BJP's gameplan to hinduize Ambedkar

 

Shaik Subhani

shaik subhaniDr. B.R Ambedkar was an eminent scholar, economist, politician, philosopher, leader, activist, architect of India's constitution, and a social reformer who fought for women's rights and also inspired the modern Buddhist movement. He was born on April 14, 1891, in India. He did not belong to the Hindu religion[2] as he was born in a group outside the four-fold Hindu Varna system called the Panchama Varna, which was associated with 'untouchability'[3]. Ambedkar in 1935 at the Yeola conference declared that he was 'born a Hindu but would not die a Hindu.'[4]

In accordance with his statement, he finally converted to Buddhism on October 14, 1956, at Nagpur. Within two months of his conversion, he passed away on December 6, 1956. Ambedkar sacrificed his whole life to reform the Hindu religion, such that it reflected the three principles of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.[5] But when he felt it was impossible to reform the Hindu religion[6], he decided to convert to a non-Hindu religion which echoed these principles. Finally, he chose Buddhism which was established by Siddhartha Gouthama and he undertook a mass conversion along with 6 lakh people.[7]

He was unique, in the sense that he did not subscribe to any particular kind of political ideology. In fact, he himself was a founder of a philosophy, a school of thought, which has come to be known today as Ambedkarism.[8] His followers call themselves Ambedkarites. Recently, there was a debate on the identity of Ambedkar and which religion he belonged to - was it Buddhism or the Hindu religion? In political battles, every party claims that he belongs to their own group or party.[9]

Ideology-based parties are categorized by political thinkers as being left, center or right. Among these, the right wing ideological parties (which consist of a bunch of Brahmins along with other dominant castes) have captured power in India.[10] They subscribe to Hindutva ideology and they and their parental associations are putting efforts to establish 'Hindurastra' or 'Akhand Hindu Bharat' [11] in India. Having won a massive majority in the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, they now wish to achieve a majority in the Rajya Sabha as well, which would give them an opportunity to tamper with the secular laws and the basic ethos of the constitution. To have a majority in Rajya Sabha, it is mandatory for them to win the state elections and this was the claim they made (about Ambedkar) in order to win state elections. To win the state elections, they need to overcome certain doubts about their credibility and about their opinion towards Muslims and Dalits, for their history and activities suggest otherwise.[12]

In order to achieve this objective, these groups started the program of Gharwapasi to bring back people from other religions into the Hindu fold. They conducted these programs in different states like UP, Kerala etc., but failed somewhat in this arena. Immediately, they changed their strategy and began focusing on Dalits, especially through attempts to appropriate Ambedkar. For this, they choose the 125th birth anniversary celebrations as a primary means. Now the question is: why are the right-wing forces emphasizing on Ambedkar only? It may be due to the fact that his following and eminence in the public and academic circles have grown over the years, and his name is no longer that of an individual but is now institutionalized. He is now 'The Greatest Indian'[13] and has a large following among the masses, youth, and academicians. To attract them, right-wing BJP is trying and putting efforts to make part of the Hindu religion, and if they succeed in this plot, they have the opportunity to win in states where the Dalits have significant vote share.

For this to happen, they are attracting Dalit leaders, out of which 'Three Dalit Rams are acting as Hanumans in the BJP'[14]. Another Ram – Jitan Ram Manjhi, is now added to this list.[15] Today, there are attacks on Dalits all over India, but these Dalit leaders are not opening their mouth against the BJP government, except for Jitan Ram Manjhi.[16] At this juncture, we need to ask – from where has this adaptation begun? A brief review of the literature would explicitly bring out the fact that it was only after Savarkar that Buddhism began to be incorporated into the Hindu religion vigorously, even though Buddha was included in Hindu literature long before Savarkar. Hindu or Hindutva scripts believe in the concept of avatars, and the Buddha is depicted as the 9th incarnation of Vishnu.[17] But Ambedkar states in his vows in the conversion to Buddhism that we 'cannot believe Buddha to be the 9th incarnation of Vishnu'.[18]

Ambedkar's birth and political career were concentrated in Maharashtra. This meant that he has a huge following there. Hence it was here that the BJP began to manipulate with literature so as to indoctrinate Dalits and fabricate the truths so that they would eventually support the BJP. On the other hand, with the rise of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Ambedkar attracted more followers, not only from among Dalits but also other communities such as Muslims, Other Backward Classes (OBC) and Tribes[19] from all over India. Such a consolidation of subaltern groups is not tenable and palatable for the right-wing forces, especially since they established themselves as Anti-Muslim. They need the Dalits, OBCs, and Tribes, but at the same time want to project Ambedkar as an enemy of the Muslims[20], which may be difficult to do. Hence, the co-option of Ambedkar into the Hindu fold is being carried out with considerable sophistication by the Hindutvawadi forces, with the 'Hinduization' of Dalits as a major objective.

