here the Muslim Nation had been there since the time Muhammad bin Kasim had won over Sindh from Hindu Daher in eighth century and so they have to work for creation of a Muslim nation. That’s how they remained aloof from the freedom movement, which was aiming at the Secular democratic India. (3)
The Hindu landlords-upper castes and Kings in due course came to form first Hindu Mahasabha and then RSS. For them this had been a Hindu nation from times immemorial and Muslims and Christians are the alien invaders. They also remained aloof from freedom movement and harped on building Hindu nation in contrast to the goal set by National movement, that of secular democratic India. They constructed their own history of a glorious past of the Hindu rulers and its corruption by the Muslim invaders. Gradually they came to construct the ideology that all the ills of Hindu society are due to the Muslim invaders. The national movement brought together the people of all the regions, religions, castes: women and men both.
So in the sub continent on one side we see the emergence of the values of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity as an ideology of the emerging classes, while the feudal ideology of ‘caste and gender hierarchy’ persists as the flag-mast of declining sections of society which came to be represented in the communal organizations, Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha and RSS. These declining groups construct the ideology of ‘Religion based Nation state’ which is a unique synthesis of feudal values with the modern concept of nation state, their communal politics is a modern phenomena but derives its identity from as ancient as time as possible. (4) As neither Hindu nor Muslim nor Christian Kings were ‘religious nationalist’ so to say; as actually they presided over on the empires based on taxation of the toiling peasants in their kingdoms. Their goals of power-wealth were written on their sleeves; sometimes they adorned the masks of Dharmyudh, Jihad or Crusade for their ambitions of expanding power.
So during freedom movement we see that those working for anti colonial movement are saying, ‘India as a nation in the making’ the concept which runs parallel to modernization in transport, industrialization, education and administration in particular. Muslim League said we have been a Muslim nation from eight century and Hindu Mahasabha-RSS asserting that we are a Hindu nation from times immemorial Muslim league derives identity from the Kings’ rule while Hindu Mahasbha-RSS project the concept of nation to times when people were having pastoral pattern or even earlier to that and later made a transition to settled agriculture. For the communalists the major transition of industrialization and modern education is of no consequence.
Ambedkar during freedom Movement Ambedkar had a long and consistent engagement with freedom movement. During this period he kept up the struggle for democratic rights and social justice. In 1920 during his stay in India he had started a journal Muknayak (The Silent Hero). (5) In a major contribution to the first issue of this paper, he pointed out that Hinduism is like a multi-storied building in which each floor is occupied by a caste, but there is no staircase which links the different floors. One lives and dies on the floor on which one is born. (6)
He formed the Bahishkrit Hitkarini Sabha (Society for the Welfare of Outcastes) in 1924, with the aim to start schools and hostels for untouchables. The attempt to enlighten the community started picking up. The first major movement led by him was the effort to have access to public drinking water at Mahad’s Chavadar Tank on 20March 1927. The untouchables were attacked by the upper castes, but the movement caught the imagination of large sections of dalits and they began to organize themselves. Ambedkar realized that the caste system was so entrenched because it has the sanction of religious books. Therefore, he decided to launch an attack on the Manusmriti by organizing the burning of this book in a public function on 25 December 1927.
His efforts resulted in mobilizing the dalit masses. The agitation to enter Hindu temples was next on the agenda. The Kalaram temple of Nasik was chosen for this symbolic protest and agitation in March 1930.
The efforts to gain social equality were very high on Ambedkar’s political agenda. These movements succeeded in mobilizing large sections of the dalits. The dominant castes, however, still refused to let dalits have access to public wells and temples. In Ambedkar’s view, Hinduism was based on inequality and oppression of the dalits. This led him to think in terms of conversion to an alternative religion which would accept dalits as equals, a quest that culminated with his conversion, along with a large number of dalits, to Buddhism in 1956 (7).
In the political arena as well, he realized that the dominant castes will not allow dalits to assert themselves. He therefore demanded separate electorates for dalits, a demand that was conceded in the ‘communal award’ of McDonald in August 1932. Gandhi opposed this because he believed that the anti-colonial struggle should display the broadest possible unity of all Indians across religion, caste, language, and region, but he feared that the ‘communal award’ would divide Indians. To oppose the award, Gandhi began a fast unto death. Eventually, Ambedkar relented and gave up his demand for separate electorates for dalits. Gandhi and Ambedkar entered what came to be called the Poona Pact, whereby dalits got reserved constituencies in September 1932.
