Dr. Suresh Mane
(Dr. Suresh Mane’s speech at the ‘The Colonization of Ambedkar: Caste Politics behind Roy- Navayana’s Appropriation of Annihilation of Caste ~ A Discussion’ held on 21st December, 2014, at University of Mumbai)
Good afternoon friends, one day, restless Rahul met me at my office. He came with some anxiety, carrying along with him this book (Navayana’s AoC), saying that there are lots of problems regarding this book, and some of our youngsters are engaged in opposing at least the commercial aspect of the book. So we should do something. I said, it is a good idea, it is your idea so you should do something. Our problem is that we are originators of ideas and we expect that somebody should do something. And that is always a wrong approach. So I told him let us go ahead, have a small debate, a discussion. By that method this program (the Colonization of Ambedkar event) has materialized.
Four, five people have already presented.
Some of you must have also read this book, you may be having your own right and wrong notions about the same. Certain points need to be understood, one is the assessment of Ambedkar when he was alive and then the post Ambedkar assessment- these are the two phases. Normally we say, that Ambedkar is still less understood, more misunderstood, [for which] there might be different reasons. When he was alive he was carrying on with his struggle, which is one of the greatest human rights struggles of this world. He was also not assessed properly, even when he was alive- he was branded with different adjectives, as the ‘stooge of the britishers’, ‘the conformist hindu’, these were labels given by leftist people, communists. Even CPI passed a resolution in 1964 that Ambedkar should be limited to only dalits. All this is on record. It is there in my book, Glimpses of Socio Cultural Revolts in India.
So, until the Round Table Conferences, he was nowhere. All of a sudden he emerges on the whole horizon, and suddenly the entire Indian mass finds that here is a man who is challenging our social, political, cultural, economic ethos. And the man who challenges the whole ethos of a particular society, naturally that society will not accept and digest that man’s ideas and that is exactly what happened.
So after 1930, when he spoke at the plenary session of the 1st Round Table Conference and he opposed systematically the whole ideas and initiatives of the Congress and Gandhi, he was condemned in India. He was condemned by the newspapers. Now 1930s is a much later part. In order to understand Gandhi’s opposition or the Congress-Gandhi model, one needs to understand how this model evolved. We know that the Congress model was evolved by Hume. Until 1905 the flag of the Congress was the Union Jack. 1905! So from 1885 to 1905 is 20 years. Gandhi comes to India at the age of 46, in 1915, after spending twenty years in South Africa. What was his job in South Africa? That is the most important thing to understand, if you want to understand Gandhi.
First, how and why did Gandhi go to South Africa? To help the Indian merchants and traders as a barrister, as a lawyer. Once there, initially he was fighting for the rights of the Indian traders in South Africa. While fighting for the rights of the Indian traders, he did some little things here and there, giving petitions, request letters to the British. By that method he came in contact with the British Empire or Britishers. The first one was 1913, in the First World War, where he enrolled himself as a volunteer for the British. For that he even wrote a letter that some reward should be given to those like him who volunteered. And one British fellow replied, that it is not a chocolate which can be given. The same thing is also quoted by Arundhati Roy, that is also fine. So in 1915 when he returns from South Africa via England he is felicitated in England. For what? For the services which he rendered to the British Empire, for 20 years. The same year, a big felicitation is held by Birla in Calcutta, who had a lot of money. Hindustan Times was owned by Birla; Gandhi’s son, Devdas, was also employed at Hindustan Times, again the newspaper industry was at his disposal.
There is a book, “Gandhi betrayed my people” by a Bengali author M.K. Debnath, I have met him, he lives in Andaman and Nicobar. He was a refugee, during partition he came back to India, at the age of 12 years. Now he is a renowned doctor in Port Blair. And he has written a book on Gandhi, published by a foreign press, not an Indian press. I forgot to bring the book. In that book he has said, whatever the experience the British Empire had with Gandhi for 20 years in South Africa, they were very happy with it. And they needed just such a leader to lead India’s independence movement in the place of leftists or leaders like Subhas Chandra Bose, and therefore Gandhi was a ready-made package prepared by the Britishers and dispensed to India.
