• Book Extract: from Ambedkar and Hindutva Politics

    Ram Puniyani

    October 12, 2016

    The BJP-RSS's ascent to power at the Centre has led to the increased assertion of Hindutva politics, which is focused on Hindu nationalism in contrast to the Indian nationalism envisaged by the freedom movement and the Indian Constitution.

    One of the components of Hindu nationalism is to perpetuate the caste hierarchy in new forms. In this direction, RSS and its affiliates are adopting multiple strategies. On the one hand, they pay obeisance to Babasaheb Ambedkar, and on the other, they promote the values of caste inequality in the name of “our glorious heritage”. At the same time, RSS floats organizations like Samajik Samrasta Manch to co-opt the dalits into brahmanic fold.

    This book examines the issues raised by the politics of RSS and its effort to suppress the Dalit aspirations of social justice and equality. It refers to writings of Babasaheb to show that RSS-Hindutva politics stands in total opposition to the ideology of Ambedkar and Dalits’ emancipation. (from the back cover)

     

    i.   Ambedkar’s Ideology: Religion, Nationalism and Indian Constitution

    As the country came forward to celebrate the 125th birth Anniversary of Dr. Bhimrao Babasaheb Ambedkar, (14th April 2016) there was a sort of competition amongst different political and social groups to hold the anniversary programs. While dalit groups have been organizing these programs all through, lately many other organizations have also started organizing programs to honor Babasaheb. There are attempts to appropriate his legacy. Amulya Gopalakrishnan points out, “The most brazen ownership attempt comes from BJP and RSS, whose worldview is exactly what Ambedkar considered his mission to Annihilate.”1 RSS parivar have been doing it from last quite some time. Their mouth pieces in Organiser (English) and Panchjanya (Hindi) both brought out the special issues praising Babasaheb (2015).

    In an interview RSS prachar pramukh (publicity Chief) Manmohan Vaiday said that RSS reverence for Ambedkar is not new. According to him “Babasaheb was never anti Brahmin. He was against all forms of casteism and caste based discrimination.”2 This statement of Vaidya cleverly hides the fact that Ambedkar was against Brahminism.

    Commemorating the 125th birth anniversary of Dr B.R. Ambedkar, PM Narendra Modi (14 April 2016) said that Ambedkar fought against injustice in society and his fight was for equality and dignity. Modi, who paid tributes to the father of the Constitution, said that he was fortunate to grace the occasion at the leader's birthplace, Mhow, in Madhya Pradesh.3

    In order to gain larger legitimacy, RSS has been making claims of sorts. One such is that Ambedkar believed in Sangh ideology (Feb 15, 2015). This was stated by RSS Sarsanghchalak, Mohan Bhagwat. Just one year ago on the occasion of Ambedkar’s 124th anniversary many programs were held by RSS combine giving a pro-Hindutva tilt to ideology of Ambedkar.4

    There cannot be bigger contrast between the ideology of Ambedkar and RSS. Ambedkar was critical of Brahaminical Hinduism, was for Indian Nationalism, Secularism and social justice, while the RSS ideology is based on two major pillars. One is the Brahmanic Hinduism and second is the concept of Hindu nationalism, Hindu Rashtra.

    Where does Ambedkar stand as far as ideology of Hinduism is concerned? He called Hinduism as Brahminic theology. We understand that Brahminism has been the dominant tendency within Hinduism. He realized that this prevalent version of Hinduism is essentially a caste system, which is the biggest tormentor of untouchables-dalits. Initially he tried to break the shackles of caste system from within the fold of Hinduism. He led the Chavadar Talab movement, Kalaram Mandir agitation. He also went on to burn Manu Smriti, the holy Hindu text saying that it is a symbol of caste and gender hierarchy.

    His critique of Brahminism was scathing and in due course he came to the conclusion that he will give up Hinduism. In his book ‘Riddles of Hinduism’ published by Govt. of Maharashtra (1987) he elaborates his understanding about Hinduism. Introducing his book he writes, "The book is an exposition of the beliefs propounded by what might be called Brahminic theology…I want to make people aware that Hindu religion is not Sanatan (eternal)…the second purpose of the book is to draw the attention of Hindu masses to the devices of Brahmins and make them think for themselves how they have been deceived and misguided by Brahmins".5

    His analysis of Hinduism was deep and incisive. He says Hindusim is “nothing but a mass of superficial, social, political and sanitary rules and regulations, organized around caste…”6 Further he states “no matter what the Hindus say Hinduism is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that count it is incompatible with democracy” (quoted in above). Ambedkar had started moving away from Hinduism in 1935 itself when he had publicly declared that he was not going to die as a Hindu. In 1936, he had attended the Sikh Missionary Conference as he had toyed for some time with the idea of embracing Sikhism. In 1936, Ambedkar also wrote and published Annihilation of Caste, his undelivered presidential address to the Jat-Pat-Todak Mandal Conference at Lahore. At the end of his written address, Ambedkar reiterated his resolve to give up Hinduism.7

    He said “I have decided for myself. My conversion is sure as anything. My conversion is not for any material gain. There is nothing which I cannot achieve by remaining an Untouchable. My conversion is purely out of my spiritual attitude. The Hindu religion does not appeal to my conscience. It does not appeal to my self-respect. However, your conversion will be both for material as well as for spiritual gains. Some persons mock and laugh at the idea of conversion for material gain. I do not feel hesitant in calling such persons stupid.”8

