Anand Bollimera, a Dalit activist from Andhra Pradesh, who was a part of the Dalit Swadhikar rally in 2003 that traversed the entire nation with a picture of Ambedkar on a vehicle, knew none of the languages of those villages and towns where they organised rallies. Emotions would run high at these meetings thronged by Dalits revering Ambedkar. The activists were never short of donations and food, as well as diesel for their onward journey.
Anand realised that an image of Ambedkar was the sole unifying factor for all Dalits, transcending language barriers, from Calcutta to Kanyakumari. Ambedkar has an everyday presence in the lives of the 160 million-strong Dalit community. He gave millions of Untouchables an identity of their own.
Bodhisattva Bharat Ratna Babasaheb B.R. Ambedkar (1891-1956), as he is known to his followers, is now regarded as a great Indian, a person relevant for all times to come. This is not because his followers are unwavering in their devotion, or that they happen to be numerically higher than supporters of any other person (dead or living) in India; and certainly not because he probably has the highest number of statues erected for any man in history. It is because his following has transcended generations. His relevance—political, social, ideological, religious, economic—will persist as long as the clamour and struggle for justice and equal rights exists.
In a speech on the birth centenary of social reformer M.G. Ranade in 1943, Ambedkar defined a great man: “Sincerity and intellect are enough to mark out an individual as being eminent.... A great man must have something more than what a merely eminent individual has. A great man must be motivated by the dynamics of a social purpose and must act as the scourge and the scavenger of society. These are the elements (that) constitute his title deeds to respect and reverence.” Ambedkar himself fits the definition quite perfectly.
The stage that catapulted Ambedkar to indisputable prominence was Gandhi’s fast undo death, opposing the political safeguards that Ambedkar secured for the Untouchables from the British in 1932. The Poona Pact between Gandhi and Ambedkar on September 24, 1932, shaped our electoral system and the electoral method by which reserved constituencies were defined.
Ambedkar introduced reservation for untouchables in jobs, education and scholarships through the Poona Pact. Initially unwilling, Gandhi finally agreed to a representation of scheduled castes in legislative bodies under it. But Gandhi skewed the electoral method, which made the election of a reserved candidate dependent upon the dominant caste vote. This rendered them subservient to the interests of dominant social forces, defeating the very purpose for which such representation was secured.
Gandhi and Ambedkar agreed on many things, only to differ on the methodology. Gandhi’s assassination before the Constitution could be finalised even gave an opportunity to Sardar Patel to move towards abolishing political safeguards to Dalits and tribes, but which were rescued due to Ambedkar’s persistence. They were first extended by Nehru in 1961. The representative character of reserved candidates remained the way Gandhi wanted them to be.
While Gandhi’s assassination restricted his historical contribution to the achievement of Swaraj, it was Ambedkar’s idea of a new India that made him establish a rights-based Constitution. Now these very constitutional means are used to secure the same rights for all—food, livelihood, education, political and social safeguards, thus revisiting Ambedkar’s contribution to the body politic.
Poona Pact participants
Ambedkar’s vision of modern India tends to revisit us more often. His 1955 idea of linguistic states split Bihar and Madhya Pradesh into two, which became a reality in 2000. He was for small states and wanted Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra split into three. He looked at Bombay as a city state and Hyderabad as the second capital of India for its centrality. The idea of gender equality, which Ambedkar wanted to achieve through the Hindu Code Bill by making women coparceners in 1951, was realised in 2005. Ambedkar chose to resign from Nehru’s cabinet on the issue of gender equality, while orthodox Hindu leaders derided him as a Modern Manu, as he dared to dispute the laws of Manu.
Ambedkar’s vision remains unfulfilled. His body politic was to be a “united states of India”—an indissoluble union. In his India there wouldn’t be landlords, tenants and landless labourers; where all land would be vested with the state and where all Dalits would be resettled in other settlements, away from their oppressive villages. For him agriculture would be considered a state industry, insurance a state monopoly and every citizen would be entitled to a policy.
The nation owes it to the tenacity of Dalits for relentlessly pushing Ambedkar and his ideals to the centrestage, arguing that he was not only a leader of Dalits, but a great nation-builder. Throughout their fight against oppression and hatred over the decades, Dalits have redistributed, reread, and reinterpreted Ambedkar’s books. Finally, we have come to a stage where the nation has realised that its body politic is in peril, and has silently admitted the point that democratic ideals should have precedence over everything.
