India and the ‘Grammar of Anarchy’


The Wall Street Journal

The antics of an anticorruption guru flout the constitution.

Indian police prevented anticorruption activist Anna Hazare from holding a protest in New Delhi on Tuesday, arrested him and detained 2,600 of his followers for a few hours. He was released yesterdaym, after police let him begin a 15-day hunger strike. The uproar over Mr. Hazare has Indian elites tweeting that the country faces a constitutional crisis, but the real cause of this debacle is a lack of government will and direction.

Mr. Hazare’s supporters encourage comparisons to the emergency rule in 1975, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi suspended constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties. But if anyone wants to undermine India’s constitution today, it is Mr. Hazare. He demands that parliament create the unelected post of ombudsman, chosen by a panel of worthies, with sweeping powers to haul up any public official on graft charges.

Other countries have benefited from special graft-busting bodies, but they are always politically accountable in some way. Mr. Hazare wants to bypass the hard work of institution-building and put ultimate power in one person’s hands. But India got into its corruption mess by vesting too much power in public officials in the first place. Who will guard the guardian who engages in politically motivated prosecutions?

India Today Group/Getty ImagesGovernment critic Anna Hazare.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could have avoided this confrontation had he acted forcefully when a spate of graft scandals, including an estimated loss of some $40 billion from the allegedly corrupt sale of telecom airwaves, made headlines last year. The public’s outrage was an invitation to push through economic and administrative reforms to curtail the power of politicians and bureaucrats. Instead, the government put a few ministers behind bars and went back to business as usual.

Self-anointed leaders of civil society have stepped into this vacuum—and led the debate astray. Amid much fanfare, Mr. Hazare, who says he is inspired by Mohandas Gandhi, went on a hunger strike in April to push for the national ombudsman. The government should have resisted this idea of an inquisitor in Gandhian clothing from the start, but it succumbed to Mr. Hazare’s blackmail. At least the government later had the sense to insist that the prime minister be exempt from the ombudsman’s purview.

Such compromises riled Mr. Hazare, who sought to protest in Delhi again. He was thwarted in the past month by police regulations. His NGO finally secured a permit but refused to accept police conditions on the size and duration of the protest. These rules may be too onerous, but that’s for the courts to decide.

Meantime, Prime Minister Singh has allowed his opponents to shift the debate to the right to protest. The real issue should be Mr. Hazare’s demagogic tactics. An open political system like India’s resolves differences through the ballot box, but Mr. Hazare is intent on forcing the issue by threatening to fast to the death. On Tuesday, a day after the country’s 64th anniversary of independence, he called for a “second freedom struggle.” He repeated that call yesterday, leading a procession in New Delhi after emerging from prison.

Democratically elected officials shouldn’t bow to Mr. Hazare’s antics, which are the kind that the architect of India’s constitution B.R. Ambedkar called in 1949 “nothing but the grammar of anarchy.” Whether or not Mr. Hazare desists, Mr. Singh can propose an agenda that combats corruption and abides by India’s constitution. That’s the best way to check the country’s slide into disorder.

Courtesy: WSJ


Whither Parliamentary Democracy In India?


