Dr. N. Sukumar
Historically, the philosophical roots of the RSS can be located in German National Socialism and the former has constantly strived to live up to the ideals of its mentors. This is best illustrated when the RSS indulges in Goebbelsian doublespeak to further its exclusivist nationalism. A lie spoken repeatedly becomes the truth – the appropriation of Babasaheb Ambedkar into the pantheon of ‘nationalist’ heroes reveals the political frustration of the RSS to make inroads into the Dalit/Adivasi/Moolnivasi mindscapes. Nathuram Godse physically eliminated Gandhi and the RSS is striving to ideologically annihilate Ambedkar. This article strives to deconstruct the issue of Panchjanya (April 19th 2015) and the special issue of Organiser on the 125th birth anniversary of Babasaheb which testify to the ideological vacuum and the urgency to ‘create’ new idols by the Sangh Parivar. The focus is on the engagement with the religious ideas espoused by these journals and their contradictions with Ambedkar’s philosophy. In the process, it is assumed that the marginalized groups exhibit a tabula rasa, lacking agency and remain mired in dystopia. Ever since Eklavya’s thumb, the brahmanical forces have sought to hijack history and self-hood of the oppressed communities.
The model state, Gujarat has long been considered the social laboratory for Hindutva. Jan Breman1 has analyzed the well-entrenched nature of the Hindutva movement and its predecessors in Gujarat, strongly opposed to communal harmony and to the design of society as a melting pot of diverse and open-ended social segments. The mobilisation of low and intermediate castes to participate in the activities of the Sangh parivar organisations in the last two decades has broadened the base of Hindu fundamentalism as a social-political force.
The price these previously denigrated segments have to pay for their acceptance within the Hindutva fold is their willingness to express antagonism to Muslims as members of the religious minority and, in brutal acts of confrontation, to do the dirty work of cleansing on behalf of their high-caste brothers and sisters. The dynamics of inclusion and exclusion are intricately interwoven2. 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, Babasaheb Ambedkar, has been given a ‘makeover’ by the Hindutva spin doctors.
The Panchajanya issue3 commences with hyperbolic and effusive praise for Babasaheb, ‘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’. A lot of water has flowed down the Ganges since Arun Shourie’s ‘Worshipping False Gods’4 wherein Ambedkar was vilified as a traitor, as a supporter of Pakistan etc. 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.’5
The above mentioned journal quotes Ambedkar on various issues without giving any reference as to its authencity. A blanket claim is made-‘through his various writings and speeches (no reference to volume or book), Ambedkar engaged with savarna Hindus. In one article (no source is cited) Ambedkar wrote that Hindu religion believed that every man is a microcosm of the divine and every man is entitled to dignity. However, savarna Hindus have ill-treated dalits. If Dalits are maltreated then even God is displeased’. On the contrary, Ambedkar was very conscious of the insidious operation of Hindu religion. “Hinduism is not interested in the common man. Hinduism is not interested in society as a whole. The centre of its interest lies in a class and its philosophy is concerned in sustaining and supporting the rights of that class. That is why in the philosophy of Hinduism, the interests of the common man as well as of society are denied, suppressed and sacrificed to the interest of this class of Superman”.6
In yet another writing (again no source is cited), the same journal tries to put words in Ambedkar’s mouth. ‘He pointed out that till Hindu society is organized, justice and humanity will not be worshipped and till then independence is incomplete’. However, for Ambedkar, “Hinduism is inimical to equality, antagonistic to liberty and opposed to fraternity.”7 “Inequality is the soul of Hinduism. The morality of Hinduism is only social. It is unmoral and inhuman to say the least”8. As mentioned by the journal, at a speech in Amaravati (again no source as to the date and occasion for the speech), ‘Ambedkar argued that even dalits have rights in Hindutva. In order to establish the Hindutva philosophy, Valmiki, Chokhamela, Rohidas etc dalits have contributed in great measure and numerous dalits have sacrificed their lives to safeguard this philosophy. Hence, if Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas can enter temples, why cannot dalits do so?’9. In one of his abhangas, Chokhamela calls to God, “Why have you given me this birth if you have to give me birth at all? You have erred in giving me this birth; you have been unkind.”10 Chokhamela questioned his origins within the contours of the caste hierarchy (the bedrock of Hinduism) and thus he has been transformed into an advocate of Hindutva.
The attempt to falsify history is very evident in the above mentioned arguments. No distinction is made between Hinduism and Hindutva and both concepts are used as synonyms for each other. A linear trajectory is sought to be created between the Bhakti saints and Ambedkar, with scant regard for historical authenticity. The semiotics of deifying Ambedkar is apparent when the claim is made that the Indian Constitution is a new ‘Manusmriti’ or even ‘Bheemsmruti’11 On December 25, 1927, Ambedkar burned the Manusmriti, a symbol of enslavement for majority of the denizens of India. Similarly, he considered any form of hero worship as detrimental to democracy.
