Ambedkar & Gandhi

Ismail Chaudhury

Neither Ambedkar nor Gandhi were infallible. They were pressurised by their respective constituencies—Dalits and Upper Caste Sabarna Elites—to do more than what they did for their upliftment. For one thing to posit Ambedkar and Gandhi as rivals is erroneous. Rather it is better to view them instead as colleagues whose legacies need to be brought together in the struggle for democracy and pluralism.

Ambedkar famously asked oppressed Indians to "educate, organise and agitate". The courage which students and women have displayed in the protests against CAA is entirely in the spirit of Ambedkar's call. Meanwhile, the defence of democracy and pluralism against Hindu majorita-rianism resonates strongly with Gandhi's life-long struggle for inter-religious harmony.

The threat posed by Hindutva compels people of all walks of life, to bring Gandhi and Ambedkar together. What a 16- year boy said in Varanasi deserves serious attention at this critical juncture: "…any kind of fundamentalism will first pluck out the eyes of one's own, making them blind. After that brains are ripped out depriving one of any rationality. Later, heart is taken out making one monstrous. And then a sacrifice will be asked for. It is multiplying with every passing day. It is the need of the hour to save children's eyes, their hearts and their brains from the jaws of fundamentalism immediately…."

After a recent visit to Shaeen Bagh, the Delhi based writer, Omair Ahmad, noted in a long and most interesting Twitter thread, that among the reasons that there were more posters of Ambedkar than Gandhi on display was that, as he put it, "people have moved from thinking a leader for winning freedom, to thinking a leader who gave them tools to assert their own rights as free citizens".

True, but there is one caveat, that when it came to the promotion of Hindu-Muslim harmony no Indian (not even Nehru) matched Gandhi. Broadly speaking, it is the Savarnas who need to change if India has to liberate itself from caste orthodoxy, then Gandhi is necessary. In the fight for the Dalits' civil rights, Ambedkar is absolutely necessary. Both should be brought together tom fight India's obnoxious social evils.

Gandhi calls untouchablity a "Sin", Ambedkar calls it a "crime" but the net result is the same—social degradation and no progressive movement.

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Vol. 52, No. 38, Mar 22 - 28, 2020