Dr Ambedkar and Gandhi ji both were national leaders and focused on nation’s interest but Gandhi ji represented established class while Ambedkar represented dalits
-Dr Suvarna Rawal
Amongst those who shaped the destiny of modern India Mahatma Gandhi – Father of the Nation, and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar figure most prominently. Their influence is still visible not only in India but abroad also. The societies that drew inspiration from these two leaders differ. Gandhi’s name is associated with India’s freedom struggle while Ambedkar is invariably linked to social movements aimed at eradicating social ills of the Indian society like untouchability, providing social justice, and standing for the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. Gandhi’s path of freedom was political while Ambedkar treaded the most difficult path of social transformation with emancipating India from the curse of untouchability. Gandhi was considered as a representative of the established class while Ambedkar was known as representative of the Dalits.
The various facets of the lives of these two great leaders can be topics of public discussion and discourses. Those thinkers from among the caste Hindus are inclined towards Gandhi as compared to those from the Dalit communities towards Dr Ambedkar, in the most natural way. The Dalit thinkers normally take recourse to love, respect, and foundations of life in course of their discourses their initial aggressiveness and revolutionary spirit notwithstanding. Their agony for the neglect and injustices Babasaheb had to confront in his lifetime finds expression in their speeches and this agony is seen getting converted into their anger towards the caste Hindus.
Gandhi headed a movement called the Congress. He was religious in his nature; a Sanatani Hindu, having faith in the ‘Chaturvarnya System’. The Hindu society was rendered spineless and divided due to the practice of untouchability. However, Gandhi did not give priority to this reality. He felt that the problem of untouchability was the internal matter of the society and could be resolved after independence. The general societal perception was also the same. Gandhi has a wider acceptability and popularity pervading all the barriers, while Ambedkar has a more influence and popularity among the Dalit sections of the society.
Gandhi and Ambedkar did not believe in personality image worship. No one would deny the contribution of Gandhi in nation building. However, his concepts of God, prayer, vows, inner voice, repentance, fasting etc. are debatable as he often used to mention them as in his writings
All social organisations know Gandhi and accept him but his life has more influence on people’s psyche than his actual work. However, no public organisation could move away from Dr Ambedkar’s thoughts. His thoughts and approach work as a guiding light for various organisations and groups striving for social justice amongst different depressed social sections.
Dr Ambedkar was born in an untouchable family and he had experienced the inhuman treatment meted out to them in his lifetime. His journey from Bhimrao to Babasaheb was full of troubles, exciting and surprising. I feel that some of the instances in this period had casted a deep impression on his psyche which in the later years became his life mission. One question that haunted him the most from his childhood was “What is the difference between an untouchable and other person? God has created all people as equals. Then what is that that makes me different from other children or other persons?” He searched for the answer. He struggled hard to obtain education, intellect and knowledge and toiled hard to achieve his target. Even after returning with higher qualifications from England, he had to face the social stigma of untouchability. All the barriers of his patience were broken. With tears in his eyes he asked unto himself: “If I am to suffer to this extent just because I am born in an untouchable family, what would be happening to those millions who are born in such families and who are ignorant, uneducated and illiterate? Here animals are treated with love and respect but untouchables are deprived of their fundamental rights.”
This is the background of his social movement and activities. Whenever I write or speak on these issues I feel pain in my heart. I feel that the movement started by Dr Ambedkar was aimed at removing the malady of the Indian society from its roots. His intention was to make the entire Indian society socially strong, healthy. It was an effort to make the society unblemished.
Gandhi gave the call for ‘Swaraj’ in year 1920 and sounded the bugle for non-cooperation movement against the British. Gandhi belonged to the established section. His world of experience was different. His effort to involve each and every one in the struggle for freedom and good governance remarkable. All the leaders of that time were invariably associated with the Congress because Congress was the only organisation of independence movement. Pre-independence Congress was a national thought process and flow led by Gandhi. The same Congress was viewed as a Hindu movement. The people with whom Babasaheb was fighting were members of the Congress. Gandhi himself was a Sanatani, religious minded and sensitive Hindu. He believed in Chaturvarnya system, castes etc, and believed that no other varna existed other than the four varnas. Hindu dharma has given a scientific basis to the natural process of varnashram in human society. Accordingly, no one has authority to change his varna as per his whims, and those who do not follow his varna by birth he was considered as insulting his heredity.
