What Dalit leaders think about the Cong-BJP tussle over Ambedkar
updated 11.06.2015 | 8 Slides
6 December marks the 59th death anniversary of Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar -- Dalit icon and 'father of the Constitution'.
Though there are many milestones to cross, it's a measure of the profundity of that constitutional vision that Dalits are now a political force to contend with. And that Ambedkar himself remains a live and keenly debated figure in India's public life,
2015, in particular, has witnessed a sudden and unprecedented tussle over Ambedkar's legacy.
The RSS has been trying to appropriate him and claim ideological similarities with Ambedkar, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called him his "guru".
The Congress, in turn, has stated it was the original proponent and working partner in implementing Ambedkar's lofty ideals of an equal society.
Both have announced ambitious outreach programs for Dalits.
The message is clear: everybody wants to claim a shared history with Ambedkar.
The question is, will this appropriation of Ambedkar lead to any real ground level change for the Dalit community? Importantly, are the Dalits buying this sudden praise bestowed on their community and leader?
Catch put these questions to Dalit intellectuals who it had spoken to some months ago, when this "rediscovery" of Ambedkar had just begun.
What has changed since? Has the RSS- BJP-Congress' interest in Ambedkar triggered any substantive change in social attitude?
These interviews provide some fascinating insights.
The RSS has never held any true influence over a large, downtrodden segment of the Hindu population: Dalits. But this year, while parties fell over each other to claim Dr BR Ambedkar's legacy on his 125thbirth anniversary, the RSS decided to get rid of some inconvenient history by stating Ambedkar had been a staunch Hindu and a patriot.
In an interview with Charu Kartikeya, senior journalist and Dalit thinker Dilip Mandal explains this change in the BJP.
There is a lot of focus on Dr Ambedkar and Dalit issues. Is this a critical moment for the Dalit people?
The way any community forms its views is not just through media. The Dalit intelligentsia is very alert about the politics behind appropriating Ambedkar.
Ambedkar and the Brahminical roots of the RSS are completely opposite to each other. They have nothing in common. I don't think that honouring Ambedkar is going to help the BJP in winning Dalits over. It might have worked in the 60s, but there's a lot more awareness now.
Do you think losing the Bihar elections has made the BJP wake up to the importance of Dalit votes?
Yes I think this is a knee jerk reaction to the Bihar elections. Valuing Dalits this way was never in the framework of the RSS. Because Bihar didn't go as planned, they are desperate for fresh ideas. If at all they adopt the thought process of the RSS then it will no longer be the RSS, it will warp itself into a new organisation. I don't think the RSS is on this path with conviction because it would require changing its very identity.
The Annihilation of Caste says that Hindus can't be blamed for caste because it is entrenched into their religion. So Ambedkar says the entire basis for Hindu religion is flawed. How is the RSS going to reconcile with these thoughts? Going down this path might be suicidal for the RSS.
What do you feel about RSS' efforts at appropriating Ambedkar's legacy?
When it comes to Dalits, the RSS and Ambedkar are essentially irreconcilable poles. Ambedkar's public burning of the Manusmriti was one of the strongest attacks on caste inequalities in Hinduism.
The RSS, on the other hand, holds the same Manusmriti close to its heart. How will the Sangh reconcile with Ambedkar's radical opposition to it?
They may be successful in claiming his legacy in piecemeal ways, but they will not be able to handle Ambedkar as a full package.
Will this move have a political impact?
It will be interesting to watch. This move is essentially aimed at neutralising Dalit resistance to the RSS. And they are trying very hard. The BJP came to power in 2014 on a mere 31% mandate and now it needs to expand this. It is natural for any political party to try expanding its social base.
But the RSS' background raises doubts about the honesty of this avowed declaration of ending caste inequality.
The RSS recently declared its aim of 'One well, one temple, one crematorium' for all Hindus. Will this have any impact?
This is just tokenism. Access to temples and wells are not the biggest problems for Dalits anymore. The problems are more real term - deliverables such as jobs and education that bring about economic empowerment. How does the BJP fare on these fronts? The NDA government has put a moratorium on public sector jobs, which have always been an enabler for Dalits as there are still no provisions for affirmative action in private sector jobs.
Similarly, it is Dalits who stand to lose the most if public sector expansion in education is halted. The NDA government is actually hurting Dalits on various fronts. As far as social reforms are concerned, if the RSS wants to end caste inequality, will it also encourage and incentivise inter-caste marriages?
RSS Sarkaryavah, Bhaiyaji Joshi, recently said that Ambedkar was an opponent of Hindu conduct, but not Hindu philosophy.
How are conduct and philosophy different? Philosophy leads to conduct. If they are to be seen differently, I think the RSS must ponder over why it has to be that way. Ambedkar had clearly said that being born a Hindu was not in his control, but he vowed that he will not die a Hindu. That's why he left Hinduism and embraced Buddhism along with lakhs of followers so close to his death. It's baffling that this can be read as opposition to Hindu conduct and not philosophy.
According to RSS Sah Sarkaryavah Krishna Gopal, Ambedkar had claimed that Muslims would never think of India as their motherland. Does that dent Ambedkar's secular credentials?
