Ambedkar and Nationalism
(Secular Perspective May 16-31, 2016)
Even those political parties that have systematically tried to undermine Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s agenda – of equality, social justice, fraternity and liberty – are, for political gains, celebrating his 125th birth anniversary. They are invoking Babasaheb only to appropriate him and enlist him as a supporter of their political objectives which he was in fact opposed to! Scholarship of the Hindu nationalists was never the best, but that it would be so abysmal is surprising to many. Or, is it that they are deliberately trying to use Babasaheb to say exactly what the Hindu nationalists want knowing well that Babasaheb was in fact opposed to the agenda of the Hindu nationalists?
To call Babasaheb himself as a “nationalist” or a “patriot” would be less than the truth. Babasaheb was a liberal democrat who stood for the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity along with social justice. In his book “Pakistan or the Partition of India” (Dr. Ambedkar, 1990), Babasaheb examines the issue of Partition dispassionately and rationally, and not from the nationalist perspective. In the said book, Babasaheb interrogates the Muslim case for Pakistan and the Hindu case against Pakistan. In the 1946 edition of the book, Babasaheb added Part V giving his views on the subject in Chapter XIII and XIV. He examines the case of Canada, South Africa, N. Ireland and Switzerland, analyzes the religio-racial-ethnic-linguistic conflicts in these countries and the ways in which they were managing these conflicts with appropriate systems and governance structures. He then arrives at the conclusion that the interests of the minorities would be better served if they do not demand a separate state but safeguards within governance structure of the country. Note that Babasaheb is concerned with the “interest of the minorities” and not interest of the “nation”.
In his Address delivered at the Session of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation held in Bombay (as it was then called) on May 6, 1945 (Dr. Ambedkar, 1989) Babasaheb supports the principle of self-determination of and wrote, “I am not against Pakistan, I believe it is founded on principle of self-determination, which it is now too late to question. I am prepared to give them the benefit of the principle…”. However, Babasaheb was for united India as he felt that his proposals would be accepted by the Muslims in preference to Pakistan as they would provide them with better security. A nationalist’s position would be rejecting any proposal for partition of the country and the principle of self-determination would amount to a sacrilege and an “anti-national” act! Mere utterance of the word “self-determination” invites lynching from the Hindu nationalist mobs!
Babasaheb’s proposals were in brief, weightage in representation of minorities in legislatures as well as in the executive. He writes, “Majority rule is untenable in theory and unjustifiable in practice. A majority community may be conceded a relative majority of representation but it can never claim an absolute majority”. Babasaheb did not want representation of the majority community in the legislature to be so large as the enable the majority to establish its rule with the help of the small minorities. For, according to Babasaheb, the legislative majority in India was communal majority, unlike in U.K. where, by and large the people followed a common religion and spoke a common language. Forget the principle of weightage, any affirmative action to ensure that minorities do not fall behind and are not discriminated would invite opprobrium and charge of “minority appeasement” from the Hindu nationalists. If there is no weightage in representation and separate electorates for minorities in the Constitution of India, it is not because Babasaheb was in principle against it, but because Sardar Patel, chair of the Advisory Committee on Minorities and Fundamental Rights of the Constituent Assembly, successfully persuaded the minorities to give up the demand of separate electorates (and rightly so). Minorities that were left behind after the partition felt that they should invoke the good will of the majority community (Constituent Assemble Debates, Vol. V (14-8-1947 to 30-8-1947), 2003, Pp 198-200).
Babasaheb’s views on Nationalism and Hindu Raj:
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat has claimed that Babasaheb 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. This is far from truth. Babasaheb was strongly opposed to Hindu religion and located untouchability and caste based hierarchies in Hindu religion. That is why he administered vow to 3 lakh followers who converted with him from Hinduism to Buddhism in which they repeated along with Babasaheb that they would not have any faith in Brahma, Vishnu, Maheshwara, Rama, Krishna and that they renounced Hinduism.
Babasaheb denounces not only Muslim nationalism of Jinnah, he writes that the whole world was decrying against the evils of nationalism and seeking refuge in international organization (Dr. Ambedkar, 1990, pp. 352-53). According to Babasaheb, Indians were only a people, not a nation and further opines that there was nothing to be ashamed of if they were not and would not become a nation (Dr. Ambedkar, 1990, p. 353). The RSS on the other hand believes that Hindu nation is ancient and its origin went as far back as 2000 years and even more. How could Hindu Raj or Hindu Rashtra be a nation? Hindu society according to Babasaheb was undemocratic and that millions of shudras and non-Brahmins and millions of untouchables were suffering worst consequences of the undemocratic character of Hindu society (Dr. Ambedkar, 1990, p. 356).
Whereas RSS wants to establish a Hindu Rashtra, Babasaheb thought it would be a greatest calamity for this country as it was a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity and it should be prevented at any cost (Dr. Ambedkar, 1990, p. 358). The lower orders in the Hindu society shared the plight of the majority of Muslims as far as social, economic and political needs were concerned and Babasaheb felt that they should all come together in a common cause to defend the human rights which the high caste had denied them for centuries (Dr. Ambedkar, 1990, p. 359).
Lip service to Babasaheb:
Pushing the undemocratic agenda of Hindu Rashtra aggressively, the ruling dispensation is still trying to appropriate Babasaheb and their strategy in doing so is to build grand monuments and claim that they had built more monuments than the Congress. Grand monuments of Babasaheb appease a section of dalit politicians representing the aspirational neo dalit elite on one hand and mesmerize the oppressed, deprived and discriminated dalit masses but cannot address their real issues. Monuments of brick and mortar cannot speak the mind of Babasaheb and cannot conscientize the dalits to carry on the struggle for equality, social justice and dignity. The statues, busts and brick and mortar monuments blunt the conscience of dalits and rob their icons.
They build grand monuments and undermine the principle of liberty, equality, fraternity and social justice which is ingrained in the Constitution of India which Babasaheb so painstakingly drafted and then steered through the Constituent Assembly. Those who are building Grand monuments of Babasaheb are also lynching those whose views they do not approve of even in court premises under the watch of police and no action is taken against anyone. Against the principles of liberty, they are forcing certain slogans down the throat of unwilling. They are creating new hierarchies in the name of nationalism and forcing the country to accept the privileges of neo-nationalists who during freedom were with the colonial power, and excluding others from equal citizenship creating neo-untouchables. The neo-untouchables are erstwhile un-co-opted sections of dalits, adivasis, sections of the OBCs, minorities, women, farmers and workers of the country. Extra-judicial and extra-legal networks of violence are deployed to undermine the rule of law and spout hate speeches coupled with liberal dose of violence against the neo-untouchables.
The Congress too paid only lip service to Babasaheb during their rule. Dalits were as oppressed, discriminated and faced violence in their daily lives, be it Tsundur carnage in AP, Belchi in Bihar, Bhagalpur blindings, denial of access to dalits to drinking water wells and access to government infrastructures. Congress too co-opted a section of dalit leaders with crumbs of welfare schemes even while discriminating against dalits.
We all the democratic minded citizens of India will have to come together in the struggle to democratize our culture carry on Babasaheb’s mission of defending democracy and march towards equality and social justice.
Dr. Ambedkar, B. R. (1989). Communal Deadlock and a Way to Solve it. In V. Moon, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches Vol. 1 (pp. 355-380). Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharahtra.
Dr. Ambedkar, B. R. (1990). Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches Vol. 8 Reprint of Pakistan or The Partition of India (Vol. VIII). (V. Moon, Ed.) Bombay: The Education Department, Government of Maharashtra.