Rethinking Dr. Ambedkar
Ambedkar, a life spent in the quest for justice. Justice for Ambedkar was not an abstract term rather his only mission. However, history has not been as kind to Ambedkar as it has been to Gandhi or Nehru. Gandhi gained the sacrosanct image as the nation's father. At the same time, Nehru kept his image of a nation builder, a leader with a scientific temperament. In stark contrast, Ambedkar has been reduced to a Dalit leader or an architect of the Indian Constitution. While the nation regains its consciousness towards history, polity, and constitutionalism, it has started seeing Ambedkar just not as a figure who stood for untouchables but for every oppressed.
A significant question that is yet to be answered is why Ambedkar has been reduced to only a Dalit leader, leader of marginalised than a thinker, philosopher and most importantly the true leader of this nation. A few years back, Prof. Bikhu Parekh raised a critical comment that seems to be on this question's lines. In a lecture, Prof. Parekh remarked that like how Mahatma Gandhi, the nation's father, was not just a Baniya or Rabindranath Tagore was not merely a Bengali. Similarly, Dr Ambedkar is not just a Dalit leader.
Dr Ambedkar’s reduction to a mere Dalit leader has a close nexus to his intolerance for any compromises made against the untouchables and marginalised. These concessions severely affected the untouchables, which Dr Ambedkar opposed. One such instance is the Poona Pact of 1932. Ambedkar, who advocated for a separate electorate for untouchables, met with severe criticism from Gandhi and his followers. As Ram Chandra Guha puts “Gandhi wished to save Hinduism by abolishing untouchability, whereas Ambedkar saw a solution for his people outside the fold of the dominant religion of the Indian people.” It would be appropriate to mention that Gandhi thought of himself as a better representative of untouchables than Dr Ambedkar. However, on the contrary, Ambedkar called Gandhi an “orthodox Hindu.” Also, he declined to acknowledge Gandhi as a reformer. Ambedkar believed that the shallow sympathy of Gandhi towards untouchables was nothing but a calculated politics.
Moreover, the rampant appropriation politics has played a significant role in reducing Ambedkar. The various political wings- Left, Right, and the Congress have tried appropriating Ambedkar in parts to fill in their political agendas. However, Dr Ambedkar, a staunch critic of the Congress, was also critical of the Left and the Right-wing. Ambedkar’s book What Congress and Gandhi have done to the untouchables (1945) manifests the unromantic relation between Ambedkar and the Congress. Fundamentally, Ambedkar was against the patronising attitude of Congress towards the untouchables. Since the contribution of Ambedkar cannot be erased from history, Congress picked up pieces of Ambedkar to complete its political puzzle. Emphasis was laid upon the fact that Ambedkar served as the chairman of the Drafting Committee and eventually the chief architect of the Constitution. The underpinning reason for this emphasis was to remind the masses that Congress invited Ambedkar for this opportunity. Simultaneously, though the Right-wing is continuously trying to saffronise Ambedkar, but in the past, the Right-wing had thwarted Ambedkar’s aim of eradicating social injustice. The movement of annihilation of caste from India antagonised them. It is also noteworthy to remember that the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh burnt Dr Ambedkar's effigies for pushing the Hindu Code bill in 1949.
On the other hand, the Left has been the closest in appropriating Ambedkar. Though Ambedkar once thought of the Left as an answer to the social injustice. However, his annoyance with the Left grew with time. The Left, for Ambedkar, was a paradox, occupied by the educated people who read books. As Arundhati Roy puts it, “The Book was written by a German Jew who had heard of, but had not actually encountered, Brahminism.”In contrast, Shudras and untouchables were devoid of books; the caste system restricted their learning. By this analogy, leaders of the Left were upper-caste people who had a chance of education. These leaders lacked a genuine understanding of caste oppression.
Each appropriation has evolved its own Ambedkar, and any non-conformity with it leads to oppression. Dalit leaders who understand Ambedkarism and the philosophy behind it are coerced through State instruments. Prof. Anand Teltumde, an Ambedkartite scholar, was arrested last year on the 129th Birth Anniversary of Ambedkar. Similar attempts to suppress the Ambedkarites could be traced to the periodical crackdowns on Dalit leaders like Bhim Army Chief Chandrashekhar Ravan and Jignesh Mewani.
Well, it is pertinent to understand Ambedkar in a real sense and not in parts or appropriations. Like the Gandhian ideology brewed by the Congress after the independence has kept Gandhi alive. Ambedkar could only be understood if he is not seen in the light of merely a ‘Dalit leader’ instead as a national leader. It is also essential to - read bare texts of Ambedkar, especially the Annihilation of Caste. The idea behind this is to see him through the unprejudiced lens; not reduce him to just a Dalit leader; to acknowledge him as a school of thought and, most importantly, India's founder. It is only then possible that the masses would understand the nuances of caste oppression and work towards Ambedkar’s quest for justice.
Shaileshwar Yadav is currently enrolled at National Law University, Jabalpur and has keen interest in Policy Analysis, Human Rights, Constitutional law, legal and political history.