Ambedkar & the BJP

Print edition : February 21, 2014

The BJP has set its sights on the Dalit vote. Here, "Ram and Bhim", a BJP campaign poster in Mhow near Indore in Madhya Pradesh, which is Bhimrao Ambedkar's birthplace. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

The BJP has begun extolling the virtues of Dr B.R. Ambedkar. But one can tell from both what he said and wrote that he was viscerally opposed to the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS.

THE first thing a nouveau riche does, as he takes to social climbing, is to drop names and pretend to a respectable ancestry. Very late in the day, as its strength began to increase, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) suddenly discovered virtues in Gandhi, whom its idol V.D. Savarkar conspired to murder, as the Kapur Commission found. The BJP has since set its sights on the Dalit vote and has begun extolling the virtues of Dr B.R. Ambedkar. In this, it has the strong backing of its mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).

‘Organiser’ tribute

Its organ Organiser carried, in the issue of December 8, 2013, a tribute to Ambedkar by a RSS Sahsarkaryavah, Krishna Gopal, who put his own gloss on Ambedkar’s views. Sample this: “One remarkable thing that is visible in Dr Ambedkar’s life is that he was not in favour of total annihilation of all old ideals, systems and customs neither he had enmity towards any caste or varna. He believed in preserving that [which] was good and removing that which has lost its propriety. From this point of view he can be described as an agitationist….

“Dr Ambedkar taught his followers to take all along with them. His fight was not with those castes but with those mentalities that considered others as fallen or downgrades or even untouchables. He never allowed hatred, enmity and caste conflict to dominate in his movement and mission. Like Buddha he too believed that even the greatest of enemies can be won by selfless and pure love. This was the reason that we find people from all castes working hand in hand with Dr Ambedkar…. His acceptance of Buddhism and initiation in that faith saved the Hindu society from further division and this is the greatest gift he had given to the Hindu society” (emphasis added throughout).As it happened, the Mainstream of November 22, 2013, published an article by A.K. Biswas, former Vice-Chancellor, B.R. Ambedkar University, Muzaffarpur, Bihar. It was entitled “The ‘Uncle Judge Syndrome’ Shadow over Laxmanpur Bathe”. It was concerned with the acquittal by the High Court of Patna of 26 persons who had been convicted by the trial court of the murder of 58 Dalits by the Ranvir Sena at the village Laxmanpur Bathe in Bihar.

What he wrote deserves to be quoted in extenso: “Dr B.R. Ambedkar drove the point most tellingly: ‘From the capital of India to the village the whole administration is rigged by the Hindus. The Hindus are the life of the omnipotent almighty pervading all over the administration in all its branches having its authority in all its nooks and corners. There is no loophole for anyone opposed to the old order to escape. If the old order has continued to exist, it is because of the unfailing support it received from the Hindu officials of the state. The Hindu officials are not merely administrators, administering the affairs on the merit, they are administrators with an eye to their parties. Their principle is not equal justice to all. Their motto is justice consistent with established order. This is inevitable. For they carry over into administration, the attitude towards different classes in the society under the established order….

‘The untouchable will never be able to get Hindus as witness because of the conspiracy of the villagers not to support the case of the untouchables however just it may be. If he brings witness from the untouchables, the magistrate will not accept their testimony because he can easily say that they are interested and not independent witness, or, if they are independent witness, the magistrate has an easy way of acquitting the accused by simply saying that the untouchable’s complaint did not strike him as a truthful witness. He can do this fearlessly knowing fully well that the higher tribunal will not reverse his finding because of the well-established rule which says that an appellate court should not disturb the findings of the trial magistrate based on the testimony of the witness whose demeanour he has no opportunity to observe.’”

This certainly does not justify the gloss which Krishna Gopal put on Ambedkar’s thoughts and feelings. Do you remember how the Sangh Parivar’s goons agitated against the publication of Ambedkar’s book Riddles in Hinduism? ( Dr Balasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, Volume 4). Gopal Guru’s well-documented article in the Economic & Political Weekly of February 16, 1991, exposes the feverish attempts by such elements to co-opt Ambedkar. It is entitled “Hinduisation of Ambedkar in Maharashtra”.

In November 1951, on the eve of India’s first general election (in 1952) based on adult suffrage, Ambedkar’s Scheduled Castes Federation (SCF) forged an electoral alliance with the Praja Socialist Party led by Jayaprakash Narayan. The SCF’s election manifesto ruled out “ alliance with any reactionary party such as Hindu Mahasabha and Jan Sangh as communal parties” (ibid. page 78, citing Ambedkar, Letters to Gaekward, pages 280-296). A word of caution. Ambedkar’s biographer Dhananjay Keer was an ardent admirer of Savarkar, whose biography he also wrote. He is unhappy that Ambedkar’s tour de force Thoughts on Pakistan did not receive a rebuttal from the Hindu Mahasabha (page 335)! The Mahasabha was all for the enforcement of the federal part of the Government of India, 1935. Ambedkar opposed it tooth and nail (page 317). He advocated partition of Kashmir, to the horror of the Jan Sangh.

Embittered indictment

Ambedkar published in 1945 his book What Congress and Gandhi have done to the Untouchables. It was an embittered indictment. Invective flowed in plenty.

“If I refer to the statement of Rai Bahadur Meherchand Khanna, it is not because he is worth taking notice of. For, there cannot be anyone guilty of bigger blackguardism in Indian politics than this man. In the course of one year—not in very remote time but in 1944—he successfully played three different roles. He started as secretary of the Hindu Mahasabha, turned agent of British Imperialism, went abroad to explain India’s war effort to the British and American people and is now agent of the Congress in NWF [North-West Frontier] Province. The opinion of a man like Rai Bahadur Khanna, who, to use Dryden’s language, is so various as to be everything by starts, and nothing long, and who in the course of one revolving moon, can be chemist, fiddler, statesman and buffoon, must be beneath contempt.”

Khanna joined the Jawaharlal Nehru Cabinet. This book of 399 pages reflects Ambedkar’s basic outlook. If he could be so scathing about Gandhi and the Congress, would he have thought kindly of the Sangh Parivar of today? Fundamentally, he was against “orthodox Hinduism” and caste. He wrote: “To the Untouchable, Hinduism is a veritable chamber of horrors” and proceeded to adumbrate his objections. In speech and in writing, Ambedkar was prone to excess. But we know enough from both that he was viscerally opposed to the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS.

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