The vested interests while lauding Babasaheb Ambedkar have systematically reduced him to be his near ideological antithesis. The ruling classes and their state of course have played a vanguard role but even his so called followers have not been any behind. This year the ruling establishment is going gaga over the celebration of his 125th birth anniversary when as though revealingly the year has dawned with the monumental injustice to the five Dalit Ph D scholars of the Hyderabad Central University that led to one of them, Rohith Vemula, committing suicide. When Ambedkar stressed on higher education unlike most reformers of his times, he had the likes of Rohith in mind, laced with critical faculties to steer the movement of oppressed people to their liberation. Harassment of Dalit students pushing them to commit suicide in higher educational institutes is not new but the manner in which this suicide took place should wake up Dalits to the deceit practiced by the current regime.
It saw the continued abuse of the Constitution and trampling of all ideas Ambedkar stood for in recent imbroglio in JNU. The very establishments that decimated his ideal of democratic republic and killed the spirit of liberty, equality, fraternity are posing as his biggest devotees. Under such mounting propaganda, right from the late 1960s, which shows that it is not parties but the class they belong to has been acting in concert, the radical aspects of Babasaheb Ambedkar have been systematically overshadowed. For instance, just after getting disillusioned with the aftermath of Mahad struggle he had tried class politics over the entire decade until he was forced by the circumstances to revert back to the caste politics. This politics symbolized by the Independent Labour Party, which was described by him as workers’ party, and its reflection in Janata, his newspaper appears to have been completely forgotten. The 1930s was an eventful decade and it is interesting to see how he saw or related with many of these events. The non-Marathi readers are totally lost to these writings because their translation are yet not available in English and therefore in other languages. It creates impression that Babasaheb Ambedkar just hampered upon the betterment of Dalits and supplemented the ‘divide and rule’ policy of the British imperialists. At least that is what is reflected by the current genre of the Dalit leaders through their apathy towards issues other than Dalit.
One of the most shattering events of this decade is the trial and eventual hanging of Bhagat Singh along with his two comrades Rajguru and Sukhdeo. It exposed the British imperialists in their true colour along with their love for the rule of law as well as the phony concern of our nationalist leadership for the freedom of people. Bhagat Singh and Dr Ambedkar, as they would seem perfect opposite of each other, are the two heroes who had truly understood what ailed this country. When I said this while speaking in the launch of centenary celebration of Bhagat Singh in Maharashtra in 2007, people were perplexed by such a weird statement. But it is quite true. The relevance of these two people is growing as they get distanced from us. How did they see each other? There is no evidence for either of them saying anything about the other. However, we do know that Bhagat Singh had grappled with the Dalit question. He had written an article titled Achoot Samasya (Problem of Untouchability) at the age of 16, but it still has freshness and reflects amazing maturity of thought to be relevant for the emancipatory struggle of Dalits. Ambedkar did not write on the revolutionary movement of Bhagat Singh but has written an editorial note titled “Three Victims” when they were hanged. Though it does not speak about their struggle, much less politics, it explains how their execution was influenced by political expediency back home.
I provide herewith its translation as it may be of interest to many a student of Ambedkar besides its historical value.
(Janata dated 13 April 1931)
Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru have been eventually hanged. They were charged for the murders of an English police officer named Sanders and a Sikh police sepoy named Chaman Singh. Also there were three or four additional charges such as an attempt of murdering one police inspector at Banaras, throwing a bomb in the Assembly, conducting robbery at a house in Maulimiya village and looting its valuables. Bhagatsingh had already admitted to the charges of throwing bomb in the Assembly. For this crime, he and Batukeshwar Dutt were already sentenced with life imprisonment. One of the comrades of Bhagatsingh by name Jaigopal had confessed that the murder of sanders was executed by them revolutionaries including Bhagatsingh and others. The government had filed a case against Bhagatsingh and his comrades based on this confession. None of the three accused participated in this case, however. A special tribunal comprising three high court judges was appointed which heard the case and unanimously awarded them death penalty.