Acquiescing to the caution which John Stuart Mill has given to all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, not “to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with power which enable him to subvert their institutions”, he said, “There is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country. But there are limits to gratefulness. As has been well said by the Irish Patriot Daniel O’Connell, no man can be grateful at the cost of his honour, no woman can be grateful at the cost of her chastity and no nation can be grateful at the cost of its liberty. This caution is far more necessary in the case of India than in the case of any other country. For in India, Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.”12 It’s an anathema to ponder that Ambedkar would have even considered the constitution as ‘Bheemsmruti’. This is nothing but giving a saffron spin to the nation’s secular ethos.
Another RSS mouthpiece, Organiser, collapses the value systems of Hinduism, Buddhism and Democracy into an indissoluble whole.13 For them, Buddhism is inseparable from Hinduism and along with democratic values, the trinity endeavour to establish righteousness14. As laid out in the article ‘Buddha and the Future of His Religion’, Ambedkar’s perspective of a true religion consists of four characteristics: a) it must remain the governing principle in every society in the sense of morality; b) it must be in accord with reason which is merely another name for science if it is to function; c) its moral code must recognize the fundamental tenets of liberty, equality, and fraternity; and d) it must not sanctify or ennoble poverty. He further said that only Buddhism can satisfy all these tests, and it is the only religion the world can have.15 In a clever sleight of hand, the Organiser quotes Ambedkar on the four characteristics of religion but omits to mention the crucial conclusion.
The effort to saffronise Ambedkar is very palpable when it is claimed that Ambedkar’s fundamental thinking has always remained ‘Bharatiya’ despite his critique of Hindu society in the name of religion16. It is declared that he was a follower of Ram.17 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)18. 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’19.
While toying with Ambedkar’s beliefs, The RSS ideologues have eschewed any historical veracity. In his work, ‘Who Were the Shudras? How they came to be the Fourth Varna in Indo-Aryan Society’, Ambedkar argues at length on the origins of Chaturvarna. However, for the Sangh Parivar scholars, caste crept into Indian society with the Islamic invaders. Very subtly, they not only lay the sin of introducing untouchability into India on Islam but also play up the fear of Hindu women being violated by the mlechha invaders20.
While expurgating Ambedkar’s ideas, the Organiser is also editing generously the political terminology espoused by Ambedkar. Their antagonism to English language is well known as also the reluctance to use the term ‘India’, so the All India Scheduled Castes Federation founded by Ambedkar in April 1942 is transformed into Bharatiya Scheduled Caste Federation. The conversion to Buddhism was not merely a challenge to Hindu caste supremacy but Ambedkar provided a well thought out rationale for his act of conversion.21 The journal cooks up a novel myth that “Ambedkar promised Gandhi that he would leave Hindu Dharma but would see to it that the least damage was done. When he embraced Buddhist faith in Deekshabhumi, Nagpur on October 1956, he said, ‘I had kept my promise to Gandhiji.”22 Neither in Gandhi’s writings nor in Ambedkar’s writings and speeches does one come across any such conversation.
Along with Ambedkar, the Organiser is also misquoting Gandhi23 on the question of untouchability. Apparently, Ambedkar believed that untouchability is inscribed on the Dalit body rather than being a blot on Hinduism and ‘we (untouchables) have to clean it. It means that we ourselves will have to fight this social slavery’.24 The narrative gives the impression that Ambedkar was apologetic of the caste system rather than its fiercest critic. ‘At one point he says that the Bhagvad Gita is my inspiration’. ‘He writes, ‘Jai Bhavani’ on his newspaper. He was proud of calling himself a Hindu’.25 If one were to go by the evidence as reflected in Ambedkar’s own writings, the truth is diametrically opposite. Ambedkar affirmed on 13th October 1935, at Yeola in Nasik district, “Unfortunately, I was born a Hindu untouchable. It was beyond my power to prevent that, but it is within my power to refuse to live under ignoble and humiliating conditions. I solemnly assure you that I will not die a Hindu”.26
The Propaganda War
Once they succeeded in ending democracy and turning Germany into a one-party dictatorship, the Nazis orchestrated a massive propaganda campaign to win the loyalty and cooperation of Germans. The Nazi Propaganda Ministry, directed by Dr. Joseph Goebbels, took control of all forms of communication in Germany: newspapers, magazines, books, public meetings, and rallies, art, music, movies, and radio. Viewpoints in any way threatening to Nazi beliefs or to the regime were censored or eliminated from all media.27 Being very astute students, the RSS is also traversing the same path. Its political front, the Bharatiya Janata Party, is now the world’s largest political party with 8.8 crore members28. Gradually, all dissent is being stifled and landmark changes in the polity and society are being ushered in through ordinances, bypassing parliamentary debates.
