Ambedkar: Awakening India’s Social Conscience is a ninety per cent reproduction of either B.R. Ambedkar’s published speeches or his writings. To fill the rest ten per cent, Narendra Jadhav treads the dangerous ground of plagiarism. The first sample: on the first-ever meeting of Gandhi and Ambedkar on August 14, 1931, and the impending conflict, Dhananjay Keer’s biography (1971, page 168) reads “But the die was cast. The spark of opposition was ignited.” Here, page 14 reads, “The die was cast. The spark of confrontation was ignited”.
Ambedkar has been among the most studied, revered, misunderstood and talked about leaders of India. His rightful claim to a central role in nation-building has been consistently flagged by scholars like Eleanor Zelliot, Gail Omvedt and Christophe Jaffrelot. His importance in the arena of political democracy—via the bequest of a rights-based constitution for new generations—has been accentuated by the churning India is passing through. Our efforts to understand the great man started in two ways. Primarily, it was through biographers. Then, starting from 1979, came the massive publication of Ambedkar’s writings and speeches by the Maharashtra government, numbering 22 volumes till date, and mostly edited by Vasant Moon. But by 1979, the core work of Ambedkar had already been brought to the public domain by followers. After Ambedkar’s centenary celebrations in 1991, scholarship grew in multitudes—on the life, work and ideas.
Jadhav’s current work, claimed to be an “intellectual biography” of Ambedkar, is somewhat modelled on W.N. Kuber and Keer. Jadhav shot into fame by translating into English his family’s autobiography from Marathi (Amcha Baap aan Aamhi, 1993) as Outcaste: A Memoir (2003). His recent works are edited volumes on Ambedkar: Ambedkar Speaks (2013) and Ambedkar Writes (2013), which are simply a rehash of the multi-volume published writings and speeches. This book is a further rehash of Ambedkar Speaks and Ambedkar Writes.
The author divides Ambedkar’s scholarly life into ten parts, and merely fills every part with extracts of his writings and speeches. It starts with Ambedkar’s education and foray into public sphere in 1913-1923, as a scholar in mass movements till 1930 and the Gandhi-Ambedkar conflict in 1930-36. At his political debut after the 1937 elections, he’s classified as a “scholar-politician”, and later, in his days as labour member in the viceroy’s executive council, as a “scholar-politician-administrator”. Ambedkar’s role in the government in 1947 and while in opposition from 1951 is covered only with a reproduction of his speeches in Parliament. His search for identity for Dalits is exemplified by reproducing his works on the origins of ‘untouchables’.
Biographies of great men are never to be written in a hurry. To write an “intellectual biography” of Ambedkar needs intellectual honesty. This 640-page book is a cut-and-paste job of Ambedkar’s speeches and writings. Like quick-fix writers, Jadhav probably knows that Ambedkar sells like hot cakes at present.
(The reviewer is an IAS officer and has a PhD on Ambedkar’s electoral ideas)
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Ambedkar's published speeches and writings expose in all its nakedness the hyocicy of Gandhi. If Gandhi had not injected religion into Congress politics, Jinnah wouldn't have clamoured for Pakistan.
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