Dr.BR Ambedkar (1891-1956) was remembered across the country on his death anniversary, December 6. It has become a showy ritual for many, more so for the most oppressive, fraudulent and corrupt rulers, the big media ready to give them plenty of coverage that is denied to burning issues of the day. They are interested more in making a stony statue of Ambedkar than what he said, did and reviewed. It is perhaps natural for India known for its Statue Worship, which now is more politicized than ever. It is useful to go beyond the ritual, look back and see his views and experiences that were revealed during his last days.
Some people are worried that Ambedkar is being misappropriated by the the Modi regime, the sangh parivar, the RSS which had opposed him and the Constitution, as can be seen from citations of the past. Those who cited them are living in the past and have not updated themselves. Any criticism, even of an enemy, even by scholars and activists, should be objective to be effective. Or else, it would be shown to be prejudiced. Ambedkar scholar Dr. Anand Teltumbde, now imprisoned, had put things in perspective in a conversation published on April 21, 2017:
“ Sangh Parivar has not begun using Babashaeb Ambedkar today. It started way back in 1980s. Initially, Ambedkar was an anathema to it because of his utterances against its Hindu religion. During the Hedgewar-Munje-Golwalkar phase, it kept distance from Ambedkar… They openly spoke against all that Ambedkar stood for without however naming him. Moreover, it (RSS) seemed to believe that it could do with the Hindu population and did not need Ambedkarite Dalits to accomplish their project. But when Deoras, the lowest profile Sarsanghchalak, took over the RSS, he gave a clear strategic direction. He clearly knew that in order to accomplish their objective they could not remain away from the constitutional structure.
“It was important to appeal to as many communities as possible. It was during his period that Babasaheb Ambedkar was included in the list of pratah smaraniyas (the ones to be remembered at the dawn). They slowly supplemented it with their saffronizing drive. They launched Samajik Samrasata Manch. Huge literature was produced and disseminated among the Dalits to show Ambedkar as friends with Hedgewar, praise of the RSS, the greatest benefactor of hindutva, and against the Muslims, etc.
They had already started their work among the Adivasis to hinduize them. The non-Ambedkarite Dalits were already with them. Now it was the turn of the Ambedkarite Dalits!”
Role of the state in making up the Ambedkar icon
In fact, it is not merely a policy shift of sangh parivar. It is a project of the reactionary and oppressive Indian state itself. Teltumbde sums up:
“The role of the state in making up the Ambedkar icon cannot be missed. Apart from monumentalizing efforts, it opened up Ambedkar centers everywhere. There was a sudden spurt in so called research on him in universities. Ambedkar, almost an abhorrent figure for the elite, suddenly became venerable. The bout of bhakti Modi expresses for him just illustrates it starkly.”
(See countercurrents.org , December 6, 2020, Anand Teltumbde in conversation with Vidya Bhushan Rawat. More from this article is quoted later on.)
Ambedkar made a historical speech in Agra, on 18th March, 1956. It was one of the most significant speeches he made late in his life before he died a few months later on December 6. The speech, among other things, reveals his agony, during his last days. Ambedkar had been diagnosed with high BP and diabetes in later 1940s, and was frequently sick since 1955, more so in 1956. He was perhaps aware his end was coming. His wife and doctor Savita and Assistant Rattu were under constant stress taking care of the leader who would not take adequate rest.
He was in a hurry to finish his writings. Despite his sickness, for instance, he was engaged in writing a major and massive (almost 500 pages) work, Buddha and his Dhamma, his last work, published in 1957 after his death. He finished writing its Preface on March 15 and three days later, despite his being sick he was in Agra to make the speech that is quoted and analyzed here.
The speech needs to be seen also as a self-criticism by a leader, so rare for Indians, after decades of active politics. And that should help the current generation to view things in better perspective and act accordingly. Blind worship is of no use, and that was not what Ambedkar expected from his followers. Ambedkar is sought to be reduced into a stony statue. This is all the more needed when ruling classes, Sangh parivar included, are appropriating him, aided by the big media.