Now this kind of thinking is yet to come into general academia, intelligentsia or in the writings of scholars. This analysis is yet to develop, but it is a fact that Gandhi was promoted/endorsed, even established with the help of the British. Otherwise, the man who comes in 1915, at a time when there is no TV, no radio, no Internet- how can all Indians go after him? The Home Rule League is formed in 1914 where Jinnah, Motilal Nehru, K M Munshi have a problem, and Gandhi, who comes a year later, immediately becomes the president of the Home Rule League! How is it possible? So there was a systematic machinery used by the British to install a moderate man who would be suitable to the British empire. This theme is yet to be developed, even among the dalit intelligentsia, it is absent in dalit writings too. But this is another side which needs to be explored.
Second thing is that, we know that Ambedkar is an anti-establishment model. Do you accept this? Some of you may not, because you may have reservations. For example, any naxalite or someone with that kind of ideology may not. And initially the same problem existed even with PWG groups; even initial naxalite leaders never accepted Ambedkar as one of the radical models or anti-establishment models. They accepted him as a conformist model, moderate, reformist, something like that. But Ambedkar has been a radical anti-establishment model in the fullest sense of the term, not just in the economic or social sense but a complete anti-establishment model. While Ambedkar is an anti-establishment model, Gandhi is a perfect pro-establishment model. A perfect one.
The quote on railways that James Michael mentioned is here with me, read the book by SS Gill, Gandhi: A Sublime Failure. This book has very good analysis, please read it.
After considering these few facts, one can see what happened initially. When he (Ambedkar) was alive he was condemned like anything, that is why he writes, ‘I am fighting for my greater swaraj, your swaraj is very limited, my fight is against my own people, your battle is very easy because you are fighting against someone else, outsiders, foreigners. Your fight is very easy, my fight is difficult’. He was aware of this, he also admits that I don’t bother with what you are telling, how you are writing about me, describing me, how you are looking at me, I am not concerned with it. I am concerned with my job.1 He also knows what is the attitude of the whole system. So when he was alive, whether it was the Congress party, whether it was the media, they all branded him like anything, as a leftist or rightist. Even at the RT conference, Gandhi refused to accept the existence of Ambedkar as a leader. He claimed that he was the leader of the whole of India, and thought who are these others?
Consider here the statue of Patel that is going to be built. One must remember the question that was asked to Patel: who all are going to the Round Table Conference? And Patel with contempt said that some Mochhis and Ghaanchis have gone. Mochhis and Ghaanchis! These days the Ghaanchi (Modi) does not understand this, what can we do? Modi belongs to Ghaanchi community, the oil pressers. That was Patel’s statement, Mochhis and Ghaanchis- an attitude of utter contempt.
This slowly goes further, when the battle of both Ambedkar and Gandhi becomes clear. We have to understand the ‘inclusive’ politics of Gandhi. Through the medium of Gandhi and Congress no other force was allowed to exist in the country. A lot of effort went into this whether it was the Muslim League, or independent Dalits, there were attempts to accommodate them. All these facts have to be understood in that context.
After all this we reach the post Ambedkar phase. Post Ambedkar is a neglected Ambedkar. Chalo, he is not even there. Now he is neglected, but the Dalit movement with people like Anoop Kumar won’t sit quietly, will keep doing something or the other. Then starts this business. Till the 80s there was nothing. In the 80s, a little bit of literature appeared, Maharashtra government brought out all his volumes, and so the corpus became available. Some awareness was created, some translations happened in other states, even in Kerala. Sometimes with wrong translations, for example, Scheduled Castes is translated as Harijan. When there is no Harijan at all. It should have been Arunthathiyars, even in Tamil Nadu some of the translation is wrong.
After neglecting Ambedkar, it was seen that Ambedkar is an emerging force, then the attacking method started.
After reading this book (Navayana edition) when I saw the model, I could not make out how many authors does it have? One, there is S. Anand. Then there is Arundhati Roy, then Babasaheb and then in the end there is a note on Poona Pact by S. Anand. The context is not comprehensible.
I have taught LLM for 20 years, 18 PhDs have done their doctoral studies with me, I am myself a Phd. I understand research, and how to conduct scientific research. So before we subject Roy’s book to analysis, let us analyze Roy’s personality. Is Roy a philosopher? This is a direct question. Is she a researcher? Is she a historian? Then who is she? Because say when I have written a book, it will be asked: you have written a book on Constitutional law, are you not aware that the spelling of Constitution begins with C or K? What is your authority?
