August 02, 2020
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Falsifying The Truth

Although scholarly, Arun Shourie's portrayal of Ambedkar is destructive and misconceived

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Falsifying The Truth

IN Arun Shourie's Worshipping False Gods, the Dalit apostle, B.R. Ambedkar, is portrayed as a self-centred, unpatriotic, power-hungry anti-national, a stooge of the British. Can there be a more false picture of Ambedkar? The book may be well-researched, but it is biased. The gravamen of Shourie's charge against Ambedkar is four-fold: (1) he opposed the freedom struggle; (2) he collaborated with the British for material gains; (3) he only piloted the draft constitution and that he can in no way be called the Father of the Constitution; and (4) his conversion to Buddhism was mere opportunism. On the very first page, Shourie states: "There is not one instance, not one single, solitary instance in which Ambedkar participated in any activity connected with the struggle to free the country." If Shourie had done the right kind of research, he would have found that during the Quit India Movement, when Ambedkar was a member of the viceroy's executive council, he had the courage to shelter underground Congress leaders like Achyut Patwardhan at his residence.

Shourie ignores Ambedkar's attack on the British at the Round Table Conference where he said: "When we compare our present position with the one which it was our lot to bear in Indian society of pre-British days, we find that, instead of marching on, we are marking time. Before the British we were in a loathsome position because of our untouchability. Has the British government done anything to remove it? Before the British, we could not draw water from the village well. Before the British we could not enter the temple. Can we enter now?.... To none of these questions can we give an affirmative answer. Our wrongs have remained as open sores and they were not righted although 150 years of British rule have rolled away.... Of what good is such a government to anybody?..." Is this the language of a British stooge?

Shourie has criticised Ambedkar for collaborating with the British during the freedom struggle. But there is hardly any mention of the role played by Shourie's hero Vir Savarkar who under the slogan 'militarise the Hindus' appealed to all Hindu youth to join the British Indian Army. There is also no mention of the fact that the RSS had assured the governor of the Central Province that it would not participate in the Quit India Movement. Nor is there a mention of Guru Golvalkar's speech in Pune in 1944 in which he ridiculed the Quit India Movement as a small breeze which affected only a few trees.

When Mahatma Gandhi undertook a fast during the Quit India Movement, the country, according to Shourie, was shaken. "Not Ambedkar of course. He did not 'wobble' at all. Quite the contrary. He was amongst the ones who stood by the viceroy—firm that if the old man dies, well he dies". The implication is that Ambedkar was callous and that he may have desired Gandhiji's death. It is necessary to recall that when Gandhi undertook a fast in 1932 on the issue of separate electorates for untouchables, Ambedkar signed the Poona Pact, citing this reason: "There was before me the duty which I owed as part of common humanity to save Gandhi from sure death". So, is it fair to suggest that Ambedkar desired his death?

Then, Shourie attempts to show that Ambedkar was interested only in himself and his community and, therefore, he was less than patriotic. In February '42, there was a three-day debate at the Spring Lecture series at Wagle Hall, Bombay on 'Thoughts on Pakistan' written by Ambedkar in which he had advocated that Pakistan should be conceded. In his reply to the discussion, Ambedkar stated: "We will defend our land. Do not be under the false impression that Pakistan would be able to spread its Muslim empire over India. The Hindus will make it lick the dust. I confess I have my quarrel with caste Hindus over some points...but I take a vow before you that I shall lay down my life in defence of her land." (Dhananjay Keer's biography) Is this not the word of a true patriot?

In his last speech in the Constituent Assembly, Ambedkar warned about the future of the country. "What perturbs me greatly is the fact that India has not only once before lost her independence but she lost it by the infidelity and treachery of her own people. When Sindh was invaded by Mohammed-Bin-Kasim, military commanders of King Dahir accepted bribes from Kasim's agents and refused to fight for their king. It was Jaichand who invited Mohammed Ghori to invade India and to fight against Prithviraj.... In 1857, when a large part of India had declared a war of independence against the British, the Sikhs watched the event as silent spectators."

"Will history repeat itself?" he asked the House. "Our independence will be put in jeopardy a second time and probably be lost for ever. We must be determined to defend our independence till the last drop of our blood". (Keer's biography). Are these not the words of a supremely national patriot?

What did Gandhi, whom Ambedkar regarded as his enemy on the matter of the rights of untouchables, have to say about Ambedkar? Keer's biography reproduces Ambedkar's conversation with Gandhi after the Round Table Conferences at Manibhuvan, Bombay (page 166) "Ambedkar: Gandhiji, I have no homeland. Gandhi (taken aback and cutting him short): You have got a homeland and from the reports that have reached me of your work at the Round Table Conference, I know you are a patriot of sterling worth." Gandhiji's is the last word. No further comment is necessary on Shourie's doubts about Ambedkar's patriotism.

