Ambedkar’ In And For The Post-Ambedkar Dalit Movement
(A paper presented in the seminar on the Post-Ambedkar Dalit Movement organised by the Department of Political Science, University of Pune on 27-29 March, 1997) Anand Teltumbde Sugawa Prakashan, Pune
To the memory of Shaheed Comrade Lok- Shahir Vilas Ghogre Who refused to see the difference between Laal Salam and Jai Bhim, who longed to hear the Inquilab Zindabad resonating from the Buddha Viharas in Dalit Bastis, and from me who always expected something like this!
Gaikwad vs. Others Tailist Pursuit of Power Splits and Schism: Imperatives of Electoral Commerce Dalit Panthers: The Sparklet that was not to be Phenomenon of Kanshiram: A Culmination of a Kind Multiplicity of Brands, Little Differentiation Hinduised Buddhism: Turning the Wheel Backward SC/ST Associations: Facing a Dead End Ahead Gender Equality: More Noise, Little Substance Suicidal Anti-Materialism Elections: The Incurable Obsession Ambedkar: A Need for Review
Ambedkar against Exploitation Constitution: An Excuse in Liberal Democracy On Revolution Ambedkar: A Radical Thinker Conception of an Ideal On State On Socialism On Democracy Buddhism On Marx Aspects of the Strategy and Tactics
FOREWORD BY PROF. RAM BAPAT
Dr. Anand Teltumbde has already made a name for himself as a brilliant, keen and incisive analyst of contemporary social and political affairs. It is no wonder then that the author has been able to put together in a very compressed but rigorous manner an entire gamut of issues concerning Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s central relevance for securing the Indian democratic revolution. The paper is devoted to the urgent and serious need for redefining Ambedkar as a revolutionary icon organically linking the dalit theory and practice to the revolutionary struggle in a global context.
As such Dr. Teltumbde is not offering here an appraisal of Ambedkar’s work but an appraisal of his icons that in various ways have governed the post-Ambedkar dalit movement. The context is so agonisingly clear and relevant. Although the dalits have wrested significant gains in various domains of social life during the last five decades, the relative gulf between them and non-dalits seems to have remained the same if not actually increased. On the other hand the emerging world order signified by the process of globalisation is bound to change the grammar of oppressed peoples’ struggles all over the world. The dalits too, therefore will have to wage now and in future a revolutionary struggle at one and the same time on two fronts marked by the caste and the class. In line with this need, the author is offering to us a critical review of Ambedkar’s heritage quite similar to Buddha’s bold and creative review offered by Ambedkar himself in his own hands.
The analysis opens up with an examination of post-Ambedkar dalit movement. In the process it covers the spectrum of dalit politics beginning with Dadasaheb Gaikwad and ending with the Kanshiram phenomenon of our days encompassing in between all the RPI splits and schisms together with the rise and fall of the Dalit Panthers. It demonstrates how the petty-bourgeoisie outlook, the middle class cultural norms governing the leadership life-styles, the over-reliance on the electoral politics, the tailist pursuit of power devoid of real mass contact and the absence of any class agenda compelled the parochial leadership of all sorts to set up one-dimensional icons characterising Ambedkar as the maker of the Indian Constitution, provider of the present order, a Bodhisatva, a constitutionalist, a messiah, a saviour, an SC leader, a liberal democrat, a staunch anticommunist, a reformist allergic to revolutions of whatever kind and thus, in a nutshell as the bourgeoisie liberal democrat par excellence. Barring Dadasaheb Gaikwad and the movement of the Dalit Panthers for a while post-Ambedkar leadership failed to pay any attention to the material aspects of life and mystified the problems of dalits. To take one example, while political power was a means for Ambedkar, it appears to be the end for Kanshiram. The analysis also does not fail to note the cultural failure of dalits to transcend the boundaries of sanskritisation and therefore, the gross neglect of the issues of gender justice and inequality by the dalit elite.
The paper then argues that all these errors arise out of a paradox of history whereby the movements of dalits who are undisputedly the biggest sufferers of material depravation show an utter disregard for the material dimension of life. The paradox reflects a historical dilemma of the Indian situation. The pathos of casteism overshadows the class issues. The ideology of class more often than not blinds us to the caste question. Ambedkar and Marx tend to cancel each other. In reality, a correct understanding of their thoughts and practices would help us to develop a more nuanced, praxis-oriented integrated approach. Our endeavours then would yield to us a holistic, true and revolutionary icon of Ambedkar to guide the dalit movement to its logical end.
The third part of the presentation discusses some crucial issues that will have to be resolved in redefining Ambedkar in this manner. It is of course a difficult task as India’s historical environment compelled Ambedkar to pursue a far more context-laden and polemical politics in comparison with Marx. The author argues that Ambedkar might not have had appropriate methodological tools to deal with the problem at hand. As a result in spite of his dynamic and even dialectical rationale fashioned in a Buddhist mould, Ambedkar in practice dissected history with the equipment that basically belonged to “a school of social engineers“. The resultant pitfalls constitute the source of Ambedkar’s occasional wishful thinking and his conception of the moral force of religion divorced from the material reality.
And yet we stand on a firm ground in pursuing the redefinition project. Ambedkar’s thought process is essentially rational and the underlying objective undoubtedly radical. Besides Ambedkar never took an absolutist, trans-historical position. He was all the time trying and revising weapons necessary for the total emancipation of the dalits. The author therefore discusses Ambedkar’s thoughts on issues like exploitation, capitalism, imperialism, Constitution, liberal democracy. He further takes into consideration Ambedkar’s conception of an ideal system of values and society. Ambedkar’s perceptions of State, socialism, democracy, Buddhism, Marx and communism are deconstructed so as to yield clues for profiling ‘a revolutionary Ambedkar’ for the future dalit movement.
The fourth and the concluding part of the paper asserts the relevance and validity of the basic framework in Ambedkar’s work to bring about a democratic revolution in India. Author’s faith and hope in redefining Ambedkar in this light flow out of his conviction that the Ambedkar’s basic thinking can be extrapolated from its erroneous forms. In fact, he thinks that the very future of the dalits as a social group almost hinges on this task.
Dr. Anand Teltumbde has demonstrated tremendous courage in departing from the hero-worshipping style of approaching the historical personalities, which is so rampant and so universal in our country. Let us hope that the issues analysed by him are given the close attention and scrutiny they demand. His position calls for extensive and more importantly, critical debate. Annihilation of caste, class and gender injustices and inequalities demand an open mind and an ever-green icon of revolutionary activist Ambedkar free from the dross poured on him by most of his opportunistic followers in the leading ranks. Endeavours to build revolutionary theory are bound to generate disagreements and controversies. That is how they should be so. But that is why we should congratulate Dr. Teltumbde for his present project. Let us hope to hear more from him in the future.
Ram Bapat 2, Prathamesh, Plot No. 157/12, Aundh, Pune 411007.
Babasaheb Ambedkar has undoubtedly been the central figure in the epistemology of the dalit universe. It is difficult to imagine anything serious or important in their collective life that is totally untouched by Ambedkar. For the dalit masses he is everything together; a scholar par excellence in the realm of scholarship, a Moses or messiah who led his people out of bondage and ignominy on to the path of pride, and a Bodhisatva in the pantheon of Buddhism. He is always bedecked with superlatives, quite like God, whatever may be the context in dalit circles.
It is not difficult to see the reason behind the obeisance and reverence that dalits have for Ambedkar. They see him as one who devoted every moment of his life thinking about and struggling for their emancipation, who took the might of the establishment head on in defence of their cause; who sacrificed all the comforts and conveniences of life that were quite within his reach to be on their side; who conclusively disproved the theory of caste based superiority by rising to be the tallest amongst the tall despite enormous odds, and finally as one who held forth the torch to illuminate the path of their future. Few in the history of millenniums of their suffering had so much as looked at them as humans and empathised with them as fellow beings. He was their own among these few. It was he, who forsook his high pedestal, climbed down to their level, gave them a helping hand and raised them to human stature. It is a commonplace occurrence to see dalits right from the humble landless labourer in villages to the highly placed bureaucrat in corridors of power, emotionally attributing their all to him. They all believe that but for him, they would
still be living like their forefathers, with spittoons around their necks and broom sticks to their behind.
It is thus natural for dalits to place him at the centre as their beacon and conduct their collective affairs as directed by its beam. This beam however is not monochromatic like a laser beam, to use an analogy from physics, but is composed of many light frequencies, the filters for which are controlled not by the masses but by some others. They manipulate this beam as per their desire, sometimes letting some frequencies pass and some times some other. They could selectively amplify some part and de-amplify the other and present an entirely different spectrum. What reaches the masses, thus, is not the holistic and true picture of ‘Ambedkar’ but its part, sometimes a distorted part, carefully filtered out and amplified by the ‘technicians’. This fragmented and false Ambedkar is what reaches the masses. For them, Ambedkar is no more a historical personality named Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar. He is already metamorphosed into a symbol – a symbol for their collective aspiration, an icon for the thesis of their emancipation. Because for the masses icons come handy. They are sans complexity of the main body, practical useable artefacts. Iconisation of the great heroes and their ideas at the hands of masses is thus inevitable. Human history is replete with such icons; rather it is largely made of them. The dalit politicians who never let the masses see the material aspects of their problems and kept them entangled in the cobweb of emotional issues have moreover promoted iconisation of Babasaheb Ambedkar.
This paper is premised on a hypothesis that the history of post-Ambedkar dalit movement is largely influenced by the icons of Ambedkar that were produced by the socio-political dynamics of post-independence India. The process of iconisation, whatever be the motivations, has to have the basis, howsoever tenuous, in the material reality, in the facts about the subject. Being essentially a simplification of a complex reality, it involves the playing up of facts as per one’s proclivities and propensities. The paper therefore attempts to trace out the bases for various Ambedkar – icons in Ambedkar himself and simultaneously highlights the motive force behind the underlying distortions that they embody. While it largely holds these icons responsible for the current sorry State of the dalit movement based on the near-monotheistic devotion of dalits towards Babasaheb Ambedkar, it still considers that the conceptual framework that he reflects could be used, not only to further the emancipatory struggles of dalits to its logical end but also to promote a true democratic revolution in India, provided it is seen in a radical light.
The paper is divided into four parts. The first reviews the post-Ambedkar dalit movement, essentially in relation to certain significant milestones or trends and attempts to trace the specific icon of Ambedkar that underscores each. The second part discusses the general limitations of transpositioning the ideologies, characterising specific episodes in the history across the historical periods and in specific reviews the predominant profiles of the Ambedkar-icons. It outlines the need to redefine Ambedkar, if he is to be the ideological icon to guide the dalit movement to its logical end. The third part discusses certain predominant issues that will have to be essentially resolved in the redefinition project and gives clues for profiling ‘Ambedkar’ for the future dalit movement. The fourth and final part sums it up, emphasising the relevance and validity of the basic framework implied in Ambedkar’s work – to view the contradictions in the society from the standpoint of the worst victim and work for their resolution, to bring about a democratic revolution in India.
A review of the significant events and episodes in the dalit movement after the demise of Babasaheb Ambedkar is attempted here in order to identify the icons behind them and assess their characteristics.
After the death of Babasaheb Ambedkar, the mantle of leadership fell upon the shoulders of Dadasaheb Gaikwad. He appeared to be the natural choice, by virtue of his stature in the movement as well as his age. He had grown up to be Ambedkar’s trusted lieutenant through frontline participation in all the battles, right from the days of Mahad. He represented a typical activist of the Ambedkarian movement and had a mass identity. He seemed to know the exact pulse of dalit masses. It is interesting to note that the question of land that by and large constitutes the crux of the dalit problem (as recognised by innumerable scholars even today) was and could only be taken up by Gaikwad. It was the biggest and by far the most glorious event in the post-Ambedkar dalit movement. Even during the days of Babasaheb Ambedkar, the mass struggle for land had never materialised in direct terms and at such a scale. At the most, it could be said to have materialised symbolically in the form of a struggle for abolition of ‘Khoti’- a kind of landlordism that prevailed in the Konkan region of Maharashtra. At any rate, as a mass struggle for land at the national level, it did not have any parallel in Indian history. It was the first time that the economic dimension of the dalit problem was effectively integrated with their social oppression. It had gained an overwhelming support from the masses all over the country. Scores of dalit families went to jail and many dalit hamlets remained deserted for days.
However, although it had caught the fancy of dalit masses, the rest of the dalit leadership thought otherwise. They disproved Gaikwad’s struggle as being communist and declared that it had no place in Ambedkarian agenda. They highlighted Ambedkar’s statement that mass struggles were the grammar of anarchy in the constitutional regime and should not have any place in a parliamentary democracy. They argued that if the land question was at all important, it could have been taken up judicially in the Supreme Court of India. Fortunately, none suggested parliamentary solution. It was perhaps considered infeasible as none could muster requisite majority to effect the people oriented fundamental changes after the Poona Pact. In tacit terms, the other leaders were accusing Gaikwad of being intellectually incapable of comprehending the subtleties of Ambedkar’s ideology and hence unsuitable to step into his shoes.
Gaikwad, a rustic in the common man’s Dhoti – Kurta attire, and not embellished with university degrees, could not be accepted by these people. They considered themselves the true heirs to the leadership after Ambedkar on the sole criterion that they fitted the Ambedkarian mould (as they conceived it) better than Gaikwad. This mould was based on the contemporary middle class cultural norms that Ambedkar displayed in his attire and general demeanour. They would conveniently forget that that his western attire was basically a counter to Gandhi’s belaboured austerity and a representation of modernity as against Gandhi’s anti-modern views. Instead, they aped him in all appearances. They wore trousers and shirts, were suited and booted, had university degrees and could command better sophistry than Gaikwad. They would exhibit their law books as the key to the treasure left behind by Ambedkar. They could thus project themselves as better clones of Ambedkar to the gullible dalit masses. Gaikwad and the people of his ilk could be activists but not the leaders!
The first attempt to iconise Babasaheb Ambedkar and considerably successfully so, as the later times proved, is apparent in this early post-Ambedkar episode. That was the icon of a ‘saheb’- the epitaph used for an Englishman but later used as an honorific for natives, who were educated, westernised and placed in bureaucratic authority. It denoted someone far above the masses, one who was endowed with authority and power. It was the icon of a saviour. It projected leader as the saviour incarnate who would liberate them from their bondage and lead them to prosperity. All that masses had to do was to stand solidly behind him. They did not have any specific role in the project of their own emancipation other than being meek followers of the leader. This particular icon distanced the dalit leadership from the masses in every way in terms of physical attributes like appearance, clothes, language and lifestyle. It promoted blind following and servile notions. The leaders were to be treated as their quasi-monarch (a la Bhim Raja). They could not be questioned on equal terms. They bestowed favours by their very existence. Without leaders the masses could not exist. It obfuscated, mystified and externalised the problems of dalits, if not their very existence. The saheb syndrome that curiously settled among dalits as the general honorific, almost devoid of any attribute association, got significant reinforcement by this icon. Moreover, in so far as this syndrome reflected middle class aspirations and value associations, this icon helped petty-bourgeoisize the entire dalit movement.
Although, later the Dalit Panthers brought in a change in this leadership model, certainly in its physical attributes and so made it more people friendly, it approximately recoiled back to the old RPI (Republican Party of India) model with the demise of the spirit behind Panthers. This leadership model was certainly regressive as it reproduced the decadent feudal structure that dalits were so familiar with in real life; perhaps it was both, its cause as well as its effect. Paradoxically, its protagonists and promoters were the very people who seemed to claim a larger share of modernity. Gaikwad’s equation with the masses and his charisma would not be easily swept away by their attempts but it is a fact that he could not take up mass based struggles thereafter and rather chose to fall prey to the enticements of power and pelf form Congress circle. Thus, this early icon of Ambedkar certainly blocked the emerging mass orientation of the dalit movement.
The importance of dalits in the scheme of post-1947 politics was duly recognised by the ruling classes, then predominantly represented by the Congress party. It was vital for them to tie dalits to the parliamentary alternative. Hypothetically speaking, if the latent alienation and the proletarian consciousness of dalits were allowed to grow in an unhindered manner, revolutionary prospects for India would have been closer than in any other conceivable place in the world. However, no ruling class would allow this to happen, much less the Indian one, which had impeccable credentials in its adeptness at keeping its victims within the institutional bondage for millenniums with mere soft strategies. Whatever the other motivations, there was certainly this element of strategy at work in making Ambedkar the chairman of the drafting committee for the Indian Constitution. It is said that it was done at the instance of none other than Mahatma Gandhi. For Gandhi – the super-strategist of the Congress, the Poona Pact with which he effectively blocked the political voice of dalits within the parliamentary framework, it was necessary to commit them to the latter for a long period. Could there be a better method to achieve this than getting Ambedkar- the undisputed leader of dalits, who had come to regard him as their Messiah, to author the Constitution! It is a tribute to Gandhi’s farsightedness and cunning that he prompted Nehru to make it happen. Gandhi and Nehru knew that the composition of the Constituent Assembly, surfeit with representation of the propertied classes by design, provided enough fortification not to let Ambedkar’s ideology penetrate the Constitutional draft. But, at the same time, Ambedkar could be eulogised as its maker. The strategy killed several birds with one stone. It won the dalit commitment to the Constitution; it projected a progressive facet of the Indian ruling class to the world and planted false consciousness among dalits. Thus, although the content of the Constitution was decided by the ruling classes, the ruled ones were made to own it up. It was a feat of strategy certainly comparable in its import to that behind the caste institution. Behind its generosity and progressive veneer was hidden the trap which would effectively incapacitate the dalits for a long time to come. Once trapped they would stay in perpetual fragmentation in the turbulence of electoral game played by various sections of the ruling classes. Dalits constituting over 15 per cent of the total population are a significant factor in the number game of electoral politics. Their spread prevented them from winning any election on their own steam but at the same time none other could possibly win it without their support. Every ruling class political party would vie with each other to get them as a vote block on its side and still collectively prevent their coalescence into a class.
