HYDERABAD: Had the Dalits in the country had their true representatives elected by themselves as envisioned by BR Ambedkar, the oppressed classes would have emerged strong and there would not have been a need for a national campaign for Dalit empowerment, opined Dr Rajasekhar Vundru, Joint Secretary in the Union ministry of agriculture.
He was delivering the 4th SR Sankaran Memorial Lecture, organised by the Centre for Dalit Studies, on ‘Ambedkar’s idea of Representation’ at Sundaraiah Vignana Kendram here on Saturday. He touched upon Ambedkar’s ideas of self-determination, political representation and issues of referendum.
Former IAS officer, the late Sankaran, fought all his life for the cause of economic and social justice and welfare of Dalits. He passed away on October 7, 2010 at the age of 76. While Ambedkar was the beacon of hope and strength and the guardian spirit of Dalits who emerged from the rural hinderlands of oppressive Telangana, the man who hand-held these Dalits, gave them encouragement, hope and strength was SR Sankaran, said Vundru.
Speaking about the struggle and emergence of Ambedkar, he said, Interestingly Ambedkar and Gandhi launched their political careers in the year 1919 with public campaigns and ideological positioning. ‘’Ambedkar, a young scholar from Columbia University had to face great impediments and obstacles in his path to politics, one of which was the mighty Gandhi himself,’’ he said.
The father of the Indian Constitution, according to Vundru, faced first impediment on the issue of representation of ‘untouchables’ in the legislative bodies as Karamveer Vitthal Ramji Shinde, a Maratha Hindu reformer, and his Depressed Class Mission had dictatorial monopoly on the idea of representation. ‘’Ambedkar’s idea of representation was based on two principles. First, that of self-determination of untouchables to assert their natural place in society and secondly, communal representation of untouchables to the extent of their percentage of population,’’ said Vundru noting that the ‘’moral force of Ambedkar’s argument was so strong that it exposed the design of the Depressed Class Mission in trying to politically enslave the untouchable community to their agenda, which was further used by the Congress and others.’’
It was in this manner that Ambedkar successfully demolished the political hegemony and monopoly of sections other than Dalits and thus began the political career of Ambedkar in 1920. However, his ideas were yet to fructify since a major roadblock appeared in the name of Mahatma Gandhi. ‘’Here, he was challenged by Gandhi’s claim that he was the sole representative of untouchables. An untouchable leader himself, Ambedkar had to prove that he was the leader of untouchables,’’ said Vundru.
‘’Mahadev Desai’s diaries would tell us how Gandhi said, ‘I don’t want the untouchable hooligans to join with the Muslims and turn against Hindus’,” Vundru said.
Adding more to the present day context, he said, ‘’the very idea of Ambedkar was to have exclusive representation of untouchables in Assemblies and Parliament where the election of a Dalit representative would be exclusively determined by the number of Dalit votes.
In such a case where a Dalit representative will speak for the upliftment and empowerment of Dalits, Ambedkar felt that a period of 10 years would be sufficient to liberate the Dalits.”
‘’Ambedkar even in his last days was thinking of what would happen to Dalits after 10 years. He gave a number of alternatives and it is in this context that he is often being misquoted. One needs to contextualise Ambedkar to understand him,’’he added.