One of the harshest critics of the Hindu social order was Ambedkar who sought to transform the caste society through legal, rational and constitutional norms. His followers have struggled to create an Enlightened India by interrogating the social, cultural, political and economic domains controlled by entrenched interests through political struggles, revolutionary poetry and prose, new iconography and symbols. The appropriation and deliberate misreading of Ambedkar’s life and vision will delegitimize his egalitarian ideas, demolish and demoralize the struggles to usher justice and fraternity and lead to the continued enslavement of the marginalized groups. The subversive and deliberate gesture of misquoting Ambedkar reveals the lack of historical and scholarly authenticity in the intellectual projects of the RSS. However, the dalit-bahujan citizens would not accept any tampering with the ideals of Babasaheb Ambedkar and would offer a befitting response.
. Jan Breman, Communal Upheaval as Resurgence of Social Darwinism, www.epw.org, accessed on 17/05/2014, 11.30 pm
. For Further details refer, Communalism as a Political Strategy, http://www.hrw.org/reports/2003/india0703/Gujarat-10.htm, Accessed on 20/05/2014, 12.15 am
. Panchajanya, 19th April 2015, Bharat Prakashan, Delhi, Ltd
. Arun Shourie’s, Worshipping False Gods: Ambedkar, and the Facts which Have Been Erased, ASA Publications, 1997
. Ashok Modak, “Bharat Bhumi ka Bhakt: Bharat Ratna”, Panchajanya, Opcit, p 21
. Ambedkar’s Writings and Speeches, Govt of Maharashtra, Vol 3, 1998, p 77
. Ambedkar, Opcit, Vol 3, p 66
. Ambedkar, Ibid, Vol 3, p 87
. Panchajanya, Opcit, p 22
. Eleanor Zelliot, Ambedkar’s World: The Making of Babasaheb and the Dalit Movement, Navayana, 2013, p 54
. Suvarna Rawal, “Two Stalwarts”, Revisiting Ambedkar, (Collector’s Edition), Organiser, April 2015, p 58
. Friday, the 25th November, 1949, Constituent Assembly Of India – Volume Xi, http://parliamentofindia.nic.in/ls/debates/vol11p11.htm, Accessed 16/4/2015, 9.45 pm
. Bhimrao Bhosale, “Enlightened Thinker”, Revisiting Ambedkar, The Organiser, (Collector’s Edition) April 2015, p 78
. Ibid p 77
. Ahir, D.C. ―Dr. Ambedkar’s Pilgrimate to Buddhism,‖in Dr. Ambedkar, Buddhism and Social Change. Ed by A.K. Narain and D.C. Ahir. 1-16. Delhi, India: B.R. Publishing Corporation, 1994, p 8
. The Organiser op cit, p 19
. Ibid, p19
. Ibid p 19
. Hinduism and Modernity, David Smith, John Wiley & Sons, 2008, p 197
. Organiser, p 15
. Speech delivered by Dr. Ambedkar to the Bombay Presidency Mahar Conference, 31st May 1936, Bombay. Translated from the Marathi by Vasant W. Moon. The typescript of the translation, with handwritten emendations, was presented by the translator to Eleanor Zelliot on 25 January 1988, and has been contributed by her for this website. http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00ambedkar/txt_ambedkar_salvation.html, Accessed 16/4/2015, 11.30 pm
. Organiser, op cit, p 58
. Organiser, p 15. For the exact quote, refer, M. K. Gandhi, Untouchability, Harijan, 11/2/1933, http://www.mkgandhi.org/journalist/untouchablity.htm Accessed on, 16/4/2015, 11.45 pm
. Organiser, p 15
. Ibid, p 15
. Ambedkar, Writings and Speeches, Govt of Maharashtra, Vol 17, (111), 2002, p 95
. Nazi Propaganda And Censorship, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Http://Www.Ushmm.Org/Outreach/En/Article.Php?Moduleid=10007677, Accessed 17/4/2015, 12.15 Am
. With 8.8 Crore Members, BJP is Now the World’s Largest Party, http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/with-8-8-crore-members-bjp-is-now-the-worlds-largest-party-750679, Accessed 17/4/2015, 12.20 am
N. Sukumar is Professor at the Dept of Political Science, Delhi University, Delhi. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org