The mass struggle that materialised under the leadership of Gaikwad certainly shook the ruling classes. They had to devise special strategies to contain the threat of the emerging dalit challenge. It was a challenge indeed, although inadequately articulated, that had exactly touched the most sensitive nerve of the feudal structure, which still lay at the base of everything that mattered to dalits. The implementation of this strategy was soon seen in Gaikwad being befriended by Yashavantrao Chawhan, the then chief minister of Maharashtra and later the Deputy Prime Minister of the country. It culminated in the first alliance between the RPI and the Congress, which helped Gaikwad, and a few others reach the Parliament and Legislative Assemblies. The inauguration of the era of unprincipled alliances could be discerned right here. The Congress was undisputedly a representative party of the Indian ruling classes comprising the high caste capitalists and landlords. The alliance between this party and the party of the most exploited in the land, to say the least, could only be termed unholy.
In the face of it, it appears difficult to associate this phenomenon with Ambedkar who for the best part of his life had fought the Congress tooth and nail, criticised it ruthlessly and ultimately warned his followers to be away from it as it was the ‘burning house’. It is interesting to note him standing out among his contemporaries, including the communists and socialists of all hues, in unambiguously characterising the Congress party as the representative of the capitalists and landlords and unmask its fake anti-imperialist facade. However, as it always happened, in this case too his life-saga left enough strands to be picked up by the vested interests in support of the seemingly contrary act. Whatever the situational contexts and strategic compulsions, but it could be cited that the same Ambedkar had joined the Congress government at the centre under Nehru’s Prime Ministership, had accepted the chairmanship of the drafting committee for the Indian Constitution on the basis of support from the Congress majority, and had accepted the Congress support for getting re-elected to the Constituent Assembly after the partition of the country. Whatever might have been his strategy in relenting his stand in accepting the Congress offers, it cannot be ignored that it eventually got subsumed in the universal strategy of the ruling classes to neutralise resistance struggles of the oppressed people.
Whenever the oppressed masses organised their resistance against the oppression, repression and co-option have been the age-old twin strategic tools in the repertoire of the ruling classes. Contrary to the general feeling that the latter is the recent phenomenon, associated with the spread of liberalism, these strategies have been iteratively used by the rulers from time immemorial, depending upon their perception of the intensity of peoples’ struggles. One of the native examples of co-option could be had in the form of Buddha who symbolised a rebellion against the Brahmin Dharma, being projected as the ninth incarnation of the God Vishnu. More often than not, co-option being the low cost option is preferred by the ruling classes. What Congress had done in allying with RPI was precisely implementation of this strategy. On the side of RPI, the motivation to ally with any party flowed from, as it seems, the clarion call given by Ambedkar to dalits to become ‘the ruling race’. It was supposed to mean the rule of the dalits, the have-nots – the rule of the working classes. It was however conveniently taken to mean being part of the ruling team, the ruling class, by the dalit leaders. Any pursuit of power, regardless of means, thus became a quasi-sacred obsession for the dalit leaders.
In absence of any explanation of the strategic contexts in which Ambedkar had accepted support from the Congress, it provided good enough grounds to sustain the de-shaped icon of Ambedkar in the minds of gullible masses. This icon froze the alternative of parliamentary structure as the only alternative for dalits and consequently impelled them to rely on electoral methods to gain power. The Poona Pact had already eliminated the possibility of shaping up their truly representative leadership through the electoral means and in corollary laid foundation for the proliferation of irresponsible leaders. It had permanently ordained the necessity for dalits to be in alliance with some or the other ruling class party for their political survival. This icon thus fortified the emasculation of dalits in the political sphere. It approved the in-camera parleys of the leaders for their tailist pursuit of power shorn of the mass line and established the bourgeois model of politicking. Dalit movement thus became permanently an adjunct of the ruling class.
Then came the era of disintegration. The RPI split and further split till people lost count of its factions. Three predominant reasons could be discerned for this disintegration: (i) The ruling class strategy of ‘divide and rule’, (ii) the lack of ideological coherence in the dalit movement and (iii) the petty-bourgeoisie aspirations of its leadership. Apparently, these reasons reinforced each other and in that sense were not exclusive.
Divide and Rule’ is the well-known strategy of the ruling classes world over to basically weaken the ruled people. Indians generally attributed it to the colonial British policy but the fact is that more than any one else, it is ingrained in the blood of their own ruling class. It underlay their caste system in the form of a continuum of hierarchies that kept the people perpetually divided. This caste continuum has certainly played its obnoxious role even in avowedly ‘caste annihilating’ dalit
movement in terms of providing potential fissures to crack along. As explained above, the post-independence reality, comprising mainly the ‘Poona Pact’ and enslavement of dalits within the framework of parliamentary democracy exposed dalits to ruling class enticements and resultantly led to their perpetual division. The strong dalit movement even if co-opted for the time being, posed the threat of re-emergence and challenge. It had to be simultaneously weakened to perpetuate their political subordination. The petty-bourgeoisie aspirations of dalit leaders made operationalisation of this strategy easy. Its feasibility was further enhanced by the ambivalence reflected in Ambedkar’s sayings and doings from time to time, which provided scope for any one to interpret him the way one liked. It was his icon as the demi-god of dalits that was used up by the competing commanders of his army to do whatever they liked. This deification that he himself severally warned against and abhorred but which paradoxically had started well during his life time (celebration of his Jayantis) and grew after his death with an accelerated pace particularly because he himself became an essential icon in the neo-Buddhist rituals after his embracement of Buddhism less than two months ago. The mass Dharmantar - (change in religion), unprecedented in modern times and considered by many as the culmination of his life mission, released the flood of dalit religiosity that overwhelmed every other thing. It imparted him a quasi-spiritual aura as Bodhisatva. Many enthusiastically added a sarana in his name (Bhimam saranam gachhami) to the original trisarana of Buddhism. Thereafter the display of devotion towards Ambedkar became a surrogate for one’s ideological allegiance to him. Everyone vied with another to display his kind of devotion and in turn to emphasise superiority of his ideological ware for justifying his separate shop. The process of establishing the shop invariably relied upon the collection of clientele from one’s own sub-caste and building up subordinate political nexus with some section of the ruling class. The ideological pretensions through the display of devotion to Ambedkar continued thereafter with the aim of expanding the clientele.
The ruling classes of course played their cards well in catalysing this divide in their pursuit of buying the dalit support. This electoral commerce paid off handsomely and created its own rationale and motivation for the permanent division of dalit leaders. Through this process, some of the leaders of the wretched, while serving their cause, amassed wealth worth crores of rupees, became industrialists, maintained fleets of cars, roamed around by air and taxis, without any evidence of the basic source of their prosperity. It is a tribute to the political consciousness of dalits that while they starved and bled themselves over the issue of unity of these leaders, it never occurred to them to ask, even in a whisper, a question about the source of their material well being! Many blatantly indulged in the acts contrary to their profession for amassing wealth- some set up liquor factories and still remained the front rank leaders of the Buddhists, some allied with the rank castiest and communalist and still claimed to be ardent Ambedkarites. What counted was money and power. Paradoxically, the more affluent ones seemed to fit the bill better as they looked bigger ‘sahebs’, adding an additional aura to their leadership. Apart from the naked might of money in the electoral politics that tended to situate the moneyed men at the pedestal of power, the leadership model outlined above certainly contributed to their sustenance. With the money power they could invest into cultivation of their cronies and in turn command a better return in the wake of electoral parleys.
The splits were in a way a corollary of the leadership model and the over-reliance on the electoral politics sanctioned by the above-indicated icons. The leaders were always seen endowed with an uncommon wisdom that was really beyond the reach of masses. Leaders thus could do whatever they wanted without any scruples and they did it even breaking away from the party. As a result, the so-called giants who claimed the legacy of Ambedkar became contented with the identity of the parenthesised alphabets of their names after the RPI. They did not even worry about the fact that the formations represented by these parenthesised identities were basically a mere coagulation of their own sub-castes, in their respective geographical areas. It was a qualitative leap backwards for the ones who had proudly launched upon the annihilation of castes as their mission. Every one claimed to be a better follower of Ambedkar than the other is, and in the process, proliferated his icons by projecting one’s proprietary models.
The degeneration that set in continued unabated till the birth of Dalit Panthers in early 1970s. There could be varied explanations for the paradigm shift in dalit politics (movement) marked by Dalit Panthers. Remarkably, they spoke the language of defiance and militancy, which created waves. These waves had shaken the foundations of the established order in the country and in essence demonstrated what the wrath of the wretched could be! It provided a valuable insight that was pathetically missing in the dalit politics. Going by their manifesto, dalit panthers had broken many new grounds in terms of radicalising the political space for the dalit movement. They imparted the proletarian – radical class identity to dalits and linked their struggles to the struggles of all oppressed people over the globe. The clear cut leftist stand reflected by this document undoubtedly ran counter to the accepted legacy of Ambedkar as projected by the various icons, although it was sold in his name as an awkward tactic.
It reflected a historical dilemma characteristic of the Indian situation. The pathos of casteism integral with the dalit experience essentially brought in Ambedkar, as his was the only articulate framework that took cognisance of it. But, for the other contemporary problems of depravations Marxism provided a scientific framework to bring about a revolutionary change. Although, have-nots from both dalits and non-dalits craved for a fundamental change, the former adhered to what appeared to be Ambedkarian methods of socio-political change and the latter to what came to be the Marxian method which tended to see every social process as the reflection of the material reality. Both caused erroneous interpretations. It is to the credit of Panthers that the assimilation of these two ideologies was attempted for the first time in the country but unfortunately it proved abortive in absence of the efforts to rid each of them of its obfuscating influence and stress their non-contradictory essence. Neither, there was theoretical effort to integrate these two ideologies, nor was there any practice combining social aspects of caste with say, the land question in the village setting. Essentially, it remained an emotional and a poetic negation of the status quo, craving for the broad revolutionary change and on ideological plane inevitably reflected an amalgam of Ambedkar and Marx. This ideological amalgam could not be acceptable to those under the spell of the prevailing Ambedkar-icons and therefore this revolutionary seedling in the dalit movement died a still death.
The possibility of the radical shift in the paradigm of dalit politics indicated by the manifesto was totally submerged by the reactionary upsurge of the new version of orthodox Ambedkarism. The reactionaries objected to the radical content of the programme alleging that the manifesto was doctored by the radicals – the Naxalites. There is no denying the fact that the Naxalite movement which had erupted quite like the Dalit Panther, as a disenchantment with and negation of the established politics, saw a potential ally in the Panthers and tried to forge a bond right at the level of formulation of policies and programme of the latter. But even if the Panthers had chosen to pattern their programme on the ten-point programme of the Black Panther Party (BPP) in the USA, which had been the basic inspiration for their formation, it would not have been any less radical. The amount of emphasis on the material aspects of life that one finds in the party programme of the BPP could still have been inimical to the established icon of Ambedkar. Radicalism was the premise for the very existence of the Dalit Panther and hence the quarrel over its programme basically reflected the clash between the established icon of Ambedkar and his radical version proposed in the programme. The fact that for the first time the Dalit Panther exposed dalits to a radical Ambedkar and brought a section of dalit youth nearer to accepting it certainly marks its positive contribution to the dalit movement.
There were material reasons for the emergence of Dalit Panthers, as there are for any episode or event. Children of the Ambedkarian movement had started coming out of universities in large numbers in the later part of 1960s, just to face the blank future staring at them. The much-publicised Constitutional provisions for them turned out to be a mirage. Their political vehicle was getting deeper and deeper into the marsh of parliamentarism. It ceased to see the real problems of people. The air of militant insurgency that had blown all over the world during those days also provided them the source material to articulate their anger. Unfortunately, quite like the BPP, they lacked the suitable ideology to channel this anger for achieving their goal. Interestingly, as they reflected the positive aspects of the BPP’s contributions in terms of self-defence, mass organising techniques, propaganda techniques and radical orientation, they did so in the case of BPP’s negative aspects too. (See Acoli, Sundiata, a Brief history of the Black Panther Party and its Place in the Black liberation Movement for details). Like Black Panthers they also reflected ‘TV mentality’ (to think of a revolutionary struggle like a quick-paced TV programme), dogmatism, neglect of economic foundation needed for the organisation, lumpen tendencies, rhetoric outstripping capabilities, lack of clarity about the form of struggle and eventually corruptibility of the leadership. The Panthers’ militancy by and large remained confined to their speeches and writings. One of the reasons for its stagnation was certainly its incapability to escape the petit bourgeois ideological trap built up with the icons of Ambedkar. It would not get over the ideological ambivalence represented by them. Eventually, the petit-bourgeoise ‘icon’ of Ambedkar prevailed and extinguished the sparklet of new revolutionary challenge. It was completely sapped of its rebellious image and its vitality and soon got corrupted with a ridiculous prefix ‘Bharatiya’ to it. It survived as another living monument to the ideological bankruptcy and the degeneration of the dalit leadership. It went the RPI way and what remained of it were the numerous fractions engaged in internecine squabbles under the sly hands of the ruling classes.
The Dalit Panther phase represented the clash of two icons: one, that of a radical ‘Ambedkar’, as a committed rationalist, perpetually striving for the deliverance of the most oppressed people in the world. He granted all the freedom to his followers to search out the truth using the rationalist methodology as he did. He abhorred all kinds of humbug and hated to be bound by any dogma. He desired his followers to do the same. Like his mentor, the Buddha, he would exhort his followers not to take any thing for granted until their own experience corroborated it or their intellect supported it. The other is of the ‘Ambedkar’ who has forbidden the violent methods and advocated the constitutional ways for his followers, who was a staunch anti-Communist, ardent Buddhist, nay, Bodhisatva, who has given a permanent doctrine that was infallible. As it turned out, the radical icon of Ambedkar was projected without adequate conviction. It was implanted in an alien soil. There was no one committed to propagating such an image of Ambedkar, neither communists nor dalits. Eventually it remained as a veritable hodgepodge compared to the familiar set of icons coming from the other camp.
The movement of Kanshiram markedly reflected a different strategy, which coined the ‘Bahujan’ identity encompassing all the SCs, STs, BCs, OBCs and religious minorities than ‘dalit’, which practically represented only the scheduled castes. Kanshiram started off with an avowedly apolitical organisation of government employees belonging to Bahujana, identifying them to be the main resource of these communities. It later catalysed the formation of an agitating political group creatively coined as DS4 – the Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti, which eventually became a full-fledged political party – the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
Purely, in terms of electoral politics, which has some how become a major obsession with all the dalit parties, Kanshiram’s strategy has proved quite effective, though in only certain parts of the country. He has given a qualitative impetus to the moribund dalit politics, locating itself into a wider space peopled by all the downtrodden of India. But he identified these people only in terms of their castes and communities. It may be said to his credit that he reflected the culmination of what common place icon of Ambedkar stood for. Kanshiram shrewdly grasped the political efficacy of this icon that sanctioned the pursuit of power in the name of downtrodden castes. The religious minorities which potentially rears the sense of suffering marginalisation from the majority community could be easily added to it to make a formidable constituency in parliamentary parlance. Every one knew it but none did how to implement. Kanshiram has seemingly succeeded in this task at least in certain pockets. The careful analysis will show that the combination of certain historical developments and situational factors has been behind this success. As Kanshiram has amply experienced, it is not replicable elsewhere. It is bound to be short-lived and illusory unless this success is utilised to implement a revolutionary programme to forge a class identity among its constituents. If not, one will have to constantly exert to recreate the compulsions for their togetherness and allegiance. In absence of any class-agenda, which is certainly the case of BSP, these compulsions could only be created through manipulative politics for which political power is an essential resource. BSP’s unprincipled pursuit of power is basically driven by this exigency. It is futile to see in this game a process of empowerment of the subject people as could be seen (although not conclusively) from the statistical evidence of the cases of atrocities, and of overall situation of the poor people under its rule. There should be no lament over this as essentially it is where any kind of political acrobatics is destined to end in the prevailing system. The imperatives of this kind of strategy necessarily catapult the movement into the camp of the ruling classes as has exactly happened with BSP. BSP’s electoral parleys with Congress, BJP, Akali Dal (Mann) that reached the stage of directly sharing State power in UP recently, essentially reflect this process of degeneration and expose its class characteristics today.
It seems to have sustaining support from the icon that BSP itself created, where Ambedkar was painted as the intelligent strategist who could turn any situation to his advantage, who used every opportunity to grab political power to achieve his objective. He is the person who saw in political power, a key to the woes of dalits and therefore exhorted them to grab it at any cost. He did not think highly of mass struggles except for tactical reasons to demonstrate the might of the leaders. For him, there existed only means not the values for securing one’s goals. He did not see any permanent friend or foe in politics and joined even the Congress whom he had once declared as the enemy. He is seen as the person endowed with State authority (as a member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council, Law Minister, and Chairman of the Drafting Committee for the Indian Constitution) – the sole source of his power to benefit his people. He was the sole arbiter of the interests of his people. Of course, he had disdain for all shades of communism.
Kanshiram’s reading of Ambedkar ignores the fact that Ambedkar had to carve out space for his movement in the crevices left by the contradictions between various Indian political parties and groups on one side and the colonial power on the other. For most of his time, he sought maximisation of this space from the contending Muslim League and Congress, to name the predominant players, and eventually brought dalit issue to the national political agenda. Kanshiram stuffs his Ambedkar icon entirely with such kind of superfluity that it would look credible to the gullible dalit masses. This icon approves of his sole ideology that political power to his party (read him) could solve all dalit problems. His strategy till then has been to be in vantage position to decide who would be the king and thereby leverage his bargaining power. He did not care for democracy. To some extent this non-democratic stance spells his compulsions to have unitary command over his party structure as without it, his adversaries would gobble it up. He did not have any utility for any programme or manifesto, no concern for any issue howsoever burning, no qualms about policy or principles because, his sole obsession is to maximise his power by whatever means. In the rhetoric of empowering Bahujans, he does not even feel it necessary to demonstrate what exactly this empowering means and what benefits it would entail them. He never even spelt out what precisely ails his Bahujans except for highlighting their prejudiced social identities in worn-out casteist phraseology. That explains his entries into and exits from political alliances with any one with the same alacrity. The obsession with capturing power robbed him of certain fundamental values that Ambedkar never compromised.
