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An Open Letter To President Obama

By Ravikiran Shinde

27 October, 2010

Dear Mr. President,

I hope you are doing great. I am delighted to hear that you are coming to India. The last time I saw you at OSU rally in Ohio battling out against belligerent Ms. Clinton. I have moved back to India since. I witnessed jubilation back home among the Indians in general and the downtrodden in particular seeing the highest office of the most powerful country gained by someone lowest in the social strata – a victory of sort for the Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., your mentor.

Climbing of the ladder by an African American (if not by a son of the Muslim) was not just notional, but it was indicative of the changing times and changing thoughts of the common working class Americans (or whites to be overt). ‘Yes, we can’ was the slogan for your campaign and you indeed could phenomenally transgressed gender and religion to convince the nation that they could be safe and sound even under a black man.

The euphoria is over now and you are facing with challenges both within and outside USA and you are facing them very well, one would imagine. Iraq withdrawal was your most important promise that the Americans are seeing getting fulfilled.

Today, India is agog with stories of your upcoming visit in November. Reportedly, you would be attending the Indian parliament session during your visit. This has enthralled us all – although the speaker of the lower house Ms. Meera Kumar might be feeling edgy a la school principal during a supervisors visit unsure about the unruly crowd in the house. Leader of World’s oldest democracy will be watching how the world’s largest democracy functions in one of its pillars.

While roaming in the premises of the parliament garden or Parliament photo gallery (I hope you will spare some time) you might stumble upon the effigy of a middle aged person with glasses raising his index finger indicating the direction towards the building. Amid the traditional Dhoti and Khadi clad effigies, this distinct coat and trouser clad image will be easier to identify.

The statue or image belongs to none other than the Chief Architect of India’s constitution Dr. Babasaheb Bhimarao Ambedkar (1891 -1956). He was not only a Columbia University alumnus like you but also that of London School of Economics. He was perhaps the highest qualified figure of his times despite belonging to the lowest strata of Indian social order (Untouchable). He is the greatest civil rights activists India has ever produced who not only built the democratic values respected by the world but is revered even today by millions in India. An Economist, a Lawyer, a Social worker, a Professor, a Politician, a Journalist and a philosopher - Dr. Ambekar was a versatile figure. He single handedly lead non-violent movement to give the downtrodden their rights during the time when even shadow of untouchables was considered unholy. He is considered as the father of the affirmative actions in India.

He attacked the inequality in the Hinduism vociferously and argued and won the case against Gandhi during the Round table discussions over political rights of Untouchables before Independence. He finally embraced Buddhism along with millions of his followers reviving the age-old religion that took birth in this very nation. He even modeled the secular, socialist, republic, democratic structure after the Buddha’s Sangha (assembly).

Today, Dr. Ambedkar statues, from the length and breadth of the country, easily outnumber those of Gandhi or Nehru demonstrating that his legacy has lasted more than that of the latter in modern day India. Books and collection of his writings and speeches sell like hot cakes the day they are launched. And now we have one such statue in Columbia University Campus itself, in case you haven’t noticed it.

Dr. Ambedkar in being elevated from the lowest echelon of society compelled me to introduce you to this giant personality who still faces a bias by the higher caste dominated government agencies and Media. That’s why they would limit your exposure to the Gandhis and the Nehrus of the country and not Dr. Ambedkar. To juxtapose, imagine what the Fox news does to the African American community or its heroes. As a sedate ritual I am pretty sure India’s establishment comprising of descendents of Nehru Gandhi family would take you to the Rajghat (Gandhi’s memorial) in Delhi but they would not talk to you about Dr. Ambedkar.

Your mentor Martin Luther King Jr. visited India when Dr. Ambedkar was alive but met only the then prime minister Nehru and seems to have been kept in the dark about his civil rights counterpart in India and perhaps never came to know about him.

Please do what MLK couldn’t. Get introduced to Dr. Ambedkar and his thoughts and contribution to India’s democratic system. This will definitely make your trip a worthwhile in the long run notwithstanding the result of other agenda on your priority i.e. Nuclear Liability Bill or Indo-US relationship or the Kashmir issue.

If you get too overwhelmed by your first trip to India, just google Dr. Ambedkar when time permits!

Ravikiran Shinde