Badre Alam & Sanjay Kumar for BeyondHeadlines
Mainstream political parties, civil society groups associated with Left, Secular and Right- Wing are reflecting on Dr. Ambedkar’s legacy and his contributions in nation building from their own ideological and political perspectives. In addition to this, Dalit-Bahujan politics have put forth the view that only true Ambedkarite could genuinely represent and carry forward his radical legacy.For radical Ambedkarites, mainstream political parties such as BJP, Congress and even parliamentary left are using Ambedkar’s ideology selectively merely to gain political and electoral benefits. Even some sections of Dalit-bahujan intellectuals, are unpersuasive in the manner in which the so-called ‘political left’ have recognized the contributions of Ambedkar’s intellectual thoughts. Moreover, it is interesting to see that some sections of civil rights activists like Anand Teltumble and others have highlighted that the so-called Ambedkarites are not following the real political legacy of Ambedkar.
In this given political and social context, it is an intellectually important task to reflect on the actual views of Ambedkar and therefore preserve his radical legacy from misappropriation and distortion by the Saffron brigades. To be very brief, scholar and social scientists like Gopal Guru and others have consistently argued that Ambedkar had always stood for ‘Annihilation of caste’ and envisioned a socially just and egalitarian society. To put it bluntly, long back Dr. Ambedkar has rightly reminded that the society has to fight twin enemies namely Brahaminism and Capitalism at the same time. However, it is a sad commentary to note that current political dispensation led by Narender Modi is of the opinion that economic and social problems of Dalits could be solved through dalit entrepreneurship and other market based economic activities like a Start-up India, Make in India, Digital India etc. Contrary to this, left academics and scholars have rightly demonstrated that both caste inequality and market based capitalism have not only failed in catering to the aspirations of Dalits but it has also negatively impacted on their everyday life.
Having said that, in this small essay, it can be argued that a radical young and assertive Ambedkarites such as Rohit Vemula’s and Ambedkar Student Association’s (ASAs) understanding as well as readings of Ambedkar intellectual legacy must be taken seriously in today’s context. To put it simply, young generation of radical Dalit activists and their readings on Ambedkar have immense potential to fight against the on slaught of the right wing political dispensation.
Besides, assertive and young Ambedkarites understanding on caste question and views on capitalism, communalism, minority rights, social justice and gender justice must be underlined seriously. More emphatically here, it is argued that on the basis of recent emergence of Ambedkarites politics at the HCU and left politics at JNU; it appears that for the first time two radical student politics have come together unitedly to expose the ‘hypocrisy’ of the so-called ‘developmental politics’ and ‘Sabka Sath sabka Vikas’ a plank on which PM Modi was voted to power in 2014 Lok Sabha election.
In the concluding section of this essay, we suggest that there is a need for building larger social solidarity among all democratic and progressive and left forces to stop nefarious designs and the growing threats of Hinduvta politics. In doing so, we would be able to pay homage and tribute to the dreams of Babasaheb Ambedkar, on the occasions of his 125th birth anniversary, which is currently going on.
Appropriation of Ambedkarby RSS-BJP
A noted Social scientist Prof. Kancha Ilaiah, commented that “Until 1990, Ambedkar was untouchable to all mainstream political parties’’. Before unpacking the recent discourse around politics of appropriating Ambedkar, let us first visit what Ambedkar himself said and struggled for safeguarding the rights of the depressed classes. In short, it has been noted that struggle launched against the caste discrimination and other form of social inequality by Ambedkar before independence, was vehemently opposed by Hindu Mahasabha and right-wing ideologies such as Guru Golwalkar and Savarkar. Historians of modern India have rightly shown that Hindu Mahasabha agenda was to create a Hindu nation based on Hindu Dhramsastras and religious scriptures.
However, Ambedkar’s idea of social justice and the idea of nationhood are in-fact based on secular and democratic values. To put differently, it is argued that Ambedkar’s understanding about nation-building is quite different from ideology of RSS-BJP. It must be here asked a question why RSS-BJP are so keenly interested to appropriate Ambedkar in spite of so much radical differences with him on variety of issues. For instance, historians of the subaltern studies have shown that, Dr. Babaseheb confronted severe opposition from the proponent of Hindutva forces on several issues like, annihilation of caste, hindu code bill, social justice, brahminisim etc.