Bhagatsingh’s father had made a mercy petition to the Emperor and the Viceroy requesting them not to execute the punishment and convert if required into life imprisonment at Andamans. Many people including prominent leaders also tried to plead with the government in the matter. The issue of Bhagatsingh’s death penalty might have arisen in negotiations that took place between Gandhi and Lord Irwin. Although Lord Irwin had not given any definitive assurance about saving Bhagatsingh’s life, Gandhi’s speech during the intervening period created a hope that Irwin would try his best within his powers to save lives of these three youth. But all these hopes, predictions and appeals proved futile. They were killed by hanging in the Central Prison, Lahore on 23 March 1931 at 7 pm. None of them had made any appeal for saving them. But as it is already published, Bhagatsingh had expressed a desire for being killed with bullet shots instead of hanging by the neck. But even this last will of his was not granted and they implemented the judgment of the tribunal verbatim. The judgement was to hang by the neck till dead. If they were killed with bullet shots, the execution would not confirm to the judgement verbatim. The order of the justice goddess was obeyed in toto and the three were killed with the method she prescribed.
For whom the Sacrifice?
If the government thinks that people would be impressed by its display of devotion to and strict obedience of the justice goddess and therefore they would approve of this killing, it would be its utter naiveté. None believes that this sacrifice was made with only intention of maintaining clean and sans blemish reputation of the British justice system. Even the government will not be able to convince itself with such an understanding. Then how will it convince others with this veil of the justice goddess? The entire world, as well as the government does, knows that it is not the devotion to justice goddess but the fear of the conservative party and public opinion back home in England that this sacrifice was executed. They thought, the unconditional release of political prisoners like Gandhi and signing pacts with Gandhi’s party has damaged the prestige of the Empire. Some orthodox leaders of the conservative party have launched a campaign that the prevailing cabinet of the Labour Party and the Viceroy who danced to its tune were responsible for it. In such a situation if Lord Irwin had showed mercy to political revolutionaries who have been convicted for assassinating an English officer, it would be like giving a burning torch into the hands of the opposition leaders. Already the condition of the Labour Party is not stable. In such a situation if these conservative leaders got an alibi that the labour government grants clemency to the convicts, who had murdered an Englishman, it would be so easy to provoke public opinion against it. In order to avert this imminent crisis and to thwart the fire in the minds of conservative leaders from flaring further, these hangings were executed.
As such this was not to satisfy the justice goddess but to please public opinion in England. If it had been the issue of personal liking or disliking of Lord Irwin, he would have within his own powers annulled the death penalty and awarded life imprisonment in its stead. The cabinet of the Labour Party in England would have supported Lord Irwin in this decision. It would have been necessary to maintain congeniality of public opinion in the context of Gandhi-Irwin pact. While leaving the country, Lord Irwin would surely have liked to earn this goodwill. But he would have been crushed between the ire of his conservative kin in England and the Indian bureaucracy imbued with the same casteist attitude. Therefore, not minding the public opinion here the government of Lord Irwin hanged Bhagatsingh and his comrades to death and that too just 2 to 4 days before the Karachi conference of the Congress. Both, the hanging of Bhagatsingh and his comrades, and its timings, were sufficient to puncture the Gandhi-Irwin Pact and to trash the efforts to bring it about. If Lord Irwin wanted to fail this pact, he would not have found better act than this one. Looking from this perspective, as Gandhiji also felt, one could say that the government committed a great blunder.
In sum, merely not to incur anger of the conservatives in England, they sacrificed Bhagatsingh and his comrades ignoring public opinion and not minding what would happen to the Gandhi-Irwin pact. The government must remember, howsoever it tries to cover it up or polish it; it will never be able to hide this fact.
Dr Anand Teltumbde is a writer, political analyst and an activist with CPDR, Mumbai