P R Dubhashi

Fasts of Anna Hazare regarding the passing of the Lokpal Bill and Baba Ramdev against corruption and events that followed have raised fundamental questions regarding the functioning of parliamentary democracy in India. The 97-hour fast by Anna Hazare at Jantar Mantar which evoked huge response of people in Delhi and all over the country, compelled the government to concede his demand to constitute a joint committee of ‘Ministers and members of Civil Society’ to formulate a draft by the end of June 30 on the basis of the draft formulated by the government and the one by the civil society. After some initial smooth sailing, serious differences have arisen, as could only be expected, regarding different issues such as the inclusion of the Prime Minister and judiciary within the ambit of the Lokpal. While this was going on, Baba Ramdev began his fast at Ramlila Ground (after permission was denied to hold it at Jantar Mantar) regarding the wider issue of elimination of corruption and black money. To dissuade the Baba from embarking on the fast, four Ministers of the Union Government, headed by no less than Pranab Mukherji, went to the airport to meet him but the Baba was adamant on his fast. Thousands of his followers, young and old, women and children, assembled in the huge pandal specially erected for the purpose at Ramlila Ground to fast in sympathy. The exchanges between the two parties nevertheless continued. When Kapil Sibal, the Minister negotiating with the Baba, publicly announced that the Baba had agreed to give up ‘tapa’ after three days, the Baba felt he was compromised and exposed, while his followers were still coming from all over the country to join the fast. The Baba immediately hardened his stand and announced that he would continue his fast till the government issued an ordinance to declare as ‘public asset’ the black money stashed abroad in the overseas banks. The government accused the Baba of betrayal. Past midnight on June 4, 2011, the police of the Rapid Action Force of the State Government, armed with teargas and lathi, swooped on the sleeping congregation while trying to arrest the Baba. A drama followed, the Baba escaped from the Pandal but to the relief of the government was apprehend by the Delhi Police while running away surrounded by his female followers himself disguised in female dress. More important, sleeping men were rudely woken up by police who burst teargas shells and resorted to lathi charge even on women and children. As many as 70 injured persons were admitted to hospitals and some to intensive care units. A particularly bad case was Rajbala who was paralysed. The nocturnal crackdown was condemned not only by the Baba’s followers but people all over the country. L.K. Advani, the leader of the BJP, said that the crackdown reminded of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre by General Dyer during the coloneal days. Anna Hazare and ‘Civil Society’ activists condemned the crack-down as ‘kalank’, a blot on humanity and democracy. Shanti Bhushan, the senior lawyer, demanded that the Union Government should resign. Government representatives tried to defend the action. First Sibal claimed that none was injured. But when seventy injured persons were admitted in hospitals his claim was found to be not correct. After waiting for a day following the crackdown, the Prime Minister said that the incident was ‘unfortunate’ but in the situation that developed, it was ‘unavoidable’. The Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, took a press conference even to declare that the crackdown was necessary for the maintenance of ‘Law and Order’. None was convinced. When the crackdown was described as a panicky action of a weak vacillating government, it was asserted that the plan for removing the Baba, if necessary by force, was already decided upon. This was proof enough that the crackdown was not a reaction to a situation but a premeditated coldblooded assault on defence-less people. Then there was an attempt to malign the Baba’s fast as instigated by the RSS which Rahul Gandhi, in a contro-versial statement, had equated with SIMI! Chidambaram cited an intelligence report to support the allegation. The presence of the ‘notorious’ Sadhvi Rithambhara on the dais with Ramdev Baba was a further proof of the ‘communal’ nature of the Baba’s fast. The govern-ment was not prepared to accept that the fight against corruption and blackmarket cannot be curbed by such allegations. Actually only a few days earlier the Ministers had gone to the airport to receive the Baba despite the knowledge of the intelligence report. The Congress party spokesman first tried to distance itself from the government and objected to the senior Ministers going to the airport to receive the Baba giving the impression that the party and government were working at cross-purposes. Why were the government Ministers trying to placate Baba? They had found Anna a hard nut to crack. They felt that the egotist Baba would be more manageable and vulnerable. When this did not happen within the time limit contemplated by the government they suddenly reversed the gear and took aggressive action in the form of the nocturnal crackdown. Ramdev Baba continued his fast even after he was shifted by the government from Ramlila Ground to Patanjali Ashram in Haridwar. After days of fasting his health seriously deteriorated and he had to be shifted by the BJP State Government to Dehradun Hospital (the