Besides, Ambedkar had also outlined and noted the menace of, “Hindu raj” and ‘Hinduism’ in his own time. To put in his words;
“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 liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost.”
In addition to this, he also wrote that ‘Inequality is the soul of Hinduism’. And that is why he finally said that- “I was born a Hindu, but will not die a Hindu”.
It is ironical to note that current RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat said Hindutva is a culture and civilisational ideology and everybody living in India should consider himself a Hindu. He further adds that we need to bring about uniformity in the country and the role of Hinduvta in achieving that purpose, Ek Bhasha, ek devta, ek sampraday banana hoga (We need ensure one language one God and one religion). (India is a Hindu Rashtra: Bhagawat, in The Hindu, Feb 9, 2015). Here it has to be also noted that Bhagwat stand on Social Justice and reservation also came under sever attack by academics and social activists.
More interestingly, Bhagwat has claimed that Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution, believed in the ideology of the Sangh and had called its workers Symbols of social unity and integrity. He also said Ambedkar wanted to adopt the saffron flag of the RSS as the national flag of India. (Piyush Srivastava, ‘RSS going the whole hog in appropriating Ambedkar’, Mail Today, Feb.15, 2015)
Contrary to Bhagwat, a noted scholar Christophe Jafferlot has rightly argued that social character of Hindu nationalist movement has always been dominated by upper caste brahminical thinking. To put in the words of Jafferlot:
“The Hindu Nationalist movement has always had an upper-caste even Brahminical Character. This characteristic stems from nature of Hinduvta ideology which relies on a brahminical organic view of society where castes are seen as the harmonious components of society” (Cited in Jafferlot, “India’s Silent Revolution: the rise of the low Castes in north India”, Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2014, p-453).
To put it very simple, one could argue that what Mr. Bhgwat have said about Ambedkar is far from the truth that he believed in Sangh ideology. In the following section, it is aptly demonstrated that Ambedkar had in reality confronted stiff opposition with the Hindu Mahasabha and right-wing ideologues during his own time.
It is very unfortunate to see that Narender Modi in his book, Karmyog, published in 2007, has equated the job of cleaning toilets and manual scavenging as aspiritual exercise leading to enlightenment.
“I do not believe that they have been doing this job just to sustain their livelihood. Had this been so, they would have continued with this type of job generation after generation. At some point of time, somebody must have got the enlightenment that is there (Valmikis,) duty to work for the happiness of the entire society and the Gods’’.
The question must be asked if the current ruling dispensation is really committed to implement Dr. Ambedkar radical ideas on social justice, why still justice has not been done in the case of Rohith Vemula. In short, on the basis of aforementioned arguments, it is not wrong to say that Ambedkar radical legacy is completely ignored by the ideologue of Sangh Priviar and ruling BJP government. They are only paying lip services to Ambedkar’s intellectual thoughts by appropriating selectively for merely political and electoral consideration rather than adopting his radical thoughts and principles in public policy.In this context, it is important to note that Dr. Babasaheb himself reminded us the dark side of hero-worshiping in politics. He rightly observes, ‘In politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation to eventual dictatorship’.
It has to be noted that magazine and mouth piece of RSS, The Organiser has published a special issue on Ambedkar. In the editorial, RSS ideologue has wrongly interpreted the real legacy of Ambedkar. And it is ironical to see that editor has equated Babasaheb with Hedgewar.
As the editorial observes, “it is unfortunate that the people who thrive on a foreign, divisive and violent ideology conveniently trying to appropriate the legacy of Dr. Ambedkar, forgetting that fact that it was Babasaheb who revived the reformist zeal of our ancient civilization in the modern era, along with Dr. Hedgewar’’ (The Organiser, April 17, 2016,p-5).
However, here it is argued that RSS-ABVP and BJP combine’s understanding is completely different what Dr. Ambedkar thought and struggled for safeguarding the rights and dignity of depressed classes during his own time.
