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Ambedkar – A national leader or leader of Dalits only?

I

Ambedkar’s role in national politics

Introduction

Ambedkar was not the undisputed leader of Dalits only, he was the leader of the whole nation. The whole nation honours him and remembers him as ‘the Father of the Constitution of India’. After Independence in 1947, when the Constitution of Independent India was being framed, Bhimrao Ambedkar, because of his hard work, expertise in legal matters and intelligence, was nominated as the chairman of the drafting committee of Constituent Assemble. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India was the chairman of the Constituent Assembly. The joint efforts of Dr. Ambedkar and other national leaders  like Nehru, Patel, Rajaji, Rajendra Prasad etc. have given to independent India a wonderful Constitution.

Babasaheb Ambedkar was misunderstood more by Dalit leaders of the day, who use his name frequently to justify their claims. He desired for not just political empowerment of Dalits, but also for social democracy in India. He did not approve the idea of revolution, which his followers advocate today. He advised to adopt constitutional methods to bring about change in independent India. He thought that methods of revolution and violence “are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.”

Doyen of Contemporary Dalit Politics

He sincerely wished for upliftment of Dalit people, but never wanted a glorified status for himself. But his followers of Ambedkar have given a glorified status to Dr. Ambedkar. Many powerful leaders – Paswans, Manjhis and Mayawatis have emerged in present day political world, who have created their own power elite and centres. They have benefitted from their caste identity in elections. Their caste status has helped them in consolidating Dalit vote-banks. But their politics revolves around self-aggrandizement. They have hardly succeeded in bringing any change in the social or political status of submerged people or bring in social equality. Their focus is on imprisoning the poor masses forever in the trap of reservations/quota politics, which can not produce many Dalit leaders or intellectuals.

Educational background of Dr. Ambedkar

Ambedkar had received best possible education throughout his student career in India as well as abroad, at Columbia University in New York, which was available to any other person belonging to any higher caste’s student at that time. Belonging to Mahar community (listed in Scheduled Castes community) had never put any hurdle throughout his student life in getting admission in school or college whether in India or abroad or in furthering his social status (he was married to a lady belonging to Brahmin community) or political career, or attaining positions of power.

Ambedkar’s school’s education

His father and grandfather being the employees of the British Army ensured a good education for Bhimrao Ambedkar. He continued his studies and passed his Matriculation examination from Bombay University. Bhim joined the Elphinstone High School and later on the Elphinstone College for further education – one of the best schools in all of India.

College education

With the help of a monthly scholarship given by Maharaja Gaekwad of Baroda, Bhimrao (‘Rao’ is added to names in Maharashtra as a sign of respect) passed his B.A. in 1912.In 1912, he graduated in Political Science and Economics from Bombay University and got a job in Baroda.

Education abroad

In 1913, Maharaja of Baroda awarded scholarship to Bhim Rao Ambedkar for further studies at the world-famous Columbia University, New York. It was with a condition that he would serve Baroda state for ten years on finishing his studies. The freedom and equality he experienced in America made a very strong impression on Bhimrao. There he attained a degree in Master of Arts and a Doctorate in Philosophy from Columbia University in 1916 for his thesis “National Dividend for India: A Historical and Analytical Study.” The Maharaja of Baroda appointed Dr. Ambedkar as his political secretary.

Start of Dr. Ambedkar’s political career

In 1917 Bhimrao Ambedkar returned to Bombay. In 1918, he became a lecturer at Sydenham College in Bombay. There, he got the reputation as a brilliant teacher and scholar. With the help of Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur, he started a fortnightly newspaper, the “Mooknayak” (Dumb Hero) on January 31, 1920. That was the start of his political career.

Studying in London School of Economics

In 1920, after accumulating sufficient funds, Ambedkar went back to London to complete his studies in Economics at London School of Economics. He also enrolled to study as a Barrister at Gray’s Inn and became a barrister-at- law. In 1923, Bhimrao returned to India with a Doctorate in Economics from the LSE – he was perhaps the first Indian to have a Doctorate from this world-famous institution.