In spite of this thinking when he saw Hindus in South Africa being discriminated on racial basis, Gandhi was disturbed and sad. On May 22nd, 1894 Natal Indian Congress was established with Gandhi as its secretary. He wrote an open letter to all the members of legislature in which he mentioned the discrimination meted out the Indians on the basis of color. Different reactions were received from the White people. There was one open letter which clearly opposed the injustices on Indians. It mentioned that there are liberal people in Africa. They will accept your submission. But how the higher castes Hindus are behaving with low caste people in Hindustan? How the Shudras are being treated? The writer suggested that you must put your own house in order first and then advice the White people of other countries to behave properly. This letter was an eye-opener for Gandhi. He decided to remove untouchability from its roots in Indian society. But this was not on his priority list. As a way to remorse and repentance Gandhi performed a role of ‘Bhangi’ in his ashrams, but the basis of his thought were the principles of truth and non-violence.
Gandhi and Ambedkar did not believe in the hero worship. No one would deny the contribution of Gandhi in nation building. However, his concepts of God, prayer, vows, inner voice, repentance, fasting etc. are debatable as he often used to mention them as in his writings.
On the contrary, Ambedkar’s thought was founded on integrated approach of scientific beliefs, modern culture and industrial development. He obtained education from foreign universities but being dedicated towards the motherland and its people he always had in his mind the thought of development and welfare of his people. He had studied many subjects but sociology was his favourite subject. Besides, he studied economics, political science, anthropology, history, philosophy, etc. Therefore he could multi dimensionally think for the future of the country. His mission for the country and his compassion for the Dalits was the expression of his thoughts and vision. Whatever subject he approached had clarity and farsightedness. Anyone who studied his thoughts and movements, would understand how Ambedkar was engrossed in social principles and thoughts. Swantratyveer Savarkar once said in his speech: “The qualities of love, affection, determination and dedication visible in his personality were due to his birth in an untouchable family. These qualities are normally absent in those like us born in Savarna (caste Hindu) families.” Savarkar praised each movement and every agitation of Dr Ambedkar aimed at eradication of utouchability.
Ambedkar’s views on emancipation of Dalits were entirely different. He says: “Emancipation of Dalits is a national mission. It is against the interest of the nation and against development to keep one fifth of the society crippled and disabled. The practice of untouchability had its impact on the followers of Islam and Christianity. The society will gain inner strength with the completely uprooting social stigma of untochability. Besides, there will be remarkable change in the psyche of the other sections of the society. The inspiration of my mission is not only temporary welfare of the country but it is associated with the fundamental social revolution of India. This will strengthen equality, liberty and fraternity and removal of untouchability is the first step towards this mission of social revolution.” For him, the emancipation of Dalits was instrumental in establishing social equality. He used both boycott and confrontationists approaches for the same.
On the concept of social equality he used to say, “Dalits should be given all those facilities the caste Hindus are given. We do not want anything on loan. Any facility that hurts our self esteem is not acceptable. We will not bow down before any injustice, physical atrocities and assaults.” This was his supreme determination.
Agitations have a special importance in Babasaheb’s life. The basic theme of all his agitations was social justice. He would often say that his programs were aimed at removing the injustice meted out to the Dalits. Some may see caste ism in his argument but it was a protective shield for him. “Our demand is for equal rights, in fact, our fight is against the very principle of special rights. We know that the water of Mahad tank is not like nectar and the untouchables are not eager to drink it neither our entry into Kalaram Temple is a guarantee for our ‘moksha’. We are the citizens of this country and part and parcel of Hindu society. Hence, as the Savarnas have the freedom at public places so should the untouchables be granted similar freedom.” He wanted to remove internal disparities in the Hindu society.
At the Round Table Conference, he demanded for separate electorates for Dalits. Gandhi took a very strong objections to this. Gandhi was a political wizard while Ambedkar was the messiah of social revolution. There were strong differences between Gandhi and Ambedkar on this issue. The entire country was curious on this issue of Gandhi’s fast and Ambedkar’s insistence. Everybody was concerned about the fast and blaming Ambedkar for this mess. Finally, Ambedkar withdrew his demand of separate electorates for the Dalits to save Gandhi’s life.