The underlying value of the movement of Ambedkar was represented by liberty, equality and fraternity. Kanshiram does not seem to respect any value than the political and money power. In Ambedkar, one cannot miss an overflowing concern for the oppressed and wrath against the perpetrators of oppression. Kanshiram’s concern scarcely transcended his speeches in his electoral rallies. It was with this concern and commitment that Ambedkar kept on referring to Marx and Marxism till his end, something as a touchstone to test his alternatives. Kanshiram simply abhorred it. Ambedkar struggled to formulate the dalit problem. Kanshiram either took it for granted or did not care for it at all. He never tried to articulate the nature of his Bahujanas’ ailment except for the rhetorical reference to their subordination by the minority upper caste Hindus. For Ambedkar certain values, moral code etc. were paramount, Kanshiram never seemed to be bothered by these issues. Ambedkar always foresaw plans and programmes; visualised appropriate structures for the downtrodden. Kanshiram expressed clear disdain for such things. For Ambedkar political power was a means, to Kanshiram it appears to be the end. Notwithstanding these broad differences, he has succeeded in luring the dalit masses in certain pockets of the country by projecting an Ambedkar icon that sanctioned his unscrupulous pursuits of power.
The crux of Kanshiram can be traced to his superfluous attempt to replicate Ambedkar’s movement of 1920s as if the times had stood still for the bygone five decades. Ambedkar’s mobilisation of dalit masses through struggles is vulgarised by him as the ‘agit-prop’ tool to collect people behind him. When Ambedkar realised the potency of political power, he launched his Indian Labour Party that reflected his urge to bring together the working class, transcending the caste lines. It is only when the political polarisation took communal turn that he abandoned his ILP project and launched the Scheduled Caste Federation. For Kanshiram, the talk sans caste and communities is perhaps an anathema. His casteist platform as such appears preordained by his ambition for power. Ambedkar joined hands with a few political parties – one the communists (while joining the strike of mill workers) and the other is the Praja Samajwadi Party of Ashok Mehta in the 1952 elections. Although, he accepted the Congress support and offered to work in their government, he never tied up his political outfit to the Congress. It always appeared a politically expedient step for him as an individual without any organisational implication. Kanshiram’s record so far clearly shows that he is ready to join hands with any one promising him the share of political power. Declaredly he would avoid the leftists of all hues and accept the friendship of the rank reactionaries of every kind. Ambedkar pointed at the capitalism and Brahminism as the twin enemy for his movement but Kanshiram enthusiastically embraced them without any pinch to his conscience. Ambedkar, in his own way, has been in search of suitable ideological carrier for the dalit movement. Kanshiram has no utility for such a thing.
Apart from these broad political trends, there are many regional outfits like Dalit Mahasabha in Andhra Pradesh, Mass Movement in Maharashtra, Dalit Sena in Bihar and elsewhere, etc., some of which dabble directly into electoral politics and some of them do not. So far, none of them have a radically different icon of Ambedkar from the ones described above. They offer some proprietary ware claiming to be a shade better than that of others.
Another trend in the dalit movement emphasises the spread of Buddhism as its goal. As in politics, there are numerous organisations devoted to this task. According to them, Buddhism was the culmination of Ambedkar’s mission and hence, the true Ambedkarite not only had to be a Buddhist but also had to work for the spread of Buddhism. Ambedakr’s declared vision of making India a Buddhist country spells a mission statement to them. Their activities revolve around building Buddhist viharas, becoming Shramners and Bhikkus; imbibing religious mode of living and engaging in quasi-studious pursuits like learning Pali, reading Buddhist scriptures, rewriting the episodes in history. At the renaissance some amount of excavation of skeletons is inevitable but it had become an obsession with the dalit intellectuals, who squandered considerable energies in desecting the Hindu mythology to expose its cunning and rediscovering the Buddhist glories as their own legacy. One of the underlying motives in this enterprise was to project superiority of Buddhism and in turn their own as they believed that they were the original Buddhists. Paradoxically, all of them quibble over the distinction between ‘Dharma’ and ‘Dhamma’, claiming that Buddhism is Dhamma whereas others are the Dharmas. Unlike other religions, Buddhism does not have any place for rituals, gods or any permanent entity like soul, and is just a practicable moral code for living. However, in practice, all kinds of mumbo jumbo that some times appears to be exceeding the familiar but on-the-wane rituals of Hinduism, are followed, so much so that not only Buddha but even Ambedkar is not spared from the godhood (Bhim Bhagawan). Of late, the relatively upwardly mobile (middle class) among dalits are increasingly getting attracted towards ‘Vipasyana’ – a kind of meditation that is said to have been practised by Buddha himself to get his enlightenment and so is ‘prescribed’ in Buddhism to be a good Buddhist. Many of them lately claim that it is the essence of Buddhism. It is amusing to see this mind-centric trend growing among dalits. In all this, Ambedkar’s attempts at rationalisation and redefinition of Buddhism are completely forgotten. What rather is remembered is that he himself had given them the ‘vidhi’ for marriage and for such other occasions; that he himself had devotedly said the three precepts and five oaths and stood through the long winding Gathas in the language of antiquity, that how he got into spiritual trance in front of the Buddha’s statue when he visited Sarnath.
The icon they follow is that of a man incarnate of Buddha who analysed the problem of humanity and ultimately prescribed nirvana – a indescribable State marked by the extinction of all kind of craving. One who after Ashoka made greatest contributions to the revival and spread of Buddhism. It shows Ambedkar as a spiritual person who ultimately finds the roots of all the problems in the world within oneself and therefore preaches the virtue of moral rearmament and inner purity. The essence of being was to attain nirvana, the State of total contentment. It implied the futility of struggling against the material exploitation of dalits as their real salvation. It lay rather in extinguishing their own craving. It tended to internalise all their problems to themselves and stressed the need to cleanse their minds. Inevitably, it envisaged typical religious conduct from the followers with the highly pitched religious benchmarks available anywhere.
The sphere of religions abounds in such paradoxes. Its idiom basically promotes them. Buddhism could very well be conceived as the rebellion against the predominant creed of the establishment that prevailed more than 25 centuries ago, quite like Marxism in our times. Buddha was the first philosopher who forsook the futility of sterile philosophising and stressed the need to change the world. It is interesting to see in him as the first dialectician, some one in the same lineage as Hegel and Marx. It is ahistorical to expect Buddha to give a solution to the problems of our times but it is important to appreciate the underscoring rational approach followed by him in his search. His conclusions are not important, as they are essentially constrained by the State of knowledge and overall development of the physical sciences during his times. What is important is to see the expanse of positive things that he could postulate at that time. Significantly, Buddha discarded the concept of God and soul and spoke against all kinds of rituals; he asked people to accept things only if it corresponded with their own experience or passed the test of their own intellect. He gave complete freedom to people to make amends to the Dhamma as per the needs of time. But, it could not escape the pressures of institutionalisation, which transformed it into a religion. They made him a God, wove stories that well competed with any mythology, built elaborate rituals to be followed and sapped it of its essential zeal of changing the world.
The paradox would be better illustrated by the responses of ardent Ambedkarites to the recent news about one Islamic Taliban commander threatening to dynamite two fourth-century monuments – 1500-years-old statues of Buddha in central Afghanistan. The response came from highly educated non-resident Indian Ambedkarites. It was interesting inasmuch as they reveal what havoc the religious mindset that owes allegiance to Buddhism can play with even its human-centric tenets. They said that the dalits in India should immediately take out a massive procession to the consulate of Afghanistan and threaten them that no Afghan would be spared in India if they carried out destruction of the Buddha statues in Afghanistan. It was a burst of anger at the first hearing of the news and was not to be meant but nonetheless it revealed the consciousness, the consciousness of Khomini or of any Hindu fundamentalist at work. It is one thing to speak against the fundamentalist vandalism and condemn it or even punish the responsible people in whatever way but it is quite another to don reverse fundamentalism to kill innocents to save dead stone statues in some distant land. It is important to realise the fact that even the Buddha’s Dhamma whose roots are firmly in the soil of rationality and whose sole raison de etre’ is the human suffering, could be mutilated to be its exact opposite by the very followers of Ambedkar who consciously cleansed it of the dust of irrationality and mysticism gathered over millennia.
One more significant trend in the dalit movement has its source in the policy of reservations in services of the State. Apart from the central and State governments, the large number of public sector undertakings that were floated by them, and other institutions established and promoted with public money, also came to be the State, attracting the constitutional provisions regarding reservations for the SCs and STs in services. The dalits in these sectors represented the collective investment and achievements of the dalit community, as reservations were the only hope for them to secure material well being. Although, they found themselves catapulted to modern sectors of economy, they found there were newer traps already in place, which clearly communicated the caste code for the modern organisations. The dalits had to conform their behaviour to this code for their survival. It reflected all the familiar prejudices against them. Their experience of the blatant violations of these provisions generally manifested in terms of backlogs in filling reservation posts, denial of promotions and general discriminatory treatment meted out in postings, transfers and other aspects of organisational life. The trade unions and management associations would not address their woes because they involved a contradiction between the interests of dalits and non-dalits. Thus were born the SC/ST associations. Even after their countrywide proliferation, these associations do not have any locus standi with managements except for the ritualistic interviews during the annual visits of parliamentary committees on the welfare of SCs and STs.
It is a sad commentary on the functioning of the Constitution that over the last four decades it has driven these collectives to a State of hopelessness. The constitutional provisions regarding the reservations flow in the form of various circulars issued by the Government of India that are supposed to be implemented by its executive machinery. Over the years there has been a plethora of these circulars each written in such a convoluted language that even the highest court of law also felt it an arduous task to interpret them. One of the deliberate lacunae that exist in this scheme is that there is no effective onus on any one for the implementation of these provisions. The executive can blatantly refuse to implement them under the plea of variant interpretation and drive the SC/ST employee or his association to the courts of law. Even if the poor employee or the SC/ST association could last the long winding court process over the years and succeed in getting the favourable verdict (a remote possibility though) the employer can still persist with his negative attitude. There are scores of cases of this kind where the petitioner employee or his association had to launch contempt proceeding against the employers and end up being bankrupt in the process. The helplessness of dalit employees in the services, in a way is the reflection of the sorry State of dalit politics. Since, there was no way these associations could effectively struggle, they landed up seeking petty favours from managements and in return being a black sheep during anti-management struggles.
The typical activities of these associations comprise celebration of the birth anniversaries of Ambedkar, representing dalit employees to the management or administration, and doing certain philanthropic and community service, depending upon the degree of their own organisation and resources. The icon that they seem to be following is that of a saviour, emancipator, to whom they need to pay their obeisance, to obey his commandments. Their community service for instance could be easily traced to Ambedkar’s call to dalits to contribute 20 % of their earnings to the cause of the community. Although, rarely any dalit (save the poorest ones) goes so far as to sacrifice one fifth of his income over the cause of the community, none seem to refuse some symbolic contribution. Some better organised associations distribute notebooks, text books among slum children, run coaching and career counselling classes, organise relief works in the wake of calamities, open eateries in the dalit congregations like the ones at the Dikshyabhumi in Nagpur and Chaityabhumi in Mumbai. These are the gestures of repayment of the social debt.
They see in Ambedkar as the one who struggled to get them so many facilities and it is their bounden duty to take fullest advantage of the same. It was their sacred duty to occupy positions of power in bureaucracy. It is assumed, as Ambedkar appears to have assumed himself, that the educated dalits with bureaucratic authorities will serve the cause of their community in direct proportion to their relative position. The myth is still sustained in spite of heaps of evidence to the contrary. Ambedkar’s exhortation to ‘agitate’ is reduced down to making appeals to various authorities, having meetings with managements submitting memoranda and at the maximum, to filing the writ petitions in the courts – in short all that in the feasible range of the public service – rules. However, the constraints soon constitute the conscience. Ambedkar is reduced to a deity that imparts an identity. It is therefore that one curiously finds dalits celebrating the joint birth anniversaries of Babasaheb Ambedkar and Shivaji along with the Shiv Sena in the so-called den of Ambedkarism – the State of Maharashtra.
It is expected of the people who avowedly fought against their unequal status, to have a congenial attitude towards the victims of other inequalities. Women are one social group who despite constituting half of the human population and contributing equally to the sustenance of human society are being discriminated against all over the world in varying degrees of severity. Gender inequality should have been the foremost issue in the dalit movement. At least this problem could have been approached with the demonstration of a paradigm shift towards a radical culture. But unfortunately, with the rise of petty- bourgeoisie consciousness in dalits, they have adopted the more regressive culture of the forward castes. Traditionally, dalit women had equality of sorts in so far as they worked with their men folk for managing their homestead. But now the cultural preference of relegating them to the background to do the household chores and / or to look after children is increasingly evident in dalit homes. It is a matter of pride that right from the days of Ambedkar, women have played a major role in the dalit movement. Among the poorer folks they still continue to do so. But this historical legacy also could not thwart the onslaught of the regressive culture.
In the din of what Ambedkar did for women, the icon that guides action is of the exponent of legal and coded equality of women, something like equality on the statutes (a la Hindu Code Bill). Culturally, dalits have not transcended the boundaries of sanskritisation, in the sense that their women folk have been given the worn out role model of a Brahmin woman; just because Ambedkar had once exhorted them to emulate her in the manner of donning their saris and other ornaments. At other times, he had reminded them of the importance of their role in community development as mothers or wives and advised them to perform it better. Thus, it may be said that the approach towards women even in the glorious days of the struggle also had not gone beyond the men-centric traditional role women donned. Similar observation can be made against Buddhism, that its meta-ideals also could not so much as grant them the absolute equality with men. It is a well known fact that Buddha had granted his tacit approval for the ladies to enter the Buddhist order as the ‘Bhikkunies’, at the instance of Anand -one of his close and favourite disciples, but had prescribed that they will always bow in reverence to a Bhikku irrespective of their relative seniority in the order. Although, it is said that the dalit movement scarcely reflected the current shift in favour of equality of women, it would be erroneous to judge the events of the past by present standards. It is not to be forgotten that Ambedkar had to communicate with dalits in their familiar idiom. The cultural change, moreover is an invisible process. What Ambedkar said or did had the limitation of historical possibilities; he would not say anything for the sake of postulating. He craved for change and strove to bring it about with a practicable approach. In relation to women, his approach needs to be understood from this perspective. Unfortunately, dalits seem to have frozen it into an icon and raised fences around themselves from the concept of radical gender equality.
It is a sad paradox of history that the movement of dalits, who are undisputedly the biggest sufferer of material depravation, should show an utter disregard for things material in an era characterised by stark materialism. It smacks of its distaste for the real issues of life while displaying excessive enthusiasm for the emotional issues. After the massive movement of landless labourers led by Dadasaheb Gaikwad, incidence of the material questions that afflict most of the people, could be seen as just notional (e.g., the agitation for fallow lands by Samyak Samata Andolan). Even the Panthers could not escape this trend. There have been massive displays of strength of dalit unity but it all has been for emotional issues. The examples abound. The glorious movements for ‘Namantar’, against the ban on the Riddles of Rama and Krishna, and many others representing the dalit-anger towards the attempts of castiest elements to denigrate and desecrate the statues of Babasaheb Ambedkar, certainly demonstrated potential force of dalits. The material reality that surfaced in the wake of each of these movements in terms of inhuman atrocities perpetrated in vengeance of their assertion, at the same time could not awaken them. In the Namantar case, in response to the Long March by dalits, the local dalit hamlets were burnt down, many people got lynched, many women were raped, and all were ostracised and boycotted. Every time this heinous episode recurs and dalits bear the brunt!
With regard to the neglect of material aspects of living in the dalit movement, the inspiring icon is made up of Ambedkar’s much publicised opposition to the vulgar materialism propagated by the then communists. It is stuffed with his thoughts that reflect not necessarily disdain for the material things but a leaning towards a belief that the societal phenomena could well be shaped by the non-material things or processes. It is coloured by the fact that the tone of the struggles he launched has always been in the realm of codes, norms, traditions, and institutional practices that he aimed his struggle against for bringing about the socio-cultural change, a social revolution. The culmination of his mission, as it is seen by dalits, in Buddhism, that predominantly taught the virtue of extinguishing the thirst for material things and reaching indefinable State of mental peace called Nirvana, has certainly lent strength to this icon. Dalits always defined their struggle to be for prestige – for ‘Asmita’, for self-respect. The questions of land, remunerative wages, working conditions, government’s economic policies etc. never interested them. In the history of four decades at no time any of their leaders or any intellectual cared to look at how the government policies or international happenings influenced the lives of average dalits in villages.
Even in the face of atrocities that dalits suffer day in and day out, never does the realisation dawn on them that much of it could be traced to their State of material depravation. The fact that they cannot organise defence is also related with their material wherewithal. It does not seem to be a question of violence or non-violence. Fortunately, Ambedkar’s own stand on violence, as he often declared it in order to expose the futility of Gandhi’s obsession with non-violence in the long polemics is well known to dalits. It reflected what according to him, the Buddha said ‘to the extent possible, non-violence; if necessary, violence“. But the icon of Ambedkar that came before people was conveniently shorn of this practical attribute. This icon seems to obfuscate even Buddha as the impracticable proponent of unqualified compassion and non-violence. It emphasises constitutionalism even in the wake of perpetration of heinous atrocities.
Barring emotional issues, the dalit movement has been hijacked by the petty warring factions of incompetent leaders whose sole obsession appears to be elections of whatever kind. As roosters wake up crowing at the dawn or frogs surface out of nowhere around water pools formed with the first showers of monsoon, they all surface out of their slumber with any election announcement. Then follow the talks for alliances, allegations and counter allegations of money transactions, threats of splits and actual splits. This process could be preceded by the talks of unification of various factions, if they were not together, essentially engineered by the electoral strategies of some ruling class party. The masses however land up emotionally supporting such unity moves and ultimately fall prey to the machinations of big money. This cycle is seen repeated a number of times at least in Maharashtra, which has historically been assumed as the hub of dalit politics even after losing its provincial relevance. This dalit electioneering has been so shorn of reality and devoid of any political perspective as to seem end in itself, serving the personal interests of leaders. They would not have any manifesto, no strategy, no agenda or plan; no realistic assessment of their strength and weakness. Participating in elections however was their sacred duty. The Ambedkar-icon that appears to back this strange phenomenon derives its material from the fact that Ambedkar himself relied upon elections for securing power despite his own bitter experiences, that he tended to think of the popular mandate gained through periodical elections as the only legitimate political process in the Constitutional regime and denounce other modes of mass struggle. It is additionally imbued with a hope that despite several defeats Ambedkar rose to occupy seats of power through the electoral process.