“Till now available in Hindi only, I have translated it (Agra speech) into English,” wrote SR Darapuri I.P.S.(Retd), dalit-born Ambedkarite and activist of UP, and a frequent contributor to countercurrents.org, which published it on August 26, 2016. It was not a full text but was in the form of a gist with a few main points, which are quoted in this article.
Ambedkar’s frustrations in politics as well as Hindu religion were at their peak when he made that speech, and it was marked by his bitter experiences. The present article briefly deals with only some points he made in that speech. His political frustration that was not dealt with in this speech but was in his mind was revealed earlier in parliament itself as seen below:
“I was a hack…This Constitution does not suit anybody” : Ambedkar
Many eulogise the Indian Constitution and Ambedkar as its great architect, which he was not. Both are falsehoods, a misleading picture the ruling classes present to the gullible. He was only a Drafting Committee Member and its Chairman. He revealed his mind and the reality in bitter words in the parliament itself:
In the course of a debate in Rajya Sabha on September 2, 1953, Ambedkar said : “People always keep saying to me: ‘Oh, you are the maker of the Constitution’. “My answer is I was a hack. What I was asked to do, I did much against my will.” (Oxford Dictionary says ‘hack’ is ‘a person hired to do dull routine work.’)
Then a Member from Rajasthan said: “But you defended it.” Ambedkar shot back: “We lawyers defend many things.” The then Home Minister Katju said Ambedkar was responsible for drafting the Constitution. And Ambedkar said: “you want to accuse me of your blemishes?” Then he later added: “ Sir, my friends tell me that I have made the Constitution. But I am quite prepared to say that I shall be the first person to burn it out. I do not want it. It does not suit anybody.”
Ambedkar Scholars like Anand Teltumbde acknowledged that indeed it had revealed his mind though it was sought to be diluted later. So did his famous biographer Dhanajay Keer who had detailed interviews with and clarifications by Ambedkar himself before publishing it in 1954 itself.
The most common form of Ambedkar’s statue , found everywhere in India, is with the Book in hand, a book that he repudiated.
It is a book they put in his hand.
They deify it as modern Bhagavat Gita, and defy it with impunity whenever they want.
Misplaced hope in Buddhism
Naturally, Buddhism was one of the points in the speech, as he arrived in Agra having just finished its Preface. There are many, including Ambedkarite and Leftist intellectualss who see Buddhism, and conversion to Buddhism, as a solution to many problems, including casteism, and they believe it would help to counter Manu-vadis and Hindutva too.
All religions preach good things, but they were hijacked to serve exploiting classes. Buddhism is no exception. Tibetan Buddhism for instance was the seat of most oppressive serfdom and violent slavery that lasted upto 1950s when it was abolished by Chinese revolution. The current Dalai Lama served America and its violent wars for the last six decades.(see for a detailed exposure, countercurrents.org, 2020 July6 and July 25, and 2019 April 30.)
We are aware how western colonial powers, professing Christianity, oppressed and suppressed people, nationalities and countries for centuries. Japan militarism, an ally of Nazi fascism, went hand in hand with Buddhism, but it is less seen from that perspective.
Buddhist rulers of Myanmar and Srilanka are notorious by now for their policies of oppression and violence. It is true of casteism also, which is less known, and not reported. Caste in Japan was an article published in EPW Annual edition 1964 Feb that discussed a ‘well developed casteism that existed and still exists to some extent’ in Japan, Korea and Tibet with their Buddhism. Now we shall see about the much nearer, but less known aspects of Srilanka.
Monuments are built and worshipped including for the teeth, hair and ashes of Buddha!
There was a war, during First Century BCE, between clans claiming the relics. Emperor Ashoka dug up and distributed the relics across 84000 stupas. (see wikipedia for more.) There is a temple near California that houses two teeth and one hair of Buddha.
What is so rational about all this? How different is this from Hindutva irrationality? How many Buddhists and rationalists detested these practices?
