Intro: A true national leader in words and actions, Dr Ambedkar will always be remembered as a leader who worked in letter and spirit to bring social equality and harmony in practice through social transformation.
Historical events and personalities are analysed and explained with different perspectives. In this process, our perceptions about past, understanding of the present and aspirations for the future has obvious influence. We try to fit personalities and incidents in our own frames to enrich our understanding and analysis. This in turn distorts the historical events and personalities. Dr Ambedkar is perhaps the greatest victims of this process. Most of us try to interpret his philosophy and actions with the suitability of our present frames. Our inability to see him in totality reduces him to be a Dalit icon, which is not true. His canvass was much bigger and the role was epochal. In one word ‘nation-building’ can be considered as his core project.
A civilisation has to go through socio-cultural upheaval while taking shape of a nation. In the process of nation-building, history thus brings not only the past glory and heritage but also brings the tragic and unfortunate situations with it. Our ability to adapt these tragic and unfortunate situations into constructive and positive conditions keeps the civilisation alive. Dr Ambedkar was the great social warrior of the same thinking. He considered the inequalities in the Hindu society as the symbol of civilisational lacuna and dedicated his life to eradicate this incompleteness. Many others also thought and worked to eradicate this menace of caste inequalities; But, Dr Ambedkar rightly called them as ‘nurse’ while considering himself as a ‘mother’ of exploited dalits.
There was no place for enmity and hatred in Ambedkar’s political thinking. He was fighting against the dichotomies, contradictions and evils of the Hindu society and not the Hindu society and civilisation itself.
Ambedkar was well aware of the fact that culture is the basis of India’s unity and integrity and it can be the source for other transformations. His saying that social and cultural revolutions have preceded the political revolutions in this civilisation is indicative enough to understand his thinking. While exemplifying this he underlines that prior to the political rise of Chandragupta, there was a socio-cultural revolution by Lord Buddha, and before the success of Chatrapati Shivaji, the seeds of socio-cultural change were sown by the Bhakti movement.
Like Ambedkar, founding leader of RSS Dr Hedgewar's mainstay was also focused on socio-cultural transformation. Both believed that socio-cultural change can only influence the individual, social and national consciousness, and can bring constructive, creative and experimental approach in our national life. Dr Hedgewar through his proposition of ‘one people’ talked about the equality and common approach on core national issue. Because Ambedkar wanted to use political instruments for bringing equality and common approach, but only after socio-cultural change, did he see a possibility of change in RSS and therefore, he had a natural sense of respect towards the organisation. Both Ambedkar and Gandhi knew very well that it is easy to pronounce political unity and social equality but percolating it in the national life is a difficult task.
In 1920s and 30s, many people were hoisting the flag of social equality but those progressive voices remained confined to resolutions and speeches. On the contrary, through his approach and efforts, Dr Hedgewar proved that sincere efforts could yield desired results. It is said, both Gandhi and Ambedkar were surprised to see the complete absence of caste discrimination in RSS camps and became admirers of Dr Hedgewar and his work.
In his Marathi newspaper Mook Nayak, Ambedkar insisted that practicing equality in life is much more important than theorising it. It was his desire to remove ills which were hurdles in becoming ‘one people’ and 'one nation'. According to him, untouchability was the biggest hurdle in achieving this. Hence, to achieve social equality, during the period 1920 to 1930, he appealed for Satyagrah for social change. Through Mook Nayak, established in 1920, he created a ground for social reforms but simultaneously tried to bring the marginalised castes in the national movement for independence. Unfortunately, these castes were prevented from joining the political movement, as they were discriminated on socio-cultural basis.
His Satyagrahas at Mahad for water, and temple entry at Nasik and Pune clearly reflect his philosophy of socio-cultural transformation. There was no place for enmity and hatred in his political thinking. He was fighting against the dichotomies, contradictions and evils of the Hindu society and not the Hindu society and civilisation itself. His ultimate objective was to nurture and strengthen Indian civilisation and nationalism. At that time, it was a big blow to the anti-India thinking which was trying to instigate dalits and marginalised to adopt the path of separatism and violence.
He was aware that the biggest threat to any nation is internal rather than external. In the Constituent Assembly he raised the question that on January 26, 1950, we would be a republic but what would happen to our independence? Taking historical references he reminded the representatives in the House that we had lost independence earlier due to internal weaknesses, and that it was important to see that that it does not happen again. Prof Vivek Kumar in his seminar on ' Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Ideas of Nation and Nation Building' said that Dr Ambedkar reminded us of Jaichand who betrayed the nation because of hatred. Whether the same kind of people would occupy the power positions was his major concern. And that through the Constituent Assembly, he had tried to give a call to the whole nation for introspection in this regard. He was the dedicated soldier of the nation. His personality, calibre and hard work was realised by everybody during the making of the Constitution. T T Krishnamachari, one of the important members of the drafting committee highlighted his role as the chairman of the drafting committee of the Constitution. He says, “Mr. President, Sir, I am one of those in the House who have listened to Dr Ambedkar very carefully. I am aware of the amount of work and enthusiasm that he has brought to bear on the work of drafting this Constitution. At the same time, I do realise that that amount of attention that was necessary for the purpose of drafting a constitution so important to us at this moment has not been given to it by the Drafting Committee. The House is perhaps aware that of the seven members nominated by you, one had resigned from the House and was replaced. One died and was not replaced. One was away in America and his place was not filled up and another person was engaged in State affairs, and there was a void to that extent. One or two people were far away from Delhi and perhaps reasons of health did not permit them to attend. So it happened ultimately that the burden of drafting this constitution fell on Dr. Ambedkar and I have no doubt that we are grateful to him for having achieved this task in a manner which is undoubtedly commendable.”
This explains his role and dedication for nation building in the most succinct way. We should be grateful for him for the same but by limiting his contribution to the Constitution making process makes our gratitude incomplete. Ambekar is not just a name but a message. That is message of making untouchability an issue of ‘do or die’. It is also message of fighting the conservative and reactionary forces for the sake of social unity. It is also a message for building organisation of able and dedicated individuals who are committed for creating a healthy social environment for the entire Hindu society. The call given by RSS for ‘One Well, One Temple and One Crematorium’ opens up that possibility of giving practical dimensions to the efforts of Dr Ambedkar, Gandhi and Dr Hedgewar.
Ambedkar believed that in the past untouchability was addressed symbolically. Therefore, it became more of apolitical issue rather than a question of social revolution. While clarifying he said in 1920s out of 1 Crore 30 Lac rupees collected under the Tilak Swaraj Fund by the Congress, only Rs 7000 were spent on constructive programme and empowerment of untouchables.
He said, an alternative to this symbolism is social transformation, which we all will have to carry out to effect change.
To bring about social transformation, Dr Ambedkar had then started
his journey with the publication of Mook Nayak and took it to the level of Prabuddha Bharat in his last leg of life. A true national leader in words and actions, for his ideas and work, Dr Ambedkar shall always be remembered as a leader who worked zealously in letter and spirit to bring about social equality and harmony in practice through social transformation.
Prof Rakesh Sinha (The writer is honourary Director of Indian Policy Foundation)