Shourie's second criticism is that Ambedkar was interested only in material things. One of the weaknesses of this book is that for most of the conclusions the author relies more on what British officials had recorded rather than on any independent source. For example, he quotes what the governor of Bombay, Sir Roger Lumley, wrote to the viceroy: "Nevertheless, I feel pretty sure that this disgruntlement is largely a personal matter. As you know, his own financial position has been worrying him for some time.... As you know, too, he has been, for some time, anxious to obtain a position in the High Court or elsewhere, in which he could have a chance of providing for his own future. He has given me, for some time, the impression of a man who is no longer really interested in the work he is doing for his own followers, and is anxious to reach a different sphere". What Shourie wants to convey by such quotes is that Ambedkar was interested only in his career. Many lawyers in those days aspired to be high court judges. What is then so terribly wrong if Ambedkar also aspired to be a high court judge? In 1942, when Ambedkar was supposed to have conveyed to the governor of Bombay his financial position, he was already a professor in the Government Law College at Bombay and had already established himself as a leading advocate in the high court. It is difficult to believe, therefore, that his purpose of meeting the governor of Bombay was to obtain some monetary relief. In 1935, when he declared that he was born a Hindu but he will not die a Hindu, several monetary offers came to him, all of which he rejected. As he once said: "Had I been converted to Islam, I am sure crores of rupees would have been showered at our feet." (Rajiv Dhawan: Dr Ambed -kar—Study in Law & Society). It is, therefore, unfair to suggest that Ambedkar was obsessed with money.

ACCORDING to Shourie, Ambedkar did not play a prominent role in constitution-making. Most of the book is related to this aspect of Ambedkar's life. Shourie quotes extensively from various speeches and documents to establish his thesis that he cannot be called the author of the Constitution. In the first place, Ambedkar himself never claimed that he wrote the Constitution single-handedly. Shourie appears to be much agitated by the expressions "Father of the Constitution" or "the author of the Constitution". Therefore, he repeatedly poses the question who is the author? When one says that he is the author of the Constitution, no sensible person implies that each and every article of the Constitution was written by Ambedkar. Equally, when one says he is the father of the constitution the words are not to be taken literally.

According to Shourie, "Ambedkar's job was really that of a rapporteur, not that of one who set the policy, certainly not that of the creator." Whatever Shourie's claims, Ambedkar's contemporaries thought otherwise. According to Dr K.M. Munshi, his contribution to the evolution and drafting of the Constitution was the most constructive aspect of his life, no less than his advocacy of the underdog. The cold printed words of the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly on which Shourie relies exclusively do not fully reflect the ambience of the Constituent Assembly. Jaspat Roy Kapoor confessed that he had started with a prejudice against Ambedkar but that he developed "an admiration for the very useful work and the very patriotic work which he has done.... I consider him to be one of the best patriots of this country. I have always found him to bring upon the subject a very constructive approach. On many occasions there seemed to be a deadlock, he came forward with suggestions which resolved those deadlocks." According to R. Jagmohan Rao, Ambedkar as chairman of the Drafting Committee hammered out a comprehensive workable constitution into which he incorporated some of his views. He was subject to various influences, compromised over various matters, on occasion simply changed his mind. Instead of appreciating this accommodating spirit, Shourie chooses to belittle his contribution. According to Nehru, Ambedkar was an "illustrious architect of our constitution." Let the last word rest with Nehru.

As regards his relation with Gandhi, Shourie says Ambedkar was a sworn enemy of Gandhi. Shourie quotes Ambedkar's comments about Gandhiji after signing the Poona Pact. But he has omitted the tributes to Gandhi by Ambedkar while speaking on the report of the Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Tribes for 1953 on September 6, 1954, in the Rajya Sabha. "...the abolition of the salt tax was done in the memory of Gandhi. I respect him and I suggest to you that you levy the tax and create a Trust Fund in the name of Gandhi—Gandhi Trust Fund for the development or settlement of the untouchables. After all, the untouchables, according to all of us, were the nearest and dearest to him and there is no reason why Gandhi may not bless this project from Heaven, namely, levying the tax and using it for the development of waste land and settling the scheduled castes on this wasteland. ..."

Shourie is too critical about Ambedkar's conversion to Buddhism. He observes that "the third fact to bear in mind is that Ambedkar's conversion to Buddhism was merely a political act: his 'Buddhism' had nothing to do with the teaching and life of the Buddha—there is not the slightest trace of any inner-directed search in Ambedkar, there is not the slightest trace that even an effort has been made to overcome the bitterness or presumption."

Shourie also implies that Ambedkar's love for Buddhism was acquired late in life. The fact is that the shadow of Buddhism was lurking over Ambedkar for a long time. According to his biographer, his mother, with Ambedkar in her womb, dreamt a dream which had the symbolic significance of the dream Gautama Buddha's mother had while she was carrying the preceptor. Ambedkar heard of this dream from his mother and it left an impression on him. Since his childhood, he was interested in Buddhism. In May 1956, he told the BBC that there were four reasons why he preferred Buddhism. "Buddhism teaches Prajna (understanding) as against superstition and supernaturalism, Karuna (love) and Samata (equality)." As far back as May 1936, he had stated in a speech in Bombay: "I have decided once and for all to give up this religion. My religious conversion is not inspired by any material motive. There is hardly anything that I cannot achieve even while remaining an untouchable. There is no other feeling other than that of spiritual feeling underlying my religious conversion." (Dr B.R. Ambedkar—Study in Law & Society). Long before he actually converted to Buddhism, he named his colleges as Siddhartha and Milind. He named his own house at Dadar, Bombay, as Rajgriha. It is, therefore, unfair to say that his attraction for Buddhism was motivated by political or material considerations.

Shourie miserably fails to appreciate Ambedkar's real contribution to the political strategy of fighting for the rights of the oppressed. As sympathetic scholars like Rajiv Dhawan have stated, Ambedkar's strategy was that people who are discriminated against should fight for their own rights. Others may help them in this fight. But the people who are discriminated against should never give up the initiative and impetus of their fight to someone else. Shourie has undoubtedly written a scholarly and controversial book but it is a kind of book which every Dalit and no other Indian should read.

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