Union Government had washed off its hands once he was shifted to Patanjali Ashram). Even in hospital, Baba continued his fast. It was left to Shri Shri Ravi Shankar to persuade him to give up his fast after nine days. It was stated on behalf of the Baba that his fight against black money would continue. In the meanwhile Digvijay Singh, the General Secretary of the Congress party, publicly accused the Baba of money-laundering and demanded that the vast accumulation of wealth exceeding Rs 1000 crores should be investigated. Even while he was fasting, the Baba publicly announced details of his wealth. Anna was also subjected to maligning by Digvijay who alleged of his association with the RSS in view of the fact that the picture of Hindmata displayed in course of his fast was similar to that of the RSS. Touched to the quick, Anna angrily stated that Digvijay should be sent to a lunatic asylum. He wrote to Sonia Gandhi complaining about the smear campaign against him and demanded evidence to prove his association with the RSS. The public discourse is obviously getting shriller and shriller. After surrendering to Anna’s demand of a joint committee and placating the Baba by four Ministers going to the airport, the Congress leaders and UPA Government have taken a hard line. In an interview at Kolkata, Pranab Mukherjee stated that the civil society movement is undermining democracy and the elected government at the Centre. Parliament is supreme to pass the law and a handful ‘civil society’ activists cannot dictate terms to a government which has the confidence of Parliament. (The Times of India, June 13, 2011) The emerging political scenario is worrisome. When the country is facing major challenges like terrorism, violent Maoist movement, resistance to land acquisition by people, deteriorating law and order situation, hostile Chinese action on the northern Himalayan border and major corruption scandals, leading to loss of confidence of foreign investors, instead of taking a united national stand in firmly dealing with these problems, the nation is engulfed in intensive conflicts. The future of the joint committee on Lokpal seems to be dismal. No consensus is likely to emerge. The government may even decide to wind up the work of the committee. And even if a ‘final’ draft would be ready by June and introduced in Parliament, the passing of the Bill is likely to be no smooth sailing and may not be passed by August 15, the date by which Anna insists it should be passed or else he would again go on fast. The government would not allow the kind of response Anna’s fast had at Jantar Mantar. The government’s attempt to communalise the Baba’s movement against corruption was an attempt to drive a wedge between the communal Baba and the ‘Gandhian’ Anna. The civil society activists were earlier not enthusiastic about the Baba but once the nocturnal crackdown on the defenceless men, women and children took place, the two sides forgot the differences and came closer to each other. The civil society activists used strongest words to condemn the crackdown. The BJP declared that the government was bringing back the Emergency days and the party would organise nationwide protests against corruption, blackmarketing and suppression of fundamental rights of the citizens to express opinion through peaceful demonstrations. The Congress party in reply decided to organise a national movement against fundamentalism and communalism embodied in the BJP, RSS and allied organisations. But for the government more serious than the challenges of the BJP, Leftist parties and regional parties like the SP which spoke against the noctural crackdown on a peaceful assembly of people, was the 15 days notice issued by the Vacation Bench of the Supreme Court to the Union Home Secretary, Delhi State Government and the Delhi Commissioner of Police to explain the crackdown. Chidambaram has blithely stated that the Delhi Police will file the affidavit forgetting that the Supreme Court is not likely to be satisfied with the explanation of the State Government and will also hold the Union Home Ministry, if not the Union Home Minister and the Prime Minister themselves, accountable. Law and Order POLITICIANS in power are often inclined to pass on the buck on ‘law and order’ matters to the police forgetting that the issues behind any serious law and order situation have to be handled well on time by the politicians in power and the civil servants who work under them. In the present case the issues of corruption and black economy and the passing of the Lokpal Bill have been long neglected and not tackled with any sense of urgency and sincerity. The most glaring instance of this was the fact that the Lokpal Bill has been pending since 1968, that is, over the last fortytwo years. The mega scams relating to the 2G spectrum, Commonwealth Games and Adarsh Society apartment in Mumbai, were attributed to politicians in power like Union Ministers and Chief Ministers. Even after the spectrum scam was exposed by the CAG, Kapil Sibal, in additional charge of the Telecommuni-cation Ministry, brazenly stated that there was no loss to the public exchequer and attacked the CAG for giving a wrong report alleging a presumptive loss of Rs 1,76,000 crores to the public exchequer. The Prime Minister defended Minister Raja responsible for the 2G scam for a period of over two years. Suresh Kalmadi was allowed to run the show of the Commonwealth Games despite the fact that he was