Social reincarnation is often the opportunistic face of politics. Hence, it is no surprise that a leader, born 125 years ago, in a family of ‘untouchables’ in Mhow, Madhya Pradesh, is being reborn as a 21st century prophet of competitive politics for 125 crore Indians. Last week, hardly any leader worth his salt failed to remind ‘We, the People of India’ about Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar’s overwhelming contribution in restoring social equilibrium in a caste-infected nation. PM Narendra Modi flew down to Mhow last Thursday. Sonia Gandhi addressed a massive rally there a few days earlier. Needless to say, the media was predictable beneficiary of the government’s largesse unlike the target audience that represented an unsung Indian class revolution.
Undoubtedly, Dr Ambedkar was of a different league. He was an elitist in attire but a sanguine social reformist in words and wisdom. Ideologically, he wasn’t a Congressman. After participating in the freedom struggle, he floated the Independent Labour Party and contested the Lok Sabha elections in 1952. But he lost to the Congress candidate Narayan Kajrolkar. PM Jawaharlal Nehru had included the Dalit firebrand in independent India’s first Cabinet. In the pecking order, however, Ambedkar wasn’t perceived as the cardinal leader of Dalit interests. Babu Jagjivan Ram, a low caste Congressman from Bihar, was placed three notches above him. For the next quarter century, the Congress went on to project ‘Babuji’ as the messiah of the socially discriminated until 1977, when he broke away to float his party, Congress for Democracy, which later merged with the Janata Party.
Today, the political panorama, including the Congress and BJP, has appropriated Ambedkar as its ideological deity. For more than 50 years, none of them thought of him as a personage who deserved the Bharat Ratna—21 awardees came before him until he was conferred with the award in 1990, when VP Singh was the Prime Minister. Ironically, both the national parties have today scored ahead of the smaller parties, including the BSP, which thrive and survive in his name in the National Ambedkar Worship Exhibition.
Ever since Modi became the PM in 2014, he has made Ambedkar the fulcrum of his strategy of political expansionism and vote acquisition. Since the BJP was perceived as a party dominated by Brahmanical moorings, Modi conceived an idea to transform the untouchables as India’s most touchable of identities. He directed all ministries to plan special events throughout the year to celebrate Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary, forcing other parties to become also-rans. He led his ministers, chief ministers and party cadres on the social media to project Baba Saheb as India’s most revered statesman.
The revival of the Ambedkar cult reflects the growing realisation among all political parties that the Messiah from Mhow continues to be the most powerful figure in winning electoral battles. None of the political parties in the west or north of the country can complete its electoral manifesto without dropping Ambedkar’s name. Even the RSS is competing with parties in promoting Ambedkar as a reformer, forgetting the fact that he was against Hinduism and also favoured Muslims. Sadly, the Ambedkar legacy is being exploited only in the name of reservation. If one devotes the time to scan through his speeches and books, Ambedkar was much more than a mere promoter of caste quotas in Parliament, state Assemblies and government jobs. His admirers are only minimising his stature as the person who believed in the modernisation of Indian culture and reducing large land holdings so that poor farmers could prosper. He argued for a larger role for big industry. He also warned the Congress leadership and Nehru against supporting China’s bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Instead, he wanted India to fight for herself—a battle which India is now fighting to lose.
Ambedkar’s idea of reservation was aimed at making Dalits stakeholders in the national narrative rather than existing as ornamental glyphs of socialist symbology. Though India has just about 15 per cent Dalits among its legislators and babus in its ranks of governance today, they are hardly equal partners in running the affairs of the state. Even 66 years after the establishment of the Constitution drafted by Baba Saheb, Dalits are treated as outsiders even if they have become, in name, insiders through reservation. The vested interests in the current political system dangle the reservation policy as a carrot to Dalits, thus denying them the right to become part of the real establishment. For example, no Dalit has ever become the PM, finance minister, external affairs minister or education minister of India. Jagjivan Ram almost became the PM in 1977, when Morarji Desai had to resign.
But a combination of Brahmanical forces within the Janata Party, along with the Communists, opposed his elevation.
Not more than a dozen Dalit leaders have risen to the post of chief minister in the past six decades. Though Dalits in the Indian Civil Services form just 15 per cent, very few of them have became chief secretaries or Director Generals of Police. Not a single Dalit has made it to the post of Union Cabinet Secretary. Above all, Dalits are unwanted companions or guests at social and private functions hosted by upper caste liberals and eidolons. Rarely is a Mayawati, Ram Vilas Paswan or Jitan Ram Manjhi invited to cosy dinners organised by the chatterati and corporate caliphs.Inexplicably, while the deification of Baba Saheb is becoming a glamorous hobby, his idea of egalitarian India is being lacerated. As the Father of the Constitution, Ambedkar has acquired a much bigger stature than the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, who is remembered less and less as a Dalit champion. Ambedkar’s excessive dominance in the political credo, however, has eclipsed Nehru more than Gandhi. Hence, most Nehruvians have refrained from hailing him as the reformer who influenced the course of modern India. The Festival of Ambedkar, being celebrated by Modi and his party, is definitely meant to revive luminaries, who have been forgotten or dumped by the Nehruvian plutocracy.
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