Not at all. Ambedkar's comments need to be understood in the context in which they were articulated. To ignore that context is unfair.
Why do we forget that the same Ambedkar introduced minority rights in the Constitution and ensured that freedom of religion is a fundamental right?
We can understand Ambedkar better by referring to his ideas of nation and nationhood. For him, a nation must forget the bad memories of the past and cherish the dream of a shared future. He put emphasis on shared joy and shared sorrow.
With inputs from Shriya Mohan
Dr BR Ambedkar's 125th birth anniversary is having curious impacts. With Bihar assembly elections around the corner, and UP elections not so far away, there is a scramble between the RSS and Congress to claim the legacy of the 'Father of the Constitution' - and, by extension, the Dalit vote.
Ashok Bharti, Chairman of the National Confederation of Dalit Organisations (NACDOR), a national coalition of Dalit organisations, assesses this political tussle and the failures of Dalit leaders.
Excerpts from the interview by Rahul Kumar:
With the RSS and BJP trying to appropriate Ambedkar, has he somehow become more relevant in national politics today?
He was relevant right from day one of India's freedom. The only thing is for different reasons, people now believe they should use Dr. Ambedkar to hide their misdeeds. In 1949, he had said that if we are unable to implement this Constitution then these very people for which we are making this, will blow it up.
Dr Ambedkar always stood for liberty, equality and fraternity. And fraternity, particularly, was found lacking throughout the history of India. He will always continue to be relevant for this India's parliamentary democracy.
Is there a difference between the way the RSS views Ambedkar and now the BJP? Which will ultimately win over the other?
Mr (Mohan) Bhagwat and the RSS belong to a different ideology and it was the same ideology that the BJP belonged to before coming to power.
After Modi became prime minister he realised that it wasn't the Manusmriti that allowed a chai walla to become a prime minister, it was our Constitution. He is not there because of the Ramayana or the Mahabharata. He is there because India's Constitution empowers the most humble human being to become the prime minister or president of this country.
Being the prime minister, he has the responsibility to see that India's Constitution is not subverted and is upheld. He has no option but to uphold our constitutional values.
Mr Bhagwat and the RSS are forces which represent inequality and are there to pressurise the government. The prime difference between the two is the difference between the Indian State and the organisations that are not part of it.
Is this a proud moment in general for Dalits? Or are they able to see through such politics?
It is no doubt a proud moment for Dalits that one of them is being recognised for the seminal work he did as the chair of the drafting committee of the constituent assembly. Our Constitution upholds Ambedkar's desire to annihilate caste in India. Dr. Ambedkar did not stand for compromised solutions. When a person is ahead of his time - Dr. Ambedkar, for instance, gave rights to those who had no rights prior to the Constitution - when everyday he's proven right, it's not a surprise that everybody wants to appropriate him. I say let them.
Will all this appropriation translate to any real legislative changes to bring more equality to Dalits?
For the last 10 years, every year we've been sending petitions to the Prime Minister's office requesting them to commemorate the constitution Day. They finally agreed this year. This is the one thing that has never happened before.
We created the Constitution but never did anything to ensure that Indians follow the spirit of the Constitution. So that discussion has begun. Sooner or later whether it is Mr. Modi or Mr X, the process has been set in and the result will surely be positive
The BJP and RSS are appropriating Dr BR Ambedkar's legacy. What are your thoughts?
Ambedkar has gone beyond class, caste and political ideology. His followers are a big political force and it's a force every political party wants to nurture.
The BJP is an openly manuwadi party and is trying to take over his legacy not because of love for Ambedkar, but to gain the love of his followers.
I do not think the RSS or even the BJP will be able to co-opt the Dalits. Celebrating Ambedkar Jayanti will not help them. As they say, 'Haathi ke dant dikhaane ke aur, khaane ke aur' (an elephant has two set of teeth - one for show and the other to chew with).
The RSS has said that Babasaheb always opposed Hindu conduct, but not Hindu philosophy. At their recent meet in Nagpur, the Sangh also spoke about 'one well, one cremation and one temple'.
If you read Riddles in Hinduism in volume four of Writings and Speeches of Dr BR Ambedkar, you'll find that he heavily criticised Hindu philosophy and Hindu gods. In fact, Ambedkar did not choose Buddhism because it was close to Hinduism, but because he associated it with this land unlike other religions.
Regarding 'one well', Gandhiji had said the same in 1924. When Dalits went to the well, they were beaten up.
It is good if the RSS can implement the 'one well, one cremation and one temple' theory. But can they rope in the Shankracharyas? Can they actually prevent fanatics from stopping Dalits from entering temples? Their political intentions are fine, but do they have the capability to do what they say?
The RSS has also said that there was 'deep friendship' between Ambedkar and RSS founder KB Hedgewar?
The RSS should show us the evidence of this 'deep friendship'. It is possible that Ambedkar and Hedgewar met in Nagpur or at some convention, but we have no evidence. For example, it is known that Ram Manohar Lohia and Ambedkar used to write to each other because we have those communications.
The issue at hand is that we do not have the capacity to launch counter propaganda against the RSS. We are countering it where it matters - before the people. Also, the Dalit middle class is dead against the BJP and the RSS.