accused in corrupt deals six months before the Games. The media gave wide publicity to these scams and the nation was outraged at the studied inability to prevent and control corruption. The Finance Minister doggedly refused to disclose the names of those whose funds were stashed abroad citing the secrecy clause of the taxation evasion agreements with foreign govern-ments. People started losing confidence in the government, and their pent-up anger was articulated by Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev through their fasts which evoked nationwide response. Even after the fast started and people gathered, politicians of the ruling party did not care to meet the people and convince them about the sincerity of the government. The government must actively communicate with the people to prevent a popular agitation going out of hand instead of letting loose the police. If serious consequences follow in the shape of injury and loss of lives, the police are exposed to judicial enquiries. The politicians and administrators mostly remain aloof, when they should squarely be blamed for allowing the law and order situation to drift and assume serious proportions. When we became independent we declared that the ‘police state’ of the British Raj will be replaced by the ‘welfare state’ of the people’s government. But in free India police raj seems to have come back with a vengeance. Legitimacy of Elected Government AFTER some initial hesitation, the Congress has decided to go on the offensive. They are asserting that the Congress and its allies have been voted to power by the people and the Opposition parties and ‘civil society’ activists have no business to destabilise them through their agitations and by people like Hazare and Ramdev Baba going on fast to coerce thew government. How far is the argument valid? It is true that the government has every right to decide on legislation, policies and programmes. All the same it is also the duty of the Opposition to oppose actions by the government through constitutional means. The government should recognise the legitimacy of the Opposition to oppose as much as the Opposition should concede the right of the government to govern. But if the government treats the Opposition with contempt and gives short shrift to the reasonable demands of the Opposition, the Opposition gets frustrated and resorts to action which immobilises the functioning of Parliament. This was what happened to Parliament in the last winter session. The whole session was washed out. Eventually the demand of the Opposition was conceded before the Budget session could go on smoothly. If this had been done at the beginning of the winter session, the nation would not have had to suffer a non-functioning Parliament. For this the government and the Opposition are equally responsible. What about the people? Should they helplessly suffer an inept or corrupt gtovernment? Have they not the right to call the government to question in between the elections? Do the duties of the citizens end once they have voted? Surely that is not so. Even in between elections, the government is accountable to the people and the people should be able to express their dissatisfaction through all means allowed by the Constitution. The active groups of citizens can take the lead in mobilising public opinion through all means allowed by the Constitution. This does not amount to ‘backmailing’ of an elected government as is alleged by some Congress spokesmen like Digvijay Singh. Hazare’s reply was that if fast and dharna amount to blackmail then he will ‘blackmail’ the government. In this context it is necessary to recall what Dr Ambedkar, the principal architect of the Constitution, said in his address to the Constituent Assembly—“We must hold fast to the constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic goals. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It also means we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and Satyagraha. When constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for unconstitutional methods. Sooner these methods are abandoned, the better for us.” Dr Ambedkar’s warning was prophetic. He feared that the Gandhian legacy will be continued even after the government starts functioning as per the Constitution of the Indian Republic. But the government also holds the responsibility of running the government in a transparent, open manner without making an ugly display of arrogance of power. As Hazare reminded, the government. Ministers and legislators are servants of the people; the people are not their servants. Unfortunately our politicians have became so arrogant and self-serving that they have forgotten the basic premise of democracy that it is the bounden duty of politicians in power to serve the people with sincerity, honesty and dedication. If the current agitation teaches this lesson to the government and politicians, its purpose would be served. But if the government resorts to repression and intolerance of any Opposition, makes all kinds of defamatory statements against those who oppose them, if public opinion is stifled and evils like rampant corruption are allowed free play, the future of the Indian parliamentary democracy may be very dismal Formerly Secretary to the Government of India and Vice-Chancellor of Goa University, Dr Dubhashi is currently the Chairman, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Pune Kendra. His e-mail is: dubhashi@giaspn01.