Having noted that, it is important to revisit the real legacy of Dr. Babaseheb Ambedkar. To do this, let us unpack what Dr. Ambedkar and others had anticipated and said about the possible contradictions of Indian society. As he had rightly observed on widely prevalent social and economic inequality during the formative stage of nation-building in these words:
“On the 26th January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognising 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 to live this life of 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.”
In short, it is clear from above arguments that Ambedkar’s understanding are radically different from right-wing forces like RSS-ABVP and BJP on several issues such as on annihilition of caste, Hinduism, democracy and Social and economic justice. To substantiate our arguments further, let us see what prominent academics and scholars have said about Dr. Ambedkar understanding and views on caste and democracy, inequality, which is widely seen in our society after 60 years of the so-called democratic and secular India.
In this regard, Prof. Gopal Guru well known social scientist has rightly noted that heterodox tradition of social justice visualised by Phule and Ambedkar is radically different from orthodox and brahminical view on social justice particularly represented by upper caste in the Indian context. In the words of Guru:
“The heterodox tradition tried to define social justice thorough radical interrogation of caste system and caste related social hierarchies that sustain the brahminical notion of justice”.
(Gopal Guru, Social Justice in P. Mehta and N. Gopal (Ed), The oxford companion to Politics in India, OUP, New Delhi, 2010, p-362)
Contrast to this, he further writes,
“The orthodox tradition of social justice is always exited as a governing or disciplining, rather than enabling, principle as it sought to regiment people both in terms of time and space (caste and patriarchy)”. (Gopal Guru, op-cit, p-362)
Having discussed scholars and Ambedkars arguments on the several issues it has to be noted that his understanding about Indian society and various contentious issues such as social Justice, minority rights, annihiliation of caste and capitalism are still relevant provided that we talk about real Ambedkar’s intellectual thoughts and legacy. One could say that his understanding is quite different from what Hindutva forces have had envisaged about Indian society and politics. To further expose the politics of Sangh Privar, let us highlight the recent student movement, which has started after the ‘institutional murder’ of Rohit Vemula at the HCU, JNU and other places.
New student movement
After the tragic and untimely death of RohitVemula, at the HCU, it appears that for the first time, radical young Ambedkarites and Left- based student politics have came together against the common enemy, like RSS-BJP and AVBP combine on the wide range of issues, for instance , Brahminism, Communalism, Caste atrocities, capitalism and gender rights etc. And more interestingly, slogan of students movement in recent times, clearly show the changing contours of campus politics, which is currently going on at the HCU, JNU, TISS, AU, FTII.
In the university campus, these days slogans such as “Jai Bheem”, “Lal Salam” and “Neela asman main lal sitara maang raha Hindustan” etc. clearly indicates larger solidarity between Left- Student and Young Ambedkarites politics have converged on so many issues as stated above against the common enemy. To put very simply, one could argue that greater affinity and social solidarity have emerged among all the progressive forces after the tragic death of Rohith Vemula. Here we are not calming that all differences between political left and Ambedkarites have been resolved.
However, it could be argued that New student movement, which is taking shape particularly from the university campuses have somehow shown that larger political solidarity needs to be conceptualized against the communal on slaught of Sangh Privar and its outfits. To be very precise, Rohith’s tragic death reminded us that he was not fighting only against caste discrimination and social injustice but also strongly opposed the ASPFA, Death penalty, Muzzaaffar Nagar riots, unjust Yakub’s hanging etc, which is disliked by Hinduvta outfits. He was not fighting only against caste-based discriminations and Brahmanism but also stood for protection and promotion of universal human values which is the core of young radical Amedkarite vision and is therefore not different from the Marxists and progressive vision of human emancipation.
To round up the discussion so far, it is a high time to revisit the real Ambedkar from the misused and selective appropriation by the RSS-BJP and right wing forces. To fight against the distorted pictures of Ambedkar asvisualised by right-wing political dispensation, radical young Ambedkarites and left-progressive student movement must develop larger social solidarity to carry forward the radical legacy of Babasaheb Ambedkar on Social Justice, Braminism and Capitalism, annihilation of caste structure and so on.
Badre Alam (firstname.lastname@example.org) is currently perusing Ph.D. at Department of Political Science, University of Delhi. Sanjay Kumar, formerly Ph.D. Scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.