The agreement between the two stalwarts was known as the Yerwada or Poona Pact. Though Gandhi ended his fast, he was still thinking about Ambedkar’s demand for separate electorates. Depressed Classes Council also discussed this demand. Gandhi wrote to Samuel Hover, “I am not against giving dalits representation in the legislatures. I am in favour of enrolment of names of all the Dalits irrespective of their education, property and name etc. in the electoral rolls. But my intention is that they should not cut them off from the Hindu society.”
This indicates to the fact that Gandhi and Ambedkar both wanted a cohesive Hindu society and tirelessly worked towards it in their own way. The two had one more virtue in common and that was their faith and commitment towards Dharma. Within Dharma, Gandhi’s line of thinking was not in favour of Dalits while that of Ambedkar’s thinking was not very inspiring for caste Hindus. Gandhi’s thoughts were based on Varnashram and Castes would not be acceptable to Dr Ambedkar at any cost. He was dead against Varnashram and caste system. In his book “What the Congress and Gandhi did for Dalits?”, he says, “The social ideal of Gandhism is one amongst caste system or varna system. It is difficult to state which of the two would be accepted by Gandhism. But one thing is certain that social ideal is not democracy. Because if we compare castes and varna systems with democracy we find that both are anti-democracy systems.”
Therefore, Gandhism could not generate hope for dalits. Babasaheb wrote in the support of this statements: “This unholy custom related to Hindu Dharma created fear in the minds of dalits. As it is Gandhism is like a dungeon cell for the untouchables.”
Untouchability is a scourge for the Hindu society, Gandhi used to say Dr Ambedkar commented on this in his “Mukti Kaun Pathe”. He said: “Some people say that untouchability is a blot on Hindu society. But such things have no meaning. It is unfortunate that no Hindu thinks Hindu Dharma is polluted. The untouchables will have to work to remove this blot from the Hindu society. With this Babasaheb worked to generate self-pride, identity, and self-reliance. Gandhi advised Dalits to introspect for spiritual purification while Ambedkar used boycott against this. Dr Ambedkar strongly protested against the word ‘Harijan’ coined by Gandhi for the unotouchables.
If we analyse both Gandhi and Ambedkar, both of them were strong nationalists and patriots. Both had a better understanding of the socially outdated customs and rituals, both had accorded priority to social justice in their respective agenda, but their approaches were different.
Babasaheb suggested a string of means to eradicate the differences between caste Hindus and Dalits. He was of the view that one-sided efforts to eradicate untouchabiity would not create a healthy atmosphere in the country. It was also necessary to bring about the change at the social level. This called for creating an atmosphere where free access is available for untouchables on all public platforms.
If we analyse both Gandhi and Ambedkar at a micro level we find that both of them were strong nationalists. Both had a better understanding of the outdated customs and rituals in the society, both had accorded priority to social justice in their agenda, but their approach was different. They had differences of opinion on all social issues. Gandhi was a political leader while Ambedkar treaded the path of knowledge and social justice. Both were aware of each others role. Gandhi drew support from all sections of the society and more so from the rich. Ambedkar could evoke support of the common people by kindling a new hope in their heart with his knowledge and hard work.
When Ambedkar declared that though he was born as Hindu he would not die as one, whole country was taken a back. This he did after denial of entry into the Kalaram temple at Nasik. The atmosphere was surcharged with emotions like anger, hatred, pain, fear, etc. Gandhi talked to Ambedkar and calmed him down and asked him to follow a restraint. Gandhi assured him all the support to restore self-pride of dalits. Ambedkar, also promised him that he would leave Hindu Dharma but would see to it that the least damage was done. When he embraced Buddhist faith in Deekshabhumi, Nagpur on October 1956 he said “I had kept my promise to Gandhi ji”.
Gandhi too was aware of Ambedkar’s greatness. British left this country and India became independent. And the country felt the need for its own constitution. Pt. Nehru, Sardar Patel etc. were thinking as to who would be the perfect person to draft the constitution. They were thinking of seeking services of the experts from abroad. Gandhi came to know about this and asked Nehru why he could not find a proper person in the vast country like India. He immediately suggested the name of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. Dr Ambedkar also responded posititvely and completed the task with hard work and toil. He made a blue print for the future India and Indian citizens. In other words he created a new ‘Manusmruti’ or ‘Bheemsmruti’ for new India. This has saved the country from many turbulances. The country would always be indebted to Babasaheb for his contribution to this land and its people.
(The Writer is a President of Bhatake Vimukta Praishad, Maharashtra)