Reforming the Hindus




By contrast, the Nehru Ambedkar relationship has been consigned to obscurity.

THREE men did most to make Hinduism a modern faith. Of these the first was not recognised as a Hindu by the Shankaracharyas; the second was not recognised as a Hindu by himself; the third was born a Hindu but made certain he would not die as one.

These three great reformers were Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and B.R. Ambedkar. Gandhi and Nehru, working together, helped Hindus make their peace with modern ideas of democracy and secularism. Gandhi and Ambedkar, working by contrasting methods and in opposition to one another, made Hindus recognise the evils and horrors of the system of untouchability. Nehru and Ambedkar, working sometimes together, sometimes separately, forced Hindus to grant, in law if not always in practice, equal rights to their women.

The Gandhi-Nehru relationship has been the subject of countless books down the years. Books on the Congress, which document how these two made the party the principal vehicle of Indian nationalism; books on Gandhi, which have to deal necessarily with the man he chose to succeed him; books on Nehru, which pay proper respect to the man who influenced him more than anyone else. Books too numerous to mention, among which I might be allowed to single out, as being worthy of special mention, Sarvepalli Gopal’s Jawaharlal Nehru, B.R. Nanda’s Mahatma Gandhi, and Rajmohan Gandhi’sThe Good Boatman.

In recent years, the Gandhi-Ambedkar relationship has also attracted a fair share of attention. Some of this has been polemical and even petty; as in Arun Shourie’s Worshipping False Gods (which is deeply unfair to Ambedkar), and Jabbar Patel’s film “Ambedkar” (which is inexplicably hostile to Gandhi). But there have also been some sensitive studies of the troubled relationship between the upper caste Hindu who abhorred Untouchability and the greatest of Dalit reformers. These include, on the political side, the essays of Eleanor Zelliott and Denis Dalton; and on the moral and psychological side, D.R. Nagaraj’s brilliant little book The Flaming Feet.

By contrast, the Nehru-Ambedkar relationship has been consigned to obscurity. There is no book about it, nor, to my knowledge, even a decent scholarly article. That is a pity, because for several crucial years they worked together in the Government of India, as Prime Minister and Law Minister respectively.

Weeks before India became independent, Nehru asked Ambedkar to join his Cabinet. This was apparently done at the instance of Gandhi, who thought that since freedom had come to India, rather than to the Congress, outstanding men of other political persuasions should also be asked to serve in Government. (Thus, apart from Ambedkar, the Tamil businessman R.K. Shanmukham Chetty, likewise a lifelong critic of the Congress, was made a member of the Cabinet, Finance Minister, no less.)

Ambedkar’s work on the Constitution is well known. Less well known are his labours on the reform of Hindu personal laws. Basing himself on a draft prepared by Sir B. N. Rau, Ambedkar sought to bring the varying interpretations and traditions of Hindu law into a single unified code. But this act of codification was also an act of radical reform, by which the distinctions of caste were made irrelevant, and the rights of women greatly enhanced.

Those who want to explore the details of these changes are directed to Mulla’s massive Principles of Hindu Law (now in its 18th edition), or to the works of the leading authority on the subject, Professor J.D.M. Derrett. For our purposes, it is enough to summarise the major changes as follows; (1) For the first time, the widow and daughter were awarded the same share of property as the son; (2) for the first time, women were allowed to divorce a cruel or negligent husband; (3) for the first time, the husband was prohibited from taking a second wife; (4) for the first time, a man and woman of different castes could be married under Hindu law; (5) for the first time, a Hindu couple could adopt a child of a different caste.

These were truly revolutionary changes, which raised a storm of protest among the orthodox. As Professor Derrett remarked, “every argument that could be mustered against the protest was garnered, including many that cancelled each other out”. Thus “the offer of divorce to all oppressed spouses became the chief target of attack, and the cry that religion was in danger was raised by many whose real objection to the Bill was that daughters were to have equal shares with sons, a proposition that aroused (curiously) fiercer jealousy among certain commercial than among agricultural classes”.

In the vanguard of the opposition was the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). In a single year, 1949, the RSS organised as many as 79 meetings in Delhi where effigies of Nehru and Ambedkar were burnt, and where the new Bill was denounced as an attack on Hindu culture and tradition.

