Legacy of Dr Babsaheb Ambedkar: For long, BR Ambedkar was a stalwart in the scholarly world. He was an eminent jurist, economist, writer, philosopher and a social reformer. He was the chief architect of the Constitution of India. He was also a politician, a failed one (Ambedkar had contested in the Bombay North in 1952, but lost to Narayan Kajrolkar of Congress). Today, his name has become a symbol of society almost impossible to ignore, at least politically. He is the man whose name resonates across political parties and his writings and speeches are now the subject of scholarly research for how they changed the lives of those on the margins. For decades, he was counted among the finest scholars of India. But Ambedkar is not just a scholar any more. As long as the caste system and the struggle around it exists, Ambedkar will be relevant in the politics revolving around the caste-riddled fragmented society of India. His thoughts have now taken the centre stage in Indian polity. Ambedkar today has transcended beyond just his legacy of the Constitution, and the rights prescribed therein. He has turned into a brand of politics.
Ambedkar is considered the messiah of downtrodden. His humble beginnings never let him disconnect from those (read Dalits) still stuck in the archaic societal norms that had no justification. Entrenched caste system was pervasive to the extent it became humiliating for Dalits. Ambedkar had made it a mission of his life to fight for those at the bottom of this caste struggle. He waged war against the practice of untouchability, he fought for oppressed, women and poor. He set up welfare association for outcastes for spreading education and improving their economic status.
Ambedkar lived in a time when Dalits were kept at bay — they were not allowed into temples, not allowed to take water from public wells or ponds, not permitted in schools. Some of such incidents happen even today in interiors of the country. These evil social practices made a profound impact on Ambedkar. But his noble intentions and acts for marginalised made him the ‘devata’ they worshipped. Today, the people Ambedkar fought for identify themselves with his name. Ambedkar addressed many of these evils in the Constitution. But despite legal safeguards, issues concerning Dalits have not gone away. Problems still persist, creating space for political parties to continue their fight to deliver justice to Dalits. And for that, what Ambedkar did for the underprivileged section has become a template for politicians to follow.
When it comes to fight for Dalits, no one comes close to Ambedkar. His contribution is unmatched. After him, many leaders tried to emulate his ideas with varied level of success. Kanshi Ram was one such leader in Uttar Pradesh. The country witnessed many such leaders who fought for Dalits. Riding on Dalit identity, Kanshi Ram’s protege Mayawati became the first Dalit chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan is the new buzzword in the world of Dalit politics. Mainstream political parties too realised the power of Dalits, thus adopted the ideas of Ambedkar. Dalits have become a formidable force, at least electorally. They can change the fate of any political party in the country’s first-past-the-post electoral system. Their united force is such that the Centre had to overturn a Supreme Court judgment against the SC/ST Act under pressure from political parties claiming to be the voice of Dalits.
Dalits can bring down any governments counting on arithmetic. Almost every political party has an SC/ST wing, eying the broad voter base. The BJP too has a dedicated SC Morcha for Dalits and people falling in backwards castes. In Bengal, where the saffron party is locking horns with Mamata Banerjee, it is this community that will play an important role in sealing the fate of the BJP and TMC. Here, two communities known as Namshudras and Rajbangshis are placed at the lower strata of the society. They together form about 36 per cent of population, important for any party aspiring to get on to power in Bengal. Today, no political party can afford to overlook this section anymore.
Continuing reservation is the fallout of that, political parties don’t even talk of re-evaluating despite it being propagated by Ambedkar — who himself was not in favour of reservation but reluctantly agreed to it only for initial 10 years. But it is not to say that reservation should be done away away with but some serious re-examination is needed to help those who have not benefitted from this constitutional rights even after seven decades. Parties do talk of little tweaks here and there – addition or deletion of castes or sub-castes to bring more people in the ambit of reservation. It’s a story playing out in every region of the country. To lure Dalits, parties come up with schemes and programmes named after Ambedkar.
From Manmohan Singh to Modi, leaders from both the national parties have spoken for the rights of the Dalits. In 2006, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh while addressing a ‘Dalit-Minority International Conference’ said that Dalits had faced a unique discrimination in the society that was fundamentally different from the problems of minority groups in general. He said: “The only parallel to the practice of untouchability is apartheid…untouchability is not just social discrimination, it is a blot on humanity.” The intensity of words used here could make one wonder whether they were taken from Ambedkar’s time. They were relevant back then, they are relevant even now. Disparity and discrimination that Ambedkar raised and talked about go beyond time.