Even the Congress has formed a celebration committee.
Both the BJP and Congress have nothing to do with Ambedkar. The Congress was supposed to make a memorial for him, but dragged its feet. It only wants to reach out to Dalit votes.
If the two main parties are serious about the welfare of the Dalits, it is good for them. If the ruling and the opposition parties can unite on Ambedkar, it would be a big victory for us.
But will these parties actually imbibe and follow his legacy? Dalits will not fall for these mechanisations.
With mainstream political parties wooing the Dalits, is it not a reflection that Dalit leaders have failed their own people?
Yes and no. No, because Dalit leaders have to work in hostile, unfavourable and uncooperative environments. Political parties might take Dalit leaders in, but do not listen to them. Mainstream parties feel that they have done a favour to such leaders by including them in their party. But if the Dalit leader makes an impact despite this, I feel that they have succeeded somehow.
But when I see this from the prism of the Dalit people, our leaders may have been able to become successful individually, but they still not been able to satisfy the community. When Mayawati was chief minister, she was not able to make a difference in the lives of Dalits.
Dalits have small expectations, but even those aren't getting fulfilled. After 2009, Dalits threw their leaders out of the Lok Sabha. Ram Vilas Paswan lost and so did RPI (A) leader Ramdas Athawale. Meira Kumar hardly connects with Dalits.
Will this race for Ambedkar uplift the status of Dalits in any way?
I think some good will come out of this. The BJP, along with the RSS and fanatic Hindus, will not look at Dalits as enemies. I feel Dalits will be patronised, but also be helped in various ways. On the other hand, Dalit forces will oppose the BJP and others with more vigour because we feel strongly about the appropriation of Ambedkar and the Dalit cause.
I think the time has come for India to have a second social contract. The first one, the Poona Pact, which was signed by Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi in 1932, has served its utility. Therefore, if the Dalits look at it collectively as an opportunity, then we need to convert this opportunity into the second social contract.
Do you have Dalit organisations at the grassroots level the way the RSS does with its many volunteers across the country?
Dalit organisations, or even NACDOR, cannot match the RSS or its organisational skills. But we will beat the RSS in 25 years and the RSS knows it. That is why it is after Ambedkar's legacy.
The RSS did not celebrate Deen Dayal Upadhyay or Shyama Prasad Mukherjee's jayanti with as much fanfare because they know that the Brahmins and the upper castes will not come out in big numbers. But they know that the Dalits will come to celebrate their leader's anniversary.
However, we can see the nascent form of an RSS-kind of structure developing among Dalit organisations. For example, NACDOR, or even the Rashtriya Dalit Mahasabha (RDM), which works only in villages, will become organisations to reckon with.
But you have to give the devil its due. The RSS has shown patience, commitment and conviction in its ideology. It has sustained and grown itself, even under pressure, whether its allies were in power or not. We can surely take lessons for ourselves from the RSS.
With inputs from Shriya Mohan
AR Akela, Dalit activist and poet, is well known as the songwriter for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Though deeply influenced by Kanshiram, the BSP founder, Akela is a staunch critic of former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati, who he says has derailed the Bahujan movement.
He believes a new Dalit leadership is emerging that will overthrow the BSP and revive the original Bahujan movement.
Here, he talks about the RSS-Congress tussle over BR Ambedkar's legacy, and why they are both unreliable.
Excerpts from the interview by Kunal Majumder:
Is this a proud moment for Dalits?
Dr Ambedkar is such a great figure worldwide that eventually everybody will come around to respect him. Congress was in power for 10 years. Mayawati was supporting them for 10 years. Until Meira Kumar was the Speaker, not a single book of Ambedkar had gone to print. So BJP might be saying all this today but for RSS to become Ambedkarite is really impossible.
What is the greatest concern for Dalits today?
There are no problems in India. The only problem that exists is casteism. The BJP and RSS can never end the caste system. Babasaheb gave Hinduism a long shot trying hard to make amends to the religion to make it more accommodating towards us. It was only when he realised that it would never give us equality that he converted to Buddhism.
It is really a cultural battle which has turned into a battle about humanity. I would tell the BJP and the RSS, if you really care about the Dalits, put an end to the caste system that Babasaheb battled against all his life. Can they do that?
The RSS has recently released a 200-page special issue of Panchjanya focusing on BR Ambedkar and wants to end casteism. What do you think is the agenda behind this?
There is an agenda. They have formed a government at the Centre riding on the 'backward' tag. Now their eyes are set on Uttar Pradesh's Vidhan Sabha elections. And it is not just the RSS, the Congress too has announced that it is going to celebrate Ambedkar Jayanti for a year and will organise a big programme in Nagpur in 2016.
The RSS, as the great Kanshiram used to say, BJP is the B team of the Brahmin society and the Congress is the A team.
We have a greater danger from the A team because they are 'saanp nath' and the BJP is the 'naag nath'. The snake is deceptive because it is green - the colour of the grass, but the cobra is visible to everyone because of its fangs.
We have no threat from the BJP because our votes can never go to them. We have always remained alert of the BJP, which began its game ever since the BSP started getting weaker.
