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Further Echoes From Babasaheb

A book that slices Ambedkar’s life for clarity is actually a pastiche of past scholarship and fills up its pages by liberally quoting from his own works
Ambedkar: Awakening India’s Social Conscience
By Narendra Jadhav
Konark | Pages: 640 | Rs 595

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.

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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)

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OUTLOOK: 12 May, 2014
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