There have been attempts by the Congress leaders and Communists recently to categorically represent Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar’s political praxis as their own. Facts of the history laugh at all such efforts because Babasaheb was disgusted with both.
By Shaan Kashyap
A frequent question is being raised about who owns the legacy of Dr Ambedkar, especially targeting nationalists and proponents of Hindutva. To be true, the whole Bharat owns it. However, the political forces which believe in breaking Bharat have been misappropriating Babasaheb for their schismatic plans. That is precisely what the Congress and the Communists are up to now. They are disfiguring the whole Ambedkarite political idiom of reform, inclusion, democracy and development to suit their agendas of creating division, chaos, and conflict
Dr Ambedkar still talks to us today through history and the Constitution of India. His original writings, when read and reproduced in the right context affirm that the Congress and the Communists always detested him and discriminated against him. Can the Communists and the Congress claim the Ambedkarite legacy bypassing the history?
Communists Affronted Ambedkar
Well known scholar Gopal Guru remarks that most traditional Marxists have time and again characterised Dr Ambedkar as a liberal bourgeois and refused to grasp the brilliant insights that Dr Ambedkar brought out through his political praxis. (EPW, Vol. 26, No. 41, October 12, 1991) Dr Ambedkar was fixated in the ‘liberal bourgeois’ frame with a purpose by Marxists. They treated the likes of Mahatma Gandhi with equal condemnation.
Bhalchandra Trimbak Ranadive writing in 1979 pronounced that “The great struggles of the untouchables notwithstanding the fact that they were led by such an outstanding leader like Dr Ambedkar, have failed to produce the desired result of abolition of untouchability.” He continued, “Neither these struggles nor the short cut of conversion to Buddhism have solved the problem.” (EPW, February, 1979, Annual Number) Ranadive seems to be actually pointing that Dr Ambedkar as a strategist and reformer failed in realising the goal of equality and justice based society because unlike Communists, he didn’t prefered a class-war based on the property relations.
Another Communist stalwart Shripad Amrit Dange worked against Dr Ambedkar’s candidature from Bombay City North constituency in 1952 parliamentary elections. Dange’s grouse was that Dr Ambedkar was for ‘separatist’ politics, and that he favoured not just separate electorates for the Scheduled castes but also for Muslims.
It is worth reminding that a creative Marxist like Sharad Patil who tried to situate Dr Ambedkar in the multi-linear methodology known as Ma.Phu.Aa (Marxism-Phule-Ambedkarism) had to bear with a long, internal struggle within the CPI (M) on the question of caste struggle. Patil eventually founded his own Satyashodhak Communist Party in 1978 because CPI (M) couldn’t see the electoral gains of Dalit movement then, which they see now.
Nehru-Congress despised Ambedkar
Jawaharlal Nehru seems to be a casteist by the kind of treatment he extended to Dr Ambedkar. It seems that Nehru could be covering up for his mediocrity. He could not stand the brilliance of Dr Ambedkar. Was it just accidental that Ambedkar didn’t find a single reference in Nehru’s The Discovery of India (1946)? Was Dr Ambedkar not a part of Nehru’s India? One must wonder now that had Mahatma Gandhi not invited Dr Ambedkar to join the Cabinet, would Nehru have welcomed him? The evidence suggests, no.
Dr Ambedkar conveyed that he wished to give his best services to the nation by being a part of the Nehru’s cabinet. However, Nehru didn’t oblige his passion of service by locating Dr Ambedkar to the Law Ministry. When Ambedkar finally resigned from the Cabinet on September 27, 1951, he remarked, “Being a Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council, I knew the Law Ministry to be administratively of no importance. It gave no opportunity for shaping the policy of the Government of India. We used to call it an empty soap box only good for old lawyers to play with.” He continued, “When the Prime Minister made me the offer, I told him that besides being a lawyer by my education and experience, I was competent to run any administrative Department… Prime Minister agreed and said he would give me in addition to Law the Planning Department which, he said, was intending to create. Unfortunately the Planning Department came very late in the day and when it did come, I was left out.” (BAWS, Vol. 14, pp. 1317-27)
Why was Ambedkar not made a member of the Planning Commission? Why was his expertise of Economics not utilised for the national services by Nehru? Dr Ambedkar has given an answer to it. He underlined the fact that Nehru didn’t go by merit, but by nepotism. He pointed out that he was not appointed to any Committees such as Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Economic Affairs because Nehru monopolised all these key areas even when his policies were detrimental for the national interest.