Now the people are increasingly getting dejected with the games of dalit leaders and are found to be straying over to other parliamentary parties, even of Brahminical hues. Many of the latter have already co-opted Ambedkar. Some have lent him their veneration by including his name into their list of the ‘Pratah smaraniya’- the memorables at the dawn. They have launched the class assimilative drives like Rashtriya Samarasata Manch. Today, there is a sort of clamour for claiming Ambedkar’s legacy among all the parliamentary parties. In the face of disintegration of the dalit block and increasing political crises faced by these parties, they all need Ambedkar for their survival. Essentially, the icon of Ambedkar they promote is customised to serve their own interests. Even the BJP, the party that swears by Hindu religion and glorious Hindu tradition and culture, has put up Ambedkar to serve its ideology and politics, with fairly encouraging results. The icon they project is that of a staunch nationalist, of one who was proud of ‘Indian’ (read Hindu) culture and tradition minus evils like untouchability and of one who was against communism.
The election mania is so deep entrenched in the minds of dalits that they ceased to think of any other alternative. There is no appreciation of the fact that they have been squarely cheated in this intoxicating game. At the first place, the resource sensitive game does not gel with the starkly resourceless players. Second, so far they do not transcend their caste confines, their constituency remains acutely constrained by the numbers of their own caste. Third, even if one succeeded overcoming these odds in the election, there may essentially lie series of compromises ahead for basic survival in the houses. The system ensures that a true representative of dalits does not reach the portals of power, and if reached, he or she is soon neutralised. It is amazing that the simple empirical evidence of the systemic failure does not get across dalits. The constant strength of dalit representation in the Indian Parliament and legislative Assemblies by virtue of the reservation policy, has been utterly ineffective simply because the various identities in addition to the caste never let them come together. Electoral dalit politics pre-supposes alliances and compromises invariably with the ruling class parties who may satisfy the thirst for power of its leaders but certainly not support the dalit empowerment.
Various icons that the post-Ambedkar movement of dalits appear to have built up, characterise Ambedkar as the maker of the Indian Constitution, provider of the present order, a Bodhisatva, a constitutionalist, a messiah, a saviour, an SC leader, a liberal democrat, a staunch anti-Communist, a social engineer who believed in the reform process and disliked revolutions. It is heavily sculpted by the petty-bourgeoisie outlook that has completely hegemonised the dalit movement. It rarely reflects the dreamer in him who was perpetually in search of ways and means to see the human society sans exploitation, injustice and humbug.
Many students of the dalit movement are influenced by these post-Ambedkar reflections in characterising Ambedkar as the bourgeoisie liberal democrat. Does it really project what Ambedkar stood for? Does it capture the full essence of his movement? More importantly, is that the Ambedkar whom we are going to use as the weapon in the emancipatory struggle of dalits?
Dalits as a social group, are still the poorest of poor. A negligible minority has managed to escape poverty limits and to locate itself on to a continuum ranging up to a reasonable level of prosperity with the help of certain State policies like reservation and political patronage. In social terms however, all dalits, irrespective of their economic standing, still suffer oppression. This social oppression varies from the crudest variety of untouchability, still being practised in rural areas, to the sophisticated forms of discrimination encountered even in the modern sectors of urban life. Although, the statistics indicate that dalits have made significant progress on almost all parameters during the last five decades, the relative distance between them and non-dalits seems to have remained the same or has increased. More than 75 per cent of the dalit workers are still connected with land; 25 per cent being the marginal and small farmers and the balance 50 per cent being landless labourers. The proportion of dalits landless labourers to the total labourers has shown a steady rising trend. In urban areas, they work mainly in the unorganised sector where the exploitation compares well with that of a feudal rural setting. Out of the total dalit population of 138 million, the number of dalits in services falling in the domain of reservations does not exceed 1.3 million including sweepers; less than even a percent. And this too would be grossly misleading, as out of this 1.3 million the relatively well-off group A and B officers (in which most of the clerical staff of the PSUs also come), count only 72,212 as against 131,841sweepers.
With the new politico-economic order emerging in the world, the grammar of the dalit liberation struggle is going to be totally different from that familiar to dalits. The onslaught of the adversarial forces is being felt world over by all the oppressed people and it would be folly for dalits not to feel a part of the latter. Their objective situation as a social block is not represented by the minuscule minority that managed to find themselves in the organised sectors of economy, but by the vast majority who are left behind in the villages or the numbers who toil in the unorganised sectors in towns and cities. They need the weaponry for battling out their salvation. This battle is to be waged simultaneously on two fronts, marked by the caste and class. These terms under segmented and sectarian usage came to bear an erroneous exclusivity. Since, Ambedkar still provides a better framework for their problems than any other, and since he commands an unchangeable place in their hearts, the weapons in his armoury needs dusting and sharpening. They will need a review for their effective application in the changing context and possibly, substantial supplementation and replenishment. Ambedkar, quite similar to Buddha in his own hands, needs redefinition. The folklore ‘Ambedkar’ needs to be replaced by the radical ‘Ambedkar’, who would inspire people to claim the whole world as theirs and not to beg for petty favours from the robbers. It is the responsibility of all those who are capable of seeing the reality, to contribute to this task. For, without such a redefinition, Ambedkar could be fossilised as god but would fail in the emancipation project; he might be raised to the highest pedestal by the vested interests but then he would be unable to reach out to where he is most needed; he would lose out to the parody of history.
3. REDEFINING AMBEDKAR
Ambedkar’s thoughts are variously presented by scholars. Some tend to put them in familiar academic slots, viz.: social, political, economic, religious etc. The other method may be bracketed as biographical. The problem with the former is that it tends to discretise his thoughts within the artificial compartments of academic disciplines. The latter tends to be narrational, eulogical and scarcely analytical. Both of them are likely to miss out the underscoring vision and more so the futuristic dimension, which are essentially the attributes of the holistic conception.
Every great person has a vision that impels all her/his works. Its discernibility may vary from case to case, generally being the function of the degree of turbulence around her/him, her/his relative position within the power structure in the given environment, her/his own equipment and conception of self-role. Marx, for instance, offers an articulate vision in clearest terms as he assumed the primary role of a philosopher to bring about revolutionary change, whereas Ambedkar had donned the mantle of mass-leadership in his primary role to spearhead the change; the degree of turbulence in the work domain of Marx had been minimal as he basically struggled in the realm of thought spanning complete human history whereas Ambedkar situated himself in the political turbulence that obtained in India as his strategy; Ambedkar’s position in the power structure that bounded his work domain was certainly weak relative to Marx’s. This is neither to undermine the role of Marx as the activist constantly trying out his philosophy in the realm of practice nor to belittle the problems he suffered in life. With regard to personal equipment, both Ambedkar as well as Marx, could be taken to be equally equipped to undertake their respective tasks that they had undertaken. Marx had started off with philosophy and adopted the class-consciousness of the proletariat quite unlike Ambedkar, in whose case it was his own consciousness – the consciousness of an untouchable built up through concrete experience that had propelled his philosophical search. Marx was well aware of his role in the revolutionary project, that he had to provide requisite tools and tackles for the working class for bringing about a change in the overall interest of humanity. But, Ambedkar was always loaded with anxiety as he had to strategize his way through the political maze around him, winning for dalits the maximum he could in a short span of time. In process, his role also underwent transformation with the expanse of the battleground. Inevitably, his thoughts and action always remained context-laden, polemical and pragmatically purposeful. It is therefore a relatively difficult task to discern a coherent vision underscoring the life work of Babsaheb Ambedkar.
It is a moot point as to what extent a great person, who is essentially anchored in her/his space and time, could transcend these barriers and be equally effective in a different situation. A great person basically is the product of prevailing social relations. It is a particular moment in history that reflects an acute demand for such a person. Depending upon her/his location in the social setting, s/he imparts her/his individual feature to the historical moments and movements in terms of working out specific means for resolving contradictions that engender them and releasing the forces of history in a specific direction. The masses whose cause she / he espouses throng around her/him in this process, depending upon the level of their collective consciousness. The longevity of the ideas a great person propounds in a historical setting depends upon the nature of contradictions, the size and expanse of problems and the time domain in which they are situated. Generally, the classes that share the vision and ideology of such persons tend to iconise them with specific attributes of their class choice, in an attempt to institutionalise the latter. In this process, they would de-contextise some of the ideas and proffer them as universal theorems, if they perceive a pay-off for themselves in the sphere hegemonised by them. This phenomenon becomes clear only over a long time horizon. For instance, the religious principles that were sprouted in the soil of certain specific social relations have basically blossomed in an alien soil with the help of the nutrients of class interests. Very broadly speaking, the trend of iconisation of great persons and the attempt of institutionalising their ideas is a gauge to assess the forces of status quo in the society.
In the case of Babasaheb Ambedkar, iconisation was inevitable. The combination of factors like his high stature, his devotion to the cause of his people; the historical setting in which he lived, the low level of literacy and political consciousness in masses; and the vested interests of internal as well as external people have been its cause. The problem is not with iconisation as it is with its multiplicity. A question may be pertinently asked can Ambedkar be uniquely represented by a single icon? As Prof. Upendra Bakshi had outlined in one of his articles during the centenary year of his birth anniversary that there were many Ambedkars and had questioned as to which Ambedkar do we commemorate? When he said so, Prof. Bakshi was referring to different facets of Ambedkar’s personality that could be virtually segregated. One can even periodise some of them. For example, the pre-1942 Ambedkar as a young, untouchable man endowed with highest scholastic distinctions, struggling within and without for the emancipation of his people is a grossly different personality than the Ambedkar as a member of the viceroy’s Executive Council or the Ambedkar as the law minister in the Nehru cabinet in the post-independence India or the Ambedkar as the chairman of the drafting committee for the Indian Constitution or even the Ambedkar of still later years who had completely identified himself with Buddhism and in a way completely spiritualised himself.
What comes clearly however, from this review is that the changes in his outlook and role were essentially driven by his unstilted commitment to the cause of emancipation of oppressed humanity in general and dalits in particular. He might not have had appropriate methodological tools to deal with the problem at hand. With the equipment that basically belonged to a school of social engineers, he tried to dissect history. Paradoxically, he attempted to demolish the establishment with the very tools that were forged to serve the ruling classes. By training he did not have the facility to look at history as the continuum of human struggle with a certain inherent logic. He did use history as a repertoire of human episodes and attributed even logic to it but its source was externalised.
It appears that Babasaheb Ambedkar had really internalised the doctrine of momentariness (Anityatawad and later Kshanikwad) of Buddha and therefore even refused to care for consistency in his views and opinions. This doctrine states that every thing changes every moment, that things are constantly becoming. It follows that in this situation of flux not even mental processes could be static, they had essentially to match the dynamicity of the material world. He thus never hesitated in changing his thoughts or strategy as per the unfolding situation. Viewed another way, these changes can be understood in relation to foci of control. The degree of consistency in thought and action is generally inversely proportional to the distance of the subject from the foci of control of its surrounding. Ambedkar had nil or little control over his situation. He had to consistently create space for himself and strategize to influence the situation to his advantage. (The dynamics of the situation was propelled by the forces that were variously placed in the adversary camps.) The framework within which he conceived his struggle had exposed him to his lot to respond to this dynamics. The hallmark of Ambedkar’s thoughts is the dynamic rationale, which he has consistently employed to comprehend situations and to strategize his response thereto. ‘Ambedkar’ therefore cannot be captured in static terms. His icon will have to represent the dynamism that he lived. Since, this is an infeasible proposition; we will have to discern the underscoring vision behind his works, the intransient essence of his entire mission to create a suitable icon. This icon, even if it does not resemble the familiar Ambedkar, alone could be the beacon of the dalit movement.
The concept of Anityawad in Buddhism essentially belongs to dialectics that has made Buddha an early dialectician philosopher. The dichotomy that creeps in can only be resolved by dialectical method. It may be questioned whether Ambedkar’s method was dialectical. It appears that while he accepts constant becoming of things as the principle underscoring the universe, he faces a dilemma with respect to the conception of order in this State. It could be resolved dialectically in terms of systemic attribute of self-regulation – a characteristic of internal control. But the conventional conception of order, essentially a non-dialectical conception, leads to externalisation of control. Ambedkar, having experienced the brutal aspects of history and unbridled exploitation of man by man, appears in need of a control mechanism operating at two levels, viz., internal and external, so as to maintain the societal order in the desired State. His internal control mechanism is the moral code provided by the religion and the one for external control is the State. If this moral code is internalised by all individuals and in turn by society as the summation of the latter (as the liberal tradition held), society is expected to have an internal order. If however the baser instincts of some people or group of people defy this order, either as a result of conflicting codes they follow or for any other reason, then in such case the State will step in and restore the order. The will of the collective is supposed to be embodied in the State by the Constitution. It is therefore that Ambedkar has reservation in agreeing with Marx that ‘religion was the opium of masses’ or the ‘State shall eventually wither away’. Ambedkar certainly did not know that the order could be the attribute of the system itself. It is only in the sixties that Cybernetics principles came to lime light that the complex probabilistic systems, which the social systems certainly are, do have the inherent capability of self-regulating and self-organising control.
By upbringing and training Ambedkar was influenced by western liberalism. The openness and liberal values of the western society had struck him with pleasant surprise by his own admission. There is a reason to believe that he had studied Marxism. His first essay on caste reflects some amount of analytical orientation of Marxism. One of the subjects in his curriculum also happened to be related to Marxian socialism and his guide Prof. Seligman was well versed with the economic interpretation of history. However, as his later work reveals, Ambedkar reflected more closeness with the liberal tradition than Marxism. However, consciously he never identified himself with the Liberalism. Being aware of its pitfalls, he needed to declare that he was not a liberal reformist, although while having reservations with the postulations of Marxism he could never hide his attraction towards it.
The pitfall of his thinking emanates from his conception of the moral force of religion divorced from the material reality. He therefore hopes that without any bloodshed, the society based on liberty, equality and fraternity could be created. Of course as hypothesized above, he conceptualizes the constitutional State based on these principles. With this wishful thinking, he tends to ignore the fact that regardless of the pretensions of ruling classes, the impact of liberal governance in the multi-centric iniquitous society is bound to result in sustaining multi-centricity and inequality. This liberalism rather promotes politics of casteism and communalism, schism among dalits, their use in political power games, subversion of their real problems and protects the interests of the few rich. It was a kind of contradiction in terms to assume that liberal democracy, which is actually the manifestation of the political power of the bourgeois, will do justice to the paupers. It might appear to extend certain concessions to the weaker sections, but its real motive is to maintain the existing rule of the ruling classes. Liberal democracy might appear better than the decadent Hindu caste system but it is incapable of bringing any real change in favor of dalits. It muffles the tension of the exploitative system and kills the revolutionary motivation of its victims.
Many of the constructs employed by Babasaheb Ambedkar in his working have a qualified meaning. Firstly, they are not absolute as they appear. They are the derivatives of his thought process, the source of which could be traced to his basic objective of annihilation of castes and creating a society based on equality, liberty and fraternity. Even these three principles that he held so dear to his heart, bear very different meaning from the familiar ones associated with the French Revolution. He said he had them from Buddha. What Buddha said also is to be understood from his interpretation, which could be as different from the accepted version as to be disproved by the Buddhist church. His Buddha and His Dhamma, for instance, had faced this kind of disapproval initially from many Buddhists. Understanding Ambedkar thus essentially demands extra consideration and care about the specific meanings of the constructs and concepts he uses. The lack of it has already caused much misunderstanding among many people. It is one thing to have a clear understanding of what he said or meant but quite another to extrapolate it to something congruent to his basic objective or vision that may be useable in shaping the future movement. Quite like Marx had said of philosophy, it could be said that the issue is not to understand Ambedkar as he is but to possibly think of him as a weapon in the struggle to which he devoted his life. The redefinition referred to here will have to essentially address both these issues. From the viewpoint of one seeking a revolutionary change, there are indeed many dimensions on which Ambedkar calls for critical interpretation. Many of the concepts that seem to act as the props for his formulations are rooted in the reactionary camp. Paradoxically, he brings them to work for his emancipatory project, which potentially is no less than a revolution. Predominant among these concepts are identified as State, religion, liberal democracy, constitutionalism, revolution, socialism, violence and Marxism, that some way or the other have been the cause of misunderstandings about him.
It is important to appreciate that Ambedkar employed the search process that is essentially rational and the underlying objective undoubtedly radical. There could be flaws in the specific design or the application of the search process, depending upon the State of his knowledge and complexity of the situation to which it is applied. Besides this, the end result depends upon the repertoire of alternatives used for the search. What it means is that the specific method, thought or action of Ambedkar may constitute the historical facts but they cannot be taken in their face value if one wants to comprehend the ideological aspects of Ambedkar. In his usage of the above concepts for instance he does not always exercise the academic rigour. Besides the reason that much of his usage was addressed to the un-academic lot, most of the times he tended to impart his own meanings to the terms he used. With the changed contexts or with the change in information, he readily changed his opinions. For, hypothetically speaking, if Ambedkar had lived longer he would have certainly changed his views, looking at more information available or experiencing the undesired aftermath of some of his own beliefs and opinions. Had he not disowned the Constitution, which he had so laboriously written and so forcefully defended, saying that he was used as the hack to write it? Whatever he had done had several limitations. He never hesitated to change his opinion or stand if he was convinced that it was right. The redefinition project proposed here, in a way, is something, which he has done himself, all his life and would have continued doing if he had been alive. It is essentially something in the nature of continuing his unfinished task.