A brief exposition of this complex process is made here. The 'hinduization' of Dalits by the BJP, Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) combine operates mainly at two levels - Theoretical and Developmental. If we observe, at the theoretical level, as already stated, BJP is misinterpreting Ambedkar's mode of thinking and argues that his act of conversion was in conformity with Hinduism rather than its subversion. Also, through comparison of Ambedkar with Hedgewar and Savarkar, they are trying to show how all three tried to create a common Hindu identity by overcoming the bad practices of caste and untouchability. Also, BJP and its student's wing ABVP established the 'Samajik Samarasta Manch' (social assimilation group) in 1983, with a Phule-Ambedkar 'Sandesh Yatra'(from Pune to Nagpur), and also conducting a series of lectures and seminars and celebrating Ambedkar's birth anniversary.[21]

On the other hand, in name of development activities, BJP-ruled state governments are involved in the construction of roads, community halls, providing special measures and giving loans to subaltern groups to entice and attract them. Recently, India's Prime Minister initiated the construction of an Ambedkar International Convention Centre at Janpath in Lutyens' Delhi.[22] At the state level, the BJP-led Maharashtra government purchased a house in London which was used by the Ambedkar in the early 1920s. This is significant because there is a mystery behind the creation of memorials. Memorials symbolize the gratitude of people and also serve as a beacon for the future generations, to emulate people who worked beyond their selves for others. [23]

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Notes

1. Ghar Wapsi or 'Home Coming' is a series of religious conversion activities organized by Indian Hindu organizations Vishwa Hindu Parishad(VHP) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS), to convert non-Hindus to Hinduism. It became the subject of public discussion in 2014.

2. It was not Hindus but British census officers who first began to classify untouchables as Hindus. In the first all India census in 1871, major Dalit communities were not classified as Hindus.

3. The Indian Varna system comprises of four groups – Brahamin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra, which is further divided into various castes and sub-castes.

4. Untouchability is a direct product of the caste system. It is not merely a discriminatory practice that prohibits the touch a human being of a certain caste or sub-caste, but an attitude on the part of a whole group of people that relates to a deeper psychological process of thought and belief, invisible to the naked eye, translated into various physical acts and behaviors, norms and practices.

5. Annihilation of Caste, with a reply to Mahatma Gandhi, by Dr B.R. Ambedkar, Pg 43.

6. As seen in the case of the Hindu Code Bill debate.

7. Ambedkar had met with Periyar Ramaswamy at the World Buddhist Conference in 1954, and the latter suggested Ambedkar to undertake mass conversions, instead of doing it alone.

8. Ambedkarism today is a living force in India. It defines the ideology of the Dalit movement and the anti-caste movement; Ambedkarism is the Theory of Dalit Liberation – Gail Omvedt, Dalits, and Democratic revolution.

9. If we read Gopal Guru and Anand Teltumbde'spieces in EPW, we can understand how Ambedkar is being appropriated.

10. BJP won with a massive majority in 2014 Loksabha elections in India.

11. In such a nation, everyone is Hindu and belongs to no other religion. It was Savarkar's ambition, and we can understand this from his writings on Hindutva.

12. http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i9755.pdf.

13. The Greatest Indian was a poll sponsored by Reliance Mobile and conducted by Outlook magazine, in partnership with CNN-IBN and The History Channel. The poll was conducted from June to August 2012, with the winner, Babasaheb Dr.B.R. Ambedkar, announced on 11 August. A program associated with the poll aired from 4 June until 15 August.

14. Ramdas Athavale, Ram Vilas Paswan and Ram Raj (now known as Udit Raj) acting as Hanumans – Anand Teltumbde, April 12, 2014, EPW.

15. He was a Maha Dalit and Chief Minister of Bihar, and joined in the BJP-led NDA coalition after coming out of JDU.

16. 'General VK Singh Feudal,' BJP Ally Jitan Ram Manjhi speaks on 'Dog' Remark: NDTV, Oct 22, 2015.

17. http://odisha.gov.in/e-magazine/Orissareview/2010/May-June/engpdf/23-31.pdf

18. Movie - Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar: The Untold Truth

19. CSDS survey after 2007 elections.

20. Ambedkar's Appropriation by Hindutva Ideology, an E-Digest.

21. Gopal Guru EPWFeb, 16

22. Anand Teltumbde, EPW, May 2, 2015

23. Anand Teltumbde, EPW, Oct 3, 2015

References

1. Political Process in Uttar Pradesh: Identity, Economic Reforms, and Governance: By Sudha Pai.
2. Hinduisation of Ambedkar in Maharashtra, EPW, Feb 16, 1991; Appropriating Ambedkar, EPW, July 6-13,1991; Gopal Guru.
3. Three Dalit Rams Play Hanuman to BJP, EPW, April 12, 2014; Deconstructing 'Ambedkar', may 02,2015, EPW Vol 18; In thy name, Ambedkar, EPW, Oct 03, 2015, Anand Teltumbde.
4. Dasavatara in Sri Jayadev's Gita Govinda, Dr. Bhagyalipi Malla;
5. Ambedkar's Appropriation by Hindutva Ideology, an E-Digest;
6. Hindu-Muslim Communal Riots in India II (1986-2011) Violette Graff and Juliette Galonnier, 20 August 2013.
7. Britannica Book of the Year 2010, by Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.
8. Annihilation of Caste by Dr.B.R Ambedkar.
9. http://eci.nic.in/eci/eci.html.

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Shaik Subhani has a Masters in Political Science and is a former convenor of BSF-HCU; at present, he's pursuing LLB in Dr. BR Ambedkar Law College, Hyderabad.

 

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