Ambedkar obviously was not impressed. He was well aware of problems of, and the divisions between sects in Buddhism, and their sectarianism. He studied its decline, almost disappearance, in India. He told his followers to ignore the various sects, (like Heenayana, Mahayaana) and suggested a new variant, Navayana (neo-) Buddhism. He did not mince words, and made sharp remarks in Agra:
To Buddhist Bhikkhus : “Buddhism is a great religion. Its founder Tathagat preached this religion and it reached far and wide due to its goodness. But after its great rise it disappeared in 1293. There are many reasons for it. One of the reasons is that Buddhist Bhikkhus became addicted to a life of luxury. Instead of going from place to place to preach religion they took rest in Viharas and started writing books in praise of royal persons. Now for reviving this religion they will have to work very hard. They will have to go from door to door. I see very few Bhikkhus in the society. Hence good persons from the society will have to come forward for preaching this religion.”
Thus he saw and joined Indian Buddhism that was already in ICU : “Now for reviving this religion they will have to work very hard…” but candidly added: “ I see very few Bhikkhus in the society.”
The neo-political bhikkus addicted to power and five-star culture, in Ambedkar’s words, are more “addicted to a life of luxury… they took rest in Viharas (guest houses, Academies, Ambedkar Chairs in dozens of universities) and started writing in praise of (neo-)royal persons” like Mayawati, and about deceptive official schemes and never go beyond lip-sympathy for oppressed masses… How many of them “go from door to door” of suffering masses? Few of them even condemn or speak ouit when they are subjected to worst violence.
Darapuri, dalit activist from UP, has been exposing, based on ground realities, how Mayawati regime proved no different from others earlier.
Teltumbde castigated: “What remains of these parties is a different hue of the ruling class parties. They have enriched their leaders but have kept their constituency vulnerable…”
“What we see going in its name is the exhibition of identities, Ambedkar himself having become an inert icon supplying that identity; rampant opportunism, everybody floating a shop for political brokerage in the name of devotion to Ambedkar; ideological bankruptcy, openly joining enemy camps for pelf and power but claiming to serve Ambedkarite cause; explosion of scholars rewriting what Ambedkar wrote or showering empty superlatives over him; toeing the lines of power that be for self-aggrandizement; and indulgence in never ending mutilation of what Ambedkar stood for…”
“What remains now of the Ambedkarite movement is these statutes of Ambedkar, Buddha Vihars, congregations in his memories, hymns and identity hysteria…”
(same source as above.)
Buddhism did not – can not – help unity of dalits, let alone others
The BJP has been exploiting these (sub-)caste sub-divisions within SCs, as also among OBCs, to strengthen itself, more so in UP and Bihar.
Hinduism absorbed Buddha and reduced him into an avatar of Vishnu. So does BJP vis-à-vis Ambedkar. There are more Ambedkarites inside BJP-led NDA than outside.
How many of such leaders and followers renounce Hindutva practices? How many really take to Buddhism, though it is no solution?
According to Census 2011, there were 8.4 million Buddhists in India, including 7.3 million Navayana followers, and nearly 90 percent of them (6.5 million) lived in Maharashtra. Navayana or neo-Buddhist movement was launched by Ambedkar and it was comprised of his dalit, more Mahar, followers in the main. Their number was about 2.78 million as per 1961 census, and there was little beyond natural population growth in five decades.
Obviously, it attracted not many new entrants in the later decades, and few outside Maharashtra, despite decades of BSP’s existence and its being in strong in UP. Further, most of them, as per estimates by observers, were Mahars, a sub-caste within SCs, to which Ambedkar belonged by birth. BSP and Mayawati were based more among Chamars, the other sub-caste within SCs. There was always a big chasm, including untouchability, between the two sub-castes.
Evidently, neither Ambedkarism nor Navayana Buddhism was able to counter BJP’s offensive, aided by State power and the big funds and schemes associated with it. BJP gets bulk of its support from these two big states.
It is a misplaced hope as can be seen hereunder.
In 1935 itself Ambedkar had declared, in Yeola conference, he would not die a Hindu and indicated he would renounce hindu religion. He was approached by Sikh, Christian and Islamic clergy inviting him to join them. He declined to join. He toyed with the idea again in early 1950s. Political considerations were always there. Finally it took him so long that he took to Buddhism just in time, not to die a Hindu.
It is well known that 6-7 months after this Agra speech, Ambedkar in the fag end of his life, converted to Buddhism, along with about 4-5 lakhs of his followers, in a public function on October 14, 1956, at Nagpur, also the headquarters of RSS. He died 7-8 weeks later. He was fully aware it is not easy for people to quit the religion they were born in and so said: “I will not ask you people to become Buddhists with me. Only those persons, who aspire to take refuge in this great religion, can adopt Buddhism… and follow its code of conduct.”
