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Independent Labour Party & the Legacy of Ambedkar as Organizer

Independent Labour Party & the Legacy of Ambedkar as Organizer

dr ambedkar after winning 1937 bombay provincial elections


Syamasundar Unnamati

“I am a man of character” – Dr. Ambedkar

Dr. Ambedkar was not only a rebel intellectual but also a great organizer with vision. His organizing skills played a crucial role in the success of all the movements he led. His highly motivational and emotional speeches inculcated discipline among the Depressed Class masses. One such speech he made was when the Independent Labour party observed a one day strike on 7th November, 1938, against the Industrial Disputes bill in Bombay city.

dr ambedkar after winning 1937 bombay provincial elections

Dr. Ambedkar, after victory in the 1937 Bombay Provincial Elections

On that day, a few disturbing incidents happened in the city; later the strike enquiry committee made allegations on the cadre and corps of the Independent Labour Party. To refute these allegations Dr. Ambedkar gave an excellent speech in Bombay on 8th January 1939 at the Kamgar Maidan on the occasion of the annual parade of the volunteer corps. Over 2,500 volunteers turned up smartly dressed and over 20,000 members and followers of the party thronged the ground to witness the function. In his motivational speech, Dr. Ambedkar traces the discipline and honesty of the Mahar community during the British period. Read the text of the speech below:


Thus spoke Ambedkar

“I shall not go into details of the evidence that is being led before the committee at present because the committee is still sitting and the procedure is in a sense ‘sub judice’. But I must show to the world the nature and traditions of the volunteer corps of the Independent Labour Party against which foul and venomous charges are being made day after day by all sorts of witnesses before the committee. I shall quote only two instances when fulsome praise was showered on the volunteer corps, not by our friends and sympathisers but by the Congress bosses. At the very first sitting of the Bombay Legislative Assembly when the question of fixing the salaries of ministers came up the Hon. Mr. Kher, the Prime Minister of the Government of Bombay referred to selfless services, sacrifices and self-discipline of the volunteers of the Independent Labour Party, and said that if those volunteers could work without wages Congress ministers should be permitted to work on a salary of Rs.500/- per month.

Sardar’s acknowledgement

The other occasion was provided at a public meeting held under the auspices of the Congress at Poona soon after the Provincial elections. The author of the praise showered at the time on the volunteer corps of the Independent Labour party was no less a person than Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The Sardar then said that in point of discipline, methodical work alertness, sense of responsibility and many other qualities the Congress volunteers were no match to the Volunteers of the Independent Labour party, and that the Congress volunteers would do well to learn some of these qualities if they were to be of any use to the Congress and the Public. The Sardar then referred to the tremendous impressions created on him by the I.L.P Volunteers during the Assembly elections and showed how efficiently and disinterestedly they had served their party.

Record of honesty

Nearly 90 per cent of our volunteers come from the Mahar Community. Now, what is the record of this community in matters of public services? I want to declare the fact today that it is a record which no other community in India can claim.

Ever since the establishment of British rule in India the task of carrying the land revenue money collected in every little village to distant district headquarters has been entrusted to exclusively to members of the Mahar community. These monies amount to hundreds and thousands of rupees every year. How have the Mahars discharged their duties in this connection?

In spite of their appalling poverty, starvation and misery, I am proud to disclose the fact that there has not been a single instance during all these 150 to 200 years when a single Mahar committed a single defalcation or misappropriation or in any way missed the money.

The sight of half-starved downtrodden men and women carrying hundreds of rupees tied up in their dirty looking worn out dhotis and saris, miles and miles away from their villages to the district headquarters without the least thought of their own interest is one which should evoke nothing but admiration. It is a miracle unheard in modern history.

It is men drawn from the community with these traditions and with such high sense of responsibility against whom foul and scandalous charges are being directed today before the Government inquiry committee. I shall leave it to public judgement whether to believe these witnesses or the volunteers of the Independent Labour Party.

Further, most of our Volunteers are men who have served in the military for a number of years, they are no lawless ill-behaved rabble out for hooliganism and mischief. They realise their responsibilities and believe in disciplined behaviour. Are these the men who will indulge in the kind of infamous activity attributed to them by the witnesses?

Origin of Corps

This volunteer corps was born in the struggle started for the assertion of human rights by the Depressed Classes which culminated in the Mahad Satyagraha. The struggle had a far deeper significance than the mere assertion of the right of the Depressed Classes to take water from a particular public tank. Similarly, the Satyagraha for temple entry launched at Nasik had a far deeper significance than the assertion of the right of the Depressed Classes to enter temples. Those struggles were based on the principles of equality. We shall have to wage a hundred battles before the equality is established and you will have to be the pioneer battalion in that battle. You have the tremendous responsibility of clearing up roads, building up bridges over rivers and tunnels through rocks and mountain ranges, levelling up valleys and cutting down forest thickness in order that those who come after you may have a straight and clean road to march to the battlefront.

Lead Spartan life

For the proper discharge of that duty, you have to be men of sterling character, men to whom the rest of society will look to as models of humanity. You have to discard evil habits that you might have. You have to abandon drinking and smoking and lead a Spartan life. You have to be firm in your action and utterly well disciplined in behaviour. You must remember that you are not a crowd or mob. You are a battalion and the difference between the two is obvious. A handful of well-trained, well-disciplined men like you are able to control a crowd of thousands. That is the essence of the difference between you and an ordinary crowd”.



Bombay Chronicle & The Bombay Sentinel (1936- 1939)



Syamasundar Unnamati is a Dalit Cartoonist. 

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