There's too much "Jai" and too little "Bhim" in this rediscovery of Ambedkar
Some years ago, I attended a programme at yoga guru Ramdev's five-star ashram in Haridwar. A large banner with photographs of many great leaders was adorning the stage. Baba was patiently listening to speeches on the dais.
But his characteristic smile was replaced by a visible consternation when I rose to ask why BR Ambedkar's portrait was missing from the banner. The star godman almost avoided my glance and murmured it was a mistake. The audience had to look again at the banner to figure out the conspicuous omission.
I came across Ramdev in some other programs after the incident. He would invariably turn to look at the stage banner as soon as he spotted me. After reassuring himself that the gaffe has not been repeated, the Yoga guru would regain his posture in an instant, as if signaling that everything is alright this time around.
The anecdote is symptomatic of the current tendency among the political class to claim the Dalit icon's legacy.
Eminent Congress leader and freedom fighter Pattabhi Sitaramayya notes in his book The History of the Congress (published in 1935), "The resolution on fundamental rights and economic policy came up before the (Congress) working committee all of a sudden. Past experience tells us that the resolutions introduced in Congress meetings reflect the contemporary environment of the country."
This experience of the grand old party has actually developed into the mainstream political culture after independence.
The resolution discussed by Sitaramayya was presented during the 1931 session of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) held in Mumbai. It said nothing about Dalit emancipation. Even the list of social and economic welfare programs ratified by AICC found no mention of them.
Mahatma Gandhi has remained the pre-eminent figure of mainstream politics as 'the father of the nation'. In fact, he was the only and the foremost symbol of our parliamentary body politic till the 1980s.
The right-wing BJP came into existence with the slogan of 'Gandhian Socialism'. This is despite the fact that its parent organisation RSS had opposed Gandhi's ideas of secularism and caste reforms since its inception in 1925. The RSS ideology is based on the concept of 'Hindu Rashtra', an idea that is completely antithetical to Gandhi's philosophy.
Ambedkar's incompatibility with the Sangh Parivar
Likewise, Dr. BR Ambedkar was never compatible with Sangh Parivar's doctrine. Even the Congress has found it hard to naturally assimilate Ambedkar's precepts. The party has sought to undermine his influence by including some of the Dalit issues in its agenda, especially after the Round Table Conferences of 1930-32. It has also tried to deify some of its own Dalit leaders as being parallel to Ambedkar, Babu Jagjivan Ram being the most prominent among them.
A close scrutiny of the election manifestos of BJP's predecessor Jan Sangh as well as Sangh Parivar's response to successive social justice movements exposes their real stand on Ambedkar. The state of Gujarat has witnessed some of the most violent agitations against reservation.
In 1991, when Mandal Commission recommendations were implemented, BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani diverted the national discourse by fomenting communal passions through his Rath Yatra. It was a clear cut attempt to singe the emerging consciousness of social justice in the communal fire.
It is a good omen if political parties are correcting their historical mistake by rediscovering Ambedkar's legacy. But their new-found love for the father of the Constitution seems to be motivated by the need to woo the Dalit vote bank. Most political parties remember Ambedkar only in the context of Scheduled Castes and the contentious issue of reservation.
His acceptability does not go beyond symbolism. The Congress tries to strengthen its 'hand' while BJP seeks to bloom its 'lotus' by associating with Ambedkar's memorabilia. Both the parties restrict themselves to emblematically incorporating his ideas into their political agenda.
A personal experience shared by a former minister of state (MoS) in Vajpayee government proves this point. "You are acceptable as a Dalit leader in the party, but not as a leader of Dalits," he was apparently told by a senior party leader who was also a prominent Union minister.
The treatise of Ambedkar has only gained relevance as a rallying factor for deprived segments in our democracy. The process has intensified with the weakening of the Left politics. Today, every party is interpreting his ideology to suit its political objectives.
The trend is increasingly evident with RSS mouthpieces publishing special editions to mark Ambedkar's 125th birth anniversary. Ironically, they portrayed the man who embraced Buddhism as favorably disposed to Hinduism.
Dr. Ambedkar believed in the abolition of the caste system. However, political parties have used his name to further deepen the caste divide for electoral gains. Ambedkar saw Dalits as a separate class. In contrast, parliamentary parties have only fragmented its unity.
Political parties representing affluent segments can never accept the political, social and economic philosophy of the proletariat. They make up for this by claiming the symbols and icons of the have-nots.
His perceived rediscovery is actually an approval of the political culture of 'Jai', the hailing of icons without any sincere conviction. The slogan of 'Jai' is the proclamation of the hegemonic tradition in politics much like the utopian revolution epitomised by 'Inquilab Zindabad'.
On 9 April, I was watching the glimpses of the preparations of a function organised in Chandigarh to commemorate Ambedkar on his birth anniversary. The songs being played in the program resembled the tune of Bhajans devoted to Hindu gods. The only difference was the incorporation of 'Jai Bhim' in the lyrics.
Dr. Ambedkar is a complete school of thought in his own right. His ideology is not embedded in the culture of 'Jai'. It is much more than the blue flag.
Edited by Anil Chamadia