“Inequality is the soul of Hinduism”. And that is why he finally came to conclusion that, “I was born a Hindu, but will not die a Hindu” (Dr. BR. Ambedkar)
“Until 1990, Ambedkar was untouchable to all mainstream political parties’’ (Prof. Kancha Ilaiah)
On the auspicious occasion of the 130th birth anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar (celebrated as the Ambedkar Jayanti every year), most of the parties of irrespective of ideological standpoints (such as Left, Right, Centre and of course Ambedkarites) are busy to pay tribute to him. The ruling government has announced, 14th April as a public holiday in India. To note that in the larger public sphere, such as on social media, in the mainstream newspapers, from the Left to the Right and Ambedkarites are busy in writing articles, sharing videos related to Babasaheb to celebrate the said occasion. In short, it can be said that every section of Indian society irrespective of ideological standpoints are expressing their solidarity and underlining the importance of Babasaheb’s ideas and his rich legacy in the larger public domain.
Besides, a section of Indian Muslims especially belonged to the lower caste have also expressed their tribute to Babasaheb. Recently, activists and scholars of Pasmanda Muslims have emphasized that we need to search for an egalitarian thinker like Ambedkar within Muslim society; so that internal democratic reform could be initiated. In doing so, caste and gender-based discriminations among Indian Muslims could be questioned. To be precise here, social anthropologists including Prof. Imtiaz Ahmad have had underlined in their studies that social stratification especially caste like features (such as endogamy, status groups and occupational division of labour) also exists among the Indian Muslims. In other words, caste and gender-based discriminations are the larger problems of Indian society and Muslim society is no exception in this regard. However, I will limit my discussion to the larger concerns and egalitarian perspective of Dr. Ambedkar on Indian society, caste system, political economy and project of nation-building on the said occasion.
To note that nationalist leaders were largely concerned to achieve freedom from the ‘external colonialism’ (from the Colonial state). After a long drawn anti-colonial struggle launched under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, finally India got political freedom in 1947. However, for the Dalit-Bahujan intellectuals like Phule, Periyar, and Babasaheb, the complete Swaraj will be realized only when the ‘external colonialism’ along with the ‘internal colonialism’ (freedom from Brahmanism) will be achieved. To be precise here, Dr. Ambedkar’s concerns (which he raised in the Constituent Assembly deliberations) was that merely political democracy (by giving universal franchise for all) will not be sustained for a long time, unless depress classes (for instance, subaltern masses) will get social and economic justice. Unlike nationalist leaders, Dr. Ambedkar was convinced that social and economic democracy will not be achieved without the ‘annihilation of caste’. For Ambedkar, the goal of real swaraj will not be realized, if the menace like untouchability and cruel caste system will continue to prevail in a society like India. Unlike Mahatma Gandhi, for Ambedkar, Varna and caste system is deeply rooted in physic of the Hindu society for a long period of time because it draws sanctity from the religious scriptures like Manusmriti. That is why Ambedkar argued in his powerful text like Annihilation of Caste that without demolishing the Shastras which provide sanctity to the Varna and Caste system, the project of the annihilating caste and for that matter the process of the nation-building is not possible. In short, one could argue that the real tribute to Ambedkar will be remain as a tokenism, if current regime (including the Secular and Left and Social Justice Parties) will confine to merely construct buildings, memorials, and statues in the name of Ambedkar without having the agenda of annihilating caste and the Varna order.
Given the extremely pathetic situations of Dalits and Bahujan masses (for whom Babasaheb had fought the lifelong battle on several occasions); one can raise hard questions who are responsible (for instance, whether the Indian state, civil society, or masses themselves) for the in-human and extremely pathetic conditions of the subaltern masses? And what went wrong after more than 70s years of India’s democratic journey? And why still most of the mainstream parties (BJP, Congress, Left, and even social justice parties) have had not included in their parties’ manifestos, like the agenda of annihilation of caste and Varna order from the Indian society.
Long back while writing a powerful text (Annihilation of Caste, 1936), it was Babasaheb Ambedkar who had been fully convinced that without annihilating the caste system (which is still deeply rooted in psychic of the Hindu society), it is impossible to achieve economic and social democracy in India. These are pertinent questions that need to be foregrounded on the occasion of his 130th birth anniversary.
Merely celebrations and garlanding (with beautiful flowers) on the Ambedkars’s statues (as Indian politicians used to perform every year on said occasion) is not going to overcome the problems and issues confronted by subaltern masses without fighting the twin enemies such as Brahmanism and Capitalism at the same time, as reminded by Ambedkar. In other words, without the annihilation of caste and demolishing the structure of crony capitalism (which are deeply embedded in our political, economic, and social system), it would be hard to achieve an egalitarian society, as envisioned by Babasaheb in his writing like State and minorities. He emphasized that ‘state socialism’ (that should not be based on orthodox Marxism but in the case of India, State must have commanding height in the distribution of resources) is needed to distribute the national resources, so that the socio-economic and educational inequalities could be reduced to a large extent, if not completely.
While debating on the question that who should be called a real Ambedkarite? In this respect, a section of Dalit-Bahujan’s intellectuals have emphasized that those who have experienced untouchability and caste-based discriminations in their everyday social and economic life, can only authentically write and truly represent the radical legacy of Babasaheb. For Ambedkarites, the mainstream political parties like the BJP, the Congress and even the Parliamentary Left [such as CPI, CPM, and CPI (ML)] are using Ambedkar’s ideology symbolically to gain political and electoral mileage rather than committed to carrying forward his radical legacy in an actual sense. Further Ambedkarites have underlined that forget for a while- the current ruling dispensation like the BJP-RSS combine- even the so-called Left and secular parties (whenever they captured political power) have had not seriously implemented the egalitarian idea of Ambedkar especially his agenda of annihilation of caste. And therefore, they had not done anything concrete to annihilate the caste system and seriously fought against Brahmanism and other forms of social inequalities.
