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75 years ago: Ambedkar joins as Viceroy's Executive Labour Member

 

Syamasundar Unnamati

It was an epoch-making event in the history of modern India when Dr. Ambedkar joined the British Viceroy's Executive Council as Labour Member on 20th July 1942. Dr. Ambedkar truly represented the working class all his life. Once, in his childhood, he even wanted to become a mill worker. In the words of Louise Ouwerkerk, who wrote the book 'The Untouchables of India' in 1945, says about Ambedkar that "One of the best organised Trade Unions in India is the Bombay Municipal Workers union, started by the energetic Dr.Ambedkar in 1934". When Dr. Ambedkar joined the British Executive Council many newspapers eulogised Dr. Ambedkar and lauded his rise as a great leader. Among all these, an article written by the Bombay Chronicle's Editor Mr. I. A. Ezekiel is really remarkable. I. A. Ezekiel was very sympathetic to the grievances of the Depressed Classes. In Dhananjay Keer's words, I. A. Ezekiel was "a front-rank journalist, who unfailingly supported Ambedkar and his movement for years in the world of journalism". Here is the article which was published in Bombay Sentinel (Bombay Chronicle's evening paper) by I. A. Ezekiel after Dr. Ambedkar was appointed as Labour Member.

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bombay sentinel 75 years

DEPRESSED CLASS LEADER INVADES CITADEL OF PRIVILEGE

 Dr. Ambedkar's intrusion into Viceroy's cabinet marks beginning of new era.

 Man who has fought his way against poverty, adversity, injustice to pinnacle of leadership.

 By I.A.Ezekiel

In another week Dr. B. R. Ambedkar will take charge of the Labour portfolio in the Government of India. It will be an event unique in the entire history of India.

Never before in our long and chequered history has a member of the Depressed Class held such a high office in the governance of the country.

NEVER DURING THE 200 YEARS OF BRITISH RULE IN THIS LAND WAS AN INDIAN LEADER WITH SUCH A TREMENDOUS MASS FOLLOWING BEHIND – AND ALL THAT IT MEANS – APPOINTED ON THE VICEROY'S EXECUTIVE COUNCIL.

Fundamentally different

The selection of Dr. Ambedkar differs very fundamentally from all other nominations.

His appointment bears the same relationship with the Depressed Classes as would the nomination of pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in the case of Congress, or of Mr. Jinnah in the case of Muslim League.

That it differs fundamentally from other nominations can be seen from the fact that he was omitted from the first expanded executive council and has been now nominated only under the terrific pressure of Depressed Class opinion.

It is obvious to any casual observer that the reactionary Indian bureaucracy was no more anxious to have this social rebel and intellectual radical than the extreme imperialist Churchill was eager to have the ultra-leftist rebellious Sir Stafford Cripps.

Fully Equipped

Dr. Ambedkar goes to the Viceroy's cabinet equipped as few Indians have been in the past.

His study of labour problems of the country and of labour legislation in Europe and America is something colossal. In his Library in the city are to be found hundreds and hundreds of books bearing directly or indirectly on labour questions throughout the world.

For 20 years he has been studying the subject, taking down notes, writing down his own comments and conclusions. All that analysed, systematised knowledge will now be put to the best use possible.

The task before Dr. Ambedkar is none too easy. The ranks of capitalism in the Viceroy's cabinet are by no means weak: they are strong and solid: but Dr. Ambedkar is not a man to yield easily, and labour may depend on him to put up a fight behind the scenes which, when finally revealed, will make an important chapter.

Life of battle

Dr. Ambedkar's life has been a life of battle. He has battled against age but social prejudice and vested economic interests, against religious tyranny and political ostracism. He comes to conclusions after mature study and can stand for them in a minority of one against the world. A few instances of this will illustrate this point.

Rightful share of political power for the Depressed Classes is one of the important conclusions which Dr. Ambedkar has reached. When Gandhiji entered on a fast unto death on the issue of separate electorates therefore Dr. Ambedkar naturally became the cynosure of the whole country. On his attitude depended the very life of the Mahatma.

There were hectic conferences, Dr. Ambedkar remained calm and unruffled, refused to say a word when a word from his counted for so much. At last, he accepted the invitation of the Indian Merchants Chamber to address a meeting.

"I am not prepared to sacrifice the interests of the Depressed Classes to save your Mahatma", declared Dr.Ambedkar, at the meeting crowded with eager, anxious Congressmen. " I don't care if a hundred Mahatmas are sacrificed for the purpose. You are free to hang me to the nearest lamppost; you are not free to touch the rights of my people".

Hates hypocrisy

Another instance illustrates his hatred of hypocrisy. Some years ago he met a well known American journalist who talked very highly of Gandhism and all that it stands for. The journalist was shocked when Dr. Ambedkar called him a hypocrite.

"If you Americans are so much enamoured of Gandhism why don't you scrap your armies and navies, pull down your factories and sky-scrappers and go back to primitive times. You don't believe in Gandhi and only succeed in misleading both Indians and Americans".

In the third case, he met a South Indian officer of the Government of India in a Delhi hotel. "Whats the good of your politics", said the officer. " Its only confined to getting jobs".

"What", shouted Dr. Ambedkar, "Our politics are only for jobs, is it? Then why are you holding 99 per cent of jobs. Why don't you get out from jobs which you treat with contempt and make room for us".

About Government jobs Dr. Ambedkar has definite views. He is absolutely convinced that it would have been difficult for the Caste Hindus to continue their tyranny and oppression of the Depressed Classes were it not for caste Hindu domination of Government services.

He quotes scores of instances where petty village officers, Patels, Kulkarnis, Desais etc., have deprived Depressed Classes of hundreds of acres of land by tampering with or misinterpreting records or by misleading European Collectors and Commissioners. This is one reason for his insistence on securing fixed percentage of Government posts for Depressed Classes.

Battles for the Depressed

For the same reason, he has, after years of struggle and for the first time in Indian History, got Depressed Class men and women sitting shoulder to shoulder with others in every local board, municipality, legislature. It is for raising the status of the Depressed Classes that all this was done.

The Mahad Chavdar tank satyagraha, the Nasik Temple satyagraha, the mass thread ceremonies that he organised, the ceremonial burning of Manu Smriti that he performed were all directed to this one purpose.

These mass movements have raised a new sense of confidence and strength among the Depressed Classes that never existed before – confidence and strength that are bound ultimately to achieve the freedom of the Depressed Classes from age long thraldom.

The Depressed classes, the lowest strata of labour, have high hopes in him. They will back him to the utmost limit.

His power over them, specially over the Depressed Classes of Maharashtra, is something which even Gandhi may envy. On any social or political issue, a mere word from him is enough to set the whole of Maharashtra ablaze.

He does not do this, because he is more than a politician. He is a statesman who attempts to make the minimum uses of his power with the maximum results.

It is the same statesmanship that is bound to guide his activities in Delhi and Shimla. In the difficult and heavy responsibilities that he will soon be shouldering it will be the duty of all supporters of labour and the Depressed classes to strengthen his hands against the capitalist crowd that he will have to face on the treasury bench.

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References

Bombay Chronicle, 1942.

Bombay Sentinel, 1942.

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 Syamasundar Unnamati is a Dalit Cartoonist.

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