Apart from being a freedom fighter and architect of Constitution, Dr Ambedkar’s nationalism needs to be understood in the context of his social ideals
I am yet to understand the thoughts of Dr Ambedkar in totality. Probably my efforts to fathom the depths of Babasaheb’s teachings will continue forever. Dr Ambedkar, no doubt, was a great personality and it is always a tough task to evaluate such historical figures. It is because the objectivity required to evaluate such towering personalities is hard to come by.
Dr Ambedkar belonged to that category of great personalities of the globe who had made the external mark on human life and lit the lamp of social equality and justice through his incessant and lifelong struggle.
He was the front ranking soldier of social revolution. He firmly believed that the agitation of Dalits was necessarily a political one seeking their share in the power and once they got it the mission of social reconstruction on the principle of social justice would be easy.
Walking on the path shown by Lord Buddha, Sant Kabir, Mahatma Phule etc., Dr Ambedkar’s life was multi-faceted and conducive to spreading the message of social revolution. He had his sharp vision on contemporary Bharatiya national politics and every aspect of social life and he had case his influence on them too. Like a faithful karmayogin, Bharat Ratna Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar tried his best till his last breathe to usher in transformation of Bharatiya society. This is unparalleled. His Karmayoga, struggles, and reformism were the symbols of self respect. His thoughts centered around the issues of Dalits, the exploited and deprived sections of the society. Therefore, being the main architect of the Constitution and Chairman of the Drafting Committee, they way he tried to fulfill the aspirations of a particular section of the society.is unbelievable.At the same time, he strived for the welfare of the entire society and humanity. His life, personality and actions, thus made him an epoch-maker. His faith and dedication towards his efforts to eliminate outdated customs in the Hindu society, to achieve the emancipation of Dalits and deprived sections on the basis of equality and honors are unique and need to be followed by the posterity.
Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar was the highly educated amongst his contemporaries. He toiled hard to achieve and establish his supremacy in education. He faced the evils of untouchability, discrimination, hatred and neglect and insults on the basis of his caste in the early years of his life. But he did nothing in his political or social life that would go against the interests of the nation and society. He cooperated with the British Government by working on various committees with a view to work for the welfare of the Dalit and to provide constitutional safeguards to them but his intention was very clear. He was interested in the upliftment of Dalits, exploited and deprived sections of the society and wanted to make them a strong, self-reliant and honorable living. But many a historians, mostly supportive of Congress, tried to paint him as a stooge of the British, power-hungry, and even anti-national.
True, that Babasaheb Ambedkar did not take part in the national freedom struggle as Tilak, Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Sardar Patel, Dr Rajendra Prasad etc. But his vision and actions resembled that of Brahmo Samaj, Prarthana Samaj, Arya Samaj etc. In the perspective of the then national politics and freedom movement and impending independence, he said at Madras on 22nd September 1944: “I am not against nationalism nor against freedom struggle. Only if I am assured of freedom, education and welfare, as promised to the nation, then rest assured I will fight for nationalism, independence and freedom”.
Dr Ambedkar’s speech at Ahmedabad on 30th November 1945 is worth mentioning. He said that there is no point in having freedom that puts shackles on an individual rather freedom should come free of all fetters. He was always worried about the rights and security of the depressed classes and exploited sections. At one place he said targeting Gandhi and Congress that he wanted participation in the national movement, he wanted freedom and wanted to fight for it with more commitment but wanted assurances for the future.
Dr Ambedkar’s nationalism should not be seen linking with going to jail, participating in satyagraha and opposing British imperialism but should be understood in the context of social reforms, eradication of untouchability, annihilation of castes, elimination of exploitation and discrimination and strengthening the socially deprived, weaker and exploited sections of the society. Then only justice would be done according to his concept of nation. He believed that nationalism has been a major strength in the history of humanity. This is about unity which is not specific to any particular section. This is the gist of nationality and national feeling. His nationalism began with some different objectives. He tried to give equal status and civic rights to that section of the society deprived of human rights for ages. His nationalism was against foreign domination and internal exploitation prevalent in the Bharatiya society. Hence Dr Ambedkar said, “We have a double commitment and devotion. I am committed to my people and I am committed to this nation also. And I do not have any doubt about this that you are also committed. We all want independence for the country”. Babasaheb explained the concept of country’s independence and freedom of citizens in the best possible way and said ‘we do not want just freedom we want total independence’. His total independence is inclusive, and multi-dimensional. He believed that nationalism will succeed only when social fraternity is given top priority forgetting all differences based on caste, creed, colour etc. amongst the citizens.
However, he is seen as a leader of a particular section of the society owing to his work of emancipation of Dalits and strengthening them. But this is a gross injustice to his multi-dimensional thinking and actions. A deep analysis reveals that his original mission was the transformation of society and nation and the driving force for this was social harmony and national unity. Unity, sovereignty, integrity and strength of the nation were his objectives. Only the means were different.
Discussing the necessary principles of nation building Dr Ambedkar said, “It is necessary for nation building that the people cherish the memory of their glorious heritage and have common agreement on it. Secondly, there should be a strong urge to develop, preserve and protect the treasure we was received from our ancestors. A nation is built like an individual on the efforts of past, dedication and concentration. A courageous past, great personalities and glory of the nation forms the social treasure that forms basis of the national thinking. Conditions that are imperative for the people of the nation are—collective pride of the past, collective will of the present, a resolve to accomplish any great mission as done in the past. The beautiful building which we build today will be handed over to the posterity. This is the embedded feeling of nationalism.
