Published September 24, 2012 | 1:53 pm
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
A Dalit leader belonging to Hindutva family has come out with a book named ‘Rastranistha Babuji’ dedicated to late leader Babu Jagjivan Ram, who held important positions in Congress Party and had the potential of becoming the Prime Minister; but could not reach that position because of various acts of manipulations by political leaders during Janata Party regime.
Jagjivan Ram was a great Dalit leader of the Congress Party and was considered to be a very efficient administrator and a very trusted colleague of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. During the Janata Party regime, he fell to the political one-upmanship of diverse ambitious political leaders. Frustrated and disgusted, he remarked, “In this country, a Chamar can never be the Prime Minister”.
There is another well-known fact about Babuji, as he was respectfully addressed, that he was a staunch Gandhian but had to face humiliation by the champion of Gandhism. It was alleged that Mr Kamlapati Tripathi got Gandhi’s statue washed with Gangajal after Jagjivan Ram garlanded it in a ceremony. Whatever these reports are, the fact is that he was a very prominent Congress leader during his life time and his demise saw a sharp decline of Dalit support for the Congress Party.
There is another side of Babu Jagjivan Ram, which actually sidelined his good work as the modern educated Dalit always considered him as a stooge of the power politics of Congress party who used his services and name against Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar. It is a fact that Congress used every bit of Jagjivan Ram to belittle the contribution of Dr Ambedkar, but today, Ambedkar has reached such a height and definitely not because of any government effort but because the seed that he sowed have now turned into big plants and trees.
Ambedkar’s popularity is envious to everyone in our political spectrum including the family of Babu Jagjivan Ram, as he remains completed marginalized today. Except for Meera Kumar, the Speaker of Lok Sabha, there are not many takers of Babuji’s vision for ‘Harijans’. Modern enlightened followers of Baba Saheb Ambedkar cannot be relegated to being a Harijan and that is why the ideological framework of Babu Jagjivan Ram has become completely irrelevant for them.
The silent revolution of Ambedkarism in India has strengthened democracy, challenged brahmanical mainstream and never accepted birth-based inequality. Today, that enlightenment has made Babu Jagjivan Ram virtually redundant for most of those believe in a democratic revolution unleashed by Ambedkar’s path breaking philosophy of life.
Unlike Dr Ambedkar, Babuji wanted Dalit to be part of Hinduism as he felt that caste does not really originate from Hinduism and that it is our duty to change it. Babu Jagjivan Ram did not really challenge the dominance of brahmanical system. Instead, he was a part of it and, in fact, was always elected to Lok Sabha from Sasaram in Bihar, with massive upper caste support. How could a person survive in the polity without upper caste support?
Jagjivan Ram never ever challenged the religious hegemony of the upper elite despite humiliation, and hence, today, after many years, the brahmanical elite is now ‘finding’ Babuji’s importance so he is being portrayed as ‘Rastranishta’ or ‘nationalist’. One does not know why are these terms used for particular people or what do they want to communicate to us with such terminologies. If Babuji was the only nationalist then what are others?
There is no doubt that Babu Jagjivan Ram needs a better assessment from all of us. He perhaps never got his due from any one. In the new era of Dalit assertion, Babuji was merely a protector of ‘Harijans’ and with the advent of Kanshi Ram, a new aggressive Dalit was born who challenged the very word ‘Harijan’ which is still being used in many parts of the country despite being openly prescribed by the Ministry of Social Justice, Government of India.
Dr Ambedkar, whose writings and understanding was an anathema for mainstream political parties and writers, actually became ‘pratahsmaraniya’ for even the Hindutva groups. Yet, this was a compulsion because of the enormous influence of Dr Ambedkar on the lives of 160 million Dalits in India.
Now, the forces of Hindutva work in multiplicity with one agenda to co-opt the ideology if you are unable to bend them. The other way is to denigrate him through getting these issues raised by ‘Dalits’ themselves so that they do not get directly accused of maligning him. In the case of Arun Shourie, people targeted him, but Sanjay Paswan, the BJP’s Dalit face, wrote about Jagjivan Ram and denigrates Ambedkar; it raises an important question as who is critiquing Ambedkar and what is the hidden agenda behind this.
Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar remains the tallest icons of the Dalit history even though he may not be the only one in history that also has Carvak, Buddha, Kabir, Nanak, Ravidas and Phule before him. Ambedkar is accepted, yet, with a heavy heart and hence these forces continue to promote writings on Ambedkar by others to belittle his contribution to India.
In the early 1990s, Hindutva protagonist Arun Shourie came out with a book named ‘Worshipping the False God’ ridiculing Ambedkar’s work. Shourie went to the extent of terming Ambedkar as an agent of British who was created to counter Gandhi and spoil freedom of India. Shourie quoted Ambedkar on Gandhi and condemned him for his views on Gandhi particularly on caste and religion. Arun Shourie thought that he was ‘revealing’ a new Ambedkar to Indians but those of us, who have read Dr Ambedkar well, knew what Baba Saheb Ambedkar stood for.
