This 14th April the 127th birth anniversary of Bhimrao Ambedkar was marked by a heightened celebrations of the occasion by most of the political formations but more so by BJP. The Prime Minister Modi while paying tributes to Babasaheb said that Congress was against Ambedkar and that his Government has given him the honor due to him, that no government has honored Babasaheb as much as the current regime!
As the game of appropriation of Ambedkar is going on; BJP is operating on multiple grounds. One, the propaganda that Congress was opposed to him and two that it is BJP which is honoring him by introducing app like BHIM in his name or dining with dalits in their households. It is true that in posturing to honor Ambedkar BJP is dominating the scene, but are BJP policies really upholding what Babasaheb stood for? What does respect mean, a mere posturing or valuing his political and social contributions?
One can say that Ambedkr’s world view and philosophy stood totally against what BJP stands for. BJP can speak with a forked tongue with great amount of expertise. When they say that Congress was opposed to Ambedkar, nothing can be farther from truth. We know Ambedkar’s struggles for breaking the shackles of caste system were the major influence on Mahatma Gandhi who launched his anti untouchability struggles, which was a real way to honor Ambedkar. Though he was not member of the Congress; Ambedkar was invited to become the part of Nehru’s Cabinet with the important portfolio of law. It was Congress which took his concerns seriously and he was made the Chairman of drafting committee of Constituent Assembly. Not only that the social reforms were uppermost in the minds of Nehru-Congress and Nehru asked Ambedkar to draft the Hindu Code bill, which was opposed by BJP’s parent organization to the core.
How do we assess the BJP attitude to Ambedkar? First let’s see and recognize that though BJP was formed only in 1980, it had a predecessor Bhartiya Jansangh (1952) and the parent organization RSS (1925), whose ideology of Hindu nationalism controls their politics. At all crucial occasions RSS opposed Ambedkar ideologically. With regard to Indian Constitution, when the draft of Constitution was presented to Constituent Assembly; RSS mouth piece Organiser (November 30, 1949) wrote “… There is no trace of ancient Bharatiya constitutional laws, institutions, nomenclature and phraseology in it…no mention of the unique constitutional developments in ancient Bharat. Manu’s laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day his laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity among Hindus in India. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing”.
Similarly they took out their worst aggression against Ambedkar when he presented Hindu Code bill, RSS Chief M. S. Golwalkar came down scathingly on the same. In a speech of August 1949 he said that the reforms piloted by Ambedkar “has nothing Bharatiya about it. The questions like those of marriage and divorce cannot be settled on the American or British model in this country. Marriage, according to Hindu culture and law is a sanskar which cannot be changed even after death and not a ‘contract’ which can be broken any time”. Golwalkar continued: “Of course some lower castes in Hindu Society in some parts of the country recognize and practice divorce by custom. But their practice cannot be treated as an ideal to be followed by all”. (Organiser, September 6, 1949).
The BJP came to power leading a coalition NDA in 1998. It had an important minister in the Cabinet Arun Shourie, who had written the most scathing criticism which denounced Ambedkar. Even while the current dispensation is garlanding his portraits and photographs, BJP minister Anantkrishna Hegde openly declares that BJP is there to change the Constitution. While Ambedkar was deeply wedded to secularism-equality UP Chief Minister Adityanath Yogi declares that secularism is the biggest lie of independent India. The strategy of BJP is to pay lip service to Babasaheb and at the same time to erode his principles regarding caste and gender equality, his principles as made explicit through burning of Manu Smriti, the book which RSS ideologues have been upholding.
Ambedkar was for Annihilation of caste, as he saw this as the major obstacle to social justice. In contrast RSS ideology talks of harmony between castes; this also gets manifested in RSS work among dalits through Samajik Samrasta Manch.
At another level Lord Ram has been the central figure in their political mobilization. Had BJP family been respecting Ambedkar could they have made Lord Ram as the central symbol of their politics? Lord Ram has been the central mobilizing figure for BJP. Ram Temple issue has been used by BJP to strengthen itself. UP Chief Minister has announced a huge statue of the Lord in Ayodhya. Lately Ram Navami is being promoted all over, on the occasion of which armed youth take out processions particularly in Muslim localities. What had Ambedkar to say about Lord Ram? In his book ‘Riddles of Hinduism’, Ambedkar is critical of Lord Ram. Lord kills Shambuk, a low caste boy who is doing penance. Lord also kills King Bali from behind his back. And most importantly Ambedkar’s reserves his strongest criticism against the Lord for banishing his pregnant wife Sita and not inquiring about his sons or wife for long years!
Respecting Ambedkar is not just garlanding him, respecting him has to begin with upholding his critique of Manusmiriti, respecting the values of Indian Constitution and dedicating to work for secularism and social justice, which were his central concerns. BJP policies have strengthened anti dalit biases and violence, as seen more overtly during last few years. At the same time Gandhi-Nehru-Congress valued Ambedkar’s concerns, despite having different political affiliations.