He wanted to eliminate the outdated social customs from the Hindu Dharma and maybe because of this his thoughts became more acrimonious and aggressive vis-à-vis Hindu Dharma and Brahminism. But this did not mean that he was not proud of his Indian culture and its heritage. Referring to his difficulties he wrote an editorial titled “Hindu Dharmashastra” in “Bahishkrut Bharat” stating that India has been amongst the most ancient and rich nations. Nations like Egypt, Asiriya, Rome, Greece disappeared from the earth but Hindu Nation still lives on. But it would be wrong to say that it is strong because it is living. We must accept that the reasons for the defeat and disgrace of this Hindu nation are contained in its discriminatory ‘Dharmashastra’.
While Dr Ambedkar was intended to end the outdated social customs of Hindu social life he was also interested in carrying out a reformist movement. This was farsighted and a natural reaction in that period. Gandhi too was leading the social reforms like opposition to untouchability and prohibition along with political movement. Taking forward these constructive attributes Dr Ambedkar wanted to strengthen his people by giving them legal and political powers. In the process of national reconstruction this work of Dr Ambedkar cannot be under-rated. Dr Ambedkar had in his heart the image of ‘Bharat Mata’ carved like those others who sacrificed their life at the altar of the nation. He was always immersed in the thought of the country. He was of the opinion that this nation was built with the churning of thousands of years of efforts that resulted in geographical and cultural unity of the people. He writes, “Hindu culture is the base of unity of Bharat and this is spread across entire nation. No nation can compete with Bharat in terms of cultural unity. It is not just the geographical unity but the most fundamental is cultural unity that pervades the entire country from one end to the other.” However, he was opposed to prominence of competitive faith in Dharma, Sanskriti, caste and language. He believed that this attitude proved to be an obstacle in instilling the commitment towards Bharat and Bharatiyata. He said, “I want that all people should be Indians first and last and nothing more than Indian.” He even opposed this view when people said I am Indian first then Hindu or Muslim. “I am not satisfied with this. I do not want that this should influence our commitment and dedication to
Dr Ambedkar believed that personal interests should always take back seat over national interests. We all must keep our self interests away from national interests lest the two collide. The national integrity and society would go astray with their collision. Therefore he said with much clarity, “There should not be any doubt over my love for the country. In case of collision of my interests and country’s interests, I will always give priority to my country”.
It may be mentioned that all throughout his political life there is not even one incident where Dr Ambedkar compromised with national interests and accorded priority to his caste interests. A couple of examples would be timely and suffice to illustrate this trait of his personality.
After the differences with Gandhi in the Round Table Conference, special status was accorded to the depressed classes. But keeping in view the larger national interests Dr Ambedkar entered into the historic Poona Pact with Gandhi sacrificing that special provision and status. This step saved the country from impending conflict and social disintegration.
The second example is his conversion to Buddhism. Dr Ambedkar declared that though he was born in a Hindu family, he would not die as a Hindu. That is he would embrace some other religion. He declared this in 1936 but gave a long period of 20 years to Hindu society to rectify their misdeeds and behave with love and affection with the Dalits. But that did not happen and finally he converted to Buddhism. We get numerous references in writings of Dhananjay Keer, Vasant Moon and Babasaheb himself about the systematic efforts to lure him to Christianity and/or Islam but he clearly said that he would not accept any religion that professes caste difference, racial discrimination and that is anti-Bharat and Bharatiya culture and society. Regarding Islam and Christianity he said, “If I accept Islam or Christianity that would be compromising with my nationality and nationalism because both these religions have their centers of faith outside India”. That is why after analysing these principles Veer Savarkar had said “Buddhist Ambedkar is Hindu Ambedkar. In fact now he has joined the Hindu camp in its reality”. The Nation remained a top priority for Ambedkar. He said in his speech on 31st May 1952 in Mumbai, “Even if I am short tempered and always in confrontation with the government, I still want to say that I would not do anything that would let down my country during my foreign visits. I have never committed treason. Even at the First Round Table Conference I was 200 miles ahead of Gandhi in national interests.”
Numerous attempts have been made to define the life mission of Dr Ambedkar in different ways and styles. Many of them tried to bind Ambedkar who fought against all sorts of discriminations, to a small section of the society. But he always remained prepared for nation building and development. His speech would explain this with ample clarity. “I do accept that I differ with the caste Hindus on some issues but I vow before you that I would sacrifice my life for the protection of my motherland”.
Nation building was the only goal of Babasaheb Ambedkar and therefore he served Dalits, exploited and deprived classes and provided them with the constitutional safeguards through the Constitution that established Bharat as most successful democracy in the world. The personality and mission of Dr Bheemrao Ambedkar is so vast and multi-dimensional that it is impossible to cover it in such a limited article. Therefore some symbolic references are made to highlight his contribution to national reconstruction movement. State reorganisation on language basis, Hindi as national language, Sanskrit education and quality, opposition to Article 370, his thoughts on Dharma Parivartan, utility of Dharma, labour reforms, urbanisation and its importance, Mahad satyagraha, common civil code and Hindu code bill are some of the issues that reflect the national thinking and vision of Dr Ambedkar. Therefore, there is a need to study him in his totality and not with a fragmented approach.
Commenting on the contribution of Babasaheb Ambedkar Sri Guruji, former Sarsanghchalak of RSS wrote a letter in 1973 to Shirish Kadlak, President of Bheemrao Sahitya Sangh, Mumbai. He wrote, “It is my natural duty to bow to the sacred memory of revered Dr Ambedkar. He caused ripples in the entire world with the message of India. He said that poor, neglected, weak and ignorant Indians were his Gods…He has immensely contributed to the making of modern India and it is difficult to ignore them”.
(The writer is Professor of Ambedkar Chair at IIPA, Delhi)