The relevance of Ambedkar to modern India is indisputable—where Gandhi’s role stopped, Ambedkar’s started.
(The author is an IAS officer and has a PhD in Electoral Systems and the Poona Pact of Gandhi-Ambedkar)
@ Raveesh Varma - even though I am what I am cause of Ambedkar, I agree with you. The points raised by you are valid. Having said that, which constitution is a straight forward legal document? I am asking as layman.
Why he did not move to Pakistan. I truly wish your words would come true...then we would not have you nor this country. Perhaps I am being too kind but thank you!
> Sankar Ramamutry
"..all land would be vested with the state, agriculture would be considered a state industry and insurance a state monopoly". He was a communist, plain and simple. .."
Much to the contrary. Ambedkar was very farseeing. Land is quite different from engines of production, and the rules of capitalism apply differently to these assets.
It is only due to the utter failure of the state that real-estate mafia has come to dictate the political terms in India. We have become a joke, with complete lack of urban planning. Ambedkar rightfully foresaw that proper urban planning with mechanised sanitation systems as the only savior of the untouchable castes. Caste has to be eradicated and there is no dignity in living in slums. The only way urban planning can be accomplished is by the state reclaiming to the commons all land and environmental assets. This is not communism, it is common sense.
Brilliant article. Very nicely written. Reminds us aptly of the great contributions of Ambedkar to India, without belittling the other great statesmen of the freedom struggle.
Truly, Ambedkar has to be remembered for his ideas. And these ideas were very farseeing, and will continue to have relevance for many decades. It is not just his immense contribution to social equality, but as the author rightfully pointed out, his contributions are equally relevant towards gender equality and to the preservation of ethnic diversity in the Indian union.
I am fascinated by this eternal victim-complex so prevalent amongst Indians. If anyone here had bothered to do their homework, they would have read Ambedkar’s book on the Pakistan question, in which he very emphatically votes for a partition of the subcontinent. What was he hoping for; another partition for the Dalits? Even the great and wonderful Mandal migrated back from East Pakistan to India, because he realized that there was no hope for betterment of the depressed classes in Pakistan. None of the above finds mention in this ‘Ode to Ambedkar’ which is the present edition of Outlook.
The constitution of India is a joke; it look the so-called minister of law so many years to cobble together passages from the British, French and American constitutions and add in so many caveats, that the constitution becomes a mind-boggling mass of contradictions rather than a straight-forward LEGAL document that can read and improved upon with the years. Ambedkar himself described it as not his best work, and that his heart was not in the task. Naturally the thought of resignation never entered his mind.
Finally, the million dollar question which seems to find no mention here (surprise, surprise): if he was so frustrated with Gandhiji, Nehru and Patel why not make an additional move, from India to Pakistan with his followers, in addition to the mass conversion from Hinduism to Buddhism. This sounds too much the story of a man who like Jinnah, was in love with power, and turned frustrated and petulant when it did not come on a silver platter to him!
This whole poll by Outlook was a joke! Ambedkar appeals to a segment of society, whereas Patel forged together almost 500 princely states into the Indian Union. Nehru, over the objections of Patel and Babu Rajendra Prasad, created a secular identity for India. Even the national anthem selected was ‘Jana Gana Mana’ rather than ‘Vande Mataram’. What was Ambedkar doing at the time of the Partition riots?
I remember almost 20 years ago, Lalo Prasad Yadav was asked in interview whether he would prefer a physician who had worked his way up, or one who was moved up on account of his caste, at his service; the bloody hypocrite upped and walked out of the television studio. After all the lip-service, when it comes to their own well-being even the bloody Dalits prefer a meritocracy. This whole exercise was rubbish; in my mind there was only one Great Indian, that was Gandhiji, and after him all the rest were midgets in comparison.
I don't believe why people can not see it. Ambedkar got so many votes only because of dalits unanimously voting for him.It is evident from the fact that the two dalit leaders topped the poll. Kashi Ram was second in the number of votes for 50 greatest indians. it is not possible as most of the people don't even know about kashi ram.Thus ambedkar has got this position only because of dalits unanimously voting for him.
Now, regarding Nehru as great is the greatest foolishness on earth.Most of the problems faced by our country are the child of nehru.This man was ashamed of indian culture.He started the trend of dynasty in indian politics.He is the most overrated man in freedom struggle and politics.
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