He was conscious of all this and so said:
Ambedkar said to his supporters : “Very soon I am going to take refuge in Buddha. It is a progressive religion. It is based on liberty, equality and fraternity. I have discovered this religion after many years search. I am soon going to become a Buddhist…”
He was walking out of Hinduism for good and so he said : “Then I will not be able to live among you as an untouchable. But as a true Buddhist I will continue to struggle for your uplift.” Seven weeks later he was no more.
It was taken variously. When he had toyed with the idea, Times of India “regretted his decision to renounce politics.” Shankar’s weekly in a satire said: he proved to be “no more than an Indian to whom renunciation appealed more than jobs and power.”
Political Frustrations of Ambedkar : he was never allowed to be elected on his own
By that time he was an old man of 65, politically weathered and disappointed too, and all that impacted on his speech. He made many experiments in politics.
Ambedkar had established class-based Independent Labour Party – ILP – in August, 1936, obviously not limited to SCs. ILP won 14 out of 17 seats it contested in 1937 Bombay Provincial elections, including three unreserved (general) seats. It joined hands with communists to oppose an anti-labor Bill(ID Act of 1938), organized a strike against it. It collaborated with CSP and organized a big movement of tenant farmers. He introduced a Bill for abolition of serfdom of tenants (Khoti Abolition Bill 1937).
He dissolved it and on 19th July, 1942, and formed another party, caste-based All India Scheduled Castes Federation (AISCF), and during war time, joined as Labor Member in the British Viceroy’s Executive Council. Like communists he opposed Quit India and was criticized for that.
He contested elections in that name (AISCF), and was defeated. In fact, in this phase, he was never allowed to be elected on his own. He was not elected from Maharashtra, which was his original and natural constituency, as a member of the Constituent Assembly (in 1946); he was not allowed to be elected by the ruling classes of the day.
Under the circumstances, Ambedkar was keen that he should get elected to the Loksabha in the First General Election of 1952. He did not like to be co-opted or nominated. But the “architect” of the Constitution as they call him was defeated by them by a considerable margin of 14000 votes through Congress candidate Kajrolkar, obviously in a seat reserved for SCs. It hurt him badly, morally also. His wife and colleagues were worried about his health, and lobbied for him and he was elected to the Rajya Sabha in an indirect election, allowed or supported by the Congress bigwigs. There came a by-election to the Loksabha in 1954 May which he contested again. And again he was defeated by Congress.
Thus he was never allowed on his own strength. And he was allowed only to be co-opted and that humiliation he swallowed. Neither his cadres nor his educated followers worked hard enough.
“ I have no danger from others but I feel endangered from my own people.”
Ambedkar was aware of the stock of his followers and that could be seen in his Agra speech that reflected all his agony:
To Leaders : “If somebody calls you to his palace, you are free to go. But do not set your hut on fire. If tomorrow the owner of the palace throws you out, then where will you go? If you want to sell yourself, you are free to sell yourself but do not harm your organisation in any manner. I have no danger from others but I feel endangered from my own people.”
We find Ambedkarites stressing education and employment of dalits as if that is a panacea. Ambedkar, based on his bitter experiences, said:
To Government Servants : “Our society has progressed a little bit with education. Some persons have reached high posts after getting education. But these educated persons have betrayed me. I expected that they would do social service after getting higher education. But what I see is a crowd of small and big clerks who are busy in filling their own bellies. Those who are in government service have a duty to donate 1/ 20th part of their pay for social work. Only then the society will progress otherwise only one family will be benefitted. All hopes of society are centred on a boy who goes for getting education from a village. An educated social worker can prove to be a boon for them.”
These words are not heeded. Ambedkar as an icon is used by dalit government servants for their posts and promotions, and nothing more. Hence his advice to students:
To Students : “My appeal to the students is that after completing education instead of becoming a petty clerk they should serve their village and nearby people so that exploitation and injustice arising out of ignorance may be ended. Your rise is included in the rise of society.”