If former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati's leadership had been efficient, there wouldn't have been such a cry for Ambedkar from the BJP and Congress. But we won't let them achieve their plans.
Except for Kanshiram, the Dalit leadership hasn't been able to provide the support the community needs. Why is that so?
No one has worked well after Kanshiram. Mayawati ruined the movement because of personal greed.
But I can say with full conviction that we will get a chance to see Kanshiram's concept of Bahujan Samaj play itself out under the leadership of Daddu Prasad ji. He will give us an alternative to the BSP.
The Samajik Parivartan Manch has been built on the political roots that Mayawati has ended and we are trying to revive the Bahujan Samaj through it.
Babasaheb used to say that political change without social change is cheating; even Kanshiram said that a society whose foundation is politically strong would lead to successful politics. We started this movement on 15 March 2015.
You are saying Mayawati has changed the Dalit movement Kanshiram had created. Why did the movement fail?
The media cleverly wrote after the 2007 elections that the BSP got a majority because of the Dalit-Brahmin union and Behenji's social engineering. This is absolutely wrong.
The people who work in the media are mostly Brahmins and the media is for them. They hid the truth for personal gains.
The first reason for the BSP victory was the wave of sympathy for the great Kanshiram who had died six months before the elections. The second reason is that the whole election was conducted by the military. The third reason is that all the new and the old party workers united and none rebelled.
The reality also is that the biggest beneficiaries were the Brahmins - Brahmin ministers, a Brahmin DSP or a Brahmin SSP. They were ruling over the SCs and STs.
Do you think an all-India Dalit figure like Kanshiram is likely to emerge and will the Dalit movement survive?
I am sure such a leader will emerge, with us as an alternative. We will prove this in the 2017 election.
The BSP will have such few MPs, they will not be able to send Mayawati to the Rajya Sabha. That is why politics is for power. Without struggle, power can't be achieved.
BSP can't come to power like this. We will struggle and provide an alternative.
The RSS says it wants to end the caste system and forge Hindu unity. Can it actually bring the castes together?
No. Jagjivan Ram was a great Congress leader. On the subject of jaati vaad, he had said if people give up their surnames, casteism would end. But no one wants to give up their titles or surnames because people benefit from casteism.
Those who are victims of casteism want to end it and are preparing for it. Without power, untouchability cannot end. Without power, female suffering cannot end. And without power, casteism cannot end.
There are two ways to end casteism. First is conversion. Casteism exists only in Hinduism and not in other religions. So if you leave Hinduism you can get rid of casteism.
The second is power. Babasaheb had tried his best to improve the religion yet he said disappointed: "I was born a Hindu and that was beyond my control, but I won't die a Hindu. That is something that I can achieve."
So he converted along with five lakh people. The RSS will do what it wants to do. Our job is to keep our society aware - our Bahujan society, not just the SCs.
With inputs from Shriya Mohan
The Congress and the BJP are engaged in a tug-of-war over Dr BR Ambedkar. Was he Hindu, or anti-Hindu? Did he believe in ghar wapsi? Dalit rights activist Kancha Ilaiah, who shot into prominence with his book Why I Am Not a Hindu - A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy, addresses these questions.
Excerpts from the interview by Soumya Shankar:
How are Dalits reacting to the sudden attention on Babasaheb Ambedkar in Parliament?
Because of Ambedkar's constitutional rights, reservations and principles, they think it is good thing that all these political parties are trying to engage with the philosophy and thought that drove a process of social transformation.
All this appropriation is ok but it means that they will have to negotiate among themselves and look at everything in Hinduism that makes Dalits untouchables, that does not allow them inside temples and what the religious scriptures say about Dalits. If they don't give that natural space to reconsider these things, then they should become Buddhists like Ambedkar.
If they can't fundamentally change something about Hinduism, they should declare that they will embrace Buddhism, which is the most inclusive religion in the world. India can then become a part of a global spiritual system. It doesn't have to be an exclusive Hinduism at all.
If they are owning Ambedkar, this is the only way to go about it.
Congress is a secular party and so can afford to say they are Ambedkarites. But BJP is a religious party and it is a Hindu party. Whether it wants Hindu systems to be egalitarian like Buddhism, or they want the whole country's non-Hindu, non-Muslim population to embrace Buddhism.
Is Ambedkar even relevant to today's Dalit youth?
It is precisely because of Ambedkar's relevance in the political system today that BJP could not dismantle the reservation system. Narendra Modi has to say that he is a strong Ambedkarite. But for him, he would not have become a prime minister. If that creates conflict between Modi and Mohan Bhagwat, that's a different story.
Have the Bihar elections made the BJP value the Dalit vote more?
Ambedkar's ideals hold more and more relevance after Bihar elections for both camps. Before Bihar they spoke about reviewing reservations and now, before UP elections they're raking up the Ram Mandir issue. Did they lose because of Bhagwat's statements? Modi seems different from Bhagwat in that he talks about the greatness of the Constitution, about Ambedkar being his guru.
Which do you think will make it past the tokenism?
Let's see how Modi translates his statements into reality. In real terms, whether he will stand with the SC/ST/OBCs or go with the Brahminical RSS, we don't yet know. We will have to wait and see.