And if we take the example of authority, we can look at her book Broken Republic. I have read it. She took up a journey, spent some time with our brothers who are here and there, interviewed them and whatever she learned from them, she wrote. Now, can it be considered as authentic? What is the academic or literary or historical value of this? Yes, she has one art – she can make the best presentation. Whether you like this art or dislike it, she manages to put out a marketable commodity.
If we look at this book, one, the first part has an editor’s note by S Anand. So this book is not Arundhati’s book at all. Because he is the editor. When do we need an editor? When there is editorial work involved. So how did the editor come in? If there is an editor, it has to be in the name of Anand, but Anand’s name is totally missing. At the end he writes on Poona Pact. I have a book on Poona Pact which is in its fourth edition, the first edition was released by Kanshi Ram himself in 2000. But Anand has written such a short note that there is nothing in it, not even the crux of the matter. Then why write about it? It is so out of context.
The third fact to consider is the edition of AoC that they brought out. See the caste discourse, whether you like or dislike it, has been coming in a big way into the Indian socio-political horizon, particularly after Mandal.
AoC is not an ordinary book. Our friends have referred to Kanshi Ram, who could not sleep for three nights after reading that book. Among us we fall asleep when we read books, and some read because they are not able to fall asleep and read in order to sleep (laughs). He could not sleep for three nights, and the whole process (BSP) started from that point. Therefore, there must be some kind of life in that book. When this book (Navayana’s edition) was shown to me, I said this book is not Babasaheb’s at all. Babasaheb’s AoC is here (holds up another edition of AoC). Babasaheb’s AoC is without footnotes. And this (Navayana’s) AoC is with footnotes. And whose footnotes? In Roy’s introduction [itself], 170 footnotes have been added. These are your footnotes. There is an original book, on which reference numbers are thrust with footnotes at the bottom- how can it be Babasaheb’s AoC? Babasaheb’s is without footnotes, reference work is not there at all. What did they do here? They took Babasaheb’s original text and their footnotes are forced on it. So the title is wrong. They must change. They cannot give it this title, Annihilation of Caste. I will talk about the legal aspect later.
Even the footnotes are of such poor quality, if we do their postmortem, it will prove very costly for them. It is bad. Look at this, on page 47, she says, “AoC is often called, even by some Ambedkarites, Ambedkar’s utopia. It is an impracticable, unfeasible dream.” Arre, you are making a sweeping statement! What kind of an author are you if you are not supplementing your general sweeping statement with any reference? This is not a quality of a good author. If you people are writing a novel, it is fine. But if you are writing on a historical context, this is called ghatiya writing. This is not even literary writing.
You are supplementing Ambedkar’s writing with footnotes. Now, who is going to supplement your writing? Who should be hired? You are making a general sweeping statement that Ambedkar’s idea is a utopian one and that even some Ambedkarite scholars agree. Arre, to make such a statement, as I said, her total writing is without sound foundation. Some writers develop a tendency to be critical and controversial. Arundhati is one of them. We don’t have any personal grudge, I have never met her, never interacted with her. No personal grudge. But some writers have that kind of tendency that they want to be that way, so that they can occupy the market.
Have a look at the art of occupying the market which is reflected in this book also (reads excerpt from A Roy’s Broken Republic). She quotes from her earlier book in her introduction to AoC. In the former she says, “The Indian constitution, the moral underpinning of the Indian democracy was adopted by the Parliament. It was a tragic day for tribal people. The Constitution ratified the colonial policy and made the state the custodian of the tribal homelands. Overnight, in turn, the tribal population became squatters on their own lands.”
This has been quoted in her introduction to AoC. You should cross-reference, and say that you are quoting from your own book.
Further she says, “Constitution has limitation with respect to revolution.” Arre, even the Soviet Union had to make a constitution after their revolution. This is not your area. For this, dedicated scholarship is needed, learning is needed. After reading newspapers, watching television and writing a story while sitting in an airplane, you call it authentic scholarly work? It is foolish. This is a mockery.
