Goebbelsian Doublespeak: B. R. Ambedkar and the RSS

Historically, the philosophical roots of the RSS can be located in German National Socialism and the former has constantly strived to live up to the ideals of its mentors. This is best illustrated when the RSS indulges in Goebbelsian doublespeak to further its exclusivist nationalism. A lie spoken repeatedly becomes the truth—the appropriation of Babasaheb Ambedkar into the pantheon of ‘nationalist’ heroes reveals the political frustration of the RSS to make inroads into the Dalit / Adivasi / Moolnivasi mindscapes. Nathuram Godse physically eliminated Gandhi and the RSS is striving to ideologically annihilate Ambedkar. This article strives to deconstruct the issue of Panchjanya (April 19th 2015) and the special issue of Organiser on the 125th birth anniversary of Babasaheb which testify to the ideological vacuum of the Sangh Parivar and its urgency to ‘create’ new idols. The focus is on the engagement with the religious ideas espoused by these journals and their contradictions with Ambedkar’s philosophy.

 

The model state, Gujarat has long been considered the social laboratory for Hindutva. Jan Breman1 has analysed the well-entrenched nature of the Hindutva movement and its predecessors in Gujarat, strongly opposed to communal harmony and to the design of society as a melting pot of diverse and open-ended social segments. The mobilisation of low and intermediate castes to participate in the activities of the Sangh parivar organisations in the last two decades has broadened the base of Hindu fundamentalism as a social-political force.

 

To bring the Dalis into the Hindutva fold, on the one hand, the Sangh Parivar took conscious steps to break the Dalit-Muslim nexus in Gujarat,2 and on the other hand, Hindutva spin doctors sought to give a makeover to one of the most revered icons of modern India, Babasaheb Ambedkar, who sought to unravel the hegemony of religion and culture over the people.

 

Deifying Ambedkar

 

The Panchajanya issue of April 19, 20153 commences with hyperbolic and effusive praise for Babasaheb, “a great leader who sought to organise and strengthen society on the basis of social harmony; a foresighted leader who strived to mould his country to meet the future challenges; a patriot, in short a seer of his age.” A lot of water has flowed down the Ganges since Arun Shourie wrote Worshipping False Gods wherein Ambedkar was vilified as a traitor, as a supporter of Pakistan, etc. The Panchajanya now says, “Sri Guruji (Golwalkar) argues that after Buddha it is only Ambedkar who discoursed about social welfare and religious interests, to get rid of social evils. Indeed, Ambedkar is the true inheritor of Buddha’s legacy and I heartily endorse his purity.”

 

The above mentioned journal quotes Ambedkar on various issues without giving any reference as to its authencity. It makes the blanket claim: “Through his various writings and speeches, Ambedkar engaged with savarna Hindus.” But there is no reference to any book or writing of Ambedkar to prove that he ever said so. Panchjanya says, “Ambedkar wrote that Hindu religion believed that every man is a microcosm of the divine and every man is entitled to dignity. However, savarna Hindus have ill-treated dalits. If Dalits are maltreated then even God is displeased.” But again, no source is cited for this statement. When the fact is that Ambedkar’s views were the exact opposite of this, he was very critical of Hindu religion itself: “Hinduism is not interested in the common man. Hinduism is not interested in society as a whole. The centre of its interest lies in a class and its philosophy is concerned in sustaining and supporting the rights of that class. That is why in the philosophy of Hinduism, the interests of the common man as well as of society are denied, suppressed and sacrificed to the interest of this class of Supermen.”4

 

 

 

In yet another article, the same journal quotes Ambedkar as saying (again without citing any source),  “He pointed out that till Hindu society is organised, justice and humanity will not be worshipped and till then independence is incomplete.” This is also a fabrication, as for Ambedkar, “Hinduism is inimical to equality, antagonistic to liberty and opposed to fraternity.” Ambedkar further says, “Inequality is the soul of Hinduism. The morality of Hinduism is only social. It is unmoral and inhuman to say the least.”5 

 

