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RSS can change its mind about Ambedkar. But it needs a frank reckoning with why, how it got here.
Filed under: General
Posted by: site admin @ 3:41 pm

Which Ambedkar?

RSS can change its mind about Ambedkar. But it needs a frank reckoning with why, how it got here.

The most recent issue of the Organiser, the English journal of the
RSS, has a picture of B.R. Ambedkar on its cover, hailing him as the
“Ultimate Unifier”. The issue (dated April 17, 2016) features several
articles on the great man, one saying he provided the “glue for nation
building”, a second arguing that his “visions and actions resembled that
of Brahmo Samaj, Prarthana Samaj, Arya Samaj, etc”, a third praising
his interest in workers’ rights, a fourth calling him a “timeless
leader” who apparently “was not against Brahmins but against [the]
Brahmanical order”.

All the essays, and the issue as a whole, are entirely celebratory.
But what did the RSS and its mouthpiece think of Ambedkar and his work
while he was alive? In seeking an answer, I focused on the years
1949-50, when, as law minister in the government of India, Ambedkar was
both finalising the Indian Constitution as well as advocating the reform
of Hindu personal laws so as to give greater rights to women.

Notably, the RSS disapproved of both efforts. The Organiser’s issue
for November 30, 1949 carried an editorial on the Constitution, whose
final draft had just been presented to the Constituent Assembly by
Ambedkar. “The worst [thing] about the new Constitution of Bharat,”
wrote the RSS mouthpiece, “is that there is nothing Bharatiya about it…
[T]here is no trace of ancient Bharatiya constitutional laws,
institutions, nomenclature and phraseology in it”. There was, the
Organiser complained, “no mention of the unique constitutional
developments in ancient Bharat. Manu’s laws were written long before
Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day his laws as
enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and
elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity [among Hindus in India]. But
to our constitutional pundits that means nothing”.

Ambedkar was not mentioned by name, but clearly, as the premier
constitutional pundit, he was a major target for the RSS. The Sangh was
even more critical of the personal law reforms proposed by Ambedkar. The
RSS sarsanghchalak, M.S. Golwalkar, complained in a speech of August
1949 that the reforms piloted by Ambedkar “has nothing Bharatiya about
it. The questions like those of marriage and divorce cannot be settled
on the American or British model in this country. Marriage, according to
Hindu culture and law is a sanskar which cannot be changed even after
death and not a ‘contract’ which can be broken any time”. Golwalkar
continued: “Of course some lower castes in Hindu Society in some parts
of the country recognise and practise divorce by custom. But their
practice cannot be treated as an ideal to be followed by all”.
(Organiser, September 6, 1949).

The April 17 cover of Organiser. The April 17 cover of Organiser.

An article in the Organiser, dated November 2, 1949, characterised
the Hindu Code Bill “as a direct invasion on the faith of the Hindus”,
remarking that “its provisions empowering women to divorce is revolting
to the Hindu ideology”. An editorial published a month later (“The Hindu
Code Bill”, the Organiser, December 7, 1949) led with this paragraph:
“We oppose the Hindu Code Bill. We oppose it because it is a derogatory
measure based on alien and immoral principles. It is not a Hindu Code
Bill. It is anything but Hindu. We condemn it because it is a cruel and
ignorant libel on Hindu laws, Hindu culture and Hindu dharma”.

The editorial then turned to whom the reforms were, in their opinion,
being pushed by. It wrote: “Some widows and widowers, childless women
and grandpa-grooms have combined to loosen our ancient laws for the
levity of a few”. Then it specifically targeted the two architects of
the bill, whom the Organiser sarcastically referred to as “Rishi
Ambedkar and Maharishi Nehru”, whose reforms, it claimed, “would atomise
society and infect every family with scandal, suspicion and vice”.

The Organiser thought that the bill would break up families and set
brother against sister (on the question of inheritance of property). In
the name of defending the wisdom of ancient Hindu lawmakers and sages,
the RSS was, in effect, defending patriarchy in all its aspects. What
really got its goat were the new code’s provisions to allow women to
choose their marriage partners, to divorce brutal husbands, and to
inherit ancestral property (all rights previously denied to them).

The RSS now launched a full-fledged attack on the Hindu Code Bill. It
organised hundreds of processions, dharnas and hartals to stop the
bill, these addressed by sundry sadhus and sants. One speaker said “that
B.N. Rau the framer of this bill and Shri Ambedkar its pilot in the
Assembly today, both declared themselves to be ‘not Hindus’ and married
according to non-Hindu rites. That such men should have been entrusted
with the job to ‘reform’ Hindu Dharma was a tragedy and a monstrosity”.
(Organiser, December 14, 1949).

The campaign against the bill carried on for months. The Organiser
carried many articles on the subject, one stating that “there is more in
Hindu dharma and institutions and laws than Nehru and Ambedkar can
dream of”.

In its issue of January 11, 1950, the Organiser printed a long letter
by one K.D.P. Shastri complaining that an essay in another journal,
Free India, had praised Ambedkar as the “Manu of Modern India”. This,
said the angry Hindu letter-writer, “is an instance of depicting a
Lilliput as a Brobdingnag. It borders on ridicule to put Dr Ambedkar on
par with the learned and god-like Manu… ”. “Surely Dr Ambedkar’s
diss-ervice in the recent past to the Hindu Religion is too well-known”,
said this letter-writer, this an allusion to Ambedkar’s desire to
convert out of Hinduism, and his collaboration before 1947 with the
pro-Pakistan Bengali Dalit leader Jogen Mandal. Ambedkar, this RSS man
insisted, “may be a good Indian now, but surely he can have no claim to
be ‘Manu’ of any blessed age!”

Organisations, like individuals, have a right to change their minds.
But any such change of view must be accompanied by a frank and open
reckoning with why and how it happened. The truth is that in the crucial
period when Ambedkar was law minister and was framing the Constitution,
the RSS reviled both him as well as his ideas. As that Organiser
article of November 1949 suggested, what the RSS wanted was “obedience
and conformity” to what the Sangh defined as Hindu culture, tradition
and values, definitions that a radical, egalitarian and anti-patriarchal
reformer like Ambedkar would naturally never accept.

The writer is based in Bangalore. His most recent book is ‘Gandhi Before India’.

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