On 15 April this year – the 125th anniversary of Dr BR Ambedkar – all parties in the spectrum were in competition as they articulated their fulsome praise for one of the greatest leaders of the country. The tribute to Dr Ambedkar is fully deserved, but one is rather sceptical about the genuineness and sincerity of the political class. Though the average Indian readily accepts him as a leader who framed our Constitution, all parties – except the Socialist Party of Jayaprakash Narayan – have generally ignored his contribution.
Dr Ambedkar had many facets to his personality, which itself is quite rare. His massive treatise on Annihilation of Caste was ridiculed by the RSS. Even today, the Modi government&’s open encouragement of the RSS in its campaign against the minorities especially Muslims, and its indifference towards Dalits, hardly entitles the Bhartiya Janata Party to bask in Dr Ambedkar&’s social philosophy.
The Congress proclaims that Dr Ambedkar will be remembered as a Congressman; ironically it opposed him during his election to the Lok Sabha in 1954. The party claims that it made him the Chairperson of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution. This is factually wrong. It was only on Mahatma Gandhi insistence that Dr Ambedkar headed the Drafting Committee. Moreover, the servility to the concept of a leader, as shown by the awe mysteriously being created over Rahul&’s rebirth so that he can take over as the Congress leader is of a piece with the godly saint emerging from his cave of meditation to take on the battle against the demon of all other parties. This servile and undemocratic approach of bhakti has been condemned by Dr Ambedkar – “The second thing we must do is to observe the caution which John Stuart Mill has given to all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, not ‘to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with powers which enable him to subvert their institutions’. There is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered lifelong service to the country. But there are limits to gratitude. As has been incisively remarked by the Irish partriot, Daniel O’ Connel, “no man can be grateful at the cost of his honour, no woman can be grateful at the cost of her chastity and no nation can be grateful at the cost of its liberty”. This caution is far more necessary in the case of India than in the case of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But, in politics, bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.
Mayawati and others of her ilk are insincere, even dubious, followers of Dr Ambedkar. They want to deify him and in the bargain they hope to conceal their own misdeeds of corruption by trying to instill the fear amongst their caste. They try to mislead them by suggesting that their betrayal of the cause of Dalits should not be exposed for the sake of unity of caste. This is cheap politics, masquerading as social engineering.
I am rather worried over the trend of the recent discussions in the print and electronic media, raising the question about the need for reservation of Dalits and OBCs and even wrongly suggesting that Dr Ambedkar was against prolonged reservation. To my mind, this is heretically divisive. We must honestly recognize that Dalits will have to be brought out of not only the financial mess, but also the social outcasteism to which they have been condemned for centuries.
It was only the Socialist Party of Jayaprakash Narayan and Dr Lohia which found a kindred spirit in Dr Ambedkar&’s philosophy as is clear from the writing of Dr Lohia in the 1950s. He wrote – “The gap between the hundred million Dvijas on the one side, and the two hundred million Dalits on the other is so wide that no political party has as yet undertaken to fill it up. It is futile to talk of revolutionary politics unaccompanied by efforts for social change and conscious effort to bridge the gulf between Dvija leadership and the Dalits.”
In the pursuit of this objective Dr Lohia on behalf of the Socialist Party strove to work together for this common goal. A meeting was also fixed between the two, but unfortunately Dr Ambedkar died before it could take place. The sorrow of Dr Lohia was expressed in a letter addressed to the Socialist leader Madhu Limaye. He wrote: “You can well understand my sorrow at Dr Ambedkar&’s sudden death. Dr Ambedkar was to me a great man in Indian politics and apart from Gandhiji is as great as the greatest caste Hindu. This fact has always given me solace and confidence that the caste system of Hinduism can one day be destroyed.” Dr Lohia had expressed the hope “that Scheduled Caste Federation Forum of Dr Ambedkar will contribute to have the symbol of Dr Ambedkar for homage and his independence He will be the leader of all Indians and not Dalits only”.
The homage paid by the Modi government and previously the UPA dispensation is hypocritical considering its pro-corporate policies, the move to displace the peasantry to build industrial corridors, and delude the people with the fancy proposal of bullet trains. This reaffirms the BJP government&’s total insensitivity and reminds one of Marie Antoinette&’s remarks which led to the French Revolution – “If there is no bread why don’t they eat cakes.”
Mr Modi and his admirers need to be reminded of the warning given by Dr Ambedkar on the conclusion of the Constituent Assembly on 26 November 1949 – “In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one-man-one-vote and one-vote-one-value. In our social and economic life, we shall by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one-man-one-value. How long shall we continue with these contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment, or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of democracy which this Constituent Assembly has so laboriously built up”.
The best homage to Dr Ambedkar will be to heed solemnly this warning and act accordingly.
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The writer is former Chief Justice, Delhi High Court