The methodological aspects of this exercise consists in the process of conceptualisation of the core vision and ideological proclivities of Ambedkar through the analytical study of his life within its contextual parameters, oriented towards capturing its intransient content. It should reflect the basic purpose, that is, to see whether and how he could catalyse the emancipatory movement of dalits and in turn democratise the Indian society. This process may not be free from bias. The bias could be in favour of the change craved for by the have-nots, not of the ruling classes that has necessarily been colouring the history so far. It cannot escape the viewpoint of the latter. The viewpoint is rather embodied in the basic intention to forge Ambedkar as the weapon for the future struggles of dalits. The process of conceptualisation may be formalised by drawing out multiple ideological patterns based upon the constituent parameters of the hypothesised vision and testing them with the facts in their macro and micro settings. The test results could be used to refine the definition of the parameters and repeating the exercise until they can no more be improved. The iterative process will eliminate the tactic-based episodes and increasingly highlight the intransient dimensions. The radicalisation consists in derivation of the programme from these dimensions with any scientific methodology.
It is not possible to demonstrate adoption of this methodology within the space of this paper. The following discussion therefore directly deals with the salient dimensions of Ambedkar’s life in order to capture its intransient essence.
4. ‘AMBEDKAR’ FOR THE MOVEMENT OF DALITS
‘Ambedkar’ for the dalit movement, first of all, should be shorn of all the sectarian outlook that unfortunately came to be associated with him. He was an iconoclast and therefore should inspire us to break such icons that are imbued with this outlook. Dalits have to demolish all the handiwork of the reactionaries and vested interests. The project of redefinition of Ambedkar should liberate him from the dens of the ruling class and bring him back to the huts in slums and villages where he rightly belongs.
The greatest thing about Ambedkar is his consistent anti-dogmatic stance. He never accepted any thing in name of authority. He hated humbug of every kind. He always approached problems with a student’s sincerity and researcher’s intellectual honesty. He gave a vision that even the ideologies are bound by the tenet of impermanence and no body should claim them validity beyond their times. His followers therefore can assume absolute liberty to think through things as per their own experience in changing times.
Here, we can discuss certain issues, clarity on which may contribute to this task.
The underscoring vision in Ambedkar’s thought and action is to be found in his yearning for the end of all kinds of exploitation. Whenever and wherever he smelt exploitation, he raised his voice against it. The caste system that subjugated more than one fifth of the population to levels worse than animals’ for more than two millennia and which represented institutionalisation of the most heinous inequality by the Hindu religion as ordained by its gods, became the prime target of his life. He attacked it from the standpoint of its victims – the untouchables. He waged many battles; initially targeting the citadels of Brahminism – the custodian of the Hindu religious code, and later politicised the battle, realising the ineffectiveness of the former. He did not let this objective out of sight even for a moment and worked incessantly for its achievement. This Herculean task almost completely overshadows the fact that his struggles extend well beyond the caste struggles and rather encompass all other forms of exploitation.
Even the credit for struggling against untouchability was reluctantly granted to him by the establishment which had belittled him initially as merely a leader of his own caste – Mahar. This prejudicial treatment of Ambedkar could itself be taken as a measure of the severity of the problematic of caste. The facts are clear today that not only was his struggle directed towards the emancipation of all the untouchables but also towards annihilation of the entire caste system. It was basically against the systemic exploitation that ran unabated for centuries. The protest against this inhuman system could be articulated only in a concrete situation, not in a vacuum. He did not theorise the struggle on a hypothetical plane. He built it on the basis of real problems in a concrete situation. Unlike many cases, the motive force for his life mission was provided by his experience itself. Although he pitched his tents against Brahminism, he never bore any enmity against the Brahmins or identified any one for his friend or foe by caste. The Bahishkrit Hitkarini Sabha that was the launch vehicle of his movement had majority from the forward caste people in its executive body. Even later, this intention of having a non-caste base for the organisation could be consistently seen in his movement, be it the Mahad struggle or the Indian Labour Party. He was perceptive enough to say that the Brahminism could exist in all the castes including the untouchables, for that was the essence of the casteism. It is tragic to find his legacy being monopolised today by only the scheduled castes.
Although, he considered the magnitude of the problem of emancipation of dalits is such as to warrant his sole attention, he did take cudgels for other oppressed entities like workers, peasants and women. At one occasion in response to the accusation that he did not care for the tribals, he had to squarely admit the fact that he considered the problem at hand big enough to outlast his life and provokedly put that he never claimed to fight for whole humanity. Such instances though disturbing enough could be understood within their specific context. While dealing with the socio-economic depravation of dalits, he comprehensively exposed certain systemic dimensions that help perpetuate exploitation. For instance, he was well aware of the capitalist and imperialist oppression besides the decadent feudalism within which domain his problem lay.
During the colonial British regime, capitalism started taking root in India with the collaboration of Indian mercantile capital and British capital. Unlike Europe, it did not have to battle against feudalism; rather it was implanted on the trunk of the latter in India. As a result, even in the capitalist institutions in the cities, caste discrimination simultaneously existed. Ambedkar was quite aware of the exploitative potential of capital and hence he had declared capitalism and Brahminism as the twin enemy of his movement. Capitalism was in an infantile stage then but Brahminism encompassed the phases of slavery, feudalism and extended its tentacles as we see to the phase of imperialism. Moreover, he noted the reactionary compradore character of rising capitalism in the contemporary sectors of the economy and the inhuman exploitation of workers that it unleashed. His, Indian Labour Party (ILP) was an attempt to take up the question of capitalist exploitation, as well as to combine the struggle on both caste and class basis. Various workers’ problems were taken up by the ILP, the leadership of combined strike of the mill workers, parliamentary fight for the workers’ interest in relation to the Industrial Disputes Act, and various legal reforms that were brought about while he was in the Executive Council of the Viceroy, can be the examples of his concern for workers’ exploitation. It cannot be denied that his approach to these contemporary problems was closer to that of the Fabian socialists with whom he was more familiar. But, it was a model adopted out of familiarity and pragmatism, a matter of strategy, never thought out on an ideological plane to be a theoretical plank. Although, there cannot be any doubt that he stood against capitalism, he could not articulate a sound theoretical basis for doing so. Resultantly, his efforts remained constricted with a short view of workers’ welfare but could not provide them a vision of their liberation.
Ambedkar’s attitude towards imperialism has been projected in a distorted manner right from the beginning, mainly because he refused to take part in the freedom struggle or opposed Gandhi who for certain category of ignoramuses was the anti-imperialism personified. He strategically sought to maintain neutrality vis-à-vis the colonial State. As per him, it would not be possible for the resourceless dalits to fight its mighty foes all together. He did not want to dissipate and squander his extremely limited resources on several fronts. He however knew the basic exploitative character of the colonial regime. At several occasions, he burst out saying that British imperialism and Indian feudalism were the two leaches that clung to Indian people. (BB, 58 (8)). However, there was a fundamental difference between his and others’ viewpoint. For instance, he did not approve equating opposition to imperialism with opposing the British. He noted that the opposition to imperialism couldn’t be effective until its supporters within the country are left untouched. The then leader of the Communist Party of India – Manabendranath Roy once met him at his residence and during discussions insisted that destruction of imperialism had to be the first and foremost objective of Indian politics. Ambedkar’s response to him summarised his outlook towards this problem. He replied to Roy in explicit terms that without struggling against the landlords, mill owners, moneylenders – the friends of imperialism within the country, it was not possible to wage an effective fight against imperialism. It may be a matter of research but a priori his anti-imperialist attitude pervades even his writings as a student.
The validation of his stand comes from an entirely unrelated corner and nearly half a century later. Suniti Kumar Ghosh, (1985 and 1995) in his books has shown in great detail how the Congress representing landlords and capitalists had played a compradore role to serve the interest of imperialism during the so-called freedom struggle and how even after the transfer of power in 1947 the grip of imperialism instead of weakening became stronger. Does it not indicate that he was more correct than any of his contemporary politicians? The ones who biasedly wish to pronounce their half baked verdict that Ambedkar was a stooge of British merely on the basis of his acceptance of membership of Viceroy’s Executive Council or talking to the Simon Commission, not only display their ignorance of history but also their casteist fangs. They ought to rethink the comparison between Ambedkar who, even being apparently a part of the imperialist apparatus was perhaps striking at its roots by empowering the people and many others, so called nationalists, who after wearing the mask of anti-imperialism were indirectly strengthening its pillars.
In relation to British rule, Ambedkar basically makes two points. The first is that he questions the so-called freedom struggle launched under the leadership of Congress as an anti-imperialist struggle. He contended that the Congress basically represented the class of feudal lords and the urban capitalists – the twosome exploiters of Indian masses. Although, it succeeded through the charismatic leadership of Gandhi in galvanising masses in its support, it essentially relied on bargaining with the colonial rulers for securing itself more share of power. It always throttled the mass spontaneity as in the case of 1942-uprisings and actively opposed the genuine anti-imperialist struggles of the revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh. Ambedkar reflects the understanding of true character of the Congress in his own way, when he says that if Congress was fighting a real anti-imperialist war, he would whole heartedly support it. The rhetoric of such statement apart, for he never appears to even take a note of other truly anti-imperialist struggles like the one referred to above, it is enough to reveal his attitude towards imperialism and understanding of the class character of the Congress. He knew that the class character of the Congress would not permit it to don this role in reality. Ambedkar could see through the anti-imperialist masks the real fangs of an exploiter of masses. He thus not only saw no point in siding with this more real exploiter of people than perhaps the colonial rulers, but also did not hesitate to openly oppose it when it came in the way of dalit liberation. He smelt rot in all such struggles that refused to notice existence of inhuman exploitation of some of their own people within their precincts and tended to over-externalise their woes. Here lay his second point when he raised a question of Hindu imperialism perpetrated through its caste system that was certainly seen as more vicious by its victims than the British rule. It may be pertinent to ask of those who raise the issue of Ambedkar’s attitude and conduct towards imperialism, to answer as to why the problem of untouchability or caste system that reduced its one -fifth of the population to sub-human levels did not find a mere mention in the lofty discussions of freedom struggle that pre-dated Ambedkar’s raising it. The anti-imperialist aspiration also could be seen in the context of the class/caste division in the society. The battle for the lost kingdom waged by the vanquished lords also could be camouflaged as an anti-imperialist struggle and at the same time the genuine peoples’ anti-imperialist aspiration manifested in the form of say anti-feudal struggle could be condemned as the pro-imperialism, merely because it directed its gun towards the props of the imperialism. The real anti-imperialist aspirations belong to the masses of people the manifestation of which is possible only through the peoples’ war. Whatever anti-imperialist struggle people waged were soon hijacked by the phoney war whose real intent was to extract political power to native ruling classes. While the scenes of anti-British struggles were being enacted for the ‘mother’ India of exploiters, Ambedkar busied himself to liberate the other India- the India of the exploited and oppressed.
Oppression of Women
Besides these mainstream forms of exploitation even the subaltern forms like women’s exploitation, could not escape his agenda. He viewed them as the most oppressed of all. His approach to the problems was typically that of a liberal democrat constitutionalist. This certainly constrained his articulation of this problem as in many others. This issue will have to be seriously rethought by dalits under the redefinition project. But suffice here to say that at any opportunity, he raised his voice against women’s discriminatory situation in the society. His basic law of social engineering was that the social revolutions must always begin from the standpoint of the most oppressed or the ones on the lowest rung of the society. Right from the days of Mook Nayak and Bahiskrit Bharat, he appears to take cudgels for women. He always involved women in his struggles and tended to give them vanguard positions. For example, about 500 women had marched at the head of the historical procession at Mahad to assert the untouchables’ right to drink water from the public tank. He was immensely pained to see the permanent denial of education and religious rights to women ordained in the Shastras of the Hinduism (e.g. Manusmriti). His democratic consciousness never reconciled with any thing lesser than the equality of men and women though its expression was acutely constrained perhaps by his anxieties about the possibilities, so much so that it might even be mistaken as the male centric tactic. While he asked women to be good mothers so as to shape up their son or to be good wives to their husbands or be a carrier of community’s cultural baggage, he did struggle for their equal rights as in the case of Hindu Code Bill. He described sacramental marriages (Mathew, 1991) as polygamy for men and perpetual slavery for women because under no circumstances within that system the latter would get liberty from their husbands, however bad or undesirable they may be. He insisted that women should have the freedom to break this contract.
Although, Ambedkar was conscious of the limitations of liberal democracy in the emancipatory project he had undertaken and at times had even declared that he was not a liberal democrat, for many reasons he could not escape its clutches completely. He could not be unaware that liberal democracy basically was born as the ruling class ideology in 19th century Europe. It takes individuals and their groups as basically selfish units as its premise. It holds that individuals and social groups progress only through competition. It had however to take cognizance of weaker sections in the society, paradoxically in a large number, who cannot enter this competition openly and hence could be potentially be spoilers of the game. The French Revolution had demonstrated this potential in ample measure. As the Whigs in the English Liberal party had thought “the best way to ward off revolution was to adopt a liberal generous attitude toward the lower classes. The upper classes should make concessions gracefully and in good time, and not wait until the lower classes are roused to exact them. If a revolution happens, it doesn’t show that the people are bad and should have been repressed more thoroughly… repression is self-defeating. What it shows is that the upper classes were not wise enough and self-confident enough to make reasonable concessions in good time.“ It accommodates the relatively weaker sections by extending them some concessions or aids for some time, basically to equip them for this universal competition. The State performs the role of a referee in this competition. This State is supposed to be run by the representatives of all the social groups. Notwithstanding his awareness of the above facts, Ambedkar’s schema does reflect the expectation that the State would perform the role of independent referee.
The influence of liberalism on Ambedkar is more pronounced after he accepted the role of the chairman of the drafting committee for the Indian Constitution in collaboration with the Congress. In the light of his own proposals of State socialism submitted to the Constituent Assembly on behalf of the Scheduled Caste Federation, this ideological somersault could only be understood as the situational compulsions acting upon him. Just before entering the Constituent Assembly he had experienced the bitter phase of political oblivion and had seen from closer angles the prospect of his life’s mission ending without any result. He had a dire need to enter the Constituent Assembly and include certain provisions for his people in the future Constitution. When Congress offered him this role, he had to perform it within bounds in exchange for his life’s ambition to provide for his people. The compulsions are too obvious to be ignored. His States and Minorities envisages most of the productive assets to be the State property. This was against the principle of liberal democracy. The liberal theory of property right from the days of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes in the 17th century stressed on private property and on the duty of the government to protect it. It was the Congress liberalism that he had to submit to and had to plead for property rights that were considered pivotal within the Constitution. The same holds true for the centralization of power and certain basic rights, which were congenial to the capitalist class. He had to accept all such provisions that considered the existing power structure from status quo viewpoint instead of transformation. He was compelled to accommodate the principles of social democracy, which he has been regarding as the basic soul into the ineffective chapter of the directive principles of the constitution. He himself had to accept the same parliamentary executive that he had always misgivings about as being dangerous to the life and freedom of ex-untouchables.
He could not be unaware of the fact that from the viewpoint of the oppressed and dalits, except for the reservations, the Constitution was not making any material difference. On the contrary, it had made all the arrangements for letting all the benefits of power stay with the wealthy and traditional elite classes while dangling the carrot of Constitutional safeguards and reservations for dalits and the oppressed people. The existing socio-economic structure was kept in tact in the Constitution underneath the western democracy which proclaimed the principle of ‘one vote, one value’ in political arena. Ambedkar could not hide his discomfort at this dichotomy and had to burst out in his famous warning that if equality in the socio-economic sphere is not achieved within a reasonable time, the disadvantaged people would blast off the structure of the political democracy. He was aware of the fallacy in the assumption that political democracy would catalyze the social revolution through universal franchise and periodic elections. He had himself tested the bitter fruits of this process through the electoral defeats. Politics run on the principles of free market economy can never entail equality. The slogans like socialism, social justice, equality etc. were merely masks to fool the people. The grammar of the game of electoral politics foreordained the politicians serving the interests of big landlords, capitalists and compradore bourgeoisie. They could not survive free political competition without the latter’s blessings. Ambedkar should have been aware that liberal values and liberal institutions are incapable of arresting the monopolistic hold of the moneyed classes on political power.
Revolution, on the face of it, appears to be an anathema to Ambedkar who seems to dread it and instead advocates reforms. But it would be disaster to take it at face value. For, like many other terms, his usage of the term ‘revolution’ does not bear the same meaning as is in vogue, particularly in Marxist circles. What Ambedkar seems to detest in revolution is the violence. At many places he tends to equate rebellion, revolution and revolt with violence. He also seems to disagree with the method of insurrection. He thought that without mass consciousness being ripe enough for revolutionary change, insurrectionary methods would not succeed. Moreover, he appears to be sceptical of the justness of revolutions as they invariably represent the triumph of the collective over the individual. It may be attributed to the influence of liberal democracy in which he got his indoctrination in his formative days. Liberal democracy always put an individual on a high pedestal and considered it precious. His concern for the individual is not again doctrinaire but emanates from the value that any and every human being is precious and the belief that alone can act as the best guarantee against the collective tyranny and totalitarian excesses any time. In the context of the collapse of erstwhile Soviet block, where the totalitarian states that came into being in the name of dictatorship of proletariat and played havoc with people, this human-centric value assumes importance. One needs to be however reminded that even the values do need to have some material bases. They do not fall from sky. The contradiction between collective and individual has thus to be resolved in the concrete situation. As for Ambedkar, apart from this scepticism, he does not seem to have any dispute with the general aim and object of revolution.
Revolution, inasmuch as it seeks to bring about a fundamental change in the social relations in the society, will always be opposed by the forces of status quo, whose material interests are directly threatened by this change. In corollary, it becomes imperative for the forces of revolution to overcome this resistance whatever be the means. Whereas, the antagonist camp will always project codes of ethics and morality for their tactical defence in face of the onslaught of revolution, the revolutionaries discard them as decadent; for them revolution itself represents the highest value. Being the upsurge of the suppressed ones, revolutions do have a tendency to be bloody, but it is always in response to the resistance of its opponents. Therefore it is a representation only by the vested interest to associate violence or moral turpitude with revolutions. On the contrary, it would be more logical to say about the revolutionaries that being propelled by an external motivation to deliver mankind from the existing traps at the risk of their own lives; they cannot be bloodthirsty people. The revolutionary violence is almost an inevitability that arises at the instance of the oppressors. In that sense Marx called “violence as the midwife of history“, emphasising its inevitability. It is the inevitability that marks the compulsion of the vast majority of people to resist the anti-revolutionary violence of the minority. The pre-requisite here is that the revolution truly represents the majority consciousness. If it does not, then the violence of the few exercised with howsoever a lofty objective could transform into its anti-thesis, fortifying itself against the majority will. In this sense and insofar as the recent history showed the scepticism that revolutions trample upon individual’s rights therefore cannot be dismissed as baseless.