    Lord Ram is the major symbol of Cultural Nationalism propounded by RSS. Let's see what Ambedkar has to say about Lord Ram. For Lord Ram "The life of Sita simply did not count. What counted was his own personal name and fame. He of course does not take the manly course of stopping this gossip, which as a king he could do and which as husband who was convinced of his wife’s innocence he was bound to it." And further, "For 12 years the boys lived in forest in Ashram of Valmiki not far from Ayodhya where Rama continued to rule. Never once in those 12 years this model Husband and living father cared to inquire what has happened to Sita whether she was alive or dead, …Sita preferred to die rather than return to Ram who had behaved no better than a brute." The signals to the Dalits in Hindutva cultural Nationalism are more than glaringly obvious as the Lord demonstrates in his own life, "…he was a Shudra named Shambuk who was practicing Tapasya with a view to going to heaven in his own earthly person and without so much as a warning, expostulation or the like addressed to him, cut off his head…".9

     

    Ambedkar envisioned ‘annihilation of caste’, which remains unfulfilled despite India getting Independence. Multiple factors have operated in the society due to which caste still remains a major factor in India. In contrast to Ambedkar’s ‘Annihilation of Caste’ the politics of the RSS combine says that there should be ‘harmony amongst different castes’ and so they have formed an organization called ‘Samajik Samrasta Manch’ (Social Harmony Forum). Contrasting approach to social issues, Ambedkar and RSS!

    Core of RSS political ideology is Hindutva or Hindu nationalism. Ambedkar engaged with this issue in much depth, particularly in his classic book ‘Thoughts on Pakistan’. In this book he deals with the question of Hindu nationalism as represented by Savakar; the progenitor of RSS ideology of Hindu nation; and Jinnah, leading the ideology of Muslim nationalism, Pakistan. "Strange as it may appear Mr. Savarkar and Mr. Jinnah instead of being opposed to each other on the ‘one nation versus two nations’ issue are in complete agreement about it. Both agree, not only agree but insist that there are two nations in India-one the Muslim nation and the other the Hindu nation." he continues, "They differ only as regards the terms and conditions on which the two nations should be. Jinnah says India should be cut up into two, Pakistan and Hindustan, the Muslim nation to occupy Pakistan and the Hindu nation to occupy Hindustan. Mr. Savarkar on the other hand insists that, although there are two nations in India, India shall not be divided into two parts, one for the Muslims and the other for Hindus; that the two nations shall dwell in one country and shall live under the mantle of one single constitution: that the constitution shall be such that the Hindu nation will be enabled to occupy a predominant position that is due to it and the Muslim nation to made to live in the position of subordinate co-operation with the Hindu nation."10

     

    He was for composite Indian Nationalism, "Is it not a fact that under the Montague Chelmsford reforms in most provinces, if not in all, the Muslims, the non-Brahmins and Depressed Classes united together and worked for the reforms as members of one team from 1920 to 1937? Here in lay the most fruitful method of achieving communal harmony among Hindus and Muslims and of destroying the danger of Hindu Raj. Mr. Jinnah could have easily pursued this line. Nor was it difficult for Mr. Jinnah to succeed in it."11

     

    He was totally opposed to the concept of Hindu Raj as well. In the section “Must There Be Pakistan” he says, “If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country. No matter what the Hindus say, Hinduism is a menace to the liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost.”12

    On all associated matters related to affirmative action for weaker sections of society, rights and status of religious minorities their positions are totally contrasting. Even in the matters of the very Constitution of India, Ambedkar was the chairman of its drafting committee while many a sections from RSS stable have called it as anti Hindu and need to bring in Hindu Constitution based on Indian Holy books. When Constituent Assembly had finalised the Constitution (November 26, 1949), the RSS was not happy. It demanded the Manusmriti as the constitution of India. The Organiser, in an editorial on November 30, 1949, complained: “But in our constitution there is no mention of the unique constitutional development in ancient Bharat. Manu’s laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day, his laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits, that means nothing”.13

    This attempt by RSS equating Ambedkar’s ideology with that of its own is like putting wool in the eyes of people. This is aimed to achieve their political goals and to get legitimacy from amongst the sections of people who are deeply wedded to ideological values of Ambedkar. 

    Footnotes

    1 Amulya Gopalakrishnan, Times of India Mumbai, April 14, 2016

    2 Manmohan Vaiday, Interview, Times of India Mumbai, April 14, 2016

    3 http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/at-ambedkars-birthplace-pm-modi-praises-dalit-icon-says-his-fight-was-for-equality-dignity/1/642882.html

    4 http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/mohan-bhagwat-ambedkar-sangh-ideology-rss/1/418998.html

    5 B.R. Ambedkar, Riddles of Hinduism, Government of Maharashtra, 1988, "Introduction"

    6 Quoted in Amulya Gopalakrishnan, TOI, Mumbai, April 14, 2016

    7 http://bihar.humanists.net/B.%20R.%20Ambedkar.htm

    8 http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00ambedkar/txt_ambedkar_salvation.html

    9 B.R. Ambedkar, Riddles of Rama and Krishna, Government of Maharashtra, Mumbai, 1988

    10 B.R. Ambedkar, Thoughts on Pakistan, Third section, chapter VII

    11 B.R. Ambedkar, Thoughts on Pakistan, Government of Maharashtra, Mumbai, p.359

    12 http://ecumene.org/IIS/csss101.htm

    13 http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/ram-madhav-b-r-ambedkar-indian-constitution-no-love-for-ambedkar-2766152/#sthash.n7EF2sYb.dpuf


    Extracted with permission from the author.
    Featured image courtesy Malvika Raj, via The News Minute.

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