Dr. N. Sukumar
The various shades of saffron have long ridiculed every attempt of Ambedkar to usher in a just and equitable society. His scholarly critique of varnashram dharma, the Riddles of Rama and Krishna, the Hindu Code Bill etc proved to be the proverbial thorn in their flesh. For the Sangh Parivar, he was an untouchable who had no business to tinker with their scripturally sanctioned entitlements with his constitution. Ambedkar was also the ‘false god’ who hobnobbed with the British which made him an anti-national. How do we then understand the constant appropriation of Ambedkar by the BJP?
‘Reading with Ambedkar’: illustration by Nidhin Shobhana
The semiotics of sanctifying Ambedkar by the Sangh Parivar can be traced to the Panchajanya issue1 which effusively calls Ambedkar, ‘a great leader who sought to organize and strengthen society on the basis of social harmony; a foresighted leader who strived to mould his country to meet the future challenges; a patriot, in short a seer of his age’. Now, ‘Sri Guruji (Golwalkar) argues that after Buddha it is only Ambedkar who discoursed about social welfare and religious interests, to get rid of social evils. Indeed, Ambedkar is the true inheritor of Buddha’s legacy and I heartily endorse his purity.’2 The claim is made that the Indian Constitution is a new ‘Manusmriti’ or even ‘Bheemsmruti’3 The BJP’s self-aggrandisement is to portray themselves as messiahs for social justice. The effort to saffronise Ambedkar is very palpable when it is alleged that Ambedkar’s fundamental thinking has always remained ‘Bharatiya’ despite his critique of Hindu society in the name of religion4. It’s declared that he was a follower of Ram.5 His Riddles in Hinduism was first banned in Maharashtra (contrary to the claim that the text was kept in his cupboard till the last breath of his life)6. Rama holds no attractions for Ambedkar, for whom the most significant event in the Ramayana has to be Rama’s decapitation of a shudra for practicing asceticism. Ambedkar calls this ‘the worst crime that history has ever recorded’.7
This official deification of Ambedkar is in contradiction with the systematic denial of constitutionally mandated rights to the marginalized sections of Indian society. The past four years are witness to increasing violence against Dalits, Muslims, women, and tribals, particularly in the cow belt which reveal their doublespeak. If one were to map this trajectory of violence, from Dadri to Una with gau rakshaks running amok, the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula, the hounding of students from HCU to JNU, the decrease in the scholarship allocation, the slashing of the Special Component Plan, changes in the recruitment rosters and dilution of the SC/ST Atrocity Act, are merely a few illustrations of the ideological warfare unleashed by the BJP and its political and cultural cronies.
After the shocking results in the Uttar Pradesh bypolls, when even the Yogi’s constituency- Gorakhpur was won by the SP-BSP coalition, the BJP woke up to the fact that serious damage control is required before 2019. The incidents at Bhima-Koregaon and the Bharat Bandh against the dilution of the SC/ST Act forced the BJP to offer palliative responses. A series of diktats by PM Modi which includes spending two nights in Dalit bastis/villages, dedicating the renovated Ambedkar Memorial to the nation on 13th April, celebrating Ambedkar’s birthday as ‘Social Justice Day’ etc. It’s ironic to assume that such infantile measures will assuage the centuries old humiliation and the burden of the caste order borne by the dalits The campaign for Swacch Bharat is laudable but what about the dignity for people who for centuries have swallowed the pollution so that others can retain their ‘purity’? PM Modi talks about karma and how even a scavenger is also a ‘karmayogi’. Unfortunately for the PM, Dalits are no longer interested in such platitudes. They are eager to claim their entitlements as equal citizens of the country.