Ambedkar’s journey in political arena

Founded ‘Bahishkrit Hitkaraini Sabha’
After coming back to India, in July 1924, he founded the Bahishkrit Hitkaraini Sabha (Outcastes Welfare Association). The aim of the Sabha was to uplift the downtrodden socially and politically and bring them to the level of the others in the Indian society. Now he was well equipped as a leader of the Dalit community.

Babasaheb represented the leader of ‘untouchables’

In 1930, when a Round Table Conference was held by the British Government in London to decide the future of India, Babasaheb represented the ‘untouchables’. He said there: -The Depressed Classes of India also join in the demand for replacing the British Government by a Government of the people and by the people… Our wrongs have remained as open sores and have not been righted although 150 years of British rule have rolled away. Of what good is such a Government to anybody?” Gandhiji appreciated that.

Co-operating with Simon Commission

Later on, he made the controversial decision to co-operate with the all-British Simon Commission. The Congress decided to boycott the Commission and drafted its own version of a constitution for free India. Ambedkar attended all the three Round Table Conferences in London and forcefully argued for the welfare of “untouchables”.

‘Communal Award’ in Poona Pact raised controversy

A separate electorate was announced for the depressed classes under Ramsay McDonald ‘Communal Award’. The famous Poona Pact replaced the separate electorate demand with special concessions like reserved seats in the regional legislative assemblies and Central Council of States.

Birth of “Independent Labor Party”

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar set up the “Independent Labor Party” in August 1936 to contest the elections in the Bombay province. He and many candidates of his party were elected to the Bombay Legislative Assembly.

Strongly opposed the title ‘Harijans’ for untouchables

In 1937, a Bill was introduced to abolish the “khoti” system of land tenure in the Konkan region, the serfdom of agricultural tenants and the Mahar “watan” system of working for the Government as slaves. A clause of an agrarian bill referred to the depressed classes as “Harijans,” or people of God. Bhimrao was strongly opposed to this title for the untouchables. But the Indian National Congress succeeded in introducing the term Harijan. During the Second World War, Babasaheb was appointed Labour Minister by the Viceroy.

All-India Scheduled Castes Federation

The All-India Scheduled Castes Federation was formed in 1942 to unite all ‘untouchables’ into one united political party.

First Law Minister of Independent India

In 1947, when India became independent, Babasaheb Ambedkar became First Law Minister of Independent India in Nehru’s cabinet. He was elected as a Member of the Constituent Assembly from Bengal. The Constituent Assembly made him chairman of the committee appointed to draft the constitution for the world’s largest democracy.

Relinquished position of Law Minister

In October 1948, Dr. Ambedkar submitted the Hindu Code Bill to the Constituent Assembly in an attempt to codify the Hindu law. The Bill caused great divisions even in the Congress party. Consideration for the bill was postponed to September 1951. When the Bill was taken up it was truncated. A dejected Ambedkar relinquished his position as Law Minister.

Ambedkar and his beliefs

Anathema against Hinduism

Babasahib propagated vehemently against Hinduism. He regarded Hinduism and caste system as “great obstacles to Hindu Unity”. … “My self-respect can not assimilate Hinduism…The religion that does not recognize you as human beings…is not worthy to be called a religion.” He used to say – “Hinduism has given us (untouchables) only insults, misery, and humiliation.” … “We have not been able to secure the barest of human rights… I am born a Hindu. I couldn’t help it, but I solemnly assure you that I will not die a Hindu.”

In favour of ‘conversions’

Therefore in 1935 at Yeola, Babasaheb for the first time that Babasaheb suggested to his people – for they were only known as ‘untouchables’ within the fold of Hinduism. opt for conversions for his people – for they were only known as ‘untouchables’ within the fold of Hinduism. He stressed the importance of conversion from Hinduism About a month before his death (December 6, 1956), on 0ctober 14, 1956 he embraced Buddhism along with many of his followers.

