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Nehru and Ambedkar: The Trust Deficit

Prakash Nanda

Updated: March 23, 2016, 10:00 AM IST
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Nehru and Ambedkar: The Trust Deficit
With Prime Minister Narendra Modi laying the founding stone for a memorial for BR Ambedkar in the national capital on March 21, opposition parties, mainly the Congress, are saying that the ruling BJP is unnecessarily politicising the legacy of the chief architect of the Indian Constitution. Of course, there are no two opinions as to the BJP’s goal of building a “Dalit – Vote bank”, which, until recently, was monopolised by the Congress. All told, the decline of the Congress has been because of the erosion of its support base amongst the Brahmins, Dalits and Muslims, the three communities that were the mainstays of the Congress- dominance in the Indian polity.

But then, the question is what prevented the Congress, the party that has ruled independent India for more than 60 years, from giving Ambedkar his due. As Prakash Ambedkar, B R Ambedkar’s grandson, said the other day, “Let them (the Congress) explain what they have done to keep the legacy of Ambedkar alive when in power at the Centre and Maharashtra. Not a single book was republished. None of his writings that were kept under wraps has been made public. The greatest injustice ever done to Ambedkar when he was alive was by the Congress.”

The history of the relationship between Ambedkar and then Congress leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru is a history of more hate than love. Ambedkar was of the belief that the Congress did not represent the real interests of the Dalits in undivided India. Well, he was the chief architect of our constitution, but then the fact remains that his very membership in the Constituent Assembly was managed with a lot of difficulties. To begin with, he represented undivided Bengal, not Bombay his home state. The Congress helped him in retaining his membership only after the partition. Similarly, Ambedkar becoming a minister Nehru’s first cabinet was not a smooth matter; he was not the choice of the Prime Minister but of Gandhi, and that too, on the recommendation of late Jagjivan Ram, another tall Dalit leader of India.

Ambedkar and the Congress leaders had serious differences over the modalities of the partition of the country. In his classic book, “Pakistan or the partition of India”, Ambedkar wrote that the partition without exchange of population would not solve the Hindu-Muslim problem in the country. That in retrospect he has been vindicated is a different matter. But let us see what his argument was - “The question that concerns the Hindus is: How far does the creation of Pakistan remove the communal question from Hindustan? That is a very legitimate question and must be considered. It must be admitted that by the creation of Pakistan, Hindustan is not freed of the communal question. While Pakistan can be made a homogeneous state by redrawing its boundaries, Hindustan must remain a composite state. The Musalmans are scattered all over Hindustan—though they are mostly congregated in towns—and no ingenuity in the matter of redrawing of boundaries can make it homogeneous. The only way to make Hindustan homogeneous is to arrange for exchange of population. Until that is done, it must be admitted that even with the creation of Pakistan, the problem of majority vs. minority will remain in Hindustan as before and will continue to produce disharmony in the body politic of Hindustan.”

Ambedkar had questioned the assumption that “constitutional safeguards for minorities should suffice for their protection and so the constitutions of most of the new states with majorities and minorities were studded with long lists of fundamental rights and safeguards to see that they were not violated by the majorities.” He quoted the instances of the countries in post-War Europe to prove his point. When the constitutional safeguards in these countries could not help the minorities, they all agreed that the best way to solve it was for each to exchange its alien minorities within its border, for its own which was without its border, with a view to bring about “homogeneous States”. As Ambedkar wrote, “This is what happened in Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria. Those, who scoff at the idea of transfer of population, will do well to study the history of the minority problem, as it arose between Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria. If they do, they will find that these countries found that the only effective way of solving the minorities problem lay in exchange of population.” For Ambedkar, the exchange of Hindus and Muslims along with the partition was not only desirable but also doable.

We all know that Ambedkar resigned from the Nehru cabinet over the delay in introducing the Hindu Code Bill (Ambedkar thought that Nehru was not interested in reforming Hinduism because of electoral factors). But it is not well emphasised that in his resignation letter dated September 27, 1951, Ambedkar revealed two other issues with Nehru. First was of personal nature in the sense that Nehru never trusted him and scrupulously avoided giving him important portfolios, despite the fact that “Many Ministers have been given two or three portfolios so that they have been overburdened….I was not even appointed to be a member of main Committees of the Cabinet such as Foreign Affairs Committee, or the Defence Committee. When the Economics Affairs Committee was formed, I expected, in view of the fact that I was primarily a student of Economics and Finance, to be appointed to this Committee. But I was left out.”

Ambedkar also wrote, and that is the second point, that he was thoroughly disillusioned with Nehru’s foreign policy. “On 15th of August, 1947 when we began our life as an independent country, there was no country which wished us ill. Every country in the world was our friend. Today, after four years, all our friends have deserted us. We have no friends left. We have alienated ourselves. We are pursuing a lonely furrow with no one even to second our resolutions in the U.N.O (United Nations). When I think of our foreign policy, I am reminded of what Bismarck and Bernard Shaw have said. Bismarck has said that ‘politics is not a game of realizing the ideal. Politics is the game of the possible.’ Bernard Shaw not very long ago said that good ideals are good but one must not forget that it is often dangerous to be too good. Our foreign policy is in complete opposition to these words of wisdom uttered by two of the world’s greatest men.”

Specifically speaking, Ambedkar thought that Nehru’s policy towards Pakistan was self-defeating. As he wrote, “Our quarrel with Pakistan is a part of our foreign policy about which I feel deeply dissatisfied. There are two grounds which have disturbed our relations with Pakistan – one is Kashmir and the other is the condition of our people in East Bengal. I felt that we should be more deeply concerned with East Bengal where the condition of our people seems from all the newspapers intolerable than with Kashmir. Notwithstanding this we have been staking our all on the Kashmir issue. Even then I feel we have been fighting on an unreal issue. The issue on which we have been fighting most of the time is, who is in the right and who is in the wrong. The real issue to my mind is not who is right but what is right. Taking that to be the main question, my view has always been that the right solution is to partition Kashmir. Give the Hindu and Buddhist part to India and the Muslim part to Pakistan as we did in the case of India. We are really not concerned with the Muslim part of Kashmir. It is a matter between the Muslims of Kashmir and Pakistan. They may decide the issue as they like. Or if you like, divide into three parts; the Cease fire zone, the Valley and the Jammu-Ladhak Region and have a plebiscite only in the Valley. What I am afraid of is that in the proposed plebiscite, which is to be an overall plebiscite, the Hindus and Buddhists of Kashmir are likely to be dragged into Pakistan against their wishes and we may have to face same problems as we are facing today in East Bengal.”

How prophetic was Ambedkar! See how drastically the percentage of Hindu population in East Bengal, today’s Bangladesh, has come down with consequent illegal immigration into India. And see how the people of Jammu and Ladakh have suffered because of the valley-dominated politics in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, this point on Kashmir, which I had dealt at a greater length in this column once, will remain valid even as Mehbooba Mufti is all set to become the next chief minister.
First Published: March 23, 2016, 10:00 AM IST

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