So, for you, what are the most seminal texts of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the constitution maker of India? What names come to your mind or your imagination?
Is it Annihilation of Caste (AoC), or is it Riddles in Hinduism (RiH) or is it something to do with the Roundtable Conference or his works related to Poona Pact, or his debates with Gandhi or all of these?
Now imagine a set of books, with the branding of Collected Works of Bhimrao Ambedkar (CWBA) having none of these texts, but someone is still calling them as the CWBA. And that ‘someone’, in this instance, is nobody other than the Modi Government.
This is exactly the farce that is being played out now. Ambedkar Foundation, a Government of India body under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, the sole publisher of Babasaheb’s writings and speeches in Hindi, is selling CWBA without 11 books from the set.The missing books include AoC and RiH.
Apparently, Ambedkar Foundation is in the process of publishing a new set and in the intervening period, this is what they have to offer to the readers. But at the foundation, nobody knows when the new books will be published. This is for the Hindi edition of the CWBA. For the English originals, the situation is more complicated. As the foundation has not received the No Objection Certificate or the NOC from the Maharashtra Government, the copyright holder of these works, the foundation can not publish the English versions of the CWBA. It’s intriguing that the Maharashtra government holds the publishing rights for the writings and speeches of Babasaheb and it’s holding them so tight that a body of the central government finds itself handicapped to publish that work.
Meanwhile the citizens of the country have no other option but to buy the truncated set of CWBA.
This blatant act of truncating the works of Babasaheb is happening, when the Nation is celebrating the 125th year of his birth. Prime Minister Narendrabhai Modi himself has taken the lead in these celebrations. The Indian Parliament has held a two day special session to mark this occasion, and a special commemorative coin has been issued and so on and so forth.
But that’s the front stage for the Modi Government. At the front stage, a Goffmanian act of impression management is being enacted. Here the BJP and RSS is saying nice words about Babasaheb. Dr. Ambedkar, who while delivering his concluding speech in the constituent assembly, had warned us about the problematics of hero worship. But Modi Government is doing exactly the same and at the same time it is trying to suppress the writings of Babasaheb. In a way, the government is trying to rob the revolutionary essence of the writings of Babasaheb. That is the backstage of Modi Sarkar.
BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) want to appropriate Babasaheb, but his writings are too hot for them to handle. They want to use Dr. Ambedkar as a symbol to garner votes, but their so-called affiliation to Ambedkar ends at that point.
Ambedkar and the Ambedkarite movement have always been an enigma for RSS and it always fumbles while dealing with the issue of caste. The centrality of caste in the democratic discourse of the Ambedkarite stream is a stumbling block for the RSS in establishing upper caste brahminic hegemony in the country. As Ambedkar suggests the demolition and destruction of the Hindu religious texts to make the Hindus a free people (AoC); his writings are very problematic for the upper caste Sangh.
RSS and the BJP have a real problem in dealing with the legacy of Dr. Ambedkar. They need his name, as they think that by using this trick, they can get votes. But at the same time, by taking his name, they are generating interest for Ambedkar’s writings amongst the people. This is a catch 22 situation.
BJP and RSS have to synchronise the acts at the front stage and at the back stage. At this point they look very clumsy.
Dilip Mandal is former Managing Editor, India Today group. He is currently doing research in JNU, on the correlation between caste and news media.