At many places she asserts such things. Arundhati Roy, by her own admission, at the launch of the book at Columbia University said that she had chosen not to publish her text as a “standalone book” because she is pretty sure “it would have been banned or disappeared in some ways, so it was a bit of a Trojan horse operation.” So in order to sell her own book, she needed the help of Ambedkar. Kyun bhai? If you are such a revolutionary, why do you need Ambedkar’s help? Stand on your own strengths!
The title of the book, the Doctor and the Saint- one of our friends from Andhra told us the title was mistranslated in an excellent way in a Telugu daily as Vaidyudu and Pravakta. Doctor and Prophet. Defending the title, The Doctor and the Saint, Arundhati Roy says, even Ambedkar has described Gandhi as a saint. Ambedkar has described Gandhi as not only a saint but as a political saint. The adjective is there. That adjective this lady has cleverly removed. He called him a political saint. The title should have been very clear, The Doctor and the Political Saint. She removes the word political.
Her frank admission at Columbia University says, “I feared my book might get into trouble because I wrote a lot on Gandhi.” But I say, you buy Ambedkar, you get Mohandas Karamchand free. One thing, our own youngsters have to keep in mind, is that in AoC there are at least 15 or 16 very important issues. Gandhi is not even there in the whole text, he comes later in the appendix. Appendix is appendix. It is not the main body.
After AoC was published, Gandhi felt bad, and in his Harijan magazine in 1936, he wrote in an issue that ‘Ambedkar is not a man who will easily be allowed to be forgotten.’ He made this accusation. Ambedkar responded to that. In 1936, Gandhi was a established leader, Babasaheb was not as well established as he was in 1946 or 50 or 55. This was 1936. So the book Annihilation of Caste is not about Gandhi, kindly remove such a view, if held by some youngsters who have not read the original book.
There was the Jat Pat Todak Mandal at Lahore, whose agenda was annihilation of caste, in order to reform, at least break it a little. On their invitation, this speech was prepared for their conference. The Congress policy towards annihilation of caste was discussed first. And in that context Babasaheb’s very important quotation, which this lady has not quoted anywhere, relates to Surender Nath Banerjee’s claim that the ‘Congress party is competent to deal with social issues’. And Babasaheb Ambedkar gave such an excellent response, “Every man who repeats the dogma of Mill that one country is not fit to rule another country must admit that one class is not fit to rule another class.”
This is such a powerful quote, and it is not anywhere in this introduction, instead it only has irrelevant tiny bits and pieces. The main thesis is not there, other matter is also missing, for example, the AoC talks about how the Socialists took no part in annihilation of caste. About this too, Roy is silent. Similarly, Babasaheb’s observation: turn in any direction you like, caste is the monster that crosses your path. You cannot have political reform, you cannot have economic reform, unless you kill this monster. This finds no mention or discussion. Then there is caste and its effect on Indian society, one of the biggest effects is on the intellectual class. And we have to remind ourselves of the remarks made by Babasaheb on the intellectual class in AoC. I will read it now:
“In every country the intellectual class is the most influential class, if not the governing class. The intellectual class is the class which can foresee, it is the class which can advise and give lead. In no country does the mass of the people live the life of intelligent thought and action. It is largely imitative and follows the intellectual class. There is no exaggeration in saying that the entire destiny of a country depends upon its intellectual class. If the intellectual class is honest, independent and disinterested it can be trusted to take the initiative and give a proper lead when a crisis arises. It is true that intellect by itself is no virtue. It is only a means and the use of means depends upon the ends which an intellectual person pursues.”
This is very important. How you are going to use your intellect? Ambedkar says,”An intellectual man can be a good man but he can easily be a rogue. Similarly, an intellectual class may be a band of high-souled persons, ready to help, ready to emancipate erring humanity or it may easily be a gang of crooks or a body of advocates of a narrow clique from which it draws its support.”
This clearly needs to be applied (pointing to the Roy-Navayana edition) while analyzing anti-Ambedkarite discourse, anti-dalit discourse if you can call it that, we have to understand this kind of thing.