Both the Congress and the BJP are out to claim to the legacy of Ambedkar. How are they going about it?
The Congress formed a committee under Sonia Gandhi that wants to project BR Ambedkar as one of the most secular leaders of our nation and include him in the galaxy of Nehru and Gandhi. While that may do some good for the Congress, it must be noted Dalits have always voted for them and never for the BJP. But it was former prime minister VP Singh who gave Ambedkar the Bharat Ratna, and not the Congress. That is now being used as a tool by the BJP against the Congress.
The BJP has named international projects after Ambedkar and are constructing memorials to win the support of Dalits. For this, they are trying to put Ambedkar among the ranks of KB Hedgewar, Deen Dayal Upadhyay and Swami Vivekananda. Ambedkar will now be seen in Brahmin houses, much like Shirdi's Sai Baba.
In their 200-page document on Ambedkar, the RSS claims that Ambedkar believed in 'shuddhikaran' and 'ghar wapsi'. What is your stand on this?
This is incredible. The RSS wants to portray India as a state with "one temple, one well and one crematorium" for all Hindus. But which god will be placed in that one temple: Will it be the Buddha or Ram? If you are referring to Ambedkar's ideology, it cannot be Ram, it has to be Buddha. Then, will a Dalit be the priest of this temple? Will they ever let a Dalit be the head priest in Tirupati Balaji or Vaishno Devi?
It's unimaginable to me that the BJP is trying to project Ambedkar as a supporter of ghar wapsi. How can they claim that he wanted people to come back to the fold of Hinduism when he himself abandoned the religion and became a Buddhist? They have attempted to portray Ambedkar as 'largely Hindu' in that document. How can they convert a person 60 years after his death?
Why do you think the RSS has suddenly become interested in Ambedkar's legacy?
That's because even after Ambedkar embraced Buddhism, 80-90% of Dalits and tribals who converted, embraced Christianity or Islam and not Buddhism. Why Christianity? That's because the missionaries promised equality, an English-medium education and a superior lifestyle.
The Sangh now wants to reconvert them from Christianity to Hinduism through their ghar wapsiprogramme. For this, they are using Ambedkar. They fear that, over the next 50-60 years, the entire Dalit population would have converted to Christianity. That's why they aggressively want to own Ambedkar.
For instance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks about Gandhi and Buddha abroad, and not Deen Dayal Upadhyaya or VD Savarkar because nobody knows them. However, everybody knows Buddha. So why is he trying to own Buddha? Is he a Buddhist?
Similarly, after Buddha and Gandhi, Ambedkar is the third most popular Indian ideologue in all Euro-American countries. This whole question of 'untouchability' is thought to be disgusting in the West. They have discussed it at the United Nations, the American Congress, the European Union and the World Bank. Even in India, Ambedkar is still influential among middle classes, intellectuals and in universities.
Are you saying that the BJP, backed by the RSS, is trying to reshape history?
Ambedkar is not a Shirdi Sai Baba to be worshipped in a temple. You cannot circulate stories about him. He has written volumes against the Hindu caste structure in Annihilation of Caste, in which he offers painfully detailed critiques of the Bhagvad Gita and Ram and Krishna. That cannot be written off so easily.
With both mainstream parties in a tussle to woo Dalits, can the community benefit from this?
For any constructive change to occur, Hinduism will have to reform and change. But suddenly, Ambedkar seems to have become a contemporary Buddha - every national party wants to own him. Till 1990, nobody was concerned about Ambedkar. Only after the Janata Dal came into power and decide to implement the Mandal Commission did he become a huge figure in every village, especially in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. Now with the agenda the BJP is pushing, Ambedkar will become even bigger than Gandhi and Nehru.
How will this impact the future of caste-based politics?
For the Congress to survive this onslaught and retain their favourable position among Dalits, they'll have to give them a bigger place in their leadership. They've had a Dalit president and a speaker, but to counter Modi - an OBC - they'll have to project a Dalit prime minister. From the RSS, the Dalits need to demand equality if historical wrongs are to be forgiven. Temples and wells have to be claimed. That demand will come soon.
Eventually, both parties will face problems. We welcome reforms, but there cannot be hypocrisy. Dalit activists will have to wait and expose any hypocrisy with vigour. What shape society takes now will be important and we will be observing.
With inputs from Shriya Mohan
After Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, BR Ambedkar is the next national icon over whose legacy the Congress and the BJP are set for a long-term tug of war. The two parties have drawn up plans to hold year-long celebrations to commemorate his 125th birth anniversary year, which began on 14 April 2015.
The BJP, which is setting its eyes on the Dalit vote bank, particularly in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, has upped its game and even attacked the Congress for giving Mother Teresa the Bharat Ratna before Ambedkar.
Meanwhile, the Congress has set up a committee to prepare for the celebrations and show how Ambedkar worked in 'close partnership with Congress leaders' to shape the Constitution.
K Raju, the convener of the committee, speaks about why the RSS' efforts to make Ambedkar an RSS icon will fail.
Excerpts from the interview by Kunal Majumder:
This past week Modi has gone on to saying that Ambedkar is his guru and has praised the contribution of a hero born to a Dalit mother to the nation and its constitution. Does the Dalit community agree with his statements?
