HYDERABAD: The claims on the legacy of Dr.B.R.Ambedkar have undergone a radical shift after the 2014 elections. Before the elections neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi nor the Bharatiya Janata Party mentioned Ambedkar’s legacy as claimable. But after the election, particularly, with the celebration of his 124th birth anniversary the Modi Government initiated several activities.

The Indian National Congress, on the other hand, had an ambivalent relationship with Ambedkar. The Congress under the leadership of Gandhi had a similar relationship with his life and mission. Enormous literature is available about the Gandhi -Ambedkar ideological conflict, the latest being that of Arundhati Roy’s introduction to Ambedkar’s seminal work, ‘Annihilation of Caste’. However, both the Government and the Congress have now formed high power committees to celebrate his 125th birth anniversary next year. This is a new situation.

With Rahul Gandhi, the Vice-President of the Congress, addressing a public a meeting at Mhow, Madhya Pradesh, the birthplace of Ambedkar, on June 2, 2015 a new twist has been given to the legacy of Ambedkar. Rahul Gandhi gave a call to end caste, by moving away from the Gandhian position of “end untouchability but retain the Varna vyavastha”. The Congress banners all over Indore and Mhow carried portraits of Ambedkar, Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, as the three stalwarts of the nationalist movement. It was a surprise to all of us in Mhow, who went there to attend a daylong seminar on ‘Ambedkar and the road map’on the same day.

Rahul Gandhi had an interaction session with the Ambedkarite intellectuals and activists and Digvijay Singh sat through the deliberations. P.Chidamabram sat through the morning session of the seminar. This was a major shift in the positioning of the Congress vis-à-vis Ambedkar.

Ambedkar has now grown out of his Dalit iconism and neo-Buddhist spiritualism. The Congress’ ownership by putting him on par with Gandhi and Nehru has to be judged in the backdrop of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s attempt to own his legacy by putting Ambedkar’s ideology upside down. The special issue of the Organiser/Panchajanya brought by the RSS on the occasion of his 124th birth anniversary constructed Ambedkar in its own image. Its selected but ‘never known expert writers’ on Ambedkar claimed three dangerous positions as his---that Ambedkar was anti-Islam, that he was for ghar wapsi and that he was against Article 370 of the Constitution. Of course, they also packaged Ambedkar’s Buddhism as part of Hindutva---leave alone Hinduism. This new ideological packaging must be seen in conjunction with Modi Government laying the foundation for Ambedkar’s International Centre and the Maharashtra Government buying his London residential house. Apart from these, it must also be seen in the context of some power hungry Dalit politicians joining the BJP.

Through all these measures, with a strong Hindutva communal agenda from power position, the BJP and RSS want to co-opt Ambedkar and finish him. It is true that the Congress tried to sideline him after his death and did not treat him as its friend and ally. The RSS’ claim that Ambedkar visited the RSS camp in 1939 and found human equality in that camp is a claim that does not make sense as it has never produced a Dalit leader of stature till today, nor did it do anything to adopt Ambedkar’s main agenda of ‘Annihilation of Caste’. Its Hindutva ‘Idea of India’ does not allow caste abolition or human equality agenda in any fundamental way.

The Congress historical agenda of ‘secular and socialist democracy’ would have allowed significant space for Ambedkar in its ambit. With all the contending opinions between Gandhi and Ambedkar before India achieved independence in 1947, and Ambedkar and Gandhi being on common platform of social reform is a reality. From the Round Table engagements of Gandhi and Ambedkar, with differing agendas for the future of post-Independence India, leading to Yerwada hunger strike of Gandhi and Poona Pact ( with which the Dalits of today have many disagreements) finally Gandhi himself suggesting to the Congress Government headed by Nehru that Ambedkar should be made the chairman of the drafting committee of constitution, there was a give and take relationship between the two giants of India.

After Gandhi’s murder by the Hindutva forces the positive relationship between Ambedkar and Nehru resulted in successful finalization of the Indian Constitution, adoption of it in 1950 and implementing it in the troubled phase of post-partition. Sardar Patel, whom the BJP has been claiming as its man in the Congress ( during the entire Ramjanmabhoomi campaign L.K.Advani was projected as Abhinva Sardar Patel and now Modi building a statue) was no intellectual match to Ambedkar or Nehru.

In my view if Patel were to be the first Prime Minister of India he would not have allowed Ambedkar to be the Chairman of the drafting committee of the constitution. He would have led the nation on right wing road, which would have resulted in a disaster. Even ‘one man one vote and one vote one value’, a principle that was equally dear to Ambedkar and Nehru, would have been in jeopardy.

Let us not forget the fact that RSS is an offspring of the Hindu Mahasabha and Patel was a friend of the Hindu Mahasabha, whereas Ambedkar and Nehru were never its friends. They were always its ideological opponents. Even Gandhi was its ideological enemy hence they have been demanding the removal of Gandhi’s photo from the Indian currency notes lately.

Though Modi said that he would not have been where he is now without Ambedkar, his Government has not taken even one major step to improve the conditions of SC/STs after he became the Prime Minister. In fact, in the budget allocations the SC/ST special component plan share is reduced. His so called minimum government and maximum governance is taking away jobs from the Government sector, where they have a share. His Government is not at all thinking about asking for reservations in private sector, even though it is putting all its resources at the feet of the corporate capital. The NGO sector that was working to improve the living conditions of the SC/STs is in a mess with the recent cancellation of licenses.

The present status of SC/STs and OBCs is because of the non-BJP governments, in which the Congress has a lion’s share. The most pro-Ambedkarite government in independent India was that of V..P. Singh. The Congress, however, went with SC/STs ( not so much with OBCs) from the days of Indira Gandhi days of ‘garibi hatao. The Congress party, though, neglected Ambedkar ( for example by not giving Bharat Ratna, by not building his international centre in Delhi), but does not have history of animosity. But the RSS and BJP have a history of animosity with his philosophy and ideology.

If the Congress can push its earlier agenda of reservations in the private sector, an issue the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has taken up after its recent national conference, and can also take up the campaign of anti-caste and anti-untouchability on par with the BJP’s Swach Bharat ( as Bharat need not be Swach only with Dalit labour in the streets) a massive psychological re positioning of Dalits and upper castes, including that of the OBCs, would take place. The Congress must also realize that all its developmental work was not at all combined with social reform earlier. Ambedkar and Nehru were for welfare state and industrial development, what one can call in Buddhist language, a middle path.

The BJP in the present avatar or in its earlier avatar of the Jana Sangh was never for social reform. Whether in its earlier NDA avatar or in the present one the BJP Government remains pro-big business and monopoly capital. Ambedkar was for not only socioeconomic equality but was also for balanced growth of industry and agriculture with a share for every individual and community and that is what the BJP does not believe in.

(The author is Director, Alberuni Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad Urdu University, Hyderabad)