The uproar over what is being referred to as the ‘Ambedkar cartoon’ in the class XI textbook prepared by NCERT first began over a month ago, that is to say, almost six years after the books have been in circulation, been taught and received high praise for their lively style and a critical pedagogical approach (more on this below). It was a political party – one of the factions of the Republican Party of India – that decided to kick up a ruckus over ‘the issue’ – that is, the ‘affront’ to Dr Ambedkar that the cartoon in question supposedly constitutes, and the resultant ‘hurt sentiments’ that it has caused. Very soon everyone began to fall in line, and practically every member of our august Parliament was vying with one other to prove that they were indeed more hurt than their colleagues. One of them, Shri Ram Vilas Paswan has even demanded that the NCERT itself should be dissolved!
Good old Jurgen Habermas – and good old Habermasians – have always invested a lot in forums like the parliament, that are to them the hallowed institutions of ‘rational-critical discourse’ where through reasoned argument people convince each other. That is how the voice of Reason ultimately prevails in democracies. I have always been suspicious of this claim and have thought that Habermas’ empirical work on the decline (‘structural transformation’) of the public sphere was more insightful than his normative fantasies. Long long ago, his empirical work on the transformation of the public sphere showed that it was the rise of political parties that had actually destroyed all possibilities of ‘rational-critical discourse’, where organized passion in the service of immediate political interests carried the day.
But believe it or not, the text book and the cartoon that is now in the eye of the storm, isnormatively speaking a Habermasian tract. In other words, it invests too much in this fantasy of rational communication. The text below the cartoon (reproduced above) says:
” Cartoonist’s impression of the snail’s pace with which the Constitution was made. Making of the constitution took almost three years . Is the cartoonist commenting on this fact? Why do you think the Constituent Assembly took so long to make the Constitution?”And much as I personally disagree with this romantic representation of what went on inside the Constituent Assembly, here is what the textbook it self has to say, perhaps as its own answer to the question posed in the text below the cartoon:..
- Ambedkar Cartoon Debate: A Perspective (kractivist.wordpress.com)