Views on Reservation

According to Ambedkar, “Where a majority of population is denied its share in actual power, there exists no democracy.” … “Reservation is not aimed at economic uplift or alleviation of poverty. But it is a provision made for the entry of certain castes, which have so far been outside the administration. Hence the need for their adequate representation in State Services. Adequacy should be judged not by their presence in the lower rung of the services, but their entry into the higher echelons, the corridor of power.”

On loyalty

He was clear from the very beginning of his political career that “Attempt to uplift my community rather than to win Swaraj for the nation is my goal.” …… “I will leave no doubt in the minds of the people of this country that I have another loyalty, to which I am bound and which I can never for-sake. The loyalty is to the community of the untouchables; in which I am born, to which I belong and which I hope, I shall never desert. And I say this…. as strongly as I possibly can that whenever there is any conflict of interests between the country and the untouchables, so far as I am concerned, the untouchable interests will take precedence over the interests of the country. I am not going to support a tyranny of the majority, simply because it happens to speak in the name of the country…. As between the country and myself, the country will have precedence, as between the country and the depressed classes, the depressed classes will have precedence.”

On democratic values

“Democracy is not merely a form of Government. It is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards fellow men.” … “In an ideal society, there should be many interests consciously communicated and shared.”

Ambedkar and Reservation Policy

During Constituent Assembly Debates, Ambedkar advocated the policy of Reservation. But later on, as a socialist and humanist, who had the long-range interests of untouchables at heart, had developed doubts about advisability and efficacy of Reservation Policy. Chowdhary Charan Singh said, “Ambedkar himself declared in a speech sometime before his death that the provision of Reservation in service should not extend beyond 1960/61.”

Ambedkar’s realization of worthlessness of ‘Reservations’

Pr. Balraj Madhok had also pointed out that later in life, Ambedkar realized that SC and ST would not be able to stand on their own feet, so long as they depended on the crutches of Reservation. “Reservation,” Dr. Ambedkar said, “Encouraged backwardness, inefficiency and lack of competitive merit among them barring a few stray cases.” Therefore, when he launched the Republican Party of India, he incorporated this view in the Manifesto, according to which the party was committed itself to abolish all kinds of Reservations based on caste and birth.

Depressed Ambedkar

During his last days, Ambedkar said, “I have not been able to fulfil my mission. I wanted to do more for the SC people and to see them as governing class in my life. I could have succeeded, but my own people have deceived me. Whatever I have been able to do, is being enjoyed by the educated people and they are the worst fools. I now want to divert my attention to the uneducated masses, but life seems short. The second worry to my mind is that I wanted that somebody from the SC should come forward and take the responsibilities from me. There, however, seems none to shoulder such a heavy responsibility. All are selfish and quarrel themselves on petty matters.”

Wave of Ambedkarization

1990’s witnessed a wave of Ambedkarisation. Many politicians started describing Ambedkar as the “The maker” of Indian Constitution. Experts on Constitutional law have some reservation to such expressions, because both the constituent Assembly and its Drafting Committee headed by Dr. Ambedkar were the formal centers of work. The real place of work was the Congress Working Committee, which took all the important decisions and there, the prominent role was played by leaders like Nehru, Patel, Rajendra Prasad or Constitutional jurists like Alladi Krishna Swami Ayyar, K.M. Munshi and others. It was frankly admitted by Mahavir Tyagi, one of the members of Drafting Committee, and Dr. Ambedkar himself that their hands were tied and they were only carrying out the wishes of the majority.

Ambedkar’s contributions

After an examination of the situation, Pr. K.V. Rao said, “No doubt, Ambedkar, a man of legal acumen, untiring industry, consummate skill and firmness, tempered with modernization, made substantial contribution to the framing of the Constitution” He had been recognized at that time as an intellectual having his own philosophy and interpretations, but he lacked leadership qualities and mass appeal.