A major leader of the movement against the new Bill was a certain Swami Karpatri. In speeches in Delhi and elsewhere, he challenged Ambedkar to a public debate on the new Code. To the Law Minister’s claim that the Shastras did not really favour polygamy, Swami Karpatri quoted Yagnavalkya: “If the wife is a habitual drunkard, a confirmed invalid, a cunning, a barren or a spendthrift woman, if she is bitter-tongued, if she has got only daughters and no son, if she hates her husband, (then) the husband can marry a second wife even while the first is living.” The Swami supplied the precise citation for this injunction: the third verse of the third chapter of the third section of Yagnavalkya’s Smriti on marriage. He did not however tell us whether the injunction also allowed the wife to take another husband if the existing one was a drunkard, bitter-tongued, a spendthrift, etc.

But there were also some respectable opponents of the new Code, who included Rajendra Prasad, who in January 1950 became the President of India. In 1950 and 1951 several attempts were made to get the Bill passed. However, the opposition was so intense that it had to be dropped. Ambedkar resigned from the Cabinet in disgust, saying that Nehru had not the “earnestness and determination” required to back the Bill through to the end.

In truth, Nehru was waiting for the first General Elections. When these gave him and the Congress a popular mandate, he re-introduced the new Code, not as a single Bill but as several separate ones dealing with Marriage and Divorce, Succession, Adoption, etc. Nehru actively canvassed for these reforms, making several major speeches in Parliament and bringing his fellow Congressmen to his side.

In 1955 and 1956 these various Bills passed into law. Soon afterwards Ambedkar died. Speaking in the Lok Sabha, Nehru remarked that he would be remembered above all “as a symbol of the revolt against all the oppressive features of Hindu society”. But Ambedkar, said Nehru, “will be remembered also for the great interest he took and the trouble he took over the question of Hindu law reform. I am happy that he saw that reform in a very large measure carried out, perhaps not in the form of that monumental tome that he had himself drafted, but in separate bits”.

As I have said, by the strict canons of orthodoxy, Gandhi and Nehru were lapsed Hindus; Ambedkar no Hindu at all. Yet, by force of conviction and strength of character, they did more good to Hindus and Hinduism than those who claimed to be the true defenders of the faith.

Ramachandra Guha is a historian and writer based in Bangalore.
E-mail him at

How D.R. Nagaraj reconciled Gandhi with Ambedkar : Ramachandra Guha


– How D.R. Nagaraj reconciled Gandhi with Ambedkar

Politics and Play – Ramachandra Guha

Books do not change lives, but books can change the way we look at the world. As a student of economics, I was a high modernist who believed in transforming rural communities through industrialization. Concern for the poor came with a heavy dose of condescension. Those who lived outside cities had to be improved and uplifted through an infusion of modern technology and what used to be known as the ‘scientific temper’. Then I read Verrier Elwin’s Leaves from the Jungle, a charming evocation of the life of the Gond tribals of central India. This, and his other works, showed me that despite their apparent illiteracy and lack of material wealth, the tribals had a rich tradition of poetry, folklore and art, a deep identification with nature, and a strong sense of community solidarity. In the latter respects they had, in fact, something to teach a modern world that dismissed them as primitive and uncivilized.

A little later, I became a Marxist, persuaded into the faith by the scholars who taught me in Calcutta. I was young and impatient; the incremental idealism of my parents’ hero, Jawaharlal Nehru, did not seem sufficient to make a dent in the poverty and inequality that was so manifest a feature of social life in India. Then, on a visit to Dehradun, I picked up from the pavement of the town’s main street a copy of George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. I took the book home and read it through the night. Orwell had seen, at first-hand, how the democratic aspirations of the Spanish people had been undermined by the takeover of their movement by a band of cynical and amoral communists, acting under the instructions of Josef Stalin. He communicated his experiences in prose of an uncommon clarity. By the morning, I had abandoned Marxism, and was a social democrat once more.

