This April 14, the 127th birth anniversary of Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar was marked by heightened celebrations by most political formations, more so by the BJP. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while paying tributes to Babasaheb, said that the Congress was against Ambedkar and that his Government has accorded Babasaheb the recognition that was his due. Modi claimed that no other government has honored Babasaheb as much as the current regime!
In this game of appropriating Ambedkar, BJP is operating on multiple grounds. One, the propaganda that Congress was opposed to him and two that it is the BJP which is honoring him. It is true that in this game of posturing, BJP is dominating the scene, but are BJP policies really upholding what Babasaheb stood for? What does respect mean? Mere lip service or valuing Ambedkar’s political and social contributions?
BJP’s policies are an antithesis to Ambedkar’s world view and philosophy. We know that Ambedkar’s struggles for breaking the shackles of the caste system influenced Mahatma Gandhi to launch his anti-untouchability campaign, which was a real way to honor Ambedkar. Though he was not a member of the Congress, Ambedkar was invited to become a part of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s Cabinet. It was Congress which took his concerns seriously and he was made the Chairman of the drafting committee of the Constituent Assembly. Ambedkar was also asked by Nehru to draft the Hindu Code bill, which was opposed by BJP’s parent organisation, RSS.
How do we assess the BJP attitude to Ambedkar? BJP is the ideological child of RSS, which has the ideology of Hindu nationalism. At all crucial occasions, RSS opposed Ambedkar ideologically. With regard to Indian Constitution, when the draft of Constitution was presented to the Constituent Assembly, RSS mouth piece Organiser (November 30, 1949) wrote “(there is)…no mention of the unique constitutional developments in ancient Bharat. Manu’s laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day, his laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity among Hindus in India. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing”.
BJP minister Anantkumar Hegde had openly declared that BJP is there to change the Constitution. Ambedkar stands for secularism; BJP’s Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath says that secularism is the biggest lie of independent India. The strategy of BJP is to hero-worship Ambedkar and simultaneously erode his principles
RSS was at its aggressive best when Ambedkar presented the Hindu Code bill; RSS Chief MS Golwalkar, in a speech in August 1949, said that the reforms piloted by Ambedkar “has nothing Bharatiya about it. The questions like those of marriage and divorce cannot be settled on the American or British model in this country. Marriage, according to Hindu culture and law is a sanskar which cannot be changed even after death and not a ‘contract’ which can be broken any time…of course some lower castes in Hindu Society in some parts of the country recognise and practice divorce by custom. But their practice cannot be treated as an ideal to be followed by all”. (Organiser, September 6, 1949).
BJP came to power leading the NDA coalition in 1998. It had an important minister in the Cabinet, Arun Shourie, who had written the most scathing criticism (Worshipping False Gods), which denounced Ambedkar as anti-national. BJP minister Anantkumar Hegde had openly declared that BJP is there to change the Constitution. Ambedkar stands for secularism; BJP’s Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath says that secularism is the biggest lie of independent India. The strategy of BJP is to hero-worship Ambedkar and simultaneously erode his principles.
Ambedkar was for ‘Annihilation of caste’, as he said in his important book of the same name. Ambedkar saw caste as the major obstacle to social justice. In contrast, RSS ideology talks of hegemony between castes; this also gets manifested in the work RSS does among Dalits through the Samajik Samrasta Manch.
Respecting Ambedkar is not just about garlanding him; respecting him has to begin with upholding his critique of Manusmriti, respecting the values of Indian Constitution and dedicating to work for secularism and social justice, which were his main concerns. BJP policies have strengthened anti-Dalit biases and violence, as seen more overtly in last few years. The Congress valued Ambedkar’s concerns; however, BJP has merely been trying to appropriate him through worship, and that too for purely electoral gains.