Ambedkar’s Ideology: Religion, Nationalism And Indian Constitution
By Ram Puniyani
17 April, 2015
In order to gain larger legitimacy, RSS has been making claims of sorts. One of that which was made few months back was that Gandhi was impressed by functioning of RSS. Now on the heels of that comes another distortion that Ambedkar believed in Sangh ideology (Feb 15, 2015). This was stated by RSS Sarsanghchalak, Mohan Bhagwat. Recently on the occasion of Ambedkar’s 124th anniversary many programs were held by RSS combine giving a pro-Hindutva tilt to presentation of Ambedkar.
There cannot be bigger contrasts between the ideology of Ambedkar and RSS. Ambedkar was for Indian Nationalism, Secularism and social justice while the RSS ideology is based on two major pillars. One is the Brahmanic interpretation of Hinduism and second is the concept of Hindu nationalism, Hindu Rashtra.
Where does Ambedkar stand as for as ideology of Hinduism is concerned? He called Hinduism as Brahminic theology. We also understand that Brahminism has been the dominant tendency within Hinduism. He realized that this prevalent version of Hinduism is essentially a caste system, which is the biggest tormentor of untouchables-dalits. Initially he tried to break the shackles of caste system from within the fold of Hinduism. He led the Chavadar Talab movement (right to access to public drinking water for dalits), Kalaram Mandir agitation (movement for access to temples). He also went on to burn Manu Smriti, the holy Brahmanic- Hindu text saying that it is a symbol of caste and gender hierarchy. His critique of Hinduism, Brahminism was scathing and in due course he came to the conclusion that he will give up Hinduism. In his book ‘Riddles of Hinduism’ published by Govt. of Maharashtra (1987) he elaborates his understanding about Hinduism i.e. its Brahmanical version. Introducing his book he writes, "The book is an exposition of the beliefs propounded by what might be called Brahminic theology...I want to make people aware that Hindu religion is not Sanatan (eternal)...the second purpose of the book is to draw the attention of Hindu masses to the devices of Brahmins and make them think for themselves how they have been deceived and misguided by Brahmins" (from Introduction of the book).
Ambedkar had started moving away from Hinduism in 1935 itself when he had publicly declared that he was not going to die as a Hindu. In 1936, he had attended the Sikh Missionary Conference as he had toyed for some time with the idea of embracing Sikhism. In 1936, Ambedkar also wrote and published Annihilation of Caste, his undelivered presidential address to the Jat-Pat-Todak Mandal Conference at Lahore. At the end of his written address, Ambedkar reiterated his resolve to give up Hinduism. (http://bihar.humanists.net/B.%20R.%20Ambedkar.htm)
He said “I have decided for myself. My conversion is sure as anything. My conversion is not for any material gain. There is nothing which I cannot achieve by remaining an Untouchable. My conversion is purely out of my spiritual attitude. The Hindu religion does not appeal to my conscience. It does not appeal to my self-respect. However, your conversion will be both for material as well as for spiritual gains. Some persons mock and laugh at the idea of conversion for material gain. I do not feel hesitant in calling such persons stupid.” (http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00ambedkar/txt_ambedkar_salvation.html)
Lord Ram is the major symbol of Cultural Nationalism propounded by RSS. Let's see what Ambedkar has to say about Lord Ram, "The life of Sita simply did not count. What counted was his own personal name and fame. He of course does not take the manly course of stopping this gossip, which as a king he could do and which as husband who was convinced of his wife’s innocence he was bound to it." And further, "For 12 years the boys lived in forest in Ashram of Valmiki not far from Ayodhya where Rama continued to rule. Never once in those 12 years this model Husband and living father cared to inquire what has happened to Sita whether she was alive or dead, ...Sita preferred to die rather than return to Ram who had behaved no better than a brute." The signals to the Dalits in Hindutva cultural Nationalism are more than glaringly obvious as the Lord demonstrates in his own life, "...he was a Shudra named Shambuk who was practicing Tapasya with a view to going to heaven in his own earthly person and without so much as a warning, expostulation or the like addressed to him, cut off his head..."(From Riddles of Rama and Krishna).
Ambedkar envisioned ‘annihilation of caste’, which remains unfulfilled despite India getting Independence. Multiple factors have operated in the society due to which caste still remains a major factor in India. In contrast to Ambedkar’s ‘Annihilation of Caste’ the politics of RSS combine says that there should be ‘harmony amongst different castes’ and so they have formed an organization called ‘Samajik Samrasta Manch’ (Social Harmony Forum). Contrasting approach to social issues, Ambedkar and RSS!
Core of RSS political ideology is Hindutva or Hindu nationalism. Ambedkar engaged with this issue in much depth, particularly in his classic book ‘Thoughts on Pakistan’. In this book he deals with the question of Hindu nationalism as represented by Savakar; the progenitor of RSS ideology of Hindu nation; and Jinnah, leading the ideology of Muslim nationalism, Pakistan. "Strange as it may appear Mr. Savarkar and Mr. Jinnah instead of being opposed to each other on the one nation versus two nations issue are in complete agreement about it. Both agree, not only agree but insist that there are two nations in India- one the Muslim nation and the other the Hindu nation." he continues, "They differ only as regards the terms and conditions on which the two nations should be. Jinnah says India should be cut up into two, Pakistan and Hindustan, the Muslim nation to occupy Pakistan and the Hindu nation to occupy Hindustan. Mr. Savarkar on the other hand insists that, although there are two nations in India, India shall not be divided into two parts, one for the Muslims and the other for Hindus; that the two nations shall dwell in one country and shall live under the mantle of one single constitution: that the constitution shall be such that the Hindu nation will be enabled to occupy a predominant position that is due to it and the Muslim nation to made to live in the position of subordinate co-operation with the Hindu nation." (Thoughts on Pakistan, Third section, chapter VII)
He was for composite Indian Nationalism, "Is it not a fact that under the Montague Chelmsford reforms in most provinces, if not in all, the Muslims, the non-Brahmins and Depressed Classes united together and worked for the reforms as members of one team from 1920 to 1937? Here in lay the most fruitful method of achieving communal harmony among Hindus and Muslims and of destroying the danger of Hindu Raj. Mr. Jinnah could have easily pursued this line. Nor was it difficult for Mr. Jinnah to succeed in it." (Thoughts on Pakistan, P. 359)
He was totally opposed to the concept of Hindu Raj as well. In the section “Must There Be Pakistan” he says, “If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country. No matter what the Hindus say, Hinduism is a menace to the liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost.” (http://ecumene.org/IIS/csss101.htm)
On all associated matters related to affirmative action for weaker sections of society, rights and status of religious minorities their positions are totally contrasting. Even in the matters of the very Constitution of India, Ambedkar was the chairman of its drafting committee while many a sections from RSS stable have called it as anti Hindu and need to bring in Hindu Constitution based on Indian Holy books. This attempt by Mr. Bhagwat is like putting wool in the eyes of people to achieve their political goals and to get legitimacy from amongst the sections of people who are deeply wedded to ideological values of Ambedkar.
Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. He is involved with human rights activities from last two decades.He is associated with various secular and democratic initiatives like All India Secular Forum, Center for Study of Society and Secularism and ANHAD. Response only to email@example.com
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