The Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a recent speech, has made a bid to recast Babasaheb Ambedkar to fit the Sangh Parivar’s agenda. The PM said that Ambedkar represented a combination of ‘Samata (equality) and Mamata (motherly love), which brought about Samrasta (social harmony)’; and that Ambedkar worked to ‘integrate, not divide society’. He further said that it pained him to hear Ambedkar called a “Dalit leader”, when in fact he was a “leader of humanity.” He also implied that Ambedkar was a victim of "political untouchability"; and that he, Modi, too had been forced to battle “political untouchability.”
The Prime Minister’s remarks come in the wake of a concerted campaign by the RSS and BJP to appropriate Ambedkar. The Organiser and Panchjanya carried articles about Ambedkar, claiming that Ambedkar was against Muslims, and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad is marking Ambedkar’s 124th birth anniversary year with district-level ‘Samarasata Yagyas’ to encourage “assimilation of dalits with the rest of the society.”
The Sangh Parivar and BJP are, in their attempt to appropriate Ambedkar and woo Dalits, turning Ambedkar’s legacy on its head. Their fulsome praise of Ambedkar, is actually a great insult to his life-s work. Take their claim that Ambedkar worked to ‘integrate society’, that he was a leader of ‘humanity’, not ‘Dalits’; and that he should be remembered by holding Hindu rites to assimilate Dalits into the ‘rest of society’. In fact, these statements hide the fact that Indian and Hindu society was and is deeply divided on caste lines, with the Dalits at the receiving end of severe, systematic discrimination and violence. Dalits are already ‘integrated’ in this society – as the down-trodden, bottom-most rung of this edifice of hierarchy and discrimination. Ambedkar worked all his life for Dalits to make a decisive break with this society, to refuse to be ‘integrated’ with a society that holds them to be untouchable. His greatness and his humanism lies precisely in his status as an emancipator of Dalits, as a leader of Dalit resistance. It does not belittle Ambedkar to call him a leader of Dalits; in fact, it belittles his legacy to erase his role as a leader of Dalit agitations, and instead to re-brand him as an icon of ‘assimilation’ into the very society and politics he rejected!
In the very Nagpur that is the seat of Sangh Parivar power, Ambedkar publicly led Dalits in converting to Buddhism, declaring, “Though, I was born a Hindu, I solemnly assure you that I will not die as a Hindu.” For Ambedkar, conversion was an act of rebellion of Dalits against the Hindu caste stranglehold. In contrast, the Sangh Parivar’s ‘Samrasta Yagna’ is basically another edition of its ‘gharwapsi’ campaign, that seeks to outlaw conversion, and instead pressurizes Dalits to return to the Hindu fold. The Sangh Parivar should at least have the shame not to conduct these ‘yagnas’ of ‘Samrasta’ and ‘gharwapsi’ in Ambedkar’s name!
The RSS and BJP work towards a Hindu Rashtra – a Hindu nation. Ambedkar explicitly rejected the politics of ‘Hindu nation.’ In his essays on ‘Pakistan or Partition of India’, he wrote, “If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt be the greatest calamity for this country. It is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. It is incompatible with democracy. It must be stopped at any cost.” In 1951, on the eve of independent India’s first-ever general election, the manifesto of Ambedkar’s Scheduled Castes Federation (SCF) ruled out “alliance with any reactionary party such as Hindu Mahasabha and Jan Sangh as communal parties.” (cited in Ambedkar & the BJP, A G Noorani, Frontline, February 21, 2014).
Desperate to sow the seeds of anti-Muslim hatred in Dalits, the RSS is propagating that Ambedkar distrusted Muslims. The fact is that Ambedkar advocated unity between the Muslims and oppressed castes. In the same essay on ‘Pakistan and Partition of India’, he writes, “There are many lower orders in the Hindu society whose economic, political and social needs are the same as those of the majority of the Muslims and they could be far more ready to make a common cause with the Muslim than they would with high caste Hindus who have denied and deprived them of ordinary human rights for centuries….Is it not true that under the Montagu-Chemsford Reforms, in most Indian provinces the Muslims, Non-Brahmins and Depressed classes united together and worked the reforms as members of one team from 1920 to 1937? Herein lies the most fruitful method of communal harmony among Hindus and Muslims and of destroying the danger of Hindu Raj”.
A Minister in the Modi Government has called for a ban on the slaughter of cows and buffaloes; the Prime Minister himself makes speeches insinuating that the slaughter of cows is a dastardly ‘Pink Revolution’; and the BJP Government of Maharashtra has banned beef. Can the RSS and BJP, then, digest Ambedkar’s views on beef-eating? Ambedkar, after all, wrote well-researched articles explaining how beef-eating was common among Vedic Hindus; and analyses how in later times, those castes that ate beef were rendered untouchable. He specifically linked the beef taboo with Brahminism.
There is also a mischievous attempt to divorce Ambedkar, the architect of the Constitution, from Ambedkar, the leader of Dalit resistance and defiance. In keeping with his egalitarian principles and struggles, Ambedkar drafted a Constitution that would safeguard the rights and liberties of women, Dalits, minorities, and all citizens.
Ambedkar has resigned in frustration over the Hindu Code Bill, when Hindutva leaders along with conservative elements within the Congress had vociferously attacked the Bill’s attempts to reform Hindu personal laws and ensure equality for women. BJP’s hero Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, founder of BJP’s predecessor, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, had said the Bill would “shatter the magnificent structure of Hindu culture.” In his resignation letter, Ambedkar declared, “To leave inequality between class and class, between sex and sex, which is the soul of Hindu Society untouched and to go on passing legislation relating to economic problems is to make a farce of our Constitution and to build a palace on a dung heap. This is the significance I attached to the Hindu Code.”
When Modi refers to himself as a victim of ‘political untouchability’, he is referring to the fact that he had been reviled and isolated on account of his role as Chief Minister in sponsoring the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat. To compare this consequence of espousing the politics of communal hatred and violence, with the discrimination suffered by Ambedkar, is shameful.
Today, as the Sangh Parivar, as well as the State machinery all over India tramples over the Constitutional rights and liberties of women, minorities and Dalits, imposing dress and diet codes and attacking conversion, it is Ambedkar’s legacy as an agitator that is relevant to the struggles to defend and expand people’s freedoms.
Last but not least, how can one forget the BJP’s and RSS’ acts of violence against Dalits? Modi himself described manual scavenging as a ‘spiritual activity bestowed by the Gods’, rather than as an atrocity against Dalits. The Ranveer Sena, that shared the RSS ideology and politics in many respects, conducted a series of massacres of Dalits in Bihar in the 1990s. Modi Cabinet Minister Giriraj Singh had described the Ranveer Sena chief Brahmeshwar Singh, as ‘Bihar’s Gandhi.’
The attempts by Modi, the BJP and the Sangh Parivar to appropriate Ambedkar smack of sheer dishonesty and opportunism. Ambedkar stands tallest among the leaders of his generation, as a visionary who refused to compromise with inequality and discrimination, and squarely rejected the politics of Hindutva ideologues and vacillating Congressmen too. Ambedkar’s legacy is an inspiration and a resource for all fighters for an egalitarian India. And that legacy will always remain a thorn in the side of hate-filled politics of Hindutva, that Ambedkar described the greatest danger of all for India.