The contrast is striking – Ambedkar, a dalit, indirectly saved Gandhi’s life, even if it meant that he had to compromise dalit political clout; Nathuram Godse, a brahman, killed Gandhi for allegedly compromising ‘Hindu’ interests at the time of partition. Ambedkar continued with his efforts to mobilize dalits, and since he realized that most dalits were workers, he formed the Independent Labour Party in 1935 to give dalit aspirations organized political direction. This party’s agenda included the struggle for democracy, civil rights; minimum wages for workers, and land reforms.
Ambedkar’s struggles bore fruit. His efforts led to the formation of the Mahar Regiment in the army, scholarships for dalits, opening of government jobs, promotion in jobs, etc. He formed the Scheduled Castes Federation (SCF) in 1942 to widen his reach on an all-India basis. Perhaps Ambedkar’s best-known achievement is his role in drafting free India’s Constitution. He was invited to be the Law Minister in Nehru’s cabinet and in this capacity he was nominated as the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of India’s Constitution. The Constitution was implemented on 26 January 1950, and the first general elections were held in 1952. In order to strengthen the political significance of dalits he formed the Republican Party of India in 1956 and the work of SCF came to halt.
Independent India: Ambedkar He was invited to join the first ministry of Independent India as the Law minister (August 1947). Later he was entrusted the formulation of the Hindu Code Bill. Ambedkar took it as an opportunity to deepen social reforms and give them legal sanctity. This work involved a deep knowledge of Hindu customs and traditions. He wanted to ensure that the repressive nature of Hindu laws, their discriminatory character towards women and dalits, is changed for the better. The Bill he formulated was drastic and purged the anti-dalit and anti-women discriminatory aspects of prevalent Hindu laws to a great extent. But precisely because of this The Hindutva leaders and many conservative Hindu leaders of the Congress expressed their resentment to it. Disillusioned by the opposition to the Bill, he resigned from Nehru’s cabinet (8).
Ambedkar’s efforts to reform Hinduism and organize dalits politically had a mixed response. On the one hand, dalit self-respect certainly went up, while on the other, Ambedkar realized the futility of trying to get ‘concessions’ from the Hindu elite. It is in this context that in 1935 he declared: ‘I was born as a Hindu, it was beyond my power to control that, but I solemnly assure you that I will not die as Hindu’. (9) He had undertaken a serious study of religions and was impressed by the teachings of Gautam Buddha, especially those of truth, non-violence, social equality, disbelief in the ‘other world’ and cycle of rebirth. He steered clear of the controversy between the Hinayan and Mahayan sects of Buddhism by reviving the original teachings of the Buddha, and coined the term ‘neo-Buddhism’ for this. On 14 October 1956, he embraced Buddhism in Nagpur along with his followers.
Ambedkar and Indian Constitution: Foundation of Modern India Ambedkar was initially elected to the Constituent Assembly from Bengal. But that part of Bengal went to Pakistan after Partition, so he lost his seat. He was then re-elected from Bombay Legislative Council, supported by the Congress. The Constituent Assembly nominated a seven-member Drafting Committee under the Chairmanship of Ambedkar. His biographer Dhananjay Keer writes: ‘He was working almost singly and furiously concentrating his hand, heart and head on the work entrusted to him in spite of his deteriorating health.’ (10) The magnitude of Ambedkar’s contribution to the drafting of the Constitution can be gauged from this contemporary assessment: ‘The House is perhaps aware that of the seven members nominated by you one had resigned from the House and was replaced. One died and was not replaced. One was in America and his place was not filled up and another person was engaged in State affairs and there was void to that extent. One or two people were far away from Delhi and reasons of health did not permit them to attend. So it happened ultimately that the burden of drafting the constitution fell on Dr Ambedkar and I have no doubt that we are grateful to him for having achieved the task in a manner which is undoubtedly commendable.’ (11) In his speech in the concluding session of Constituent Assembly Dr Rajendra Prasad paid glorious tributes to Ambedkar for his contribution in the drafting of the Constitution. (12) A great deal of the credit for the secular, progressive thrust of the Constitution must go to Ambedkar.
