'There is not one instance, not one single, solitary instance in which Ambedkar participated in any activity connected with that struggle to free the country'
Arun Shourie's book 'Woshipping False Gods' The recent furore following the desecration of Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar's statue in Bombay has largely been interpreted as the resurgence of the dalit movement in India. A phenomenon which first saw its genesis in the philosophy and personality of Dr B R Ambedkar 50 years ago.
In his latest book, Worshipping False Gods, Arun Shourie challenges Dr Ambedkar's contribution to Indian Independence. The book has already run into controversy and several dalit organisations in Maharashtra want it banned.
Ambedkar's public life begins in a sense from a public meeting held at the Damodar Hall in Bombay on March 9, 1924. The struggle for freeing the country from the British was by then in full swing. Swami Vivekananda's work, Sri Aurobindo's work, the Lokmanya's work had already stirred the country. Lokmanya Tilak had passed away in 1920. The leadership of the National Movement had fallen on Gandhiji. He had already led the country in the Champaran satyagraha, the Khilafat movement, in the satyagraha against the Rowlatt Act, against the killings in Jallianwala Bagh and the merciless repression in Punjab. This National Movement culminated in the country's Independence in 1947.
In a word, a quarter century of Ambedkar's public career overlapped with this struggle of the country to free itself from British rule. There is not one instance, not one single, solitary instance in which Ambedkar participated in any activity connected with that struggle to free the country. Quite the contrary--at every possible turn he opposed the campaigns of the National Movement, at every setback to the Movement he was among those cheering the failure.
Thus, while the years culminated in the country's Independence, in Ambedkar's case they culminated in his becoming a member of the Viceroy's Council, that is -- to use the current terms -- a Minister in the British Cabinet in India.
The writings of Ambedkar following the same pattern. The Maharashtra government has by now published 14 volumes of the speeches and writings of Ambedkar. These cover 9,996 pages. Volumes up to the 12th contain his speeches and writing up to 1946. These extend to 7,371 pages. You would be hard put to find one article, one speech, one passage in which Ambedkar can be seen even by inference to be arguing for India's Independence. Quite the contrary.
Pause for a minute and read the following:
All me to say that the British have a moral responsibility towards the scheduled castes. They may have moral responsibilities towards all minorities. But it can never transcend the moral responsibility which rests on them in respect of the untouchables. It is a pity how few Britishers are aware of it and how fewer are prepared to discharge it. British rule in India owes its very existence to the help rendered by the untouchables. Many Britishers think that India was conquered by the Clives, Hastings, Coots and so on. Nothing can be a greater mistake. India was conquered by an army of Indians and the Indians who formed the army were all untouchables. British rule in India would have been impossible if the untouchables had not helped the British to conquer India. Take the Battle of Plassey which laid the beginning of British rule or the battle of Kirkee which completed the conquest of India. In both these fateful battles the soldiers who fought for the British were all untouchables...
Who is pleading thus to whom? It is B R Ambedkar writing on 14 May 1946 to a member of the (British) Cabinet Mission, A V Alexander.
Nor was this a one-of slip, an arrangement crafted just for the occasion. Indeed, so long as the British were ruling over India, far from trying to hide such views, Ambedkar would lose no opportunity to advertise them, and to advertise what he had been doing to ensure that they came to prevail in practice. Among the faithful his book What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to the Untouchables is among the most admired and emulated of his writings. It was published in 1945, that is just two years or so before India became Independent.
As we shall see when we turn to Ambedkar's views on how harijans may be raised, it is an out and out regurgitation of the things that the British rulers and the missionaries wanted to be said, of the allegations and worse that they had been hurling at our civilisation and people. The book has been published officially by the education department of the government of Maharashtra, and is sold at a subsidised price! It constitutes Volume IX of the set Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, Writings and Speeches. It reproduces the speech Ambedkar made at the Round Table Conference -- a speech which served the designs of the British rulers to the dot, and for which, as we shall soon see, they were ever so grateful to Ambedkar for it became one of the principal devices for thwarting Gandhiji.
In the speech Ambedkar addresses the prime minister and says, "Prime minister, permit me to make one thing clear. The depressed classes are not anxious, they are not clamorous, they have not started any movement for claiming that there shall be an immediate transfer of power from the British to the Indian people.... Their position, to put it plainly, is that we are not anxious for transfer of power from the British to the Indian people.... Their position, to put it plainly, is that we are not anxious for transfer of political power...." But if the British were no longer strong enough to resist the forces which were clamouring for such transfer, Ambedkar declared, then his demand was that they make certain arrangements-- arrangements which we shall encounter repeatedly in his speeches and writings, the essential point about which was to tie down the new government of Independent India.
