Every Ambedkar Jayanti is an occasion for learning. Since what we set out to celebrate is not just the life of one of the greatest champions of social justice and constitutionalism, but the most educated and intellectually gifted human being of his times.
Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956) was very clear in his disagreements and contempt for Communism and Marxists. While much has been written about his heated disagreements with Mahatma Gandhi, his larger ideological opposition towards Communists and Congress is rarely contextualised. He wrote about it extensively! But as we will see, how he was compelled to pay a price for the same. How the ‘Maker of the Indian Constitution’ was publicly humiliated by the “united front” of the Congress and Communists is a story worth recalling. In the light of new historical evidence, let us revisit that story.
Ambedkar never went to Marx
When Babasaheb plunged into public life to fight against the caste oppression of backward classes, he did not have much to refer to by way of theory or strategy. Except for Jyotirao Govindrao Phule (1827-1890), whom he considered one of his gurus, there was a complete void so far as the struggle against Brahmanism in his times went. Although Mahatma Phule fought against Brahmanism, he did not identify it with Brahmans as some of his close associates in his movement, Sadashiv Ballal Govande, Moro Vithal Valvekar and Sakharam Paranjape, belonged to the Brahman caste. They gave him all kinds of assistance, including financial help, to run his schools for girls, when many of their caste men were furiously opposed to it.
Babasaheb Ambedkar knew of the 14th-century Mahar Caste saint-poet Chokhamela, and the abhanga style of poetry popularised by the Bhakti movement in Maharashtra and beyond. His father was a Kabirpanthi. But as a modernist, Ambedkar was seeking modern paradigms.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Ambedkar never relied on Karl Marx for a theory of human emancipation. While Jawaharlal Nehru and others wrote high praises for Bolshevik Revolution (1917-1923), Ambedkar was unimpressed.
The first comment by Ambedkar on the Bolshevik Revolution is in the editorial of ‘Bahishkrut Bharat’ of September 27, 1929. In Marathi, this essay was published more than a decade after the revolution, with the revealing title Aadhi Kalas Mag Paya (First Top, Then Foundation). Ambedkar reproved the Communist attempts to create a revolution in India without worrying about people’s class consciousness. It was in reaction to the long-drawn strike of 1928 by Communists that Ambedkar wrote:
The Communists are trying to capture the labour movement in the country. The adverse impact their previous strike created on the workers’ condition has posed a serious question before the working class whether to hand over the reins of their movement to the Communist leaders . . .. The main aim behind the strike is not to improve the economic condition of workers but to train them for revolution.
In response to specific comments, he wrote another article on November 15, 1929 titled Kranti kashala mhanatat (What is called Revolution!), which commented harshly on the methods the Communists adopted to bring about revolution. He wrote that the Communists did not pay attention to truth-untruth, just-unjust and did not even mind unleashing atrocities in pursuing their aim of establishing a state like Soviet Russia. He said that these methods were not acceptable to him because not only did they come in the way of the country’s progress but they would also push it backwards.
Direct confrontation with Communists
The Communal Award of the British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald announced on August 4, 1932, granted separate electorates to the Untouchables along with the Forward Castes, Lower Castes, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, and Europeans. Gandhi, making an exception for Dalits, did not accept it and went on a fast unto death in protest. The CPI rejected the scheme of separate electorates. The 18 Communists accused in their joint statement before the additional sessions judge, Meerut, condemned both the movement of the depressed classes and the government saying, ‘The government is far more interested in the mainly artificial and ultimately reactionary “depressed classes” movement and in giving them a separate electorate . . .’
After the 1940s, Ambedkar started making persistent anti-Communist statements. On the eve of the 1946 elections, he declared through his paper, Janata, to ‘Beware of the Communists’.
This bitterness grew in reciprocation. In the 1952 election, it is said that SA Dange had exhorted the people to void their votes but not to cast them in favour of Ambedkar. As such, the statement cited above as an indication of his discord with Marxist economics is not the first such. In the previous year in an interview given to an American Journalist Selig S. Harrison on 21 and 28 February and October 9 1953 on the topic of weaknesses of the Communists in the state of Maharashtra, his bitterness for the Communists was obvious:
The Communist Party was originally in the hands of some Brahmin boys – Dange and others. They have been trying to win over the Maratha community and the Scheduled Castes. But they have made no headway in Maharashtra. Why? Because they are mostly a bunch of Brahmin boys. The Russians made a great mistake to entrust the Communist movement in India to them. Either the Russians didn’t want Communism in India – they wanted only drummer boys – or they didn’t understand.