As a community the Dalit are smart enough to see the political reasons behind praising Ambedkar. If they are serious about the welfare of Dalits, political parties should come together and pass legislations that favour us. The 117th constitutional amendment needs to be passed to remove impediments in way of securing reservations and promotions for SC/ST and reservations in promotions
The Prevention of Atrocities Amendment Act aims to ensure effective investigation in case of atrocitites and also to ensure that the accused are brought to book and convicted. It also provides certain rights to victims and witnesses.
The demand for national legislation on an SC sub plan and tribal sub plan is also long pending. A draft legislation was taken to the Cabinet. That has to be taken to the Parliament in the shape of a legislation which will provide budget resources for SC/STs.
In order to secure equity, many more policies legislations need to be brought. That will be a proud moment for Dalits. Not just praising Ambedkar publicly.
RSS believes it has more ideological similarities with Ambedkar than the Congress does.
I think Dalits understand these kinds of double standards. The RSS opposed the Constitution. In fact, the previous NDA government tried to amend the Constitution. Their attempt to appropriate Ambedkar's legacy is something most Dalits can see through. It is only for political gains as their sole aim is to win Dalit votes. Dalits are aware that Ambedkar opposed the RSS' ideology throughout his life, because it is based on the caste system.
It was Ambedkar who, through his partnership with the Congress, delivered a Constitution that gave rights to Dalits.
But haven't Dalit leaders failed the community by becoming tokens for vote bank politics?
See, it is not just the Dalit politician's responsibility to bring equity in the society. It is the responsibility of democracy and democratic institutions. Of course, Dalit politicians represent Dalits of a particular constituency, but they also have to take care of other factors. It isn't correct to say that Dalit emancipation and development is entirely dependent on what Dalit politicians do.
Has the Congress done enough for the community?
Nobody can deny that there has been improvement post-Independence, especially on the education front.
The challenge for the second generation is employment. That is why the Congress promised to provide reservation in government services.
We've also expanded access to credit for Dalit entrepreneurs.
Even though you criticise the BJP today, the Congress too has used Dalits as a vote bank.
Only the Congress can show programmes, policies and legislation aimed at the socio-economic development of Dalits.
I agree that infiltration of society has not happened yet and the equity that Ambedkar dreamt of has not been achieved. But a lot of ground has been covered.
It was the UPA government that amended the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The current government has now allowed that ordinance to lapse.
Take the recent incident in Nagore, Rajasthan, where three Dalits were mowed down by a tractor. One woman died and a boy sustained injuries.
Still, the BJP government in Rajasthan has done nothing. The amendment in the Atrocities Act would have forced the government to take action.
How will you celebrate Ambedkar's anniversary differently from the RSS?
We want to take up three key messages. First, Ambedkar worked closely with Congress leaders to shape the Constitution.
Second, Ambedkar wasn't just a Dalit leader, but a statesman who espoused democratic values.
Last, we want to emphasise the ways the Congress has carried forward his legacy. We also want to promote Dalit leadership within the Congress at the grassroots level.
With inputs from Shriya Mohan
In the run-up to Dr BR Ambedkar's 125th birth anniversary this year, the BJP and its parent body the RSS announced a big outreach programme for Dalits.
Is the BJP's appropriation of Dr BR Ambedkar's legacy merely a trick to win Dalit votes or will this outreach have any real impacts on ground?
The Congress' Dalit face in Uttar Pradesh, Rajya Sabha MP PL Punia, assesses the move with Deepa Kumar:
What are your views on the RSS claiming BR Ambedkar as their icon?
The BJP and the RSS have historically been against the cause of Dalits. They have always supported'manuwad' (the division of society into castes) and upheld the 'varna' system. Ambedkar always wanted a casteless society. He built an anti-Hindutva agenda only after his attempts to reform Hinduism failed. The BJP and the RSS, on the other hand, have always carried out atrocities against Dalits. That fact is often reflected in newspapers.
But the RSS has made inroads into tribal areas and among Dalits.
In the run-up to the 2014 general election, there was a Hindutva wave across north India. Even Dalits fell prey to it and the BJP is now capitalising on this. They believe that such a wave can be repeated in different state elections.
But if the BJP and RSS are promising what the Dalits want - entry into temples and a common well - why wouldn't they vote for the BJP?
Dalits don't identify with the BJP and RSS. Hindutva forces have always been pro-upper caste. At the same time, the BJP has a history of not keeping its promises. They have never cared much about people from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. This is the first time in history that they are taking this stand, that too for purely political ends rather than any concern for social equity.
Is the Congress countering this?
Congress president Sonia Gandhi just held a meeting to kick off the celebrations for Babasaheb Ambedkar's 125th birth anniversary. We discussed the details of the activities to be undertaken during this year. It will be a grassroots-based campaign, at the village level, the booth level - to make Dalits aware of the work the Congress has done for them.
Can you highlight some of these activities?
We want to make Dalits aware of the fact that the Congress has always strived for socio-economic equality the way Ambedkar had espoused it. We want to accomplish what he said in his last speech on 26 November 1949. We have focused on empowerment through education, with scholarships, tribal centres and reservation in educational institutions.
