Dr Nilratan Shende
The current Trustees and Adviser of People’s Improvement Trust (PIT) have demolished Ambedkar Bhavan on 25th June 2016. This unfortunate demolition has also wrecked the glorious historical prominence associated with it. However, the demolition has not gone down well with the followers of Babasaheb and it was followed by agitations. Trustees and heirs of Babasaheb Ambedkar have been putting forth their views in support of and against the demolition.
Allegations and counter-allegations are doing the rounds. Trustees are questioning misappropriation, inheritance rights of the three Ambedkar brothers (Prakash Ambedkar, Bhimraj Ambedkar and Anandraj Ambedkar) while heirs, followers are questioning the very intention of the demolition and the politics behind it. It has certainly divided Ambedkarite followers between two camps. Some believe that Ambedkar’s heirs are creating stumbling blocks in fulfilling his vision and on the other hand, some are convinced that Babasaheb’s heirs should have been given respectful treatment while taking decisions.
In this emotional, legal and moral background, this article attempts to highlight arguments of the trust on the basis of legacy of Babasaheb Ambedkar and explores if the trust adhered to the norms, in its day-to-day operations, that they swear by. Secondly, it critically looks at the issue of branding some heirs. It also proposes the way forward to address the impasse. Lastly, it enters into the larger debate of NGOization of places of social and religious importance of community leadership and community owned resources of Dalits and Buddhists.
Babasaheb Ambedkar was the epitome of sacrifice and left behind a legacy of commitment, principles and high moral values for his family members, trustees, followers and common people of the world to emulate. Trustees of PIT must demonstrate these values and virtues in the public domain through their actions which should not be confined to just lip service. Now the million dollar question is, have the adviser and trustees who swear by high moral grounds and non-inheritance, demonstrated this enough? Keeping this tradition of sacrifice in mind, each of the trustees should publically disown the law of inheritance with regards to their properties. Followers of Ambedkar would like to know how many trustees, including adviser, have already given away or would donate at least 20% share of self-owned properties to trusts, keeping in mind highest moral standards. It has to be one of the parameters to be a trustee on the PIT. Secondly, just bureaucratic implacable integrity would not be adequate enough, social integrity and upholding the principles that Babasaheb demonstrated would be desirable.
Time and again, it is stressed in the media debates and press conferences that Babasaheb Ambedkar’s letter warned his sons of misappropriation, and attempts are being made to paint the three sons of Babasaheb with the same brush without any substantial proofs or verifying and validating the authenticity of the letter. Labeling and branding based on history and ascribed identity are being exercised. Democracy believes in reformation and change. Labeling appears to be arousing prejudiced opinions of the adviser of PIT.
Let’s see how the trustees managed to integrate best practices to prevent such tendencies. Misappropriation and corrupt practices can be checked with highest level of transparency in decision making and governance of the trust. Onus has been on the trustees to walk the talk by integrating best practices of transparency, accountability and governance. The pamphlet which is being used to mobilize financial resources mentions www.tpit.in, however, one gets the message saying “there is no website at this address”. People’s Improvement Trust has a Facebook page which talks about development of the 17 floor building and proposed activities and facilities. Some best practices pertaining to transparent governance are audits of the trusts, donations received, its judicious utilization, current set of activities undertaken, impact it had on the people, contribution to Babasaheb’s vision, roadmap to achieve Babasaheb’s dreams and most importantly, social audits of the activities undertaken have been absolutely missing from public realm. Commitment on part of the trust to abide by norms of transparency, accountability and decentralized governance is not reflected sufficiently through their actions. And this creates and raises enormous amount of doubts on the intentions of the trustees.
Abusive and aggressive language referring to Ambedkar Bhavan as a den of goons for justifying the demolition highlights utter insensitivity and disgracefulness towards the dalit movement, struggle for dignity and self-respect that activists and Ambedkarite have been engaged in. Destruction has only contributed to erosion of cultural capital. Bringing perceived administrative and bureaucratic supremacy to functioning of the trust is extremely harmful to the idea of equality that Babasaheb all along in his life propagated and practised.
Authorized Trustees and adviser should come clean on their status. An amicable solution needs to be sought by engaging in constructive dialogue on developing the blueprint of vision a encompassing Babasaheb’s dreams; time bound deadlines, identifying parameters and criterion for selection of trustees, building transparency, accountability, guidelines for decentralized governance and efforts must be undertaken to engage other stakeholders on the outcomes, periodically, by ensuring emotions of the followers and most importantly ideals Babasaheb stood for and envisioned would not be sacrificed. We are confident that the stakeholders would not just mouth ideals and dreams of Babasaheb, but deliver something constructive through their proactive action towards realizing his dreams by sidelining battles of egos, self–interest, individualism and ever increasing materialism. Meanwhile, appropriate legal action must be taken against culprits, not only for destruction but also for loss of cultural capital.
Largely, the current debates centered around Babasaheb Ambedkar founded People’s Education Trust are not an isolated event. Institutions like Deekshabhoomi, which is controlled by Gavai and Fulzele families, and several vihars all over Maharashtra governed under Bombay Public Trust Act and Society registration Act have also been focus of attention. NGOization of places of supreme importance has had inimical impact on community based leadership and most importantly, community owned resources, from Mumbai to Nagpur. This phenomenon is prevalent in slums, towns and villages all over Maharashtra. Such places remained property of dominating and influential trustees without any accountability to the society at large. Such trusts are confined to filing audit reports to charity commissioners and exerting individual ownership on community property. NGOization of the social and religious places of importance has been detrimental to the larger interest of Dalits and Dalit movement. Community ownership and leadership over public resources withered away by formation of the trusts. It has advanced economic interests of the microscopic minority at the expenses of larger community leadership and community owned resources.
Opportunities in current conflict can be better used in addressing larger challenges. Current dispute presented an opportunity to clean the system and bring focus on dreams of Babasaheb to the center stage. Pressure groups must be created; solution to status quoist trustees must be sought. Movement and social pressure should be developed for creation of transparent and accountable operations and to do justice with expectations of Babasaheb. Social organizations, social leaders and functionaries of the trusts must be very careful about various co-option strategies and repressive measures state adopts. It is likely to have adverse social, political, emotional, disruptive implications as conspicuous in the latest case of demotion of Ambedkar Bhavan and many more in the past.
Dr Nilratan Shende, Ph D, is a researcher and development professional. He is currently associated with a leading multi-national firm. He is also the Founder & Chairman of EAGL, which is dedicated to working on poverty eradication of people at the base of the pyramid in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
Pictures courtesy: the internet.