Finally, to sum up, we can do a lot of postmortem, but I don’t want to go into that. In this book, she has made 2-3 points which are very good. One, history has been very unkind to Ambedkar, and very favorable to Gandhi, this is correct. Second, she says, Ambedkar has to be introduced to the western audience. I refer to her reply to Dalit Camera: “I was writing for those in India as well as outside who are new to the subject for whom caste is some exotic Hindu thing, I saw a new line of a handbags in a departmental store in the US called Brahmin, I am sorry, if you felt hurt.”
But even if we accept all this, the final conclusion of this book is also problematic. Now you are debating about the content, how it should be, the last sentence in the conclusion is a very problematic area. How is it problematic? Look at this, she gives an example: in the last days of Babasaheb, he was in need of money to publish his book Buddha and his Dhamma, he asked governmental assistance for the funds from Govt of India. Because it was given to other books. So he asked. But was rejected. Roy infers from that: “He wore suits, yes, but died in debt”.
Now this is a very cheap method of commenting. Ambedkar never died as a debt-ridden man. He had huge property, lands, which he gave to different trusts and societies which were not in his name. Neither was his family debt-ridden. But any general reader who doesn’t know about Ambedkar, what will he get from this introduction? He will get an impression that Ambedkar mismanaged the finances of his own household. This about the man who wrote on the mismanagement of the provincial finance in British India (laughs), they probably would not know, probably they don’t know.
I see the root of this comment you know from where? I have worked for 30 years in 11 states at the grassroots level, including Kerala, and one day I visited a chamar’s shop, what we call ‘kataikamgar’ small shop. I looked up and asked arre, you have Bapu’s picture here, where is Baba’s photo? He answered: when we don’t have clothes, Bapu is wearing langoti, but Babasaheb is wearing suits. That was the answer.
Now if that is the attitude of Arundhati Roy reflected in this book, it is pitiable. Pathetic. Such a cheap comment is made by her.
Finally, she raises a question, “Can caste be annihilated?” and she says, “Not unless we show the courage to rearrange the stars in our firmament, not unless those who call themselves revolutionaries develop a radical critique of brahmanism, not unless those who understand brahmanism sharpen their critique of capitalism.” She is suggesting methods also!
In the entire caste discourse, she has even touched dalit panthers but she has not dared to touch Kanshi Ram. She should have read the speech by Kanshi Ram which was delivered at the first international convention at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. There, Kanshi Ramji has given a new kind of theory of AoC: that so long as caste is beneficial to the upper castes, it will never be annihilated. The day on which caste will become a liability to the upper castes, they will say, hands off, bye bye. And that will be the beginning of caste’s annihilation. I was lucky to have spent many years in his company. I was groomed and trained in that period. He used to say, “Caste is a double edged weapon, so far it is coming from top to bottom, it is falling down, the day on which it will start moving up with the same speed from bottom to top, the people will say now enough”.
To sum up the whole debate, if she is posing the question ‘how is it possible?’ Answers are many, but one answer could be given: so long as caste remains a beneficial factor to the protectors of the system, it will remain. Let it be proved as a disaster to the protectors and they will say bye bye to caste. Those stages are coming, slowly, it may take time, but annihilation of caste is possible. The only thing is that you shouldn’t try to annihilate the very author of AoC instead.
. “I tell you that I shall not deter from my pious duty, and betray the just and legitimate interests of my people even if you hang me on the nearest lamp-post in the street.”BAWS: Vol- 17 (III)” p.81
“It is my solemn vow to die in the service and cause of those downtrodden people among whom was born, was brought up, and am living. I would not budge an inch from my righteous cause, or care for the violent and disparaging criticism of my detractors”. Dr. Ambedkar’s role in National Movement by Dr D.R. Jatava, Bauddha Sahitya Sammelan, New Delhi, 1979 (p.43)
Dr. Suresh Mane is a political and social activist associated with the Bahujan movement founded by Manyawar Kanshi Ram. He actively participated in BAMCEF, Dalit Soshit Samaj Sangharsh Samithi (DS4) and was a founding member of Bahujan Samaj Party.
He has a Ph.D in Law with specialization in Constitutional Law, Administrative law and Criminal Law from the University of Mumbai, and has worked as a professor in the university for a long time, and has also mentored many research students.
Dr. Mane now leads the Bahujan Republican Socialist party.