Ambedkar has always been an icon for the Congress. He was part of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution and was the law minister in Independent India's first government, despite not being a part of the Congress.
But would you concede that the RSS' promises may have some impact?
No, the RSS and BJP have always been with the upper castes. Dalits know this and they will not fall for these tricks.
The RSS is trying to bring Dalits into its fold by appropriating BR Ambedkar. It claims that Ambedkar's views converge with those of the Sangh on many issues.
Dalit ideologue Prem Kumar Mani gives his take on the RSS' efforts.
Excerpts from the interview by Kunal Majumder:
The words secularism and tolerance have been under scrutiny in recent parliament discussions. You had said in an earlier interview to Catch that Ambedkar ripped the word secularism apart. What were Ambedkar's views on these two words?
Dr Ambedkar was very scientific in his views about secularism. His scientific understanding was rather deep. One meaning of secularism allowed fundamentalists to dictate terms on how everyone should practice their religion. Upper caste Hindus or Muslims, pandits or mullahs would maintain a safe distance from each other's freedom to practice their religion.
But Ambedkar's view was more like Kabir's which said that its not fair to remain silent in the name of religion. To be secular meant to have the right to equally criticise the wrongdoings of any religion rather than turn a blind eye in the name of tolerance.
The Congress kind of secularism is about ignoring the wrongdoings in any religion. Ambedkar felt this is wrong and one must be more scientific and vigilant.
When Asaram Bapu was charged with rape, there was a hesitation in arresting him because he was seen as an upholder of Hindu Dharma and arresting him was seen to hurt thousands of Hindu devotees. Should we remain silent if women are mistreated in the name of Islam in certain instances? Ambedkar opposed this type of tolerance. He said, while respecting individual sentiments, one should not hesitate to stand up against injustice in the name of religion.
Why is the RSS suddenly trying to reach out to Dalits? How is this process unfolding?
The BJP and RSS are concerned only about their ideology. It seems they do not understand history, or perhaps they don't want to. However, there are some issues on which the RSS and Ambedkarites stand united. For instance, VD Savarkar was against casteism as he thought that it would weaken Hindutva.
Savarkar appreciated Ambedkar and said that he too wanted the end of untouchability. But Savarkar's brand of Hinduism was different. He believed that the Hindus as a community were weak and that's why he came up with the idea of Hindutva sometime between 1922 and 1925.
What RSS does not know is that Savarkar initiated a movement that supported eating beef. He believed that those who ate beef, such as Muslims and Christians, were far stronger than those who didn't. He believed that Hindus' lacked protein in their diet, which made them mentally and physically weaker.
Savarkar wanted that kind of strength to end casteism. He subscribed to the ideas of the Hindu Mahasabha, which were very different from those of the RSS.
The RSS wanted to create a militant Hindu identity. Savarkar wanted to strengthen Hindu identity based on culture, physical strength and intellect.
Hindu Mahasabha founder Madan Mohan Malviya also stressed the need to end untouchability. He was the one who took Jagjivan Ram, a Dalit, under his wing. He moved him from Ara to Benaras and educated him. The RSS, on the other hand, works covertly to strengthen Brahminism.
RSS and Hindu Mahasabha joined forces in 1951. But very few BJP and RSS leaders recognise that the motivations of the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha were different. This is evident in KB Hedgewar's ideas. He was intellectually mediocre.
The RSS has also been talking about a 'deep friendship' between Ambedkar and Hedgewar.
How? Hedgewar could have been friends with Subash Chandra Bose. They shared the same ideology. In his interview with Rajnikant Dutt in 1939, Bose admitted that he advocated fascism to a limited extent.
The RSS says Ambedkar embraced Buddhism only because he promised Mahatma Gandhi that he would move to a religion close to Hinduism.
Their intellectual capacity is dubious if they think Buddhism is close to Hinduism. If there is an enemy of Hinduism, it is Buddhism, not Christianity or Islam. In fact, Islam is closer to Hinduism. Islam believes in the doctrine of one God and at the level of thought, it is similar to Hinduism. Buddhism and Hinduism stand opposed to each other.
I think the RSS is talking about culture here. They are confusing 'Indian culture' with 'Hindu culture'. Religion is about beliefs and ideologies whereas culture is about how you live.
This is why I say that RSS people are intellectually mediocre. I respect Malviya and Savarkar. They were brilliant individuals, regardless of their ideological leanings. I salute them because they could think for themselves and reflect on issues.
RSS claims Ambedkar advocated 'shuddhikaran' (purification) of Dalits who converted to Islam. They say Ambedkar believed that Muslims could never think of India as their motherland.
Ambedkar wrote a book called Thoughts on Pakistan. Dr Rajendra Prasad, in his book India Divided, appreciated Ambedkar's ideas. He didn't think the idea of a separate state for Pakistan was wrong. I feel the same way.
He believed that Pakistan could act as a buffer for India against attacks from Muslim countries like Iran. He thought that Hindus and Muslims cannot live together because their approach towards life vary greatly. He believed that for India to be a democracy, the separation of Muslims was necessary. But he believed that we should maintain friendly ties with them.