Another book that changed the way I looked at the world was Truth Called Them Differently, published by the Navajivan Trust in Ahmedabad. This reproduced the debates between Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi. They argued about many things — India’s place in the world, the role of the English language, whether an hour a day at the spinning wheel was mandatory for the patriot. The exchanges reveal the intellectual and moral qualities of the two men, each of whom had the ability (and courage) to change his views when circumstance or reason so demanded.

Elwin was once a well-known writer in India. Tagore, Gandhi and Orwell enjoy global reputations. All had a considerable and varied oeuvre in English. Their books were published by the most prestigious publishing houses. A fourth book whose reading radically altered my understanding of the world was, in contrast, written by an author unknown outside his native Karnataka. And it was published by a totally obscure press. Browsing through Bangalore’s Premier Book Shop in the early 1990s, I came across a slim book called The Flaming Feet. The title was intriguing, as were its contents — a series of essays on and around the figure of B.R. Ambedkar.

Published by a local NGO called the Institute of Cultural Research and Action,The Flaming Feet was the first work in English by D.R. Nagaraj, a professor of Kannada in Bangalore University. The politics of the 1930s and 1940s had placed Gandhi and Ambedkar as antagonists — as, more recently, had the politics of the 1980s and 1990s. The Bahujan Samaj Party had launched a series of stinging attacks on the Mahatma, accusing him of patronizing the Dalits and impeding rather than aiding their emancipation. From the other side, the Hindutva ideologue, Arun Shourie, had written a 600-page screed depicting Ambedkar as a toady of the British.

D.R. Nagaraj was unusual and — at that time, at least — unique in admiringboth Gandhi and Ambedkar. To be sure, in their lifetime their respective social locations made it hard for these men not to be political adversaries. By the time Ambedkar returned from his studies in the US, Gandhi was the acknowledged leader of the national movement. For a brilliant and ambitious young man from a Dalit background, to join the Congress was to relegate oneself to a secondary role in politics. Thus, as Nagaraj pointed out, “there was very little scope for a Congress Harijan leader to develop interesting and useful models of praxis from within”. So, Ambedkar chose to form his own political party and fight for his people under a banner separate from, and opposed to, Gandhi’s Indian National Congress.

In The Flaming Feet, Nagaraj demonstrated how, through their debates and arguments, Gandhi and Ambedkar transformed each other. The Mahatma became more sensitive to the structural roots of caste discrimination, while Ambedkar came to recognize that moral renewal was as critical to Dalit emancipation as economic opportunity. In seeking to honour both men, Nagaraj was, as he put it, fighting both “deep-rooted prejudices” (which urged Indians to follow only one or the other) as well as “wishful thinking” (which made one believe that one or other thinker provided all the answers to the Dalit predicament). Nagaraj insisted that “from the viewpoint of the present, there is a compelling necessity to achieve a synthesis of the two”. “The greatest paradox of modern Indian history,” wrote Nagaraj, was that “both Gandhian and Ambedkarite perceptions of the issue are partially true, and the contending visions are yet to comprehend each other fully”.

Reading Nagaraj, like reading Tagore, Gandhi, Orwell and Elwin, was an epiphanic experience. He taught me to recognize that while Gandhi and Ambedkar were rivals in their lifetime, from the point of view of India today the two men should rather be viewed as partners and collaborators. The legacy ofboth was required to complete the unfinished task of Dalit emancipation. After the publication of The Flaming Feet, Nagaraj began writing more often in English. These later essays, like the book, were marked by an unusual ability to bring disparate worlds into conversation: the past and the present, the elite and the subaltern, the vernacular and the cosmopolitan.

In 1998, just as he was maturing as a scholar and political analyst, Nagaraj died of a heart attack. Now, 12 years later, his published and unpublished essays on Dalit questions have been brought together in an expanded edition of The Flaming Feet, edited and sensitively introduced by his former student, Prithvi Datta Chandra Sobhi, and appearing this time under the imprint of a more mainstream publisher. Here Nagaraj writes with elegance and insight about a wide range of subjects — on the “lack of a living tradition of militant Gandhