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Controversy/Pritish Nandy

'Ambedkar is the byword for beating your breasts and showing that you are progressive!'

Arun Shourie is back in the eye of the storm. This time, with a politically incorrect book on Ambedkar where he has projected the dalit hero as a British lackey who had little to do with the creation of the Constitution, for which he is revered by millions. Shourie's contentions are backed by extensive research and documentation. Yet the book was publicly burned last fortnight in New Delhi. So were effigies of Shourie. Now demands are being made to ban the book. Will the government take this extreme step to please the dalits? Or will it simply turn a Nelson's eye and wait for the storm to blow over?

Shourie defends his book in this interview with Pritish Nandy:

Did you anticipate the extent of outrage your book on Ambedkar has provoked?

Actually, it has been magnified in the press. There were only four MPs who burned the book but it has become a big event. Plus only one person, Ramdas Athavale has been demanding a ban on it. The report on burning my effigy in Madras quoted the police saying that there were just 30 or 40 people out there creating a scene. That's not outrage. It's just the usual stuff. Leaders looking for issues....

Well, it may please you to know that the dalits gave Athavale a tough time during the recent Bombay riots, when he went to visit the desecration site. They stoned him and chased him away. Even though he was one of them...

I know. It's the same person. If we look into the background of such persons, you will see that they always pick up these issues. To reestablish themselves in leadership roles.

But your book has now forged alliance between parties who hate each other so that they can hate you jointly?

Which parties?

The Congress, SP, BSP, RPI, JD. They have all come out against your book.

The Delhi papers have not reported a single statement by the BSP leaders. I cannot say what will happen tomorrow but, till today, they were out of this.

In fact, I am very surprised because the Samajwadi Party is most critical of what is being done in the name of Ambedkar in UP. As you know, Mulayam Singh has gone out of his way to say that the Harijan Act is being abused by Mayawati's government. And I don't think I will disclose any great secret if I say that they have been purchasing the book and complimenting me on its thoroughness.

The problem is: Everyone wants to take advantage of the situation. There's a famous incident that Robert Kennedy used to recall. A French general was sleeping during the French Revolution in his first-floor bedroom and he suddenly woke up with the noise of a crowd, a mob rushing from there. He ran down and found that his doorman was also sleeping. So he shook him up and woke him and said: You fool, find out where they are rushing! I have to lead them!

Could you have been just a wee bit selective in your choice of facts to prove what you set out to in the first place -- that Ambedkar was a lackey of the British, and certainly nowhere near the patriot he is made out to be nor the creator of the Great Indian Constitution?

Pritish, you know, this is the usual defence. This is also the usual charge against me. But in 20 years, while people keep saying I am quoting out of context, they never explain what is the full context. They say I am quoting partially but then why don't they give the full quotation? In fact, in one of my chapters, I have shown that the one or two sentences which they keep quoting from speeches in the Constituent Assembly congratulating Ambedkar for his contribution to the Constitution, are incomplete. If you look at the passage completely, the same speaker complaints ten other persons also!

So it is they who have been quoting partially. Mr Venkatswamy and Mr Jogi have said I have quoted out of context. I will be delighted if they give specific examples. I am told by correspondents who were there that when they asked for one of two examples, they just wouldn't speak up!

Did you time this book for the 50th anniversary celebrations?

No. I have been working on it for one-and-a-half years...

How did you happen upon the evidence?

Completely by chance! One day, at a dinner at our place, we were six friends -- three of them well known to you -- and some conversation camp up about 1942 and I recalled a pamphlet of the British government, written by a very powerful civil servant called Sir Richard Tottenham. He was the major domo of the home ministry in those days.

It was the British government's allegation in those days that the Congress had a secret agenda that while Gandhi would talk non-violence they would launch a series of terrorist acts all over the country. That is why they were picked up on the 9th of August and thrown into jail. This had hurt Gandhiji very much and I was recalling that pamphlet and what I found about the writing of the pamphlet in the files of the home ministry.

And a friend of mine, who is much older than me and was active at that time, said: Arre baba, you are talking about Tottenharm but don't you know what Ambedkar said in the Central Legislative Assembly in favour of the British regarding the arrests. I said: I am afraid I have not studied this at all.

He said: Well, look up Ambedkar's speeches and writings and that speech is reproduced there! I bought the 14 volumes and started reading them. I was astonished at what I found! That was the beginning of my project. It was by accident that it did not get published in last November for some letters that I wanted from London were not available. They became available in February when I was able to finish the manuscript.

Did you expect this kind of response?

Yes, I did anticipate a hostile reception. For three reasons. One, the whole foundation of this cult (as of most cults) is based on a complete misconstruction of the truth. Two, everybody today is a party to this. From the Right to the Left. Older persons of Narasimha Rao's generation and others who know what Ambedkar's reputation was, even in the 60s, because memories were fresh at that time, are also parties to this. Three, the press and the intellectuals are slaves to the intellectual fashion of the moment. You will not find a single laudatory reference to Ambedkar in the 50s and 60s. In press writings. But now, for the last five years, after V P Singh anointed him, he is the byword for beating your breasts and showing that you are progressive!

These intellectuals have a vested interest in this false advertising.

How do you react to the RSS distancing itself from the book and you?

They are right.

But then, why are you being seen as part of a major revivalist conspiracy?

This is the usual thing. People who have no answer to facts always make allegations. Sometimes I am supposed to be tutoring the Opposition against Rajiv. Then, you and I are V P Singh's men against Devi Lal. Then, we are Devi Lal's men against V P Singh. Then I am a BJP man. Then, again, I am accused of writing on Advani's behalf against Vajpayee. This keeps going on because they can never answer facts.

Do you fear that your book may be banned?

I know from personal knowledge that the book was examined a month-and-a quarter ago in the home ministry and the officials concerned have written a detailed note saying that there is absolutely no ground for banning it. Because it is based entirely on official records published by the Government of India, the government of Maharashtra, the government of Great Britain.

Over 80 per cent of the material is actually from Ambedkar's own speeches and writings published by the Maharashtra government and sold at subsidised prices! How can they ban parliamentary debates or Constituent Assembly debates or Ambedkar's own writings? And without banning those, how can you ban my book?

Reproduced wiith the interviewer's permission.


Worshipping A False God
Ekalavya and the Worshipping A False God
Dalits will respond to Shourie book in kind
At 50, It is Time to Stop the Spanking
'I think there is an Arun Shourie brigade doing all this'
Ambedkar's opponents were not the British: it was the Hindus who were unwilling to change or compromise

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