It is intriguing to note that scholar like Anand Teltumbde (committed civil right activists) has underlined that the so-called even Ambedkarites (especially those who promote the idea of the Dalit capitalism) and social justice parties (like BSP, SP, and RJD) have had also not seriously stood with agenda of annihilation of caste and fighting against crony capitalism. It would not be incorrect to say that the social justice parties especially the RJD and the SP whenever they came to power in Bihar and UP respectively, hardly had have implemented the agenda of social justice, as envisioned by Babasaheb. Rather the fact must be noted that they (Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh) have had promoted the interest of Yadavs caste and their family members.
The present ruling dispensation led by PM Modi time again has claimed that our government has done more works on Ambedkar (for instance, by erecting statues and constructing memorial buildings in the name of Babasaheb) than the so-called secular and Left parties over the last 60 years of India’s democratic journey. However, it is important to note that Dr. Babasaheb himself reminded us of the dark side of hero-worshiping in politics. As he says, “in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation to eventual dictatorship”.
Contrary to the claim of the ruling regime, empirical studies recently done by both national and international human rights bodies have underlined in their reports that the present ruling dispensation has squarely failed in all fronts such as social, economic, educational, and health parameters. In addition, violence, and discriminations against Dalits, religious minorities, women and the plight of migrant workers continues unabated. For instance, Hathras rape incidence and Delhi riots, the plight of migrants (mostly belonging to the lower strata of Indian society) can be cited as cases in point. The recent report of the Freedom House, 2021 and other international human rights organizations have also documented the ‘partial decline’ of democracy and violations of civil liberties of citizens of India.
Instead of introspecting the failures of the government and the efficacy of the public institutions to perform constitutional responsibilities; the BJP’s leaders have reluctant to accept empirical facts presented by the Freedom House report and others. The BJP’s leaders have blamed the Human rights organizations are unnecessarily interfering in our domestic affairs and undermining India’s ‘internal sovereignty.
Besides these reports, the most recent episode that happened at the Ashoka University can be cited as a case in point in which senior faculty members have been forced to take resign from the academic posts. For instance, committed public intellectual like Pratab Bhanu Mehta and others have expressed their concerns especially on the increasing trends of authoritarianism and communalism along with violations of civil liberties and suppression of dissenting voices. Mehta has also raised his concerns on the decline of public institutions like the Police, Bureaucracy and the apex Court to perform its Constitutional responsibilities and to protect the rights of ordinary citizens.
Take for instance, authoritarian attitudes of the government can also be seen in the case of the ongoing former protests against the three controversial Farm Laws. In this case, the ruling government so far has been reluctant to pay serious attention to address the genuine concerns of the farmers who are still sitting on the protests near the Delhi borders for the last several months. Contrary to the government’s claim, various reports, and consequent events that unfolded so far, as cited above have underlined that there is a rise of authoritarianism and communalism, leading to increasing attacks on Dalits, women, religious minorities, and dissenting voices.
It is ironic to note that the mouthpiece of the RSS; The Organiser has published a special issue on Ambedkar. While writing the editorial, the RSS ideologue has erroneously interpreted the real legacy of Babasaheb Ambedkar. The editor has equated Dr. Babasaheb with the RSS ideologue like Hedgewar. As the editorial observes, “it is unfortunate that the people who thrive on a foreign, divisive and violent ideology[communists] conveniently trying to appropriate the legacy of Dr. Ambedkar, forgetting the 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).
Contrary to the Hindu Right, while describing the actual character and nature of the Hindutva ideology, a well-known French scholar like Christophe Jafferlot writes, “the Hindu Nationalist movement has always had an upper-caste even brahminical character. This characteristic stems from nature of Hindutva ideology which relies on a brahminical organic view of society where castes are seen as the harmonious components of society” (Cited in Jafferlot, “India’s Silent Revolution: the rise of the Low Castes in North India”, Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2014, p-453).
To conclude here, keeping these mentioned extremely sad situations in mind, one could argue that the current government led by PM Modi has heavily compromised with Ambedkar’s ideas of equality, liberty and fraternity along with egalitarian principles enshrined in the Indian Constitution. In a given political context, it is crucial to reflect on the real Ambedkar legacy and fight against hero-worship in politics along with the symbolic appropriation of Babasaheb by the RSS-BJP combine. The real tribute to the egalitarian political philosophy of Ambedkar would be, to fight against the distorted image of Ambedkar, as painted by the RSS-BJP combine in the public domain. It needs to be highlighted that Ambedkar was not against Muslims and Islam including communists, as myth often created by the Hindu Right, the point has also been highlighted by Anand Teltumde in his sever writings.
The fact must be noted that Ambedkar was against neo-liberalism and capitalism. He stood for a kind of the state socialism (suited in the Indian conditions), as mentioned in his book, State and Minorities. Finally, Ambedkar was committed to annihilating the caste system and gender-based discriminations widely exist in a hierarchical society like India. Dr. Babasaheb had reminded that without fighting against Brahmanism and Capitalism at the same time, the agenda of social and economic democracy could not be achieved. Therefore, on the said occasion (Ambedkar Jayanti), it is an extremely crucial and important task to reinvent the radical legacy of Dr. Ambedkar. Finally, the real tribute to him will be only possible when we the people of India will take pledge to carry forward his egalitarian legacy in the extremely difficult times, rather than worship him. In actual sense, it can be only realized when the radical Ambedkarites and the left-progressives including the oppressed minorities will forge the larger social solidarity in days to come.
The author is a research scholar at the University of Delhi.