Ambedkar’s tryst with fraternity…


Shiveshwar Kundu

shiveshwar kundu.1B.R. Ambedkar has become an omnipresent character of Indian politics. He is everywhere, darling of almost every spectrum of the mainstream, local as well as student politics. The irony of the churning is that the exact forces against whom Ambedkar himself waged war during his lifetime are now trying to appropriate his discourse by mechanically intermixing his ideas with their brand of politics.

There is no denying of the fact that he is a grossly ignored figure not only within the scope of Indian politics but also largely by the Indian academia itself. India's top central university (DU) had 'Reading Gandhi' as an optional paper in the syllabus structure of political science. But it was only under CBCS curriculum (2015), when for the first time, a paper titled 'Understanding Ambedkar' was introduced. Syllabus makers most probably failed to comprehend the fact that Gandhi becomes a full-fledged project only in the presence of Ambedkar. It is, for this reason, many central tenets of the Gandhi-Ambedkar debate still remain relevant and will remain open-ended till the idea of justice is not foregrounded in the mind and soul of human beings. One of the leading books of 'Indian political thought' by a renowned scholar like V. R. Mehta doesn't comprise of any chapter on B. R. Ambedkar. This shows ample negligence on the part of Indian academia while dealing with him till a point of time.

Due to all forms of ignorance, rejection and negation, discourse on Ambedkar though on the upswing, is very easy to reduce within the scope of either caste or reservation. Babasaheb's contribution can't be reduced even to the emancipation of people belonging to this landscape of India. His project can be substantively leveled as 'human emancipation'. Being a human being, anyone can access his idea of emancipation through the awareness of history and comprehending the idea of human which he brought from the enlightenment tradition. The beauty of his authenticity lies in the fact that he didn't restrict himself within the enlightenment tradition but gave the principles of liberty and equality a new turn toward neo-Buddhism. For him, it was the idea of fraternity which underpins the principles of liberty and equality. The prudence and political acumen of Babasaheb lies in the fact that he co-situated the clarion call of enlightenment – liberty, equality and fraternity itself within the socio-cultural context of Buddhist philosophy. It was somewhere down the line that the idea of fraternity was endangered in the discourse of enlightenment and the political system of liberal democracy which followed it. He understood the political strength of this idea and thereby it becomes the most indispensable theoretical device with which he tried to carry forward his social movement. Without this value of fraternity (maitree) which means a sense of belongingness and affection toward the other fellow beings, any idea of liberty and equality would be like envisaging a society full of machines. Compassion and sense of concern, not competition and freedom without obligation, was key for him.

In some of his major works like 'Hindu religion and its essential principles', 'Philosophy of Hinduism', he repeatedly raised the question of availability of the idea of fraternity within the social system of Hinduism itself. Unfortunately, what he discovered was the presence of humiliation, rejection, shame, disgust toward the sections who were at the receiving end of the dictums of texts like Manusmriti, Bhagwad Gita and other Hindu scriptures. In the above-mentioned works he argued that Hindu social order is neither based on the principle of utility nor justice, instead the central category which cuts across the terrain of Hindu religion is class (class of superhuman i.e Brahmin led top varnas).

The political insight that we can extract from his argument is his usage of the category of class which still remains the relevant category to understand the hiccups of the Indian social system. Through his work, it becomes amply clear the way he understood the relationship between caste and class, which more and less overlap while operating in the slippery domain of Indian politics. For him, caste is an enclosed class and it was for this reason he didn't separate the twin enemies of Indian society i.e Brahmanism and Capitalism. With equal resolve, he tried to give a strong challenge to this exploitative structures through his idea of fraternity.

The way we deal and try to use Babasaheb's principle it can be said that he has been long kept apart with this noble concept which is central to understand his thought and personally dear to him. The project of human emancipation is unrealizable without taking into consideration the philosophical and political strength of maitree. It is for this reason though Ambedkar's idea of justice starts with representation, separate electorates but ends with the universal goal of fraternity.

The second irony of the present context lies in the fact that the adherents of Ambedkarite politics neither start with this idea nor end with it. Hence, it becomes easy to reduce Ambedkar within the ambit of reservation, caste, minority rights. The major weapon generally used by the Ambedkarite formations is assertion. There is no dispute that the aspect of assertion is equally important for Ambedkar himself to break the twin evils of Indian society. But what should not be missed is the way through which Babasaheb reconciled assertion with fraternity. It was for this reason, being the bitterest and staunch critic of Mahatma Gandhi, he had his support to make it to the top rank of law minister. Such is the sheer force of the idea of fraternity!

In every major step of Ambedkar we can sense the presence of the philosophical strength of fraternity. Unlike the practitioners of left politics during his time for whom religion was the opium of the masses, he understood the importance of religion which draws its strength from the socio-cultural roots of this country. It is for this reason that he argued for the annihilation of caste and held Hindu religion responsible for all form of societal discrimination but he didn't leave the sphere of religion in a vacuum. He filled that area with the alternative conception of religion which is based on equality i.e Buddhism. Hence, one could argue that annihilation and simultaneously conversion was a responsible step as he comprehended that without the force of religion it is almost impossible to develop a sense of belongingness and affection toward others.

To conclude, Ambedkar's usage of his idea of fraternity can be considered as the specter which actually not only haunts the ruling class but also those who carry out politics in his name. Both of the sides with some difference or degree use him for their respective narrow purposes. The purpose of writing this piece is to bring the notion of fraternity back into the Ambedkarite political schema for the realization of his idea of human emancipation which is lost at this present juncture. Central to this idea of fraternity is the notion of friendship. To refer to Bhikhu Parekh in his work 'Debating India', one of the essential conditions for friendship to develop is the capacity of the individual to rise above his socially defined roles; embark on the journey of creating new and unpredictable relations and share his innermost thoughts, feelings, and vulnerabilities with others. Hence, to realize the goals of human emancipation a greater reconciliation between assertion and fraternity is an indispensable precondition.



Shiveshwar Kundu is a research student at Delhi University, New Delhi.


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