Communists and Congress backstabbed Babasaheb
The history of Jawaharlal Nehru-led Congress and Communist Party of India (CPI) backstabbing Babasaheb Ambedkar in the first general election of 1952 is well-known. But a recent publication has now brought to light a very personal retelling of this unfortunate saga. Savita Ambedkar’s Babasaheb: My Life with Dr Ambedkar (Penguin: 2022) is the English translation of Dr Ambedkaraanchya Sahavaasaat (Tathagata Prakashan: 1990). The original Marathi autobiography of Savita Ambedkar (1909-2003), the second wife of Babasaheb, provides new personal insights into the controversy under discussion.
The first general election to the Lok Sabha and the assemblies took place in January 1952. Babasaheb contested from the reserved Lok Sabha constituency of North Bombay. The Congress and Communists had marked it as a prestigious seat and made preparations accordingly. As Savita Ambedkar writes, “Prime Minister Nehru himself was keeping a sharp eye on the constituency.” SK Patil and SA Dange of the Communist Party had agreed to take on Babasaheb. Savita ji continues, “What we had heard then was that Nehru, SK Patil and Dange had decided that they would do all that was required, use whatever strategy suited the occasion, but they were determined not to let Dr Ambedkar win.”
The history of Jawaharlal Nehru-led Congress and Communist Party of India (CPI) backstabbing Babasaheb Ambedkar in the first general election of 1952 is well-known. But a recent publication has now brought to light a very personal retelling of this unfortunate saga. Savita Ambedkar’s Babasaheb: My Life with Dr Ambedkar (Penguin: 2022) is the English translation of Dr Ambedkaraanchya Sahavaasaat (Tathagata Prakashan: 1990). The original Marathi autobiography of Savita Ambedkar (1909-2003), the second wife of Babasaheb, provides new personal insights into the controversy under discussion
What Savita Ambedkar described as “The Defeat of the Constitution-Maker” is so telling of the power hunger and aversion that the Congress and Communists had for Babasaheb. The revealing description needs to be quoted at length:
“The Congress placed its reputation at stake for these elections. SK Patil and Dange played all the tricks they had in their bag. What therefore happened was inevitable—the Constitution-making Doctor Saheb was defeated. It was a terrible psychological blow for Saheb. An inconsequential person like Kajrolkar, who did not even possess ordinary strength or ability, managed to defeat no less a person than the creator of India’s Constitution. While Saheb polled 1,23,576 votes, Kajrolkar got 1,37,950 votes and this was how the Congress finally won the contest.”
It is shameful that the Congress party under Jawaharlal Nehru used somebody like Narayan Sadoba Kajrolkar who had served Babasaheb as a private secretary. Kajrolkar was also awarded for his deeds, as he was made a member of the first Backward Classes Commission of 1953, representing the Scheduled Caste communities. He was also a member of the Dalit Varga Sangha, an organisation of the people of backward classes and served as the secretary of the committee when they decided to celebrate the birthday of Jagjivan Ram on April 5, 1953. The Government of India under Smt Indira Gandhi awarded him the third highest civilian honour the Padma Bhushan, in 1970, for his contributions to society. It seems one of the key contributions of Kajrolkar in the eyes of the Congress was humiliating Babasaheb.
Yes, this humiliation for “The Constitution-Maker” was real and damaging. Savita Ambedkar describes it in heart wrenching details:
“It was proved that there was no place in the Congress for colossal scholarship, calibre or abilities… When the election results were announced, we were in Delhi. This horrendous defeat in the elections had an extremely harmful impact on his already debilitated health… Melancholy, disappointment, depression and disability returned. He began despairing of life.”
In light of such evidence, dear readers, kindly name and shame Communist and Congress folks whenever you see them pretending to celebrate the life and work of Babasaheb.