Historically, revolution is the process of identifying and destroying the obstacles in the existing order to take productive forces to the qualitatively next higher level, for the overall progress of human race. The progress achieved by mankind so far is basically due to the qualitative transformation from quantitative continuum that characterises revolutions. The qualitative transformations always need concentrated inputs, akin to latent heat in the case of phase transformation of water. In social transformation it takes the form of revolutionary energy that in turn may manifest into violence. Ambedkar does not neglect the necessity of violence. As he himself said that if dalits wanted to be effective they would need the canons. It is erroneous to construe that his opposition to violence was idealistic or doctrinaire. Violence was not a taboo for him; it could be practised when it was absolutely necessary. Even his mentor Buddha, who is respected as the greatest apostle of non-violence had the same pragmatic approach towards violence. Ambedkar was not obsessed either with the idea of non-violence or the value of individualism professed by the classical school of liberal democracy. His reservations were against the possibility of the cunning of a few over-riding the will of majority as had happened in the case of caste institution. He would hate to see any thing like caste getting institutionalised again. In his scheme of things he therefore was not ready to compromise the value of democracy, the will of majority of people, whatever may be the end.
Ambedkar did not juxtapose reform against revolution, as many people tend to do. He does not reflect comprehension of technicality of dialectical materialism in his usage of these terms. Often his revolution is the violent overthrow of the existing rule and establishment of the new rule. Likewise, he does not seem to mean that reforms will not entail a qualitative transformation. What he certainly means by revolution is the change brought about in a ‘big bang’ manner. Notwithstanding what Ambedkar said about his own work, revolution does not always entail a ‘big bang’; it is not a point concept as mistakenly regarded in common parlance, but a line concept. Mao’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution may be a good example of this. There could be many bits of work, which contributes to taking society to a qualitatively higher rung in the ladder of progress that qualify to be the revolutionary work. The qualitative change itself occurs over a discrete time horizon and not a moment. The moment that marks out transformation of power and looks like a ‘big bang’, alone is not the revolution. The particular phase of history puts constraints on the kind of changes that can be conceived in its womb. Some one dreaming of a socialist revolution in the slave society would only at best be a daydreamer; a romanticist but he cannot be a revolutionary. Likewise, certain phase of history demands a lot of quantitative preparation before a revolutionary change can be planned for. Ambedkar largely reflects these kinds of concerns while dealing with the issue of revolution. He did not see Indian situation ripe enough for any revolutionary change. Any change without resolution of the caste question, according to him, would not only be detrimental to dalits but also be an extremely short-lived.
The importance of Ambedkar’s work can be gauged in relation to contemporary social situation and its transitional social context. Indian society was ridden with a peculiar brand of feudalism, the most prominent feature of which was caste. Caste had incapacitated over 15 per cent of its population and maintained them at the sub-human level. The large part of the balance population also suffered the degradation in a varying degree. This decadent institution had far outlived its minimal utility and as a result for centuries kept Indian society in a fossilised form. It served the material needs of a handful of people but all perceived varying stakes in the system on account of its hierarchical structure and faithfully practised it because they internalised it as their Dharma ordained by none other than God. The possible exception in generic terms were dalits who were placed at the lowest rung of the caste ladder and had hardly anything to their share. However, in particular terms only a few castes from the dalit castes, who did not have any specific caste profession and hence little stake in the system and consequently who as the general workmen of villages had better exposure to the changing urban life than any one else came out of the hegemony of Brahmins to articulate the challenge to the system. The hierarchy among dalits however prevented them to come together and consequently this challenge had to be articulated caste by caste. Capitalism that took root in India in big cities also had struck compromise with the caste institution like its harbingers, the British imperialism. It was an arduous task, as it still is, to conceive a model for this struggle and still more difficult to build. During the colonial times for various reasons these struggles had germinated largely in Maharashtra and Southern states where the social structure reflected sharper polarisation between dalits and balance society. Ambedkar’s advent in the Indian socio-political scene marked their zenith. It articulated its attack on Brahminism and capitalism that accepted its alliance, focused its organisation on dalits and gave a clarion call for annihilation of castes for achieving the ultimate aim of society based on Liberty, Equality and Fraternity to provide wider umbrella for all progressive forces to work. It reflects the distinct historical need to democratise Indian society without which it was bound to suffer constriction of its productive forces. This work had to have large content in the socio-cultural realm; it is a credit to Ambedkar’s acumen that he gave it a political dimension. It had to be approached as reform. Ambedkar clearly found the talks of communist revolution as out of phase with the history although he never fully accepted the tenets of historical materialism as he thought it negatived human ingenuity and carried it through a pre-determined channel. He insisted that India did not provide congenial soil for germination of class-consciousness because of castes. Their annihilation therefore constituted the first task in the revolutionary agenda. It is unfortunate that many communist revolutionaries still parrot the same characterisation of his work as in years back their predecessors proclaimed using the spoon fed theories from the West. One day it is hoped that the contributions of all the caste struggles to democratisation of Indian society would be restored as a native revolutionary heritage by these well meaning people. Till then it will always sound puerile to pigeonhole the historical work as reform or revolution merely on the basis of syntax and not the content. However, it is much more unfortunate for Ambedkarite dalits to deny themselves the credit for this historical contributions by dissociating from the revolutionary agenda, mistakenly thinking that it something alien to them. Effectively, not only they are denying themselves a historical opportunity to contribute to revolution but also delaying their own emancipation.
Dalits have to rethink their position vis a vis revolution. Ambedkar’s dream of a society based on liberty, equality and fraternity cannot be realised except through revolution. They will have to understand Ambedkar’s life and mission only from this perspective. His contribution to Indian revolution lies in the fact that he tried to comprehend Indian reality independently and tried to contribute to the resolution of its contradictions in his own way. Indian history held out the gauntlet of fossilised Indian feudalism for so long to the Indian revolutionaries but every one conveniently wished it away, initially as a superstructural matter that would disappear automatically when the material base is revolutionised and now after seven decades as a problem belonging to both structure and super-structure, that could be solved through revolutionary practice. It still lacks the clarity and courage to hold the bull by horn. Ambedkar did not confuse issues, he saw clearly that the annihilation of caste will have to be consciously worked for before taking up any revolutionary project. He went beyond and found out the institutional base of castes in the Indian village whose economic support lay in the land-relations and caste division of labour. But, unlike many communists who still use the stereotype of land reform – a slogan of land to the tiller as the only revolutionary programme, he did not hamper on it because he knew that firstly it was economically impossible to satisfy the land hunger of the landless in the country, secondly the likely transformation of landless to a marginal farmer through land reforms was unlikely to solve the problems of dalits and thirdly, as the later empirical data showed, contrary to expectations the land reforms could aggravate the problem of caste. Instead, he proposed nationalisation of land and co-operativisation of farming. He realised the necessity of detaching substantial village population from land and absorbing it into the industrial sector that was to be mainly under State sector. Even in retrospect, these points could have constituted a viable agenda for democratic revolution. As one naxalite scholar – (Ashok Kumar, 1995) perceptively puts it, for having independently seen the question of annihilation of castes linked with the question of land one could unhesitatingly call Ambedkar as the torchbearer of the people’s democratic revolution.
Dalits are never tired of projecting Ambedkar as the greatest of all the leaders. That unfortunately smacks of sectarian attitude and of their blind devotion to him. They need to understand that the measure of greatness of any person could only be her / his contribution to better the human situation, in terms of correct understanding of its ailment and contribution to cure it. What Ambedkar did could be seen in relation to the broad five currents in Indian politics of his times:
- The Reformists current that wanted to bring about development on the western pattern, possibly with the support of British imperialism,
- Congress, that represented Indian capital and which demanded self-rule under the domination of British imperialism,
- The Terrorist Nationalists who had taken up arms in their fight for freedom against British imperialism,
- The Communists who were trying to implant Bolshevik revolution in India, and
- The Muslim League which opened up a separatist front of Muslims.
All of them scarcely reflected an understanding of the Indian situation. For instance, none showed even a cursory concern about the problems of one fourth of their countrymen who were forced to live worse than animals as ordained by their decadent religion. It was indeed surprising that although all craved for self-rule from the British, none concerned with the caste-system which basically was responsible in pushing the country repeatedly into slavery. None seemed to attempt an objective analysis of either the history or the present of this country. It could circumstantially be said that their motivations came from their narrow class-caste interests. These movements were motivated by the desire of an abstract freedom for country and a refusal to see the concrete slavery of their own people. Granted that the problems before the country were really intricate, still no one would dare say that the need for democratisation was in anyway subordinate. The real people’s movement in the country was required to wage simultaneous war against imperialism, internal compradore bourgeoisie, landlords and Brahminism. It was only Ambedkar who clearly indicated this requirement. In this light, he was certainly ahead of all others. His own bitter experiences with untouchability had stood him in good stead in seeing this more clearly than any other. He strove to build his movement along this understanding but unfortunately it was neither in his power to deal comprehensively with all the issues, nor was there an ideological and programmatic clarity required therefor. He inevitably had to focus his attention on dalits who were the worst victims of this multi-faceted oppression. It was the misfortune of Indian history that this struggle progressed in a constricted manner and eventually got dissolved into regressive statist politics. It reflected both the limitation of Ambedkar as well the situational compulsion on him.
The anti-caste movements before Ambedkar were mainly welfare oriented. Some wanted a higher rank for their own caste in the caste hierarchy and some taking the inferior culture of their caste to be the reason for their suffering, aimed at improving the same. Mahatma Phuley’s movement was an exception to this trend insofar as it attempted to unite the Shudra and Ati-Shudra castes against the exploitation by the parasitic castes of Shetjis (capitalists) and Bhatjis (priests). While Ambedkar accepted the lineage/inheritance of this movement and held Phuley in greatest esteem as his one of the three Gurus, he went beyond to declare annihilation of caste to be the object of his movement in the direction of the goal of ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’. In the historical context it certainly was a radical step. He rightly diagnosed that the caste system is basically sustained by the peculiar economic constitution of the Indian village of which the land relations were the main features. Towards breaking this link he toyed with an idea of separate settlement for dalits at one time and at another exhorted them to leave villages for cities. He had clearly understood that castes stood on multiple props, viz., the religio-cultural relations, feudal relations in village setting of which land relations constituted the crux and the socio-political nexus with the State. Annihilation of castes thus needed destruction of all of them. He soon realised the necessity of political power for this multi-fronged attack. Even to bring about the residual change in the belief system either through the cultural or religious route, he stressed the necessity of political power. In this way, for the first time he brought the problem of untouchability and caste out of the confines of culture to the political agenda.
Unfortunately, this political agenda got lost into the maze of parliamentary politics that soon became be-all-end-all with dalit leaders. Even during Ambedkar’s times the economic aspects of the problem remained largely untouched giving the impression to his followers as though they did not count. In the overall context it can be seen that they could not be as easily dealt with as the religio-cultural and political aspects of the problem. Moreover, it meant direct confrontation with the State for which Ambedkar was certainly not prepared. Alternately, the feudal relations in villages could be destroyed only if the private ownership of land is abolished and co-operativisation of farming is introduced. He thought, this structural change could be effected through the Constitution. It was a folly that he would soon realise when even as the ‘chief architect’ of the Constitution he failed so much as to bring this point on the agenda of the Constituent Assembly.
Babasaheb Ambedkar envisioned his ideal in the famous three principles: liberty, equality and fraternity. They were the basis for the ideal society of his conception. (BAWS, 1/57). He denied that he had adopted them from the French Revolution. He said he had derived them from the teachings of Buddha. These principles were the clarion call of the French Revolution but later became the ideological props of the liberal bourgeoisie in Europe. Since Marx had ridiculed these principles as the fantasy of the bourgeois society, many people tended to stereotype Ambedkar as the petty-bourgeois liberal democrat. As according to Ambedkar the source of these principles is different from the French Revolution, familiar to Marx, there is a prima facie scope to argue that Marx’s ridicule does not apply to him. His conception of these principles is indeed substantially different from that associated with the liberal bourgeoisie. Actually, what Marx refers to are the slogans of liberty and equality of the bourgeois parliamentary democracy. There, ‘liberty’ is the liberty to contract and ‘equality’ refers to equality in market. Ambedkar insists that the conception of the ideal society ought to have them all the three together. Absence of any would not be acceptable to him. The ideal society of his dream could only be seen within a kind of spiritual frame. It would be interesting to compare this society with the communist society of Marx’s conception. Marx reached his inference following the dialectical track of historical materialism. In Ambedkar’ case it was just his vision. Inevitably, he had to attribute the origin of them to some spiritual source. For Ambedkar they meant to denote the State of society sans exploitation and with an emotive ambience of fellow feeling. It was beyond him to describe this State further in concrete terms and much so to indicate the forms of struggle to reach it. Known for his obsession with pragmatism and belief that any definitive laws could not bind the flow of human history, he would avoid the speculative construction of this distant stage of human society. Not even Marx could describe what his dream communist society would be like beyond that it would be freed of the familiar contradictions. It essentially reflected a contradiction between human desire and material reality. It would be disaster to derive the meaning of this ideal State of Ambedkar’s conception from what he did. He left that to posterity to decide as per their circumstances. But, rationally there could be little doubt that the vision of Ambedkar can only be realised in the communist society of Marx’s conception where most (not all) of the contradictions in human society would have been resolved.
Dalits ought to internalise this vision and strive for its realisation. Ambedkar had a radical enough interpretation of his principles of liberty, equality and fraternity so as to feel inadequacy even in Marxism. He said that Marxism supported only equality (BAWS, 3/462). He was in need of a body of thought that would give equal importance to all these three principles. He met it with a convenient conceptualisation of religion. It is paradoxical that a person who is rational enough not to bind the posterity with his vision volitionally binds himself with what is said more than 25 centuries before. It is natural to find ideals better articulated in spiritual spheres but it is equally true that these dream worlds are incapable to provide any clue for their realisation on the earth except for their pet prescription to ignore the material reality and imagine it happened in the mind. They run away from the fact that the evil humans suffer from are the attributes of the divisions in human society, and their abolition essentially calls for struggles by the sufferers against those who perpetrate sufferings. Howsoever, inherently rational the religion may be or radical its interpretation may be it cannot fully escape these limitations. It can be seen in relation to Buddhism handed down by Babasaheb Ambedkar with his radical interpretation. Notwithstanding the familiar quibbling around the Dhamma and Dhamma among dalits, what remained of Buddhism with them is what would happen to any religion. It is a different question whether Marxism embodied Ambedkar’s ideals or not but it is certain that they are neither realisable neither through any kind of constitutional acrobatics nor through any religious practice.
Ambedkar’s conception of State reflects some amount of autonomy from the hegemony of the ruling classes. It is why he expected it to act as per the constitutional structure and endeavoured to incorporate the pro-dalit bias into the Constitution. He must have realised the true nature of it, the boundaries of the autonomy and basic class bias of the State, when he actually reached not only the Constituent Assembly but also became the chairman of its Drafting Committee. In his anxiety to secure some provisions in favour of dalits, he accepted to be the ‘hack’ to write what was acceptable to the ruling caste-class representatives. He must have thought that within the given constraints he had done a good job of making the Constitution responsive to the needs of the downtrodden people. Indeed, many of the provisions in the directive principles and elsewhere apparently bear clear imprint of his zeal and owe their existence to him. But, even they had to be within the strategic space provided by the rulers. His realisation of the folly was near complete when he had to burst out in utter dejection at its ineffectual implementation, that he would be the first man to burn the Constitution as it was of no good to any one. He was inaccurate, as the Constitution had proved good enough to the upper caste-class combine who had hegemonised complete political space in post-1947 India. He attributed it to the ‘devils’ in the Congressmen who had occupied the constitutional ‘temple’ he and others had built. Had he lived little longer, he would have realised that the ones that he considered his co-workers to build the temple were themselves the agents of the very devils.
He hoped to thwart the devil’s march by people’s power conceived in the form of a parliamentary party called Republican Party of India. It was within the very precincts of the temple inhabited by devils and therefore it soon proved to be the devil’s feast.
Ambedkar could not reach the point of understanding that the State is a mere instrument in the hands of the ruling classes to coerce the ruled ones into submission to their interests. Until the downtrodden themselves become the ruling class, they cannot expect the State to do good to them. Whatever good that appears to come to their share, in ultimate balance accrues to the other side in multiple measure.
The post-1947 State, which has never tired of propagandising its concern for dalits and poor, has in fact been singularly instrumental in aggravating the caste problem with its policies. Even the apparently progressive policies in the form of Land Ceiling Act, Green Revolution, Programme of Removal of Poverty, Reservations to Dalits in Services and Mandal Commission etc. have resulted against their professed objectives. The effect of the Land Ceiling Act, has been in creating a layer of the middle castes farmers which could be consolidated in caste terms to constitute a formidable constituency. In its new incarnation, this group that has traditionally been the immediate upper caste layer to dalits, assumed virtual custody of Brahminism in order to coerce dalit landless labourers to serve their socio-economic interests and suppress their assertive expression in the bud. The Green Revolution was the main instrument to introduce capitalisation in agrarian sector. It reinforced the innate hunger of the landlords and big farmers for land as this State sponsored revolution produced huge surplus for them. It resulted in creating geographical imbalance and promoting unequal terms of trade in favour of urban areas. Its resultant impact on dalits has been far more excruciating than that of the Land Ceiling Act. The much publicised programme for Removal of Poverty has aggravated the gap between the heightened hopes and aspirations of dalits on one hand and the feelings of depravation among the poorer sections of non-dalits in the context of the special programmes especially launched for upliftment of dalits. The tension that ensued culminated in increasingly strengthening the caste – based demands and further aggravating the caste – divide. The reservations in services for dalits, notwithstanding its benefits, have caused incalculable damage in political terms. Reservations created hope, notional stake in the system and thus dampened the alienation; those who availed of its benefit got politically emasculated and in course consciously or unconsciously served as the props of the system. The context of scarcity of jobs provided ample opportunity to reactionary forces to divide the youth along caste lines. Mandal Commission, that enthused many progressive parties and people to upheld its extension of reservation to the backward castes, has greatly contributed to strengthen the caste identities of people. Inasmuch as it empowers the backward castes, actually their richer sections, it is bound to worsen the relative standing of dalits in villages.