'Nationalist leaders were neither surprised that Ambedkar was on the platforms with Jinnah, nor had they any doubts about the inspiration behind these celebrations'
Ambedkar and his patrons were dealt a humiliating blow by the elections of 1937. There were a total of 1,585 seats in the 11 assemblies in 'British India'. Of these 777 were 'tied'-- in the sense that they were to be filled by communal or special representation from Chambers of Commerce, plantations, labour etc. Of the 808 'general' seats, the Congress, which Ambedkar, Jinnah and others denounced from the house tops, won 456. It secured absolute majorities in 5 assemblies -- those of Madras, United Provinces, Central Provinces, Bihar and Orissa. And was the largest single party in 4 others-- Bombay, Bengal, Assam and the NWFP.
From the point of view of Ambedkar and the British -- who had been holding him up to counter the Congress claim that it represented the harijans as much as any other section of Indian society -- worse was the fact that the Congress did extremely well in the seats which had been reserved for harijans. Thirty seats were reserved for harijans in Madras Presidency, the Congress contested 26 and won 26. In Bihar there were 24 reserved seats -- in 9 of these Congress candidates were returned unopposed; of the remaining 15 reserved seats, it contested 14, and won 14.
In Bombay of the 15 reserved seats, it secured 1 unopposed, contested 8 and won 5. In the United Provinces there were 20 reserved seats; two of its candidates were returned unopposed; it contested 17 seats and won 16. In Bengal of the 30 reserved seats, it contested 17 and won 6. In the Central Provinces of the 19 reserved seats, it contested 9 and won 5.
The lesson was there for all to see. Reporting to the Viceroy on the result in the Bombay Presidency, the Governor, Lord Brabourne wrote, "Dr Ambedkar's boast of winning, not only 15 seats which are reserved for the harijans, but also a good many more -- looks like being completely falsified, as I feared it would be."
The electorate, including the harijans, may have punctured his claims but there was always the possibility of reviving one's fortunes through politicking and maneuvers. Efforts of all these elements were focused on the objective of installing non-Congress ministries in Bombay and wherever else this was a possibility. Brabourne reported to the viceroy that Jamnadas Mehta, the finance minister "who is chief minister in all but name", was telling him that the ministry in Bombay would survive motions on the budget and may even get through the motion of no-confidence:
"His calculations are based on the fact that he expects to get the support of the bulk of the Muhammadans, the whole of Ambedkar's Scheduled Castes Party, and of half a dozen or so of those individuals who stood as Congressmen merely to get elected," he reported. But added, "I gather that he is in touch with Ambedkar, who is carrying on negotiations for him, but, as you will find from the next succeeding paragraph, it rather looks to me as if Ambedkar is playing a thoroughly double game, in which case Jamnadas Mehta's hopes are likely to be rudely shattered."
The governor went on to report that he had also had a long conversation with Jinnah, and that Jinnah had told him that, in the event of the ministry being defeated, the Muslim League would be prepared to form a ministry provided they could secure a majority of even two or three in the assembly. "He (that is, Jinnah) went on to say that Ambedkar and his party were prepared to back him in this," Brabourne reported, "and that he expected to get the support of ten or a dozen of the so-called Congress MLAs mentioned above.
He made it quite clear to me that they would not support the present ministry. The governor was sceptical about the claims and assurances of all of them. He wrote, "It is, of course, quite impossible to rely on anything that Jinnah tells me, and the only thing for me to do is to listen and keep silent. I obviously cannot tell Jamnadas Mehta what Jinnah told me, or vice versa, as both of them are hopelessly indiscreet. The only thing that is clear is that a vast amount of intrigue is going on behind the scenes, but, in the long run, I cannot see anything coming out of it at all, as none of these people trust each other round the corner. Were to hazard a guess, it would still be that the present ministry will be defeated on the budget proposals and the alternative will then lie between Congress or Section 93"-- the equivalent of our present-day governor's rule.