Panchajanya says that at a speech in Amravati (again no source is cited as to the date and occasion for the speech), “Ambedkar argued that even dalits have rights in Hindutva. In order to establish the Hindutva philosophy, Valmiki, Chokhamela, Rohidas etc dalits have contributed in great measure and numerous dalits have sacrificed their lives to safeguard this philosophy. Hence, if Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas can enter temples, why cannot dalits do so?” This is again a falsification. Thus, the great medieval poet saint Chokhamela, in one of his abhangas, calls to God, “Why have you given me this birth if you have to give me birth at all? You have erred in giving me this birth; you have been unkind.”6 Here, Chokhamela is questioning his birth within the contours of the caste hierarchy, which is the bedrock of Hinduism, but the Panchajanya wants us to believe that Chokhamela was an advocate of Hindutva.

 

The attempt to falsify history is very evident in the above mentioned arguments. No distinction is made between Hinduism and Hindutva and both concepts are used as synonyms for each other.

 

The special issue of Organiser on the 125th anniversay of Dr Ambedkar seeks to deify Ambedkar by making the claim that the Indian Constitution is a new “Manusmriti”, it in fact says it should be called “Bheemsmruti”.7 It forgets that on December 25, 1927, Ambedkar burned the Manusmriti, a symbol of enslavement for majority of the denizens of India.

 

To call the Constitution “Bheemsmruti”, to think that the thought could have come to Ambedkar’s mind that the Constitution is “Bheemsmruti”, is an affront to all that Ambedkar believed in. He considered any form of hero worship as detrimental to democracy. He had stated, “There is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country. But there are limits to gratefulness. As has been well said by the Irish Patriot Daniel O’Connell, no man can be grateful at the cost of his honour, no woman can be grateful at the cost of her chastity and no nation can be grateful at the cost of its liberty. This caution is far more necessary in the case of India than in the case of any other country. For in India, Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.”8 

 

Peddling Falsehoods

 

The RSS mouthpiece, Organiser, in its special issue claims that Ambedkar believed that Buddhism and Hinduism were fundamentally the same.9 In his famous article Buddha and the Future of His Religion, Ambedkar said that a true religion should have the following four characteristics: a) In the sense of morality, it must remain the governing principle in every society; b) it must be in accord with reason, which is merely another name for science; c) its moral code must recognise the fundamental tenets of liberty, equality, and fraternity; and d) it must not sanctify or ennoble poverty. He further said that only Buddhism can satisfy all these tests, and it is the only religion the world can have.10 In a clever sleight of hand, the Organiser quotes Ambedkar and gives the four characteristics of true religion as outlined by him, but omits to mention the crucial conclusion, that only Buddhism can satisfy all these tests.

 

The effort to saffronise Ambedkar is very palpable when the Organiser claims that Ambedkar was a follower of Ram. It wants to wish away his epic work, Riddles in Hinduism, by claiming that the text was kept in his cupboard till the last breath of his life. The fact is, Rama holds no attractions for Ambedkar, for whom the most significant event in the Ramayana was Rama’s decapitation of a shudra for practicing asceticism. Ambedkar calls this “the worst crime that history has ever recorded.”11

 

While toying with Ambedkar’s beliefs, the RSS ideologues have eschewed any historical veracity. In his work, Who Were the Shudras? How they came to be the Fourth Varna in Indo-Aryan Society, Ambedkar argues at length on the origins of Chaturvarna. However, for the Sangh Parivar scholars, caste crept into Indian society with the Islamic invaders. Very subtly, they not only lay the sin of introducing untouchability into India on Islam but also play up the fear of Hindu women being violated by the mlechha invaders.12

 

While expurgating Ambedkar’s ideas, the Organiser also generously edits the political terminology espoused by Ambedkar. The RSS’s reluctance to use the term ‘India’ is well known, so the All India Scheduled Castes Federation founded by Ambedkar in April 1942 is transformed into Bharatiya Scheduled Caste Federation. The conversion to Buddhism was not merely a challenge to Hindu caste supremacy but Ambedkar provided a well thought out rationale for his act of conversion.13 The Organiser cooks up a novel myth that “Ambedkar promised Gandhi that he would leave Hindu Dharma but would see to it that the least damage was done. When he embraced Buddhist faith in Deekshabhumi, Nagpur on October 1956, he said, ‘I had kept my promise to Gandhiji.’” Neither in Gandhi’s writings nor in Ambedkar’s writings and speeches does one come across any such conversation.