Dr Ambedkar wrote in his resignation, “It is difficult to understand what is the principle underlying the distribution of Government work among Ministers which the Prime Minister follows. Is it capacity? Is it trust? Is it friendship? Is it pliability? I was not even appointed to be a member of main Committees of the Cabinet such as Foreign Affairs Committee, or the Defence Committee. When the Economics Affairs Committee was formed, I expected, in view of the fact that I was primarily a student of Economics and Finance, to be appointed to this Committee. But I was left out.” (BAWS, Vol. 14, pp. 1317-27)
In his last years, Dr Ambedkar requested Nehru to help him publish The Buddha and his Dhamma. In a letter dated September 14, 1956, Dr Ambedkar informed Nehru that “The cost of printing is very heavy and will come to about Rs. 20,000. This is beyond my capacity and I am, therefore, canvassing help from all quarters.” He then pleaded that, “I wonder if the Government of India could purchase about 500 copies for distribution among the various libraries and among the many scholars…” However, Nehru didn’t oblige again.
Nehru and the Congress never treated Dr Ambedkar as an equal in the freedom struggle, or after the independence. Congress along with the Communists played the crucial role in plotting Dr Ambedkar’s electoral loss twice in 1946 and 1952. It was not accidental that Nehru awarded Bharat Ratna to himself in 1955 while Dr Ambedkar and his legacy had to wait till 1990.
Anand Teltumbde has risen as one of the prominent Ambedkarite collaborators of the Communists and Congress in the recent past. In 2017, he wrote a lengthy introduction to an unfinished text of Dr Ambedkar which has been titled as India and Communism. The book has been brought out by LeftWord which as mentioned above, is owned by CPI (M).
In his introduction, Teltumbde states that, “Right from Ambedkar’s coming to prominence as the leader of the independent Dalit movement, the CPI was angry with him. Instead of befriending Ambedkar, they began attacking him as the divider of the working class, misleader of Dalit masses, opponent of the nationalist movement and a stooge of imperialists. They derided him as “the reformist and separatist leader” who kept “the untouchable masses away from the general democratic movement and to foster the illusion that the lot of untouchables could be improved by reliance on imperialism.”
Obviously, Teltumbde could not have misstated the facts of history that there was an explicit discord between Communists and Dr Ambedkar. However, he has taken a different route for a Marxist misappropriation of Dr Ambedkar. Teltumbde asserts that “As a matter of fact, Ambedkar never questioned the communist philosophy. If at all, he praised it although he had serious reservations about its tenets.” Very diligently, Communism as a philosophy has been collapsed with Socialism, Ambedkar has been projected as a socialist and thus he has been championed as a thinker of failed Communists and Socialists today. What Teltumbde misses out here is a crucial ‘historical context’. In Dr Ambedkar’s time, to be a Socialist had different space-time connotations. There were leaders like Rammanohar Lohia, Jai Prakash Narayana, Narendra Dev, JB Kriplani, and even Deendayal Upadhaya who could be dubbed as Socialists in accordance with the use of the category in those times.
Moreover, we are told that Dr Ambedkar had his own discipline of writing. He used to make a blue-print of the book before starting the text. In Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Writings and Speeches (Dr Ambedkar Foundation, 2014) editorial board has tried to clear the air on “the questions raised about the manuscripts in order to clear the air about the publication of all Dr. Ambedkar’s extant writings.” However, the doubts about the compilation of many unfinished manuscripts have not at all been addressed. This leaves room for many doubts that some of these writings which are printed and circulated in Dr Ambedkar’s name today were not meant to be produced in the same way.
It is clear that Dr Ambedkar’s appropriation is on a rise. Irony is that those political forces, like the Congress and the Communists, which didn’t allow him opportunities to serve the nation and equal standing, are claiming themselves as Ambedkar’s torch bearers. While history laughs at the hypocrisy and political opportunism of these forces, it also warns us against them. We cannot allow Dr Ambedkar’s legacy to pass on to the Congress and Communists who loathed him.