Who is afraid of the writings of Babasaheb Ambedkar?

First Published on: January 16, 2016

Collected Works sell sans Annihilation of Caste and the Riddles in Hinduism!

Who is afraid of the writings of Babasaheb Ambedkar? Both, the Modi and Phadnavis governments respectively; or so it seems.

For an average social scientist, Ambedkarite, a student of Indian freedom and inequality, when discussing Ambedkar and his most critical works, some names come immediately to mind.

These are, or are they or not, the Annihilation of Caste, or Riddles in Hinduism?  Even State and Minorities , Shudras and the Counter Revolution, Women and the Counter Revolution ?  Not for this regime(s) however. This government(s) – Centre and Maharashtra — would have us believe that the seminal or important works of this man are only his writings on the Roundtable Conference or his works related to Poona Pact, or his debates with Gandhi.

Now imagine a set of books, the official collection, copyright of which is with the Government of Maharashtra, re-branded as the (truncated) Collected Works of Bhimrao Ambedkar (CWBA) but without these seminal texts that cast a sharp and critical look at caste-ridden Hindu society.

This is exactly the farce that is being played out at India’s premier Book Fair currently on in the capital right now. The Delhi Book Fair. The Ambedkar Foundation, a Government of India body under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, the sole publisher of Babasaheb’s writings and speeches in Hindi, is selling the Collected Works without 11 books from the set ! Among the missing books in the Collected Works in Hindi are Anhilation of Caste and Riddles in Hinduism.

The official explanation is that the Ambedkar Foundation is in the process of publishing a new set of the Collected Works –and in the intermediate period — this truncated Collected Works is what they have to offer to the readers. But none at the Foundation (whom this writer spoke to), knows exactly when the new set of books will be published. This is the status of the Hindi edition of the CWBA.

For the English originals, the situation is more complicated. As the Foundation has not received the No Objection Certificate or the NOC from the Maharashtra Government, the copyright holder of these works, the Foundation cannot publish the English versions of the CWBA. It’s intriguing that the Maharashtra government that holds the publishing rights for the writings and speeches of Babasaheb is resisting sending this NOC to the central government affiliated Foundation!

In the meanwhile, citizens of the country have no option but to buy a truncated set of the Collected Works.  These acts of the Modi and Phadnavis  governments come at a time when the year is being celebrated, nationwide, for the 125th Birth Anniversary of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself has himself taken the lead in these celebrations. The Indian Parliament has held a two days special session to mark this occasion; a special commemorative coin has also been issued.

Is this celebration, then, just a façade for the Modi Government ? On the outside there are clever moves to appropriate Babasaheb; the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have declared him a ‘thinker’ or a ‘Guru’. But in essence, while this shallow eulogising continues, the radical social scientist and critical thinker in Babasaheb is being white-washed.

Dr. Ambedkar, while delivering his concluding speech before the Constituent Assembly, had forewarned us about the problems with hero worship. This regime, adept at ‘event management’ is simply trying to appropriate an idol. By suppressing Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s critical works, the RSS driven regime is trying to rob the revolutionary essence contained in the writings of Babasaheb.  While both the BJP and the RSS want to appropriate Babasaheb, his writings are, in a sense, too hot for them to handle. As a symbol to garner votes, Babasaheb is a welcome appropriation to the Hindutva  pantheon. But their affection for him ends there.

Why are Ambedkar himself and the Ambedkarite movement a Catch 22 for the RSS and the Sangh Parivar ?  Because, it has always faltered in its dealings with the issue of Caste. The centrality of caste in the democratic discourse of Ambedkarite stream of thought is a stumbling block for the avowed objective of the RSS in establishing upper caste Brahamanic hegemony in the country. In the Anhilation of Caste, Ambedkar actually advocates the demolishing of certain Hindu religious texts to enable Hindus to be really free. His writings are therefore extremely problematic for any organisation that seeks to re-affirm or consolidate caste hegemony.

And therein lies the rub. With Ambedkar and his legacy of radical critical thought, a searchlight is shone on aspects of the Indian (read Hindu) social and political structure that reactionary forces like the RSS and the BJP would prefer to conceal. In this year of the 125th Birth Anniversary of Ambedkar, the choice is clear. Dr BR Ambedkar’s writings and thoughts need to be recognised in their completeness. In toto. By hollowing out his Collected Works of their seminal portions, the regimes in Delhi and Maharashtra seek to sanitise this legacy. A strong vibrant Dalit tradition will not so easily allow this mis-appropriation.

 Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches

(The writer is a senior journalist, former managing editor India Today group and presently researching at the Jawaharlal Nehru Univreristy (JNU) on Media and Caste relations)



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