Apart from thus discussing about various sections, in Agra, he spoke in a self-critical tone, of his own failing thus:
He regretted that could not do anything for the rural poor
To the Landless Labourers : “I am much very much worried about landless labourers. I could not do enough for them. I am not able to bear with their sorrows and hardships. The main cause of their vows is that they do not own land. That is why they are victims of insults and atrocities. They won’t be able to uplift themselves. I will struggle for them. If the government creates any hurdles in it I will give them leadership and fight their legal battle. But I will make every possible effort to get them land.”
He however could not do anything for them, as he died 7 weeks later.
In fact, this realization was already haunting Ambedkar for sometime. Even for a party to win elections in India, a rural base is needed. He realized this after his 1952 defeat. His role in Constitution-making did not help him. Teltumbde says:
“In his later years, Ambedkar was getting increasingly frustrated as the things he did his entire life, did not seem to produce desired result. In one of such bouts of frustration, he lamented to the Marathwada unit of the SCF that visited him at his residence in Delhi in 1953 that whatever he did had benefitted only a small section of the urban educated Dalits and that he could not do anything for the vast majority of Dalits in rural area…”
After decades of work, he could find no reliable supporter who he believed would be able to carry forward his mission.
Future Worry : “Today I am just like a pole which is supporting huge tents. I am worried about the moment when this pole will not be in its place. I am not keeping good health. I do not know when I may leave you people. I am not able to find a young man who could defend the interests of these millions of helpless and disheartened people. If some young man comes forward to take up this responsibility I will die in peace.”
His political views and experiments obviously varied and faltered over time. His experiments with Depressed Classes Federation (DCF 1930), ILP (1935), SCF (1942), switching between caste-based and class based politics, had impacted on his bitter Agra speech. There he recalled and regretted his bitter experiences.
With such experiences behind him, he dissolved AISCF on 14th October, 1956 at Nagpur and announced the formation of Republican Party of India (RPI), of which he himself drafted the constitution. However, RPI came into existence on 3 October, 1957, one year later, i.e., after his death on 6th December, 1956. But it was too late for him.
From its very inception RPI was riven with factionalism and differences only to split soon after formation. Neither Ambedkarism nor Navayna Buddhism could unite them. Teltumbde said: “The RPI, deformed at the birth itself, would not survive thereafter but for in the name claimed by innumerable factions…”
It indeed survived only to serve ruling class groups. Some Ambedkarites – including RPI leaders and factions – always hobnobbed with, merged or allied with ruling class parties like Congress, and later on even with rabid Hindutva parties BJP and Shiv sena, not to speak of others.
“Even Babasaheb Ambedkar who had stressed that the movement of Dalits could and should only be led by the Dalits and permanently dislodged Vittha Ramji Shinde, who had considerable following among Dalits from leadership, also willed ( later on) that larger society should own up the task of reforms. His ILP strategy and the last RPI strategy also could be construed to do away with the constricted identity of caste. Whence this identity obsession is developed among the Ambedkarites is really difficult to understand.”
Identity obsession vs Ambedkar’s Thesis
It is this identity obsession that makes them, day in and day out, to deny, distort and reject Ambedkar’s basic theory on origin of caste. Ambedkar had written :
“ Manu, the law-giver of India, if he did exist, was certainly an audacious person. If the story that he gave the law of caste be credited, then Manu must have been a dare-devil fellow…
“ One thing I want to impress upon you is that Manu did not give the law of Caste and that he could not do so. Caste existed long before Manu. He was an upholder of it and therefore philosophised about it, but certainly he did not and could not ordain the present order of Hindu Society. His work ended with the codification of existing caste rules and the preaching of Caste Dharma.”
Then he goes on to say the same about role of Brahmins. In fact he says, “it is incorrect in thought and malicious in intent” :
“ The spread and growth of the Caste system is too gigantic a task to be achieved by the power or cunning of an individual or of a class. Similar in argument is the theory that the Brahmins created the Caste. After what I have said regarding Manu, I need hardly say anything more, except to point out that it is incorrect in thought and malicious in intent. The Brahmins may have been guilty of many things, and I dare say they were, but the imposing of the caste system on the non-Brahmin population was beyond their mettle. They may have helped the process by their glib philosophy, but they certainly could not have pushed their scheme beyond their own confines. To fashion society after one’s own pattern! How glorious! How hard!”