 

According to the Organiser, Ambedkar believed that untouchability is inscribed on the Dalit body rather than being a blot on Hinduism and claims that he said, “we (untouchables) have to clean it. It means that we ourselves will have to fight this social slavery.” The narrative gives the impression that Ambedkar was apologetic of the caste system rather than its fiercest critic. It even says that: “At one point he says that the Bhagvad Gita is my inspiration”; that he wrote “Jai Bhavani” on his newspaper; and that “He was proud of calling himself a Hindu.”14 Ambedkar’s writings make clear that the Organiser is lying. Ambedkar affirmed on October 13, 1935, at Yeola in Nasik district, “Unfortunately, I was born a Hindu untouchable. It was beyond my power to prevent that, but it is within my power to refuse to live under ignoble and humiliating conditions. I solemnly assure you that I will not die a Hindu.”15

 

The Propaganda War

 

Once they succeeded in ending democracy and turning Germany into a one-party dictatorship, the Nazis orchestrated a massive propaganda campaign to win the loyalty and cooperation of Germans. The Nazi Propaganda Ministry, directed by Dr. Joseph Goebbels, took control of all forms of communication in Germany: newspapers, magazines, books, public meetings, and rallies, art, music, movies, and radio. Viewpoints in any way threatening to Nazi beliefs or to the regime were censored or eliminated from all media. The RSS is traversing the very same path. Its political front, the Bharatiya Janata Party, is now the world’s largest political party with 8.8 crore members. Gradually, all dissent is being stifled and landmark changes in the polity and society are being ushered in through ordinances, bypassing parliamentary debates.

 

One of the harshest critics of the Hindu social order was Ambedkar who sought to transform the caste society through legal, rational and constitutional norms. His followers have struggled to create an enlightened India by interrogating the social, cultural, political and economic domains controlled by entrenched interests through political struggles, revolutionary poetry and prose, new iconography and symbols. The appropriation and deliberate misreading of Ambedkar’s life and vision will delegitimise his egalitarian ideas, demolish and demoralise the struggles to usher justice and fraternity and lead to the continued enslavement of the marginalised groups. The subversive and deliberate gesture of misquoting Ambedkar reveals the lack of historical and scholarly authenticity in the intellectual projects of the RSS. However, the dalit-bahujan citizens will not accept any tampering with the ideals of Babasaheb Ambedkar and would offer a befitting response.

 

Notes

 

[1] Jan Breman, Communal Upheaval as Resurgence of Social Darwinism, www.epw.org.

 

[2] See: “Communalism as a Political Strategy”, http://www.hrw.org.

 

[3] Panchajanya, April 19, 2015, Bharat Prakashan, Delhi.

 

[4] Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, Govt of Maharashtra, Vol. 3, 1998, p. 77.

 

[5] Ibid., p. 66, 87.

 

[6] Eleanor Zelliot, Ambedkar’s World: The Making of Babasaheb and the Dalit Movement, Navayana, 2013, p 54.

 

[7] Revisiting Ambedkar, Organiser, April 2015, p. 58.

 

[8] “Dr. Ambedkar’s final speech in Constituent Assembly – Bar & Bench”, https://barandbench.com.

 

[9] Organiser, op. cit., p. 78.

 

[10] D.C. Ahir, “Dr. Ambedkar’s Pilgrimate to Buddhism”, in: A.K. Narain and D.C. Ahir (editors), Dr. Ambedkar, Buddhism and Social Change, B.R. Publishing Corporation, 1994, p. 8.

 

[11] Ambedkar, The Riddle of Ram and Krishna, in Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, Govt. of Maharashtra, Vol. 4.

 

[12] Organiser, op. cit., p. 15.

 

[13] Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, “What Path to Salvation?”, http://www.columbia.edu.

 

[14] Organiser, op. cit., pp. 15, 58.

 

[15] Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, Govt. of Maharashtra, Vol 17, p. 95.

(Dr. N Sukumar is Professor at Dept of Political Science, Delhi University, Delhi)

 

Read more