As Chairman of the Drafting Committee, it was Ambedkar’s job to personally supervise the entire process of drafting, from studying minutely the constitutions of several other nations, to drawing up the framework of the Indian Constitution, to overseeing the drafting of all the sections, to editing and making alterations in the light of the debate, to finalizing the text for final acceptance. In all this, it was imperative to keep in mind that the Constitution must be as inclusive as possible, that it must not become an instrument of discrimination against particular social groups and classes, that aspirations of majority must be balanced against minority rights (the terms majority and minority are not used here only in the religious sense). To the extent possible, the Constitution had to be guarded against future misuse, but it was also important to not overburden it with fine-print. Most importantly, the Constitution had to reflect the aspirations of the people of India, to embody the spirit of the largest anti-imperialist struggle of the twentieth century.
And it is precisely this Constitution, which the Sangh parivar resents, the BJP-led government even constituted a Commission to review the Constitution. When there was a huge hue and cry about the RSS plans to subvert the Constitution and turn Indian into a ‘Hindu state’, the government backed off and said that the Commission would not bring into question the essential principles, which form the basis of the Constitution. (13)
Ideological Opponents While many political leaders try to present Gandhi as the major opponent of Ambedkar, the fact of the matter is that it is Hindu nationalist ideology of Hidnutva which stands in total opposition to what Ambedkar stood for. Ambedkar had real opposition with the ideologues of Hindu Rashtra (RSS and Hindu Mahasabha) as the goals of Hindutva organizations were totally opposed to the ones’ of Ambedkar.vis-à-vis problems of dalits. Every once in a while; the RSS combine tries to make an effort to woo dalits to their side. Therefore, while on the one hand they revile and run down Ambedkar as Shourie does in his book ‘Worshipping False Gods’ (14), on the other hand, they also realize that they cannot reach out to dalits if they do not accept Ambedkar as a major figure. Therefore, they try to co-opt him. They claim that just like Ambedkar, they too have always been opposed to untouchability and cite campaigns like ‘Ram khichdi’ (inter-dining) to prove this. This has very little to do with truth. Though some Hindu ideologues recognize that supporting untouchability is a grave mistake, since it is bound to alienate dalits, their approach to the question is half hearted, inadequate and nowhere close to Ambedkars’ approach. Ambedkar initiated radical movements for social reform. None of the upper caste outfits supported these movements, least of all the RSS. Only on the question of temple entry is there a mild and weak-kneed effort on part of some individuals belonging to the Hindu Right to support Ambedkar.
However, look at what the arch-ideologue of Hindutva, Savarkar had to say: ‘Manusmriti is that scripture which is most worshiped after the Vedas for our Hindu Nation and which from ancient times has become the basis of our culture-customs, thought and practice. This book for centuries has codified the spiritual and divine march of our nation. . . . Today Manusmriti is the Hindu law’. (15)
Note again the contrast: Ambedkar burns the Manusmriti, Savarkar, Golwalkar (ex-RSS Chief) eulogizes it. As a matter of fact, to date, not a single important leader of the RSS has ever disowned the Manusmriti or criticized it for being oppressive towards dalits and women. The forces of Hindutva have a duplicitous stand on dalit issues. To win over dalits for electoral or other purposes, the Hindutva forces support dalit demands superficially, while at the deeper level they either deflect or undermine these demands. Reservations for jobs and educational facilities are such issues. Officially, they don’t oppose reservations, but they run a word-of-mouth, unofficial campaign against it. When the V.P. Singh government announced the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations, the RSS-BJP-VHP, while not opposing Mandal officially, intensified the Ram temple movement to deflect the issue.
Threats to Indian Nationalism The decades of 1980s saw a shift in the language of political discourse. Starting with Ram temple movement, which came in the form of rath yatras and culminated in the demolition of Babri mosque, it also saw an intensification of communal violence and broadening and deepening of myths against minorities. (16) It did give a severe jolt to the human rights movement. Accompanying this onslaught was a whole set of ‘understandings’, myths and stereotypes about minorities, challenge to the prevalent notions of secularism, personal laws and the very concept of nationalism itself.
The rising communal phenomenon challenged the concept of Indian nationhood and propagated that ours is a Hindu nation. The weaknesses in the practice of secularism by the then ruling party were attributed to the defects in the concept of secularism. Secularism was branded as a western concept, unsuitable for the Hindu India. Secularism is the core political value upheld by Ambedkar. It was asserted that this notion has been the cause of weaknesses of Indian society. It has led to appeasement of minorities at the cost of interests of Hindus. The major project of the communal forces was to occupy the social space, in which the myths about minorities, their loyalty to India were questioned along with an increased intimidation and violence against them.
Over a period of time the demonization of minorities went on increasing. On one hand the Muslim minority was labelled as anti National, violent, conservative, sticking to separate laws for themselves, and also that they are terrorists, as demonstrated by the acts of AL Qaeda, Bin Laden and what have you. (17) There is a whole list of such malicious accusations against the Muslim minority and this list is fairly acceptable to the large sections of population. These deeply set notions provide the fertile ground on which the communal violence stalks the streets.
Amongst the saddest incidents of these, the society helplessly witnessed the ghastly post Babri violence of Mumbai and Surat. It saw the brutal burning of Pastor Graham Stains on the charge that he is converting the gullible Adivasis into Christianity and that he is a threat to Hindu religion. Nation also painfully witnessed the state sponsored anti Muslim pogrom of Gujarat of 2002. All this hit the social psyche in no uncertain terms, at the same time polarizing the society along the religious lines and ghettoizing the minorities at places.
The deeper agenda of this politics, that of suppressing the human rights of weaker sections of society, Dalits, women, workers, adivasi and minorities also started getting visible by and by (18). The manifestations of this were quite different in different cases but the result was there for all to see and feel in the form of gross abuse of Human rights of these sections of society. To add salt to the communal wounds, the real culprits, the organizers of pogroms, the ethno-preneures, unleashing the violence trough their foot soldiers have rarely been given the punishment. The reports of most of the inquiry commission reports indicate towards forces behind the carnage, but as the matters stand these individuals are too powerful to be convicted and the role of police and judiciary is also not above board as for the convicting the guilty of the riots are concerned.
Ambedkar: Indian Nationalist-not Hindu Nationalist In order to gain larger legitimacy, RSS has been making claims of sorts; that Ambedkar believed in Sangh ideology (Feb 15, 2015). (19) This was stated by RSS Sarsanghchalak, Mohan Bhagwat. Recently on the occasion of Ambedkar’s 124th anniversary many programs were held by RSS combine giving a pro-Hindutva, Hindu nationalist tilt to presentation of Ambedkar.
There cannot be bigger contrasts between the ideology of Ambedkar and RSS. Ambedkar was for Indian Nationalism, Secularism and social justice while the RSS ideology is based on two major pillars those of the Brahmanic interpretation of Hinduism and two the concept of Hindu nationalism, Hindu Rashtra.
In his book ‘Riddles of Hinduism’ published by Govt. of Maharashtra (1987) he elaborates his understanding about Hinduism i.e. its Brahmanical version. Introducing his book he writes, "The book is an exposition of the beliefs propounded by what might be called Brahminic theology...I want to make people aware that Hindu religion is not Sanatan (eternal)...the second purpose of the book is to draw the attention of Hindu masses to the devices of Brahmins and make them think for themselves how they have been deceived and misguided by Brahmins" (20).
Ambedkar had started moving away from Hinduism in 1935 itself when he had publicly declared that he was not going to die as a Hindu. In 1936, he had attended the Sikh Missionary Conference as he had toyed for some time with the idea of embracing Sikhism. In 1936, Ambedkar also wrote and published Annihilation of Caste, his undelivered presidential address to the Jat-Pat-Todak Mandal Conference at Lahore. At the end of his written address, Ambedkar reiterated his resolve to give up Hinduism. (21)
He said “I have decided for myself. My conversion is sure as anything. My conversion is not for any material gain. There is nothing which I cannot achieve by remaining an Untouchable. My conversion is purely out of my spiritual attitude. The Hindu religion does not appeal to my conscience. It does not appeal to my self-respect. However, your conversion will be both for material as well as for spiritual gains. Some persons mock and laugh at the idea of conversion for material gain. I do not feel hesitant in calling such persons stupid.” (22)
Lord Ram is the major symbol of Cultural Nationalism propounded by RSS. Let's see what Ambedkar has to say about Lord Ram, "The life of Sita simply did not count. What counted was his own personal name and fame. He of course does not take the manly course of stopping this gossip, which as a king he could do and which as husband who was convinced of his wife’s innocence he was bound to it." And further, "For 12 years the boys lived in forest in Ashram of Valmiki not far from Ayodhya where Rama continued to rule. Never once in those 12 years this model Husband and living father cared to inquire what has happened to Sita whether she was alive or dead, ...Sita preferred to die rather than return to Ram who had behaved no better than a brute." The signals to the Dalits in Hindutva cultural Nationalism are more than glaringly obvious as the Lord demonstrates in his own life, "...he was a Shudra named Shambuk who was practicing Tapasya with a view to going to heaven in his own earthly person and without so much as a warning, expostulation or the like addressed to him, cut off his head..."(23).
