Appropriating legacy of Babasaheb Ambedkar

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, “Indias 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’.

Real Ambedkar

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 (badredelhi@gmail.com) 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.

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