Congress ministries were formed. And in 1939 they resigned in view of the British government's refusal to state what it intended to do about Indian Independence after the War. Jinnah announced that the Muslim League would celebrate the resignations as 'Deliverance Day.' Guess who was at his side in these 'celebrations' addressing meetings from the same platforms? Ambedkar, of course.
Nationalist leaders were neither surprised that Ambedkar was on the platforms with Jinnah, nor had they any doubts about the inspiration behind these celebrations. Addressing the Congress Legislature Party in Bombay on 27 December, 1937, Sardar Patel noted, "We cannot forget how Sir Samuel Hoare set the Muslims against the Hindus when the unity conference was held at Allahabad. The British statesmen in order to win the sympathy of the world, now go on repeating that they are willing to give freedom to India, were India united.
The 'Day of Deliverance' was evidently calculated to make the world and particularly the British public believe that India was not united and that Hindus and Muslims were against each other. But when several sections of Muslims were found to oppose the 'Day of Deliverance', the proposed anti-Hindu demonstrations were converted into a Jinnah-Ambedkar-Byramji protest against the Congress ministries and the Congress high command..."
That rout in the election remained a thorn in the heart of Ambedkar for long. A large part of What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to the Untouchables which Ambedkar published in 1945 is a tortuous effort to explain that actually the Congress had not done well in the election, that in fact, while groups such as his which had opposed Congress had been mauled even in reserved constituencies, they had triumphed, and the Congress, in spite of the seats having gone to it, had actually been dealt a drubbing!
Though this is his central thesis, Ambedkar gives reasons upon reasons to explain why he and his kind have lost and why the Congress has won! One of the reasons he says is that the people in general believe that the Congress is fighting for the freedom of the country. This fight for freedom, Ambedkar says, "has been carried on mostly by Hindus." It is only once that the Mussalmans took part in it and that was during the short-lived Khilafat agitation. They soon got out of it, he says. The other communities, particularly the untouchables, never took part in it.
A few stray individuals may have joined it -- and they did so, Ambedkar declares, for personal gain. But the community as such has stood out. This is particularly noticeable in the last campaign of the "Fight For Freedom", which followed the 'Quit India Resolution' passed by the Congress in August 1942, Ambedkar says. And this too has not been just an oversight, in Ambedkar's reckoning it was a considered boycott. The Untouchables have stayed out of the Freedom Movement for good and strong reasons, he says again and again.
'Even though he had been heaping scorn at them for a quarter of a century, the Congress leaders put all that aside and invited him to join the government'
Independence came. For all the venom he had poured at Gandhiji and the Congress, Ambedkar was back in the Cabinet, this time Pandit Nehru's Cabinet of Independent India. How did he get there?
Ambedkar's own explanation was typical of the man: he had done nothing to seek a position in the new government, Ambedkar told Parliament later, it was the new prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru who had urged him to join the new government; the offer had come to him as a surprise, he said, he had been full of doubts, but in the end he had yielded to the call of duty and to the plea that he make his talents available to the new government -- that is how things had gone according to Ambedkar. Recall the pleas to Atlee, and set them against Ambedkar's reconstruction of the sequence in the speech he made in the Lok Sabha. It was 10 October 1951 and Ambedkar was explaining his resignation from the Cabinet of Panditji:
It is now 4 years, 1 month and 26 days since I was called by the prime minister to accept the office of the law minister in the Cabinet. The offer came as a great surprise to me. I was in the opposite camp and had already been condemned as unworthy of association when the interim government was formed in August 1946. I was left to speculate as to what could have happened to bring about this change in the attitude of the prime minister. I had my doubts. I did not know how I could carry on with those who had never been my friends. I had doubts as to whether I could, as a law member, maintain the standard of legal knowledge and acumen which had been maintained by those who had preceded me as law ministers of the government of India. But I kept my doubts at rest and accepted the offer of the prime minister on the ground that I should not deny my co-operation when it was asked for in the building up of our nation...
In a word, the reluctant expert who eventually yields to the implorings of others so as to help the poor country that needs his talents. Far from a word of gratitude for the fact that, even though he had been heaping scorn at them for a quarter of a century, even though he had been a most ardent member of the British government which had thrown them and kept them in jails for years, the Congress leaders had put all that aside and invited him to join the government, far from there being any word of gratitude, there was not a word even of appreciation, even of a mere acknowledgment at least for their sagacity, if not their magnanimity, in putting so much of the past -- of the past that was so recent, of the past that had been so bitter -- behind them. The new leaders had implored him to join the government as they had no alternative, so indispensable were the man's talents -- that was the implicit refrain.