Annihilation of Caste or Samajik Samrasta
Ambedkar envisioned ‘annihilation of caste’, which remains unfulfilled despite India getting Independence. Multiple factors have operated in the society due to which caste still remains a major factor in India. In contrast to Ambedkar’s ‘Annihilation of Caste’ the politics of RSS combine says that there should be ‘harmony amongst different castes’ and so they have formed an organization called ‘Samajik Samrasta Manch’ (Social Harmony Forum). Contrasting approach to social issues, Ambedkar and RSS!
Core of RSS political ideology is Hindutva or Hindu nationalism. Ambedkar engaged with this issue in much depth, particularly in his classic book ‘Thoughts on Pakistan’. In this book he deals with the question of Hindu nationalism as represented by Savakar; the progenitor of RSS ideology of Hindu nation; and Jinnah, leading the ideology of Muslim nationalism, Pakistan. "Strange as it may appear Mr. Savarkar and Mr. Jinnah instead of being opposed to each other on the one nation versus two nations issue are in complete agreement about it. Both agree, not only agree but insist that there are two nations in India- one the Muslim nation and the other the Hindu nation." he continues, "(24) They differ only as regards the terms and conditions on which the two nations should be. Jinnah says India should be cut up into two, Pakistan and Hindustan, the Muslim nation to occupy Pakistan and the Hindu nation to occupy Hindustan. Mr. Savarkar on the other hand insists that, although there are two nations in India, India shall not be divided into two parts, one for the Muslims and the other for Hindus; that the two nations shall dwell in one country and shall live under the mantle of one single constitution: that the constitution shall be such that the Hindu nation will be enabled to occupy a predominant position that is due to it and the Muslim nation to made to live in the position of subordinate co-operation with the Hindu nation." (24)
He was for composite Indian Nationalism, "Is it not a fact that under the Montague Chelmsford reforms in most provinces, if not in all, the Muslims, the non-Brahmins and Depressed Classes united together and worked for the reforms as members of one team from 1920 to 1937? Here in lay the most fruitful method of achieving communal harmony among Hindus and Muslims and of destroying the danger of Hindu Raj. Mr. Jinnah could have easily pursued this line. Nor was it difficult for Mr. Jinnah to succeed in it." (25)
He was totally opposed to the concept of Hindu Raj as well. In the section “Must There Be Pakistan” he says, “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 the liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost.” (26)
On all associated matters related to affirmative action for weaker sections of society, rights and status of religious minorities their positions are totally contrasting. Even in the matters of the very Constitution of India, Ambedkar was the chairman of its drafting committee while many a sections from RSS stable have called it as anti Hindu and need to bring in Hindu Constitution based on Indian Holy books. This attempt by Mr. Bhagwat is like putting wool in the eyes of people to achieve their political goals and to get legitimacy from amongst the sections of people who are deeply wedded to ideological values of Ambedkar.
The contribution of Babasaheb in making of Modern India is exemplary. His struggle for social justice and movements leading to organization of dalits is an integral part of ‘India’s making as a nation’. This is in contrast to the concept of ‘We are a Hindu nation from times immemorial’, the formulation of the Hindutva politics aiming at Hindu nation. Today the threat to Babsaheb’s principles is from the politics which bases itself on Hindu nationalism. The major fear today is that those who are totally opposed to Ambedkar’s vision of secular, democratic India are trying to appropriate his legacy in a very clever way. The attempt to promote ‘Samajik Samrasta’ and claim that Babsaheb and RSS ideas were similar is being done assertively. A proper understanding of Ambedkar’s values will ensure that we stick to the path shown by him, path of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity and social justice through peaceful ways and reject the notion of Hindu nation and politics of Hindutva.
(Author can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org , web site www.pluralindia.com )