Resist Saffronisation of Ambedkar

[The Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, will visit Nagpur on 14th of April. Deeksha Bhoomi is also a part of his visit where he will pay tribute to Dr. B R Ambedkar, the architect of Indian Constitution, on his 126th birth anniversary. This write-up is a compilation of inputs from various sources (blogs) by Tejaswini Tabhane to discuss the aspects of his visit through the eyes of an Ambedkarite.]

Modi paying respects to Dr Ambedkar

This visit has raised several questions which need to be answered by the Prime Minister who calls himself a ‘Bhakt’ (Devout) of Babasaheb Ambedkar. Modi has said the “iconic leader was a ‘vishwa manav’, not just the messiah of Dalits but someone who raised the voice for all the downtrodden and suppressed people (speech delivered at Ambedkar Memorial lecture).”

Now it is obvious to ask Narendra Modi who has written a book dedicated to Golwalkar titled Shree Guruji: Ek Swayamsevak as to how come could he write such words of praise for a communal and anti-Constitution person and appreciate Ambedkar at the same time? Communal and anti-constitution, eh? Yes. MS Golwalkar disparaged democracy (as well as the Constitution) as alien to Hindu ethos and glorified Manu by calling him “the first, greatest and the wisest lawgiver of mankind.” The same Manusmriti that Ambedkar burnt on 25th December, 1927. So our Prime Minister must be an exceptionally intelligent person to be a ‘Bhakta’ of two ideologically almost opposite persons!

I do not want to rest my claim merely on ideology but also on facts and figures. The vibrant Gujarat model which gave Modi a ticket to 7 RCR has a long history of Dalit oppression during his regime as chief minister of the state. The fact is that Gujarat has the dubious distinction of consistently ranking among the top five states in terms of incidence of atrocities on Dalits. In 2013, when Narendra Modi’s ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ mantra had reached the crescendo in the wake of ensuing general elections and his imminent coronation as the prime ministerial candidate, the number of atrocities per lakh population of the Scheduled Castes (SC) was 29.21, up from 25.23 in the previous years, marking it as the fourth worst state in the country. In 2014 (latest available data), only 3.4% of crimes against SCs in Gujarat ended in convictions, against 28.8% nationally. These facts speak volumes about the hollowness of Mr. Modi’s claims of following Ambedkar’s ideals.

Let’s talk about the ideological parent of Modi, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which is suddenly portraying Ambedkar as a ‘Hindu Nationalist!’ Strange that it took less than 70 years for RSS, an organization surviving on the precept of ultra-Hinduism, to recognise Ambedkar as a great son of India who always spoke about ‘annihilation of caste’ and never subscribed to the principles Hindutva.

Ambedkar is anything but a Hindu nationalist. It is indeed an example of classical paradox that an organisation which had severely criticised Ambedkar in various editorial of its mouthpiece Organiser are now laying claims on his legacy. In a democratic country, like any other organisation or individual, the RSS too has the right to change its mind and approach about Ambedkar and project him as its ideological maharishi. But it must have some rationale. Its words and deeds counter each other.

Behind this façade there lurks the dangerous design to saffronise the most secular and pluralist ideals and concepts. The RSS, and particularly the Modi government, has brought Ambedkar to the centre-stage of national conversation to curb various Dalit movements that echo the message of ending Brahmin hegemony, particularly after the suicide of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit PhD scholar at the University of Hyderabad. Their aim is to woo Dalit vote bank while holding the strong base of Upper Castes. That’s why the idea is to portray Ambedkar in a wrong saffronised way to suit their interest. The appropriation and deliberate misreading of Ambedkar’s life and vision will delegitimise his egalitarian ideas, demolish and demoralise the struggles to usher in justice and fraternity and lead to the continued enslavement of the marginalised groups. It is therefore important to protect Ambedkar from these saffron thugs.

As the Prime Minister is coming to Deeksha Bhoomi, the place where Ambedkar embraced Buddhism and broke the chains of Hinduism forever, he must also read Ambedkar’s words and I quote him, “Though, I was born a Hindu, I solemnly assure you that I will not die as a Hindu.” “I will not believe in Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. Neither would I worship them.” Does the Prime Minister have the guts to reverberate these words in front of the whole nation?

Believe me these are some questions, the RSS and Prime Minister will find tough to answer.

Lastly to repeat Rohith Vemula, “The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind.” They reduced Rohith to a number, they are trying to do the same with Ambedkar. We must resist this appropriation lest we lose the only thing that we have — the precious legacy of Dr. Ambedkar and his thoughts.

Jai Bhim!

(Reproduced with permission from Tejaswini)