As is well-known, On 25 December 1927, in a symbolic act, the book of Manusmriti was publicly burnt with sandalwood by Ambedkar and his colleagues. But less less stated and hence less known is this: At nine o’clock that night the Manusmriti was placed on a pyre, in a specially dug pit, in front of the pandal, and was ceremoniously burnt at the hands of Sahasrabuddhe, the Brahmin friend of Dr. Ambedkar.
It was obviously a symbolic act , a protest, but was part of an earthly struggle for drinking water. Almost a century later, we still find this clash with respect to drinking water. He stressed action: “Preaching did not make the caste system; neither will it unmake it.”
Having said the above about Manu and the Brahmin, he writes:
“ …… regarding its origin, as to whether it is due to the conscious command of a Supreme Authority, or is an unconscious growth in the life of a human society under peculiar circumstances. Those who hold the latter view will, I hope, find some food for thought in the standpoint adopted in this paper.”
(See for more on this Countercurrents.org, 04 June, 2016 . The extracts are from
CASTES IN INDIA: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development, a Paper Ambedkar the scholar presented on 9th May 1916 at an Anthropology Seminar at Columbia University. This was regarded as an important, thorough though brief Thesis of 47 paras. Some of the most quoted, cited even in recent past, ideas and lines of Ambedkar are from this thesis. Ambedkar himself published his famous work, Annihilation of Caste, in 1936, and its third edition in 1944, in which he included this Thesis of 1916 thus basically upholding it, even subsequently.
Reservation policy did not begin with Ambedkar, nor ended as desired by him
Ambedkarites forget all his agony decribed above, but laud him as well as the Constitution to skies for the reservation policy. But in fact neither it began with him nor ended as desired by him. The reservation policy began at least 50 years before the 1950 constitution. Even feudal princely kingdoms, like in Travancore and Mysore, introduced them long before.
Reservation policy can not be an issue to fight fascism or hindutva.
The sangh parivar in power has realized and treats reservation policy as a tactical issue. Not Manu but Chanakya and Machiavelli guide RSS. The old ways of opposing the pariwar need to be re-calibrated. The Modi-led BJP regime rejected rumours and assured it would continue the policy. Their Govt in Karnataka and MP had continued Reservations for Muslim OBCs. Maharashtra had issued an ordinance to provide reservations for Muslim OBCs though it was negative later. It supported Reservations in private sector saying there is a “valid ground” for the same. It intervened and stood up for Reservations in promotions in government jobs. RSS Chief called for a debate, but assured they would continue for as long as felt necessary. Thus Reservation policy can not be an issue to fight fascism or hindutva.
In fact, 120 years later, despite reservation policies, the dalit masses are still left behind. It helped to create a dalit elite that is absorbed and accommodated as part of the state. The elite Ambedkarites cover up the radical declaration of Ambedkar on reservations:
Dr. BR Ambedkar had himself called for the abolition of reservations for elections to Legislatures both in states and at the Centre. Very few mention this fact, and those who had mentioned also stopped doing that. This he did in a speech he made at the All India Conference of SC Federation on December 27, 1955. In fact the Conference passed a resolution to that effect. (The text of this resolution, not with us, needs to be brought out. Someone may help it.)
On this occasion of Ambedkar’s death anniversary, to conclude , it is apt to recall what Darapauri wrote in his Intro to the Agra speech:
“… in this speech he had put forward his experiences and the future strategy…. In fact it was a guideline for future Dalit movement but it is quite agonising to say that Dalits have forgotten it. Today Dalit society has moved away from Dr. Ambedkar’s agenda of annihilation of caste and conversion to Buddhism. Unprincipled and opportunistic Dalit politics has pushed back social and religious movement. Today Dalit society is infected with caste divisions. It appears that caravan of Babasaheb is moving backward in place of moving forward. It should be a cause for worry for all Ambedkarites.”
Aarticles publishedeEarlier by countercurrents.org were extensively used for this article. Thanks to the authors and the editor.)
The author was a mediaperson