Thus, the State, its welfare mask notwithstanding, has viciously and consistently acted against dalits and poor people. It is a complete contra-evidence to hopes of Ambedkar who strove to maximise and make use of the autonomous space of the State for the benefits of the have-nots, particularly dalits. It is one thing to assume autonomous space but quite another to equate it with caste-class neutrality. Unfortunately, the dalit political behaviour always reflected this erroneous notion of caste-class neutrality of the State. It has already caused great damage to the dalit interests. The radical Ambedkar might have strategy to use State for dalit cause but would never see it as caste-class neutral.
Despite his ambivalence and reservations about the emphasis on the economic dimension in socialism, Ambedkar broadly remained a socialist. Some scholars do find little scope for suspecting his socialist credentials because of his disapproval of Russell’s criticism of property, his non-acceptance of Marxian formulations and his placement of social issues higher than the economic and political issues. He called the complaint against love of money as ‘philosophy of sour grapes’ (BWAS 1/ 489) and ridiculed materialism as ‘the ideology of pigs’. This impression is moreover strengthened by his reservations to accept the economic interpretation of history. But, in all fairness it may be said that what he appears to mean is the integrative consideration of all the factors that are needed for any society to be based on liberty, equality and fraternity. Notwithstanding his variant conception, there should not be any doubt about his socialistic antecedents. His conception of socialism also underwent evolution. Once he had stated that there was hardly any difference between his socialism and communism. As such, his disagreement with the communists was about the means and not about the aim. He warns the communists that the classless society can emerge only after the emergence of a casteless society. It implies that his quarrel with the then communists was over the stages of revolution. In the 1920s and 30s, these people had borrowed the communist dogma and parroted class struggle in utter disregard of the reality. Ambedkar, on the contrary, was firmly rooted in it. They believed that the soviet Russian model of revolution was importable for bringing about a socialist revolution into India whereas Ambedkar realistically postulated that unless the consciousness of the working class was congenial for revolution, there was no question of it materializing. And, unless the caste system is destroyed, creation of the pro-revolution consciousness was out of question. His annoyance with the Bombay communists was largely because of their dogmatic behavior. It is unfortunate that the ideal of classlessness that was latent in his agenda never really surfaced during his lifetime (Rao, 1979).
Ambedkar relies on the concept of ‘State’ for materialisation of his conception of socialism. His conception of State is largely idealist. He wanted the State to intervene in the economic structure and its monitoring. He wanted to constitutionalise this State intervention so that it would not be subject to change any time with the whims of simple majority vote in the legislation. Ambedkar who taught, “The lost rights cannot be regained by making appeals or requests to the robbers; it needs struggles“; did not say anything on how the oppressed people will get such strength as to create the constitutional provisions, that would put the class structure upside down. On behalf of his party – Scheduled Caste Federation, he had submitted a draft for the future constitution to the Constituent Assembly for the independent India. It was published later as “States and Minorities“. This book has really aided students in understanding some aspects of his conception of socialism. Nevertheless, one cannot afford to forget the constraints placed by the context in which it was written. The context was that he had failed to get into the Constituent Assembly and was therefore anxious to strike a feasible and still radical note that could find the support of the vast majority of the have-nots which might then create some pressure either for its inclusion in the Constitution or for his entry into the Constituent Assembly. For some years, during the preceding turbulence of negotiations for transfer of power, he found himself totally marginalised. Notwithstanding the probable limitations of this draft, its provisions in operational terms were still very radical. The main provisions are:
- All important industries and services shall belong to the nation.
- Insurance industry shall be in public sector and insurance will be compulsory for every citizen.
- Private sector and entrepreneurs shall have a role in the economy but it shall not be dominating.
- Nationalisation of land and promotion of co-operative farming on a collective principle.
These provisions, if implemented, would have gone a long way towards supporting democratic revolution in the country. It would have limited inequality and exploitation in the economic and political sphere. Politically, it would have had far-reaching impact.
Ambedkar till the end could not completely remove the Fabian influence (which he might have gathered while in England) on him. In his times, particularly before World War II, few people in India were well versed in Marxist philosophy. The knowledge of Marxism seldom exceeded some broad principles and ‘Stalin’s dictatorship’ painted by imperialists or the ‘revolt of the workers, the insurgency of the poor. Ambedkar also does not seem to have gone very far from this point. Without indulging into the debate of ifs and buts, there should not be any iota of doubt that the ideal society of his conception could materialise only through socialism.
Ambedkar had unshakeable faith in democracy. In his conception of an exploitation-less society, democracy has an extra-ordinary role. Democracy means ‘one person, one vote’; and ‘one vote, one value’. Democracy means empowerment of any person for participating in the process of decision-making relating to her/him, democracy means liberty, equality and fraternity – Ambedkar’s definition of democracy had such a tone. Because he presided over making of the Constitution and is being projected as its chief architect, there is a misunderstanding that parliamentary democracy is what he wanted. But nothing could be farther from the truth than this. He himself spoke against parliamentary democracy. For instance, he defined parliamentary democracy as “voting by the people in favour of their owners and handing over the rights of ruling over themselves“ (BAWS 10/36). This provides a glimpse of the expanse of his ideal, which certainly was much beyond the Indian Constitution or any common place understanding about him.
His conception of democracy appears to be purely people oriented. He showed that the bookish concepts of equality are detrimental to the disabled sections of society in the prevailing social setting and proposed a fundamental change in the concept of equality. It envisaged complete abolition of inequality. His principle of positive discrimination is based on this very concept of equality. But the operational aspects of this concept involved the need for some kind of autonomous institution, which was met by ‘State’ and ‘religion’. It is necessary to stress that his greatness lies in the radicality of his conceptions, his vision of a human society sans any kind of exploitation; not in the remedies or apparatus he proposed in the circumstances prevailing in his time.
Religion was the institution envisaged to control the organisation at the level of an individual and society to curb their latent exploitative instincts. It was a philosophical device that would regulate their lives, including the interface between them at the most primary level. Ambedkar viewed it as a code of behaviour, a way of life that is upheld by the multitude. He insisted that this code should be based on and be compatible with the precepts of modern science. The religion as normally defined or that became a pill of opium for Marx, was not the religion of his concept either. When ultimately he embraced Buddhism he claimed to have used the criteria of modern science. Buddhism, as it was propounded by Gautama the Buddha hardly qualified to be called religion in so far as it did not have even a single of the three necessary features of religion – viz.: belief in God, permanent entity and a set of rituals. But it is a matter of opinion whether its institutionalised form that we are familiar with still retains its uniqueness. Shunning the futile debate, it could be definitely said and has been acknowledged that the Buddhism that he embraced was far more radical than its familiar version. His ‘Buddha and His Dhamma’ is replete with instances where he reconstructs and redefines Buddhism with a near-scientific approach.
Buddhism, in its purer form, puzzled many people with its radical outlook and rational approach. It did not have a place for God, ritual of any kind or for any permanent entity that characterise all other religions. Morality is said to be its basis and surprisingly a pure democratic criterion of ‘happiness and welfare of many’ (Bahujan Hitay, Bahujan Sukhay) as its motto. He exhorted Bhikkus (monks) and Bhikkunis (nuns) to wander all over the world carrying the Dhamma to people and not to rest at one place. Even by this, he did not mean spread of his creed; it was essentially an expression of the compassion and concern he had for suffering humanity. For, he had repeatedly advised people not to take his word for granted but test it on the touchstone of their experience and intellect before accepting or rejecting it. He never claimed any role in their emancipation asking them to be their own light- “ Atta Deep Bhava“. He treated the Sangha (the order of his Bhikkus and Bhikkunis) as a microcosm of the society. The Bhikkus and Bhikkunis were not allowed to have any private property except for the basic eight things for their personal use. In economic and political sphere, he put forth the ideal of service before the monks and nuns. The people who did not observe this ideal are said to be the parasites, consuming national wealth.
In the realm of philosophy, Buddha’s contributions were far reaching. Several centuries before Hegel, he presented full-blown dialectics in his philosophy. Hegel had provided the basis for Marxism, in a sense that Marx had just to make the reality in Hegel upside down. Buddha’s reality also had shades of Hegel, although he never explicitly accepted, unlike Hegel, the primacy to the consciousness, but he did not get his Marx to resurrect his dialectical non-materialism. The principle of impermanence is the fundamental tenet of Buddhism. For Buddha, any thing that is not permanent does not exist; its application is all pervading. Somewhat as a corollary of this principle, Buddha proposed the tenet of dependent origination (Pratit Samutpad). With regard to materialism, and consciousness, Buddhist philosophy goes quite close to materialism, in the sense that it does not regard independent existence of consciousness without the body. Significantly, Buddha’s approach reflects his orientation to help people emancipate themselves and not pontificate on things irrelevant. It is quite the same as Marx insisting on ‘changing the world’ as the object of philosophy. There are many ‘un-knowables’ on which he kept his famous silence. His ‘middle path’ appears to provide for the grey areas where a definite stand could be erroneous.
Ambedkar’s attraction to Buddhism is basically on account of its moral base and absence of irrationality. On this account it has been the subject of admiration and awe of scores of intellectual people. A person like Einstein had opined that it was the only religion suitable for the scientific age. Ambedkar must have had multiple motives behind embracing Buddhism. Basically he was in search of a religion as an instrument of internal control on individuals’ instincts and social behaviour. He had a social need of an appropriate cultural identity for his people after they had discarded the chains of Hinduism. He was moreover aware of the aberrations that had crept in Buddhism and had to redefine it to present its rational version. Basically, he included many a rational interpretation presented by scholars like Dharmanand Kosambi, and left a mirror to posterity to have a glimpse of his worldview. This worldview, does take cognisance of the material reality of living, subscribes to law of causation, relies on humane rational to interpret the world and finally embodies a craving for changing it. Although, there is no difficulty in understanding or empathising with his decision, the claim that Buddhism could be the substitute for Marxism or a liberating philosophy for the whole world is not only anachronistic but also grossly magnified idealistic hyperbole.
Another notable feature is his repeated reference to Marxism in relation to Buddhism. Many of his disciples misused it as his opposition and even extended it to enmity to Marxism. It is untrue and unfortunate. Like his claims to have checked the consistency of Buddhist tenets with those of modern science, he claimed that his Buddhism was Marxism plus some thing. It certainly shows that he did not hold Marxism in the same esteem as science, but there is no doubt that he considered Marxism as the near-best and willed that his chosen religion should contain all of it and be superior to it. It is interesting to study what aspects he considers important in Marxism and what methodology he employs to compare them with corresponding contents in Buddhism. What is important is to note that with the amount of information available on Marxism to him, he considered it great enough to serve as a benchmark to assess Buddhism.
Babasaheb Ambedkar thought that the communists while attempting to bring about revolution do not bother about justice or injustice, truth or untruth; atrocities and taboos and if times demand, are prepared for bloodshed to establish the State with soviet methods. It was shocking to his moral philosophy and therefore he always expressed his reservation and even disapproval for these methods. He says “The object of communism is as economic and social as it is political. About social, the revolution in public opinion has not taken place. Moreover, majority of people does not have ability to understand the economic and political aims of communism “ (BB, 337 (7)). Elsewhere, he cites the historical examples in the context of historical materialism of Marx and says that the political revolution has always taken place on the background of social revolutions. Howsoever congenial the objective situation for revolution may be, it should be an axiom that till the revolutionary consciousness in people does not impel them to revolt, revolution cannot take place. He could not agree with the communists of his times who reared a mechanistic belief that revolutionary consciousness would automatically be born out of the material reality around. He wanted to stress the importance of the mediation of the conscientisation process in creating the revolutionary consciousness. He had little difficulty in visualising the communist prospects of a stateless and classless society as many people have. But there cannot be any doubt that he wished materialisation of some such ‘utopia’ where all kinds of exploitation would be deeply buried in the past and all the people would enjoy liberty, equality, and fraternity in their sublimest part in full measure.
One of the main problems with the prevailing icons of Ambedkar is that they project him uniformly as anti-Marx. It is the single saddest aspect for the moribund state of the dalit movement. Ambedkar often referred to Marx in various ways but never discussed him at the philosophical plane where essentially Marx resides. It is notable that he has not much to disagree with Marx on the ideological level except for the derogatory comments on materialism. Any one knowing even the basics of Marxism would say that these comments do not have anything to do with Marxism. They relate with the mechanical materialism and not with the dialectical materialism of Marx. What prompted these comments perhaps was the practice of the then communists who vulgarised materialism in tending to ignore anything not material and have been spiteful of the movements of dalits. Beyond this nowhere he appears to discuss basics of Marxism viz., dialectical materialism, historical materialism and scientific socialism. He did express doubt about the uni-linear flow of human history but unfortunately not in any depth to discern the areas of disagreement. Insofar as it implies that the history can develop divergent streams under certain conditions, the validity of the doubt cannot be dismissed.
Ambedkar and Marx share many common spaces. Both were driven by the same goal of reaching the society sans exploitation. Both had a firm commitment to the most oppressed people (technically not so for Marx, though), and saw them in the vanguard role for bringing about the revolutionary change for overall progress of the mankind. Marx arrived at his formulation by scientific study of history and found that in the era of capitalism the working class would be the vanguard of the socialist revolution. Ambedkar did not see working class in India and any probability of its emergence until the castes were annihilated. He therefore saw the necessity of launching the anti-caste movement with its worst victims – the untouchables in the vanguard role. The language and syntax certainly differed because of different frameworks they came to follow. Marx laboured on rigorous philosophical formulation and came out with his own body of thought or a science of revolution. Ambedkar got drowned into the turbulence of present and used philosophy for his reassurance or as a support for practice. A large part of his thoughts have a polemical hue and therefore cannot be used shorn of its context without risk. Ambedkar quite like Marx felt that the object of philosophy was to change the world. His statement that he does not believe in any ‘ism’ can be considered anti-dogma. It is with the same sense he used to say He was a realist. What a coincidence between this and the statement of Karl Max, when he said, “I am not a Marxist “!
Besides these similarities, Marx was always referred to by Ambedkar as a kind of benchmark right up to his last days though unfortunately he never reflected the rigour that is expected in such discussions. It hovered around the superfluous and hearsay features of Marxism. Serious thinkers of Marx are surprised at his conception of Marxism till they are reminded of their location in times. Notwithstanding Ambedkar’s claim that he had read more number of books on Marxism than that read by all the communists in India, in those days the philosophical material on Marxism does not seem to be easily available. What was available was the stuff that talked about the Bolshevik revolution and what went in the Soviet Russia. Rarely does one find a purely philosophical discussion even in Marxist circles in those times. The point is that the impression spread by the vested interests that Ambedkar had rejected Marxism after careful consideration is firstly not true. Whatever his understanding of it, his interest in Marxism had never waned. He prophesied that if Buddhism failed to deliver the results, the whole world would go in for Marxism. Secondly, his feeling of inadequacy of Marxism was related to the superfluous picture of Marxism available to him.
Obviously, Marxism did not have what he was looking for, to readily offer. In the realm of practice, the natural possibility of an alliance between him and the communists seems to have been thwarted by the mechanical outlook of the Indian communists who refused even to take cognisance of the problem of castes. Their ostrich like behaviour towards the frozen reality of this land was more unMarxist than anything conceivable. Still, Ambedkar had joined hands with them during the ILP days to protest against the anti-labour bill and had led the historical strike of the workers in Bombay. But this alliance was short-lived. Endowed with the most potent tools for analysing the social phenomena, it was the duty of the communists to understand Ambedkar and not vice versa. They not only failed in that but also went further to antagonistically oppose him. The Brahminical puritanism that they brought in Marxism was totally misfounded as the times proved. On the sheer consideration that dalits as the most oppressed people of this country did constitute their potential base, their strategy should have had a place for them if they were really committed to revolution. But, it is a fact that dalits just did not exist in their scheme of things. If any one were to be held responsible for betrayal of the revolution in India, it would be these mistaken comrades and not Ambedkar.
Unlike the frontline communist leaders in Bombay, Ambedkar did not need to declass himself to internalise the proletarian class-consciousness. Ambedkar belonged to the working class, he lived in the chawl – the mill workers quarters in Bombay. Even during his stay in USA and Europe, he lived the life of utter depravation, not even having enough food to eat. But for his western attire, which was supposed to reflect disgust for humbug prevalent in those days, he continued to identify himself with the masses and working classes in their trials and tribulations. He did not have any necessity to demonstrate this identity by any extraneous means. The overpowering politician in him in the later days certainly eroded this consciousness and consequently led him increasingly after the short solutions shunning the direct struggles.
The communists basically had their base in the Trade Unions (TU) of the textile mill workers of Bombay. These TUs were tight-lipped on the discrimination faced by dalits in not getting the jobs in better remunerative departments like weaving in textile mills. The economic condition of dalits was much worse than their savarna counterparts. Ambedkar observed that the communists used these TUs for their political gains rather than for the welfare of the working class. Whenever they took precipitate action to strike the work, the workers tended to suffer differentially, owing to their castewise placements. Ambedkar’s objection to this ‘irresponsible’ TU behaviour was on two counts: (i) they were driven by raw ‘economism’ to the detriment of prospects of enhancing the political consciousness of the working class, (ii) they were using them as cannon fodder in the promotion of their political interests. Ambedkar’s writing on communism or Marxism is heavily imbued with his annoyance with the Bombay-communists. This legacy to identify Marxism with its self-appointed practitioners still appears to be followed by dalits. They cite examples of the parliamentary communist parties to show the lacuna or inapplicability of Marxism. It is necessary for them to understand that Marxism needs criticism but it presupposes its careful study.
One of the greatest barriers the communists pose to others is their unMarxist and puritanical attitude. In India that was naturally likened to Brahminism with which all were familiar and because by default the communist leadership happened to come from Brahmin and other dwija castes. Marxist essence presupposes scientific enquiry, a dynamic understanding of the situations and requisite tolerance for divergent views. But the institutionalised Marxism always appeared ready with the glued labels like renegade, reactionary, revisionist etc. to mark out those who did not toe the official line. These fallen comrades then are treated as the worst class enemies nullifying in one shot their life time contribution to the revolution. This tradition has unconsciously induced a dogmatic behaviour in the Marxist circles. By virtue of the powerful analytical tools of Marxism their analyses still read superior to any one around but it could be generally said that they have not made full use of their potentialities. They are adept at stuffing new facts into the old inferences to demonstrate eternal validity of their dogma. For instance, if they had seen the objective reality in Ambedkar’s time as they did now about the problem of castes, the history of this country could have been a bit different! What worries the committed revolutionists is this attitude of the ‘official’ Marxists. For instance, there does not appear any significant appreciation of the changes in the mode of production under capitalism with the advances in communication and computational (information) technologies. The capitalist organisations have undergone sea change with adoption of them from the Fordist models that constituted the reference for the Marxist schema. These organisations have re-engineered themselves into delayered, downsized, flexible, decentralised units and are tending to destructure so as to reduce the cycle times with the fullest use of information technology. In place of factories employing huge numbers of workers engaged in monotonous assembly line tasks, alienated from the product of their labour are coming the distributed production units with knowledge workers, fairly autonomous in their work sphere, located in apparently authority neutralised teams, with flexi-times and profit sharing avenues. The policy package of globalisation that is out to increasingly marginalise and crush the people in poorer countries is just the corollary of this paradigm change. Although, contrary to opinion of many, this socalled flexible capitalism does not any way affect the validity of the theory, one worries to note no influence of these changes in the strategy and tactics of the Marxists. The redefinition project will have to take into account this emergent shape of the world.
One of the problems Ambedkar appears to face in accepting Marxism is its prescription of the ‘dictatorship of proletariat’ during the post-revolutionary transition period to communism. For him any kind of dictatorship was an anathema. He equates it with monarchy. While it is true that he had not understood the basic rationale behind or rather derivation of this concept, his apprehensions cannot be said to be mis-founded as the later developments in the socialist countries revealed. To overcome this lacuna he devises a via media solution of State socialism without demolishing the parliamentary democracy. To cover up the inherent lacunae in the parliamentary democracy, he proposes to incorporate the structure of the economy in the Constitution and limit the sovereignty of the parliament. He visualised this solution as bringing in socialism without ‘shedding a drop of blood’ or resorting to dictatorship. It is unfortunate that instead of understanding the inherent defect of the framework of the political economy, he strove to propose such unrealistic solutions.
The separation of the dalit and communist movements has caused the greatest loss to the revolution in India. The fact that dalit and oppressed people, who constitute the backbone of this movement were kept away from it, restricted its growth. On the other side, on account of discarding the ideology of class struggle, the dalit movement could never come to grips with the real problem of dalits and comprehend the means to solve them. As a result, the condition of this community went on deteriorating, their movement remained revolving around the trifling, temporary and emotional issues thrown in their front by the cunning of ruling classes and their leaders remained entangled with their self interests and politics of status quo. The project of redefinition of Ambedkar will consist in systematically examining Ambedkar’s conceptions and relocating him in relation to Marxism.
In the context of strategy, some of Ambedkar’s contributions are really noteworthy. He brought the struggle against Brahminism into the political battlefield. He inferred that without political power the social and religious structures will collapse and motivated his followers to capture political power. But his conception of political power being acutely constrained by the parliamentary framework where bargaining is the predominant medium of securing political power, inevitably it made way for all kinds of aberrations and perversities to creep in. The prevailing politics being the game of possibilities, he was soon sucked into its vortex. Politics came to dominate the other aspects of his personality. Slowly, the impact of politics started becoming visible everywhere. This phase significantly contributed to multiplication of his inconsistencies out of tactical imperatives. Dalits have taken this legacy of parliamentary politics very seriously, almost as the be all and end all of their political being. It may be, interesting to probe how much damage this kind of political orientation inflicted on the dalit movement.
It is altogether a different question whether Ambedkar had any other alternative to parliamentary politics for political practice. It may be argued that in the context of his resources, adversarial environment and to some extent his personal limitations, he had none. Even if it is taken as correct, it should not be forgotten that it was a matter of strategy and tactic that presuppose contextual variables: it cannot be taken as the lasting value.
The fundamental source of most of Ambedkar’s political thoughts and action is his conception of State and religion, that he had adopted as the extraneous instruments to reconcile the state of flux of things and the necessity of order in them. It is necessary to understand that both, the State as well as religion, are the products of the evolutionary process of the human society. There is nothing inevitable about them. Marx took State as the instrument of coercion in the hands of ruling classes and religion as the opium of the masses. Dalits have a long experience of nearly five decades with the so-called welfare State of Ambedkar’s design. What does it say? Does the State side with them in their conflict with the landlords? Does it come to their rescue when every day three or four of their daughters are raped? Does it come to save the shame of their women when they are paraded naked in the streets? Does it take their side when they come in conflict with landlords, moneylenders in villages or with management in the modern settings? Does it really ensure they get their dues as provided in the Constitution or punish the defaulting management for non-compliance? To all of such questions the answer could only be in the negative. It is not a matter of ‘devils occupying the temples’ as Ambedkar lamented seeing the people occupying the Constitutional positions. The State possesses the characteristics of its master class. In India the upper caste capitalists, landlords, top bureaucrats, etc. being the ruling class, the State can never have saints who would favour dalits. It is a fact that even the government by a dalit party like the BSP could not transform it into a dalit State.
Religion, in Ambedkar’s conception is necessary to maintain the moral order of the society. It may be interesting to examine to what extent it conforms to this idealistic expectation. Buddhism, which undoubtedly is the most rational of all the religions, does not have any evidence of having created over its near millennium long tenure in India such an order of the society which could claim liberty, equality and fraternity of Ambedkar’s conception. Ambedkar’s argument that the Bhikku Sangha in Buddhism was the prototype of this kind of society becomes invalid once we call into question the role of Sangha in the production process. Before that, the order that envisaged nostalgically to recreate the value of the vanishing Gana Rajya in microcosm against the evil of rising monarchies, cannot just sublimate to the era of capitalism without being an alley of exploiters unless it transforms itself in some way as a catalyst for the revolution. The moral tenets of Buddhism likewise cannot submerge the lure of surplus extraction, that is its dominating ethos. If at all, it may help it become more pronounced by weakening the resistance of the exploited masses. As we empirically see, the Buddhism of his conception could not produce even a trace of morality in its adherents. On the contrary, for the masses it presents the distorted, if not inverted, worldview; it orients them to look inwards for their misery and be blind to the reality that some one exploits him. He could certainly derive mental peace and pleasure but it is a state of an intoxicated mind. Keeping in mind the causal links in Ambedkar’s adoption of these instruments, the redefinition project needs to address these issues afresh.
The strategy of the ruling class always stresses on diversion of peoples’ attention from their real problems and their disarmament – both in physical and ideological terms. They invariably have a multi-layered strategy in place for this purpose. The vanguard parties of the ruling classes open up sentimental fronts and attempt to divert the attention of people as their real problems get aggravated. Secondly, their time-tested methods of adulterating radical ideas with the masses are always in operation. Towards this end, we see all the ruling parties vying with each other in co-opting Ambedkar. ‘Ambedkar’ represents a potentially dangerous ideological weapon in the hands of the Indian proletariat and so the ruling class will be hell bent on blunting its edge. They will do everything to eulogise him not only for wooing dalits for their immediate electoral gains but also to neutralise him as the radical ideological force by propagandising a distorted version of the latter. Dalits will have to exercise vigil over their ideological assets even after redefining Ambedkar.
For at least over last four decades Dalits have devotedly followed Ambedkar as their ideal, as a virtual God and zealously practised, as they claim, his teachings. Their social being could be seen to be totally imbued with what they call Ambedkarism – the veritable science of their emancipation. If it is true, and no one would deny it is not, it should be pertinent to ask why despite this flawless following of Ambedkar they continue to be in a pathetic state in every sense. Barring a handful dalits in the government and public sector services and of course politicians, they continue to occupy the lowest rung in the social as well as economic hierarchy of Indian society. Their politics, notwithstanding the media hype, gauged by the measure of general empowerment, continues to be in shambles. Over these decades, their relative situation either shows stagnation or decline. The insinuation to relate this State with their faith in Ambedkar itself would be distasteful for many dalits. But, it is vital for ones that are committed to their liberation to squarely face the facts and dispassionately find out where the rot lay.
Generally, beyond the first burst of anger in reaction to this question, one would face the defensive arguments to discount this relationship. Typically, they tend to attribute their miserable situation to the lack of competent leadership after Babasaheb Ambedkar, to the educated dalits who they think have become dalit Brahmins and have deserted the community; and sometimes to the people themselves for their extreme self- centredness. Sometimes, the finger is raised at the high caste hegemony that has neutralised the impact of the Constitution that Ambedkar created. Some, particularly the leadership, even would dismiss the basic premise itself that there is something wrong with the dalit movement. They might even go so far as to claim net achievements indicating the prosperity of themselves or some others of their ilk. More sober may argue that what is seen is the transition state. Conceding them all some amount of validity even would not erase the stark fact that the general situation of the vast majority of dalit masses remains still alarmingly pathetic. Externalisation of the reasons for this state has not helped dalits any bit. The time has come for dalits to self -critically see whether anything was wrong with their ideology and / or with their practice thereof.
Reviewing the post-Ambedkar dalit movement at some significant milestones, one finds a queer underscoring behaviour, believed to be in accordance with the teachings of Babasaheb Ambedkar, that is certainly incongruent with the essence of what he taught. This dichotomy between the essential Ambedkar and the ‘Ambedkar’ in the faith of dalit masses – the icon of Ambedkar, comes out as the problematic in this review. In relation to almost every aspect of his teaching there emerged an icon that represented varying amount of distortion. Insofar as they constituted the ideology that gripped the masses, these icons can be seen to be at the root of the dalit pathos. Among the myriad sources for these icons, Ambedkar himself might come out as the major source. Because, even a myth can not sustain for long without some material base. The icons of Ambedkar thus could be linked to some such bases, howsoever tenuous, within his own life. The rationalist in Ambedkar never hesitated to change his opinions and behaviour if the facts so warranted. They appear to be inconsistencies to the ones who see it sans context. His distance from the focus of control in his socio-political environment, the vastly varying target audience (ranging from the Englishmen to the illiterate dalits) to whom he had to communicate, the exigency to respond to the dynamics of communities set in motion by the pre- independence politics, his anxiety to accomplish as many gains for dalits as he could in his life time, the exigencies for ‘short’ actions at the expense of ‘long’ vision inevitably led to mark patterns that could support array of behaviours. The first to take advantage of it were his own lieutenants for serving their personal ambitions that set the trends of distortion of Ambedkar in the minds of gullible dalit masses.
The ruling classes that always look for the grounds to divide masses had severally reinforced this distortion and accelerated fragmentation of dalits in every field. They, along with willing collaboration of dalit politicians and emerging elite, promoted and sustained the particular icons of Ambedkar that would prevent political coalescence of dalits and suck them into the vortex of parliamentary politics in order to bring the establishment much needed legitimacy. Dalits failed to note this cunning and let themselves flow in the currents of confusion the ruling classes deliberately created. Today, with increasing political crises the ruling classes seem vying with each other in co-opting Ambedkar, as though that may be their last chance of survival. If dalits stood their grounds well, that might have proved to be their last act. But, unfortunately dalits are giving them new leases of life by blinding themselves to the reality. Not only that they have not resisted these ruling class machinations but on the contrary they are curiously seen to swell the cadres of these castiest, communalist and anti-poor groups and parties. These parties who openly profess the ideology of Hindu revivalism and represent all that is decadent in Indian tradition show the temerity to project Ambedkar among their ideologues. Apart from the reasons of security that propel dalit youth into their fold, the compradore behaviour of dalit elite certainly has influenced the phenomenon. What is common in all the attempts by the ruling classes is to sap ‘Ambedkar’ of its rebellious content.
It is advantageous for them to show that he was the chief architect of the Indian Constitution, committed to parliamentary democracy and opposed to any ideology that propagates violence or revolution. He is projected to favour gradual change implying that dalits should patiently wait and strive persuasively to better their own lives. He is projected as the Bodhisatva that inspires nirvana – the State of total detachment from worldly matters. All these images have caused significant damage to the emancipatory struggles of dalits. Some of these images might be the purposeful and blatant disfiguring of Ambedkar but some of them represent genuine dilemma arising from Ambedkar’s own stands on various issues. From the viewpoint of the comprehensive pro-people change in the present historical phase a democratic revolution is an imperative. The motive force for this revolution ought to sprout from dalits. The history provides a strong testimony that any radical movement in the country could be sustained by dalits and tribals at its base. Ambedkar as a symbol for dalit aspirations holds a key to the barrage that has so far bound the revolutionary upsurge in India below the alarming levels. If one concedes that Ambedkar’s framework is going to haunt revolutionary commitment till the Indian Democratic Revolution actually happens and that Ambedkar represents the ideological weaponry in the hands of dalits who along with other oppressed people are going to be the axis of this revolution, then one would clearly see the need to redefine Ambedkar in radical terms commensurate with this purpose. Many aspects of confusion with regard to the facts could be cleared with rational interpretation of his thoughts. But much might need the logical extrapolation of his basic thinking which for some reason appears to have settled in erroneous forms. As he himself showed the way in the case of his redefinition of Buddha’s Dhamma, dalits will have to undertake this task, for giving themselves a powerful ideology. Their future as a social group almost hinges on this task.
There are enough clues left behind by Ambedkar himself that point to this need. There is no doubt that he was frustrated at the end of his life seeing the undesired aftermath of his lifelong struggle. He had to lament over the betrayal of the educated dalits in whom he had seen the crusaders of his mission. He had to weep with remorse that he could not do anything for his people in the villages. He had to disown the Constitution for working on which he had cut short his life at least by a few years. He had to swallow the frustration of not being able to pilot the Constitution of his conception (States and Minorities). He had to regret the anti-people State that emerged in republican India. He obviously lacked the analytical tools to see through the reasons for these happenings. His excessive religiosity and spirituality at the fag end of his life perhaps could be taken as the manifestation of this frustration. The social engineer could only be busy with problems; he is unlikely to come to grip with the design defects in the system. Almost every thing that Ambedkar pinned his hopes on can be found today in antithetical shambles. His educational society, his vision of Buddhism, the political party of his conception, the social reforms could be some of the examples. These tragic aftermaths also would denote the necessity of a critical review of Ambedkar’s thoughts if they were to be used as the ideology to further the dalit movement towards its logical end. If this process is sincerely followed, there cannot be any doubt that this ‘redefined Ambedkar’ would be a revolutionary icon, organically linking the dalit struggle to the revolutionary struggle in the world. It will truly globalise the dalit struggle.
This paper is not an appraisal of his work. If it was one he is likely to still shine brightest among his contemporaries. It is an appraisal of his icons that came to be the beacon for the dalit movement. It is the futuristic dimension that he represents which is called in question. Dalits could be eternally indebted to a historical personality called Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar for whatever he has done to them, but it does not mean that posterity should be bound by the parameters he operated within. For, he himself never meant it to be so. But then that precisely is the tragedy of Ambedkar, that his disciples always zealously acted exactly opposite to what he said or wrote, particularly what he meant to do. Plain talk of this nature is bound to hurt the sentiments of many people but when the disease crosses certain limits, the administration of bitter pills is inevitable. It is not blasphemy but true allegiance to Ambedkar, to his commitment to the cause of downtrodden that makes this introspective exercise a necessity. Paradoxically, the people who worship him as their God are his worst opponents. The young generation of dalits will have to bear this in mind. Babasaheb Ambedkar himself had said that no great person would make his disciples disabled by imposing his tenets and conclusions, rather he would promote their thinking power by awakening them. The followers can get the directions from the leaders. They are not bound to accept their conclusions (BAWS, 1/240).
(Common place references are deliberately avoided in the text )
BAWS: Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Ed. Vasant Moon, Education Department, Govt. Of Maharashtra, Bombay
Reference may be read as (BAWS,Vol. No./ Page No.)
Ghosh, Suniti kumar, India and the Raj 1919-1947: Glory, Shame and Bondage, Vol.I, Prachi, Calcutta, 1989.
Ghosh, Suniti kumar, India and the Raj 1919-1947: Glory, Shame and Bondage, Vol.II, Research Unit for Political Economy, Bombay, 1995.
Mathew, Thomas, Ambedkar: Reform or Revolution, Segment Books, New Delhi, 1991, p.73.
Kumar, Ashok, Ambedkar aur Marx in Rajkishor (Ed.), Harijan se Dalit, Vani Prakashan, New Delhi, p.133.
Rao, Raghvendra, “ Dr. Ambedkar’s Political Ideas: The Limits of Liberalism- a Brief Comment“, in K.K.Kawalekar and A.S. Chousalkar (Ed.), Political Ideas and Leadership of Dr. B.R.Ambedkar, Vishwanil, Pune, 1979, p.147.
Dr. Anand Teltumbde
A keen student of the peoples’emancipatory struggles. Association with and participation in various movements connected with students, youth, slum dwellers, human rights etc. His thoroughgoing analyses of various social issues exude high level of commitment to the cause of disadvantaged people. The recent publications include a book in Marathi- “Aarthik Sudhar ani Dalit Shoshit“ and a monograph “Impact of New Economic Reforms on Dalits in India“ published by University of Pune.
An engineer by profession, he has MBA from Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad and Ph. D. in Management- Cybernetics from the University of Bombay. Has fellowships and memberships of quite a few professional national and international institutions. Participated and presented/ published research papers in many prestigious international conferences/ journals.
A recipient of many awards and recognitions that include Ambedkar Centenary Award (ACCC, UK), International Human Rights Award, Vikas Ratna Award and Bharat Gaurav Award.