Today is Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s birth anniversary. On this occasion I look at why the man who is revered is not celebrated to the extent that Mahatma Gandhi or Jawaharlal Nehru are.
There is no doubt that Ambedkar is celebrated to the point of being venerated in many parts of India. I have often seen Dr. Ambedkar’s image / bust being placed next to Buddha’s bust and worshipped in hundreds of households. This is not just in Maharashtra where he came from but all over the country. Anyone who does not believe what I say should try to be at Chaityabhoomi (where he was cremated) on the 6th of December or in Nagpur on the 14th of October, the day that Dr. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism in 1956. This week thousands of commemorative functions will be held across the country. I have not seen such veneration, nay devotion, even for Gandhiji and Nehru. Over 600,000 of his followers also converted at the same time. While Ambedkar has intellectual arguments to support his decision (briefly: he was rejecting a religion that had rejected his right to dignity); most of his followers did it from blind devotion.
While thousands of statues of Ambedkar that dot the country depict him with the constitution in one hand, I feel he is revered more for the social reforms he fought for and brought about. Also perhaps for political awareness and power to the dalit community.
However there is no doubt in my mind that he is not celebrated to the extent that Gandhiji or Jawaharlal Nehru are. There are, imo, three reasons for the same.
- Babasaheb Ambedkar remained a leader for a narrow section of the population. He identified himself strongly and was in turn identified by his ‘untouchability’. Even in the Round Table discussions, he remained a representative of the untouchables when Gandhi was corralled as a representative of ‘caste Hindus'; a position that the British took which actually split the freedom movement.
- Since Ambedkar was clearly a leader of untouchables, most upper caste Hindus never really accepted that he could offer them leadership too. As I argue here caste based discrimination remains a reality even today. It was even more severe in Ambedkars’ time. There was little chance that Ambedkar would get acceptance amongst upper caste followers. Even amongst the dalit community, his leadership was not unchallenged. Let us not forget that Babasaheb Ambedkar lost two general elections he contested; 1952 in Mumbai and 1954 by-election in Bhandara. In both instances, he lost to dalit candidates belonging to the Congress.
- Dalits have never been in political power: ‘Patron saints’ get celebrated / extolled when someone who follows them attains power. The Indian National Congress has been in power in India for a long long time and hence ‘Congress icons’ got more exposure and celebration. Now that the Bharatiya Janata Party has come to power, their icons are being dusted off the shelves and celebrated – Sardar Patel and Madan Mohan Malaviya to name a couple. The fact the former was a staunch Congressman who hated the divisiveness being spread by the BJP ideological parent, the RSS is conveniently ignored. When the Bahujan Samaj Party came to power in Uttar Pradesh it did go overboard in ‘celebrating’ Ambedkar with Ambedkar Memorial Park being just one of the many gestures. Others include naming a district after him.
Would like to end this post by paying homage to a great leader, a man who fought against injustice all his life and inspired millions to do the same.