The diary of Indrani Devi, the widow of Jagjivan Ram, records the exact opposite. In the entry entitled, Ambedkar ki sifaarish, she records,
And on this side Ambedkar had started coming over to our house. One day he (Ambedkar) told him to put in a word with Gandhiji to have him (Ambedkar) included in the Cabinet. Before talking to Gandhiji he (Jagjivan Ram) talked to Sardar Patel. Sardar Patel said, do what you think is appropriate. He (Jagjivan Ram) got into quite a quandary -- that Ambedkar had always opposed Gandhiji and the Congress, how could he now recommend his case to Gandhiji? Even so, given his large-heartedness, he pleaded with Gandhiji on behalf of Ambedkar, and told him that as he has surrendered in front of you please request Nehruji so that he may be taken into the first Cabinet.
In any event, either as a result of his lobbying or because Pandit Nehru requested him, Ambedkar joined the government. He broke with Nehru four years later and denounced the Congress and Nehru. He entered into an electoral alliance with the Socialists to oppose the Congress in the 1952 elections. His party was wiped out. There were a total of 489 seats in the Lok Sabha. Of these the Congress secured 364, that is almost three-quarters. Ambedkar's party got no seat in the Parliament, only one set in the Bombay assembly, and one in that of Hyderabad.
But presumably the inference to be drawn from this defeat too is the same. "It was a colossal failure, and Ambedkar fell like a rocket," writes his admiring biographer, Dhananjay Keer, about the election result. "It proved once again that there is no gratitude in politics. The nation which had conferred so much glory on him seemed now unwilling to show him gratitude..."
But I anticipate. For the moment we need bear in mind just a few facts.
'Ambedkar was one of the few politicians who supported the Muslim League demand for Pakistan'
Throughout the twenty-five years of his public life before the British left India, Ambedkar took positions which were ever so convenient for the British, throughout these twenty-five years he hurled pejoratives at the Congress, in particular Gandhiji. At every turn he put forward formulae and demands which enabled the British to counter the national movement for freedom. The British were fully aware of the use he was to them, and they were anxious to give him a hand so that he could become even more the exclusive leader of the scheduled castes.
We shall have occasion soon to see what happened at the Round Table Conference in 1931, and what happened in its wake: Gandhiji had to stake his very life to thwart the maneuver the British made -- in consultation with Ambedkar, and to his great acclaim -- to split Hindu society asunder. Gandhiji survived, but he was kept in jail, as were the other Congress leaders. Ambedkar, of course, was again on his way to England to attend yet another Round Table Conference. And as on the previous occasion, what he said and did was to the full satisfaction of the British rulers.
On 28 December 1932, the Secretary of State, Sir Samuel Hoare, was recounting the proceedings for the Viceroy. He wrote, "Ambedkar had behaved very well at the (Round Table) Conference, and I am most anxious to strengthen his hands in every possible way. Coming from a family whose members have almost always been in the (British) Army, he feels intensely that there are no Depressed Class units left. Could you not induce the Commander-in-Chief to give them at least a Company? Ambedkar tells me that the Depressed Class battalion did much better in the Afghan War than most of the other Indian battalions. In any case, I feel sure that at this juncture it would be a really valuable political act to make a move of this kind."
Next, Ambedkar argued long and vehemently that India must not be given Independence in the foreseeable future. We have already seen some of his urgings in this regard. Consider an example from another sphere. As is well known, apart from the Communists, Ambedkar was one of the few politicians who supported the Muslim League demand for Pakistan. One side of his argument was that Muslims cannot stay in a multi-religious society; the other side of his argument was that no one can stay with the Hindus either, by which he always meant "upper-caste exploiters".
That in brief was the thesis of his book, Thoughts on Pakistan. In private he was telling the British something quite different. He had been yearning to be included in the Viceroy's administration, and in mid-1940 it was presumed that, in view of what he had been saying and doing, his induction was just a matter of days.
But those were uncertain times and the calculations of the British were changing from day to day: they were at war with Hitler; they knew that opinion within the Congress was divided, some important elements were of the view that Britain should be supported even though they were not prepared to spell out what they would do about India after the war; so they had to keep in mind the possibility of strengthening this section within the Congress. They also knew that inducting a person like Ambedkar would offend the Congress as a whole no end.