Do you think he was anti-Muslim?
I don't think so. He wanted to explore arguments against Islam. He ripped apart the idea of secularism. He never called himself secular. Similarly, I wouldn't call myself secular in the political sense. Ambedkar believed in religious tolerance.
I believe Ambedkar saw the problem at an intellectual level that people can't understand even today.
What Ambedkar opposed was the hidden hypocrisy in Islam. He never considered it to be a scientific religion.
So, how is the RSS trying to give this a communal slant?
The RSS wants the 'shuddhikaran' of Dalits so that they can expand their Brahminical rule.
Ambedkar wanted Dalits to be elevated culturally and educationally so that they could find a place in society at par with other castes. For him, Buddhism was the key.
After Gandhi, Ambedkar was the only leader who understood that our roots lay in dharma (religion) rather than politics. I presume that Ambedkar was of the opinion that Dalit emancipation couldn't be achieved without religion. What kind of religion do Dalits want? Surely not a Brahmanical Hindu religion. They want an egalitarian and scientific religion. In his book Buddha and His Dhamma, Ambedkar saw Buddha as the pinnacle of scientific thinking.
I am surprised when these mediocre RSS ideologues claim that Buddhism is close to Hinduism. The fight between Buddhists and Brahmins goes back 2,000 years.
In Buddhism, you would find the most profound intellectuals. Many of them were Brahmin converts such as Nagsen, Ashubodh, Dharamkirti and Vishwabandu. There cannot be any comparison between Buddhism and Hinduism. Buddhism is a global religion. The Hindu religion they speak of is Sanatan Dharma, which offers basic knowledge on how to urinate, defecate, reproduce, bathe and wash your mouth.
It is the Brahmins who need to be purified first. They have a very regressive and backward way of thinking. What we need is Dalitikaran (Dalitification) not Shuddhikaran. The RSS is lost and needs to be brought back home - they need a ghar wapsi.
RSS was founded in 1925, during British rule, what is Indian about them? Their half pants, belts and shirt? This is their ideological poverty.
It seems the RSS does have some appeal for Dalits, especially if you look at how well the BJP did in Uttar Pradesh in the Lok Sabha elections. Have Dalit leaders and traditional parties like the Congress failed?
RSS wants to spread its brahminical domination. But is definitely a failure of other parties. After Kanshiram there hasn't been a Dalit leader of stature. Mayawati has made Bahujan into Sarvajan.
We saw how Jitan Ram Manjhi was removed as chief minister in Bihar. Will such incidents make Dalits view the BJP more positively?
Untouchability is no longer a problem in society. Now the problem is power-sharing.
What happened in Bihar goes beyond Upper Caste versus Backward Caste. Nitish Kumar made a mistake by insulting Manjhi. Now a leader has emerged among Dalits, who can transfer votes. I believe Manjhi has a seven to 10% transferable vote share.
'Manjhi factor' is going to be the biggest factor in the assembly elections. As Manjhi has the power of transferable votes, he could turn to Lalu Prasad or the BJP.
With inputs from Shriya Mohan
Republican Party of India chief and Dalit leader Ramdas Athawale is proud of being called an Ambedkarite.
But then his party became a member of the Mahayuti, the BJP-led grand alliance in Maharashtra, much to the disdain of Shiv Sena which promptly called him 'anti-Dalit'.
In an interview, Athawale speaks of how the Constitution is proof of the fact that Ambedkar and the RSS had opposing ideologies.
The Rajya Sabha MP also rubbishes the Sangh's claim that Ambedkar distrusted Muslims.
Excerpts from the interview by Parth MN:
The RSS claims BR Ambedkar believed in the Sangh's ideology. What is your opinion on this?
The ideology of RSS is completely different from that of Ambedkar. Babasaheb never believed in the idea of Hindutva. The Constitution is proof of that. Even his movement was inclusive.
According to Prafulla Ketkar, Ambedkar 'in a way' supported ghar wapsi. Do you agree with him?
It is their opinion, but it is without any basis. It is important to look at the broader picture. TheManusmriti, which the RSS wanted as India's Constitution, was the reason Ambedkar converted to Buddhism.
Manusmriti lays down some despicable customs. It is atrocious towards Hindu women. The RSS may have wanted it as our Constitution but now every government that assumes office in this country has to adhere to the Constitution written by Ambedkar. That is his legacy.
In a way, it is good that people have started to remember him. Earlier, only Dalits invoked his legacy.
The RSS has often used Ambedkar's comments on Pakistan. They sparked a debate in 2014 by suggesting Ambedkar did not trust Muslims.
He was never anti-Muslim. We are all Indians. There is no point in quarrelling over religion. And this is precisely the message of India's Constitution. It focuses on unity in diversity.
Would the remarks of the RSS harm BJP and Dalit leaders like you?
Not at all. Prime Minister Modi has said he respects the Constitution and that is where our primary obligation lies. Let the RSS do or say what they want to, we will continue with our work.
Is there any attraction towards the RSS among Dalits?
None whatsoever. Our community does not believe in or agree with the ideology of the RSS. Those who are with the RSS are exceptions and probably have no obligation towards our thoughts and outlook.