Gandhi vis a vis Ambedkar – Dynamics of loss

Strangely relevant to the current crisis ignited by Shri Jaswant Singh’s book on MA Jinnah, Smt Radha Rajan has the following excerpt that explains and illustrates how close Hindu society came to losing Shri Dr. Ambedkar.

– Namaste 

Eclipse of The Hindu Nation: Gandhi and His Freedom Struggle
Radha Rajan

7.11 Gandhi, Ambedkar and the Scheduled Castes

The nineteenth and twentieth century was a period of great turbulence and upheaval for the Hindus of the nation. Not only were they confronting the external adversaries, ascendant Islam and the Christian-colonial British government but internally too, Hindu society was being churned by the incipient movement to end untouchability. One of the most positive fallout of the political movement to end colonial rule was the increasing awareness of the intrinsic injustice and criminality of the practice of untouchability in Hindu society.

Untouchability and the consequent cultural deprivation and social infirmity that it had caused to its victims, was beginning to rise to the surface of the collective Hindu consciousness, not the least because the harijans, as Gandhi insisted on calling the scheduled castes, were taking to English education and were becoming increasingly articulate and assertive in public life. Babasaheb Ambedkar was both the embodiment and symbol of this cataclysmic phenomenon and his inspirational life bestowed upon him iconic status among the scheduled castes; Ambedkar, in the last phase of the freedom movement was as powerful and influential as Gandhi and Jinnah, with a vast following of his own, not confined to his own community.

Gandhi knew that his clout with the British government was proportional to the size of his following and his capacity to bend his followers to his will; and that his power and influence over the people of this nation in his role as the tallest leader of the Congress was proportional to his clout with the British government and his capacity to deliver on the political front. Gandhi’s towering ambition to be the sole leader of all sections of the Indian populace flowed from the astute understanding of this critically important political factor. Gandhi already had the INC under his thumb and he therefore sought to make the INC the only legitimate and all-representative political vehicle. The reasoning was simple and sound – control of the INC effectively meant control of all sections of people – Muslims, Hindus, scheduled castes and the people of the Indian states.

But Gandhi failed to get all sections of the people behind him because he sought exclusive leadership; he wanted people to follow him but on his terms and without their leaders, unless their leaders were willing to subordinate themselves to his leadership. Gandhi wanted the Hindus without their rituals and daily observances, without their religious leaders and their caste and community leaders, he wanted the Muslims without Jinnah and the Muslim League, the scheduled castes without Ambedkar and the people of the Indian states without their Hindu maharajas and princes.

Gandhi wanted to publicly de-link these segments from its leadership and so he dealt with the practice of untouchability in one way and with Ambedkar and others like him who had emerged as the new generation leaders – the educated, assertive and politically conscious scheduled castes – in a radically different way. It is too much of a coincidence that Gandhi’s attention turned to the sinful practice of untouchability with the meteoric rise of Ambedkar in Indian politics.

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