Shourie blamed Ambedkar for supporting legendary humanist leader M.N. Roy, when he was the labor minister in Viceroy’s Council. Roy got Rs 13,000/- as a subscription for the magazine that he was running and Ambedkar thought it was important to support anti-war effort. Roy had termed Gandhism as cultural fascism and said that Hindu cultural fascism would be more dangerous than the German fascism. Arun Shourie said that M.N. Roy was again played in the hands of British and worked against India’s freedom hence both Ambedkar and Roy were anti national.
Interestingly, Shourie never questioned Congress Party and how it was born with the sole objective of helping the Hindus. It was a party formed by the British and belonged to the upper elite of Indian society, former Rajas and Maharajas. Shourie rarely questioned that Gandhi, who he admired so much, was not killed by the Dalits or followers of Ambedkar, but by a pure Maharastrian Brahmin.
He wanted to make us believe that Ambedkar was lionized by various interest groups and that he could not win a single election from Maharastra. Yes, that was a fact that Dr Ambedkar could not win election from Maharastra and that was the biggest betrayal of Poona Pact. All the Hindus joined hands in defeating Ambedkar and the reality is, except from the Mahars, other Dalit communities, too, were used by Congress against Dr Ambedkar. Ambedkar does not need a certificate from Shourie or Hindutva’s dishonest intellectuals for his popularity in India and recent polls have suggested that he remained unchallenged in that front too.
Arun Shourie that time used another anecdote, which has no written value. He used a fictitious diary allegedly written by Indrani Ram, wife of Jagjivan Ram, that Ambedkar requested Babuji to have a word with Nehru to put him in the cabinet. Now, this is nothing but a deliberate effort to denigrate Ambedkar; for what was the status of Babu Jagjivan Ram in the congress that point of time, when Ambedkar saved Gandhi’s life after the Poona Pact in 1935. Dr Ambedkar had already been in the Viceroy’s council and went to the round table conference to represent the cases of untouchables in London.
Jagjivan Ram was a non-entity that time when the Constituent Assembly entrusted Dr Ambedkar to draft the Constitution of India. A man who was virtually unanimously elected to preside over the drafting committee was not that small to go to Jagjivan Ram begging for a cabinet berth in Nehru’s cabinet. In fact, Nehru had promised to give Dr Ambedkar, a Ministry of his choice i.e. Planning, Finance or Labour but unfortunately, that was not given. The Hindu Code Bill that he drafted so laboriously was not passed in its original form and was one of the reasons of Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s resignation from Nehru’s cabinet.
Ambedkar never compromised with his self-respect and dignity as he was never power hungry. He was a versatile personality and his understanding of subject was well known. The Constituent Assembly recognized that and the same is available in various debates of the Constituent Assembly and how he responded to them.
It is sad that a former Minister in BJP government who happen to be a Dalit from Bihar, in his effort to create a counter force of Jagjivan Ram, used same fictitious diary of Indrani Ram in his ‘revelation’ that Babu was such a great personality who recommended Dr Ambedkar’s name for Nehru’s cabinet.
Babu Jagjivan Ram has long been used by the upper castes to denigrate Dr Ambedkar and his cultural movement. It is the contribution of Dr Ambedkar’s cultural renaissance that Dalit, today, are challenging power elite of the country and are living a life of dignity by following Ambedkar’s path of Navayana. As Ambedkar gave a new identity that challenged the status-quoist forces, poor Harijans, followers of brahmanical Hinduism, would try to denigrate him by these superfluous allegations.
Ambedkar is not a small name to be affected by such frivolous charges by those who did nothing culturally. It is shameful that the greatest emancipator of the most marginalized in India is facing such denigration from one among those who claims to be marginalized. The fact is those who claim to be marginalized and yet remain a part of the greater design of brahmanical Hinduism, will never do justice to the identity and assertion of Dalit.
They will remain followers of the system, which reduced them to merely being poor ‘Harijans’. Ambedkar, that way, will always remain a liberator of millions of people in India for his forthrightness, as he would have built a huge career in law and academia only. If he was corrupted and running after power, he would have easily done that with Nehru, Gandhi and many others but that was not his cup of tea. A man of ideas and change, for him, the liberation and emancipation of his people was most important.
Sad, that such writings are now being legitimized in the name of research, which tries to belittle the personality of Dr Ambedkar. Such condemnable attempts are nothing but trying to distort the history for one’s own political agenda. It was Jagjivan Ram who remained with power most of his life and not Ambedkar. Ambedkar is remembered not because he was our lawmaker but because he fought against an exploitative social order and gave new way of life to people of India which Babuji only tried to stop.
History cannot judge Jagjivan Ram as a revolutionary against caste oppression, but as part of that system which perpetuated those atrocities on us. Sanjay Paswan’s Hindutva agenda to denigrate Dr Ambedkar will not succeed. There is nothing wrong in critiquing Ambedkar but political mischief cannot be termed as facts and needs to be countered.
(VB Rawat is a full time Human Rights activist working on the issues of Dalits, Muslims, tribal and other marginalized and their democratic rights including access to land and other natural resources. He also runs an organisation Social Development Foundation. He can be followed at : firstname.lastname@example.org)