RAJA CHOUDHARY | 9 JANUARY, 2020
‘Jai Bhim’ and ‘Non Cooperation’: Youth Embrace Ambedkar and Gandhi
An Ambedkar-Gandhi amalgamation characterises today’s protests
The two greatest icons of the Indian National Movement – Babasaheb Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi – are recorded to have been in deep conflict with each other. Ironically, both icons are being invoked together by today’s youth to protest against the government’s new citizenship proposals.
The slogan of “Jai Bhim” resonates today, along with calls for non-cooperation and civil disobedience.
Large movements of people tend to be marked with violence. Gandhi called off the Non-Cooperation Movement on February 12, 1922 right after the arson at Chauri Chaura, because of the use of violence. Many young leaders including Bhagat Singh and Jawaharlal Nehru were demoralised by Gandhi’s abrupt decision.
Similarly, the Quit India movement of 1942 was violent at turns. The JP movement of 1974-75 too was marred by several acts of arson, rioting and stone-pelting by the youth, the same youth from whom leaders like Arun Jaitley emerged. The Ram Janmabhoomi movement especially when it demolished the Babri mosque on December 6, 1992 is a classic example of violent misguided youth.
What is strikingly different about the current protests against the NRC-NPR-CAA is that the youth have by and large adhered to the principle of non-violence, barring a few exceptions. Students especially have rejected any form of violence from their side, and have embraced Gandhian means of protest.
The range of atrocities perpetrated on the young and old protesting against the government is very wide. With the police lathi-charging students inside university campuses, lobbing teargas shells or vandalising the Jamia Millia Islamia library, alleged incidents of students being shot at by the Delhi Police, hounding students including inside girls’ hostels, taking disciplinary actions against protesting students – all these steps reek of mala fide intentions.
The Uttar Pradesh state government has been treating the youth almost as if they are terrorists. Several videos of policemen destroying private vehicles and firing at protesters have emerged, with more than 20 deaths registered in UP alone.
Frequently, transport and communication services are suspended to subdue the protests. Several stations of Delhi Metro were closed. Buses were diverted. The internet was blocked in several places in the northeast states, in Delhi, and is still blocked in several districts of Uttar Pradesh.
All this after the United Nations in 2016 and the Kerala High Court in 2019 declared the right to access the internet as a human right and fundamental right respectively.
Even after such extreme violence perpetrated by the state, the youth have largely remained non-violent. They have adhered to forms of protest like – conducting peaceful marches, demonstrations, holding banners & placards, sloganeering, organizing poetry, music, drama, and debates and protesting on social media.
A rallying point has been the Constitution. On cultivating constitutional morality in India, Ambedkar had this to say: “Constitutional morality is not a natural sentiment. It has to be cultivated. We must realise that our people have yet to learn it. Democracy in India is only a top-dressing on an Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic.”
Ambedkar also cited the political historian George Grote’s use of the phrase, saying: “By constitutional morality, Grote meant… a paramount reverence for the forms of the constitution, enforcing obedience to authority and acting under and within these forms, yet combined with the habit of open speech, of action subject only to definite legal control, and unrestrained censure of those very authorities as to all their public acts combined, too with a perfect confidence in the bosom of every citizen amidst the bitterness of party contest that the forms of the constitution will not be less sacred in the eyes of his opponents than his own.”
Babasaheb’s ideas and work cannot be recalled and remembered enough. With the Preamble to the Constitution being read out by protestors from students to Supreme Court lawyers, in protests in Indian cities as also in Harvard and Oxford, and slogans of Jai Bhim growing, we can see another beginning, that Ambedkar’s ideas on polity, society and governance are being adopted by the youth today.
The Gandhian method of protest involves focusing on the goal as well as the means used to achieve that goal. For Gandhi, the only way is ‘satyagraha’ based upon the philosophy of ‘truth’ and ‘non-violence’. The citizenship protestors have realised that only such non-violent forms of protest can be successful in the long run. And there is also the Gandhian attitude of self-suffering which strives to change the heart of the oppressor, as exemplified by the youth offering flowers to Delhi Police personnel.
Even the establishment has not been able to escape from the gravity of the Ambedkar-Gandhi amalgamation. Writer Ramachandra Guha was seen holding a poster of Ambedkar while protesting in Bengaluru. Award-winning author Arundhati Roy concluded her speech in Delhi University with “Jai Bhim”, and has been a critic of Gandhi, but advocated in her speech the adoption of Gandhian methods of non-cooperation and civil disobedience to counter the state.
Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan, emerging from Delhi’s Jama Masjid with a copy of the Constitution in his hand, appealled to protesters to strictly adhere to the principle of non-violence. Ironically, he is the leader of an army, the Bhim Army!
It is interesting to note that these celebrities were openly embracing Ambedkar, but were not as explicit in taking the name of Gandhi.
To diffuse the current political deadlock, what is required is a movement which keeps Ambedkar's constitutional morality as its foundation and deploys Gandhian strategies to win over its opponents.
The youth should strive towards sustaining this Ambedkar-Gandhi amalgamation in all future protests. Second, we should all try to convert the momentum gained in these protests into electoral advantage. Third, citizens must not allow the government to distract public attention from the problems already plaguing India, many of them inflicted by the government.
Most importantly, as advised by Babasaheb Ambedkar, the efforts of the youth should be to “EDUCATE, AGITATE, AND ORGANISE”.
Raja Choudhary is founder of the National Legal Front.