On 25 Nov 1949, the day before the Constituent Assembly wound up its proceedings, Dr B R Ambedkar made a speech summing up the work of the Assembly and thanking all the people associated with it. He ended his speech with three warnings.
The second warning was about the dangers of unthinking submission to charismatic authority. Quoting John Stuart Mill, Ambedkar cautioned Indians not “to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with powers which enable him to subvert their institutions.”
“In India,” went on Ambedkar, “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 the road to the salvation of a soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.”
Today the two major rival political parties in India are laying siege to Ambedkar’s legacy. An international centre costing Rs 192 crore and a monument costing Rs 99 crore are on the anvil. Things that don’t cost much to the exchequer like a postage stamp in Ambedkar’s honour, street plays to bring him close to the masses, speeches and rallies are also being planned.
On the other hand, organisations like Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle at IIT Madras which questioned the same Bhakti movement that Ambedkar warned against are being banned. A Dalit whose mobile phone played an Ambedkar song was beaten to death supposedly by the people who are practising the same Bhakti that Ambedkar cautioned against.
Certain decisions like whose pictures can be carried in advertisements and whose picture should be displayed in government offices and other public places point to the possibility of the government machinery nurturing the Bhakti movement in the country.
Is Ambedkar being honoured or is he being made use of for nefarious political purposes?
Is what Ambedkar said about the Congress a few years after Independence valid for today’s leading political party? He accused the Congress of degenerating into a dharamsala, a gathering without any unity of purpose or principles, and “open to all, fools and knaves, friends and foes, communalists and secularists, reformers and orthodox and capitalists and anti-capitalists.”
All his life Ambedkar fought vehemently against “narrow-mindedness and communalism.” It is ironical that today his legacy is being is resuscitated by people who are staunch advocates of what Ambedkar fought fervently against.
A book review: Dr Ambedkar