The Race to Own Bhim­rao Ambed­kar

Pur­sue his goal, not nec­es­sar­ily his meth­ods

The Economic Times - - Breaking Ideas -

There is a mad scram­ble among po­lit­i­cal par­ties to ap­pro­pri­ate Babasa­heb Bhim­rao Ambed­kar, who fought long and hard to annihilate caste and end un­touch­a­bil­ity and other so­cial prac­tices that op­pressed castes placed low down in the Hindu hi­er­ar­chy. The rea­son is not so much th­ese par­ties’ re­spect for what Ambed­kar stood for or did but be­cause they re­alise that Dal­its, who ac­count for 16.6% of In­dia’s pop­u­la­tion (as per the 2011 Cen­sus), ven­er­ate Ambed­kar and are likely to be well-dis­posed to­wards a party that claims to share their feel­ings.

Ambed­kar re­jected Hin­duism with its caste hi­er­ar­chy and the ter­ri­ble bur­den this placed on the Dal­its, who were called the de­pressed classes in his time and were termed the Sched­uled Castes in the Con­sti­tu­tion in whose draft­ing Ambed­kar played a sig­nif­i­cant role. He pro­moted mass con­ver­sion of Dal­its to Bud­dhism, to es­cape Hin­duism’s caste tyranny. Yet, the Hin­dutva party, BJP, is des­per­ate to claim Ambed­kar. The Congress, whose pol­i­tics made him law min­is­ter in In­de­pen­dent In­dia but also made him quit that post in protest, and fielded a can­di­date against Ambed­kar and de­feated him in the 1952 gen­eral elec­tions, also wants to claim him. The Left, for whose pro­le­tar­ian rev­o­lu­tion dreams Ambed­kar had no pa­tience and who re­turned the favour dur­ing his life­time, want to claim him as well. Rel­a­tively more sin­cere would be at­tempts by Mayawati’s BSP to claim Ambed­kar’s man­tle. But it would be dif­fi­cult to ac­cept that any one of th­ese par­ties has a co­her­ent vi­sion to eman­ci­pate the Dal­its or annihilate caste, as Ambed­kar wanted to.

It is not pa­tron­age or spe­cial schemes that would de­liver Dal­its out of their con­di­tion. The cor­re­la­tion be­tween birth and oc­cu­pa­tion forms the ma­te­rial ba­sis of caste. Di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of the eco­nomic struc­ture, cre­at­ing a va­ri­ety of non-tra­di­tional oc­cu­pa­tions, and or­gan­is­ing and equip­ping Dal­its to move into th­ese oc­cu­pa­tions so that they be­come part of a global divi­sion of labour would pay real homage to Ambed­kar. Po­lit­i­cal par­ties find it more ex­pe­di­ent to of­fer pa­tron­age than to do the things that ac­tu­ally change the sta­tus quo.

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