Ambedkar and the wrath of intelligentsia

Ambedkar earned the wrath of intelligentsia during pre-Independence period
– he, himself, was a beneficiary of social reform movement in Maharashtra, which was led by nationalist leaders and reformers mostly belonging to caste Hindus. But in his speeches, he always considered caste Hindus as his enemy.
– Some people feel that it is inappropriate to call Dr. Ambedkar, the maker of the Constitution. The sources of all the ideas of the Constitution were Nehru and Patel and many other reputed leaders and lawyers. The credit of framing the constitution goes jointly to all of them as well as all the members of the Drafting Committee. Many people do not like to single out Dr. Ambedkar for this honour.
– The intelligentsia regarded his move for separate electorates for untouchable as an act to split Hindu society permanently. It is alleged that he could not rise beyond his caste identity.
– He was criticized for his association with Simon Commission proceedings, First Round Table Conference and Viceroy’s Executive Committee as member, with an intention to cooperate with British rulers, at the time, when national leaders were fighting British rulers for Independence;
– His anguish against Hinduism and caste system and his act of burning Hindu-script, which he regarded as great obstacles to the Indian unity, annoyed many.
– Many people did not like his confrontation with Gandhi. Ambedkar, like Jinnah was against Hindu majority rule, Congress Party and Gandhi. Both of them reacted against the above three in similar manner most of the times and preferred continuance of British rule.

Ambedkar as a role model

The present day followers of Ambedkar do not seem to have understood Ambedkar in right perspective. He wanted to annihilate caste system not by revenge, hatred and violence, but by rethinking, reason and reformation. He, therefore, taught untouchables “To organize, educate and agitate” with an aim to finishing caste prejudices, the arrogance, and the “Holier than thou’ attitude of Brahmins. He wanted his people to improve their condition by education, enlightenment and enterprise not by animosity, anger and abuse. It is quite understandable that he did not hate Brahmins as he was happily married to a Brahmin lady. He respected Justice Ranade.

His followers appear not to have done justice with Ambedkar. In order to overcome their insecurity and keep united various split groups,they used Ambedkar’s name ruthlessly. It served only their selfish motives and political ends for some time. They idolized Ambedkar as “Rescuer of Dalits”. The trend in 90‘s of idolization of Ambedkar or attempts of Ambedkarisation of the nation exposed the intentions of his followers, especially when he himself considered idolization as an act leading to destruction. Today agitated the Dalit leaders are, but their agitation is far away from being a positive or constructive one. It has turned into a negative militancy against caste Hindu.

Winding up

Dr. Ambedkar gave a required boost to move forward to Dalit movement at right time. He played a significant role in national politics and as the Chairman of drafting Committee of Indian Constitution.

Ambedkar is a role model for Dalit leaders. It is unfortunate that that some leaders of present day misunderstood Ambedkar. They have not learnt much from the life-long experiences of Dr. Ambedkar. Critics say that these Ambedarites have been proved shallow in understanding his real aim for social transformation. The ground realities of untouchables in India were quite different in the beginning of Nineteenth century than what it is at present. It was at that time that Ambedkar had made untouchables (SC’s) as the base.

After Independence, a massive shift has already been taken place in favor of Dalits allover India. But present day Dalit leaders are still living in old world. Modern followers of Ambedkar have forgotten that he rose to the status of a political icon, because he always took up bravely the challenges in life against all odds. His life is a classic and most inspiring example of what a man can achieve by hard work, knowledge, and clear-cut priorities. He had struggled and worked very hard to succeed in life.

Latasinha's Weblog

No doubt, Ambedkar has been the undisputed leader of untouchables and Doyen of Contemporary Dalit Politics. But it is also true and can not be altered that he had received an elite education at Columbia University in New York. Belonging to Mahar community had never put any hurdle in his life to get the best education in the world throughout his student career, one could get, or in furthering his social status or political career, or attaining positions of power.

Ambedkar’s career as a Student

His father and grandfather being the employees of the British Army ensured a good education for Bhimrao Ambedkar. He continued his studies and passed his Matriculation examination from Bombay University. Bhim joined the Elphinstone High School and later on the Elphinstone College for further education – one of the best schools in all of India.. With the help of a monthly scholarship given by Maharaja Gaekwad…

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April 21, 2014 - Posted by | Social and political values and systems | , ,

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