Hindutva, 22 oaths and Ambedkar’s legacy

ambedkar conversion

Dr. Ambedkar is considered as a symbol of resistance of Dalits against caste system and who stood for annihilation of caste. On 14th October 1956, he along with 6 lakhs of his followers converted to Buddhism at Deeksha Bhoomi in Nagpur. As chairperson of the drafting committee of the Indian constitution, his contributions to emergence of a liberal democracy and a progressive constitution considerate of interests of the marginal groups in India are immense. His ideas of affirmative action have improved opportunities to address caste inequities though may not have eliminated it. All the political parties have tried to appropriate the legacy of Dr. Ambedkar and benefit from the same through attracting the Dalit vote base. BJP which on the one hand tries to indicate that it accepts Dr. Ambedkar, on the other hand tries to attack the very same constitution drafted under his leadership. RSS considers Manusmriti to be the text on which Indian ethos and society should be built.

The recent event related to Rajendra Pal of AAP brings out the duplicity of the political parties on Ambedkar’s legacy. As a two-time MLA of AAP in Delhi, his Ambedkarite credentials, organization ‘Mission Jai Bheem’ and work on education with Dalit communities is well known. Recently he was involved in organizing an event with Buddhist society of India on 5th October 2022 where about 10,000 Dalits espoused Buddhism. The Dalits took the same 22 oaths which was taken by Dr. Ambedkar in 1956. The first attack came by BJP which criticised Rajendra Pal and his presence in the ceremony. AAP buckled under the pressure and conscious of its own Hindutva vote bank suspended Rajendra Pal. AAP too like BJP considers Dr. Ambedkar as one of the leaders it regards.

The 22 oaths being referred only reject the caste system and calls for equality of man. The act of mass shift to another religion is only an act of resistance to inequality and expression of desire to move to a religion with more equality. Article 25 guarantees freedom to practice a religion of choice. While religion may not be the final answer for achieving equality, the mass conversion to a different religion by Dalit communities only shows the striving for the same. While BJP and AAP want to achieve political gains through Hindutva vote bank from upper caste, it also at the same time wants Dalit vote through using Dr. Ambedkar. Herein lies the deception of both the parties. Hence a look at Ambedkar’s ideas is important and need to see how it is an anti-thesis to the ones propounded by Hindutva.

RSS has tried to portray Ambedkar as a protector of Hindutva identity or a Hindu social reformer. On the contrary, Ambedkar was a staunch critic of Hindutva ideology. Ambedkarite thinking is based on the need to annihilate caste which unlike Hindutva propagators who want to preserve and sustain it. His action of burning Manusmriti is an act of rebellion against a document for its outdated thinking which however for RSS is a sacred document. Ambedkar’s writings have references to RSS shakhas which practices caste segregation and criticises its anti-Muslim stance. Hindu code bill which was brought in by Ambedkar was staunchly opposed by Shyam Prasad Mukherjee from Jana Sangh.

BJP’s own action in the recent times with the Dalit activists is well known. Its arrests of large number of Dalit activists or activists working on Dalit issues in the Bhima Khoregaon case is recorded. Among those arrested also include Dr. Anand Teltumbde, Rona Wilson, Rana Jacob, Sudhir Dhawale, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, Surendra Gadling etc. Bhima Khoregaon celebration itself is a yearly event of celebration of Dalit resistance which was sought to be stopped. Among activists also targeted include Jignesh Mevani and Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan. Caste discrimination also took its toll on a brilliant scholar Rohit Vemula. The incidents of rape and burning of a Dalit girl and the state protection in Uttar Pradesh only indicate its open support to Caste discrimination.

Hindutva usage of Ambedkar has been guided by three principles: –

Symbol without substance: It seeks to use Dr. Ambedkar as a symbol to depict him as a Hindu leader who worked for Hindu social reform without portraying his anti-caste stand. Hence it is not surprising while it may use his image, it never takes a serious critic of caste system the core of Ambedkarite thought.

Assimilation without Alteration: It seeks to assimilate Dalits into the larger Hindutva fold without providing any guarantees to change the conditions of the Dalits. In the process of creating Hindutva identity, it wants to crush the Dalit identity which may be assertive and demand for an equitable space.

Dilution without Deliberation: It seeks to dilute the constitutional ideas promoted under the leadership of Dr. Ambedkar instead of deliberating and working towards strengthening it. Its focus is not on empowering Dalits with improving affirmative action but disempowering them by diluting from alternative ways.

Hence it can be said that the recent act of both BJP and AAP only indicate the duplicity of the parties on Dalit issue and their lack of adherence to Ambedkar’s thoughts while at the same time practicing use of symbol without substance, assimilation into Hindutva fold without alteration of condition of Dalits and dilution of constitutional values without deliberation on improving its execution.

T Navin is an independent writer


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