In his seminal work, “Annihilation of Caste”, Ambedkar wrote that ‘Virtue has become caste-ridden and morality has become, caste-bound’. His prescient words haunt us as the political class has lost any pretensions of virtue and what counts ultimately is the means to capture power. One needs to ponder that every time the BJP and its allies come to power, constitutional morality is threatened. As emphasized by Ambedkar, democracy requires a public conscience, which becomes agitated at every wrong, no matter who is the sufferer, and it means that everybody, whether he/she suffers that particular wrong or not, is prepared to join him/her in order to get him/her relieved. From the Bhotmanges to Asifa, the political landscape is littered with victims of caste, communal and gendered violence. A woman MP is chastised publicly for her laughter and body shape in Parliament. The political authorities publicly condone the demolition of statues of their rival ideologues. The elevation of five ‘godmen’ to cabinet status in Madhya Pradesh who are not democratically elected expose the venality of the BJP.
In a desperate move, on March 29th, 2018, the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh inserted ‘Ramji’ as Ambedkar’s middle name and made it mandatory in all official communication. In Badaun, Ambedkar’s statue was painted saffron and then blue by the BSP. The battle for the hearts and minds of the dalits has undergone a tectonic shift-from their physical labour to their cultural/religious subservience. One of the most revered icons of modern India-who sought to unravel the hegemony of religion and culture over the people, Ambedkar has been given a ‘makeover’ by the Hindutva spin doctors. In an attempt at damage control, PM Modi proclaimed on 13th April while inaugurating the renovated Ambedkar Memorial in Delhi, that he is indebted to Ambedkar whose vision helped him to become prime minister. Further that the Congress left no stone unturned to insult Ambedkar8. Ironically, the BJP has willy-nilly sought to denigrate the Constitution. On the same day, delivering the Ambedkar Memorial Lecture at Delhi University, his own cabinet colleague, Mr. Satya Pal Singh, (MoS HRD) declared that “In the last about two decades, the way the Constitution has been interpreted and the laws have been interpreted, it requires revisit. Let us revisit them.” Further, he said, “The kind of rights that have been given to minorities in the Constitution, still they feel cheated about it. They have the rights to run their institutes, religious institutions, but the majority does not have. Law is equal to all.”9 It’s a negation of the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity that Ambedkar fought for his entire life.
The schizophrenic nature of the BJP is quite evident in striving to hoodwink the people by such doublespeak. On the one hand is the lofty rhetoric of PM Modi while Dalits and minorities are victims of increasing state violence. The BJP ruled states have already decided to implement the diluted SC/ST act. Scores of Dalit youth are being selectively targeted for taking part in the protests around Bhima-Koregaon and April 2nd Bharat Bandh. Today, dalits are not appeased by the political class spending a day or two in their hamlets or glitzy memorials but simply want their constitutional rights to be upheld. They are fighting with their backs to the wall. Indeed, it’s a fallacy to assume that Dalits will be satisfied with such appeasement. Their struggle is for dignity and self- respect and not for crumbs from the saffron state. As Ambedkar observed, ‘we must not be content with mere political democracy. We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well. Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy. Liberty cannot be divorced from equality, equality cannot be divorced from liberty. Nor can liberty and equality be divorced from the fraternity. Without equality, liberty would produce the supremacy of the few over the many. Equality without liberty would kill individual initiative. Without fraternity, liberty would produce the supremacy of the few over the many. Without fraternity, liberty and equality could not become a natural course of things. It would require a constable to enforce them.’ Hopefully, the powers that be will pay heed to Ambedkar’s wise counsel and not push the society into a Civil War.
(This is an upgraded version of the article published in Rashtriya Sahara on 14th April 2018)
1. Panchajanya, 19th April 2015, Bharat Prakashan, Delhi, Ltd
2. Ashok Modak, “Bharat Bhumi ka Bhakt: Bharat Ratna”, Panchajanya, Opcit, p 21
3. Suvarna Rawal, “Two Stalwarts”, Revisiting Ambedkar, (Collector’s Edition), Organiser, April 2015, p 58
4. The Organiser op cit, p 19
5. Ibid, p19
6. Ibid p 19
7. Hinduism and Modernity, David Smith, John Wiley & Sons, 2008, p 197
8. The Indian Express, 13th April 2018
9. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/minorities-enjoy-rights-that-majority-doesnt-union-minister/articleshow/63762380.cms Accessed on 17th April, 2018
Prof N. Sukumar teaches Political Science at Delhi University.