At the last minute, therefore, the Viceroy had called Ambedkar and the other aspirant, M S Aney, and told them that he would have to put off the expansion of his Council for the time being. Not only that, in view of what he might have to do to win co-operation of the Congress, the Viceroy had had to tell Ambedkar that he could not bind himself or his successor about the future. Recounting his meeting with Ambedkar the Viceroy told the Secretary of State on 19 November 1940, in a communication marked "Private and Personal," "I was at pains to protect my successor and myself so far as he was concerned by making it clear that while if circumstances led me to invite him to work with me again, it would give me personal pleasure to have him as a colleague, I or my successor must be regarded as wholly uncommitted in the matter, and under no obligation of any sort."
The conversation had then turned to the demand for Pakistan. The Viceroy noted, "He (Ambedkar) was quite clear that Muslims proposed to hold to their demands for 50:50 and so gradually lay the foundation of Pakistan, and he was perfectly content himself, he said, with that state of things, and in favour of the Pakistan idea quite frankly because it meant the British would have to stay in India. He saw not the least prospect of our overcoming difficulties here by guarantees of any sort and (like most minorities) he has, I suspect, little interest in constitutional progress...."
Eventually, of course, the British had decided that they would just have to leave. Ambedkar then pleaded with them that they tie the new government by a Treaty. Then that they get his organisation a place in the new set up. Then he went and pleaded with Jagjivan Ram, the sort of man on whom he had poured scorn for decades.
But today that very Ambedkar is a Bharat Ratna!
'Ambedkar collaborated with the British to undermine Gandhiji'
All the facts which have been recounted above were well known fifty years ago. With the passing of the generation that fought for Independence, with the total abandonment of looking up the record, most of all with the rise of casteist politics, they have been erased from public awareness. And that erasure has led to the predictable result: schizophrenia.
To start with, those trading in Ambedkar's name and their apologists have sought to downplay the struggle for Independence: the freedom it brought is not "real", they insist. Exactly as that other group did which teamed up with the British at that crucial hour, 1942 -- the Communists. Indeed, as we shall see in the concluding part of the book, to justify Ambedkar's conduct his followers insist that British Rule was better.
Next, they have sought to exaggerate the hardship that Ambedkar had to put up with, to almost rub out the fact, for instance, that at every step -- for instance in his education -- he received fulsome help from persons belonging to the higher castes; by exaggerating the hardships the apologists seek to explain away Ambedkar's collaborating with the British, his hankering for office: these hardships were the sort that are commonplace in India -- one has only to recall the circumstances in which Swami Vivekananda matured, one has only to recall the starvation which stared him in the face, the calumny and humiliations he had to fight back; but in the case of one and each of our leaders the hardships became the crucible which steeled their resolve to rid our country of British rule; it is only in Ambedkar's case that his followers and apologists think that those hardships justify his collaborating with the British against the national movement.
And, of course, these persons have made a practice of denouncing and calumnising Mahatma Gandhi: Gandhiji was the great leader, even more so he was the great symbol of that struggle for Freedom; as Ambedkar collaborated with the British to undermine him, as for 25 years he heaped on the Mahatma calumnies which the British found so valuable, his apologists abuse and denigrate and belittle the Mahatma. In doing this they work out their own poisons -- poisons which, as we shall see, are the inescapable legacy of leaders who have not cast out the thorn of hatred before they come to wield influence.
Today the abuse he hurled at Gandhiji provides the precedent: the apologist's case, as Kanshi Ram said recently while explaining the venom his associate Mayawati had spewed at the Mahatma, is, "We are followers of Babasaheb, we only keep repeating what he used to say." They are at the same time serving their convenience: they have made Ambedkar's style, so to say, as also the facility with which he allied with those who were out to keep the country subjugated, the rationalisation for their own politics.
But the facts lurk in the closet. Lest they spill out and tarnish the icon they need for their politics, lest their politics be shown up for what it is -- a trade in the name of the dispossessed -- these followers of Ambedkar enforce their brand of history through verbal terrorism, and actual assault.
And intimidation works. Editors and others conclude, "Better leave bad enough alone."
Excerpted from Worshipping False Gods by Arun Shourie, ASA Publishers, 1997, Rs 450, with the author's permission. Those interested in obtaining a copy of the book can contact the distributor at Bilblia Impex Pvt Ltd, 2/18, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi 110001or firstname.lastname@example.org