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Why the Parivar wants Dr Ambedkar

By Praful Bidwai
April 30, 2015 16:07 IST
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the foundation stone laying ceremony for the Dr Ambedkar International Centre in New Delhi, April 20, 2015. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

'The Parivar's ideology and politics was and remains the very opposite of what Dr Ambedkar stood for,' says Praful Bidwai.

When it comes to sheer hypocrisy and double standards, it is hard to beat the Sangh Parivar. It strenuously claimed the legacy of Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, a principal author of India's Constitution, and a Dalit, on his 124th birth anniversary.

This was motivated by nothing nobler than the coming election in Bihar, where a Dalit (former stop-gap chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi) has emerged as the Bharatiya Janata Party's potential ally against Messrs Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh tried to usurp Dr Ambedkar as one of its own icons not just by highlighting his differences with the Congress, but by likening him to its own founder Dr K B Hedgewar who opposed the values of equality that Dr Ambedkar stood and fought for all his life!

The RSS further added a communal angle to this when it asked why India's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, was conferred on Dr Ambedkar 10 years after it was given to Mother Teresa. This takes forward RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's tendentious charge that Mother Teresa used charitable activities as a cover for religious conversion.

The Indian government had no choice but to give Mother Teresa the Bharat Ratna after she was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1979. As for honouring Dr Ambedkar, there was stiff resistance from the Maratha lobby (then in the Congress, but which the BJP-Shiv Sena is trying to cultivate through a 16 percent reservation in state jobs). This was evident from the decades-long delay in naming Marathwada University after Dr Ambedkar, which happened in 1994.

Strangely, the BJP didn't make a big fuss when the Bharat Ratna was bestowed on its real icon, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, even later than on Dr Ambedkar! The fact is, the award -- so far given to 45 people -- has lost a good deal of its prestige. Its recipients' list is replete with anomalies.

What is pertinent is that the Parivar's ideology and politics was and remains the very opposite of what Dr Ambedkar stood for. He had nothing but contempt for Hindutva, with its narrow faith-based definition of nationhood, as opposed to his broad, expansive idea based on equal rights and citizenship cutting across ethnic-religious identities. He repeatedly said 'Hindu Raj' would be 'the greatest calamity for this country.'

Dr Ambedkar regarded scripturally sanctioned and actually practised Hinduism as inseparable from Brahmanical casteism, and incapable of reform within Gandhi's framework, which patronisingly yet piously saw Dalits as Harijans (God's children).

It is no accident that Dr Ambedkar burned the Manu Smriti. He converted to Buddhism after declaring: 'I was born a Hindu, I had no choice. But I will not die a Hindu because I do have a choice.'

More important, Dr Ambedkar wanted a separate electorate for Dalits, but was blackmailed by Gandhi's fast-unto-death into dropping the demand via the Poona Pact of 1932. The separate electorate idea remains a sacrilege for the Parivar, which champions the myth of 'Hindu unity' as the backbone of 'the Indian nation,' thus denying India's diversity and pluralism.

The BJP and its sister organisations reject secularism (or basic separation of religion from politics and public life), which was pivotal to Dr Ambedkar's Constitution. They regard secularism as a false doctrine. Hence, the Parivar's dangerously misleading slogan of 'pseudo-secularism'!

Rejection of secularism and display of aggressive majoritarianism now manifests itself in increasingly virulent ways: Banning the slaughter of bulls, old buffaloes and cows, and making the sale or consumption of beef a punishable crime (Maharashtra); attacks on Christian churches (Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh); and hounding Muslims out of 'Hindu' areas through intimidation and violence.

Hate speech is fast becoming 'the new normal.' It is bad enough that BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj makes hysterical statements about Muslims having '40 children from four wives' and gets away. It is even worse when Sanjay Raut, the editor of the Shiv Sena newspaper Saamna, demands that Muslims be deprived of the right to vote because they are used as 'vote banks.'

Besides falling foul of the hate speech clauses of criminal law, this is a flagrant attack on the Constitution and the fundamental right of universal franchise which it guarantees. Raut is a Rajya Sabha MP, who made a pledge to defend the Constitution. It is simply not open to him to make such obnoxious and inflammatory statements. He must be reprimanded by the Rajya Sabha chairman and asked to apologise, failing which he must be punished.

India has been far too indulgent towards communal excesses by important functionaries. It took the Election Commission as many as 13 years to declare the late Bal Thackeray guilty of seeking votes for a Shiv Sena nominee in the name of religion during a 1986 by-election. Eventually, he was barred under the Representation of the People Act from contesting elections or voting for six years.

During the last Lok Sabha election, Narendra Modi repeatedly invoked Lord Ram in his campaign speech at Faizabad in May. A model of the BJP-proposed Ram Mandir formed the backdrop of the stage from which he addressed the meeting. Former chief election commissioner S Y Qureshi, no less, questioned the Election Commission's 'silence' and asked why it had not initiated action against the meeting's organiser. Logically, it should have acted against Modi too.

No such action was taken. No wonder a culture of impunity has come to prevail among communal politicians who know they can get away with the worst kinds of anti-minority atrocities.

The greatest long-term beneficiaries of such failures are the forces of right-wing intolerance. Bal Thackeray may not have been able to drive many non-Maharashtrians out of Bombay or put the Shiv Sena in power on its own in Maharashtra. But he succeeded in inflicting grave damage upon the Left and trade union movements, shifting the entire political discourse to the far right.

Similarly, a Sanjay Raut won't be able to disenfranchise Muslims, but he has already shifted the political terrain to the right, making it more favourable to the BJP and anti-Constitutional forces.

There is no point merely noting this danger or bemoaning it. It must be actively combated by all those who are committed to secular democracy and a humane society.

Image: Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the foundation stone laying ceremony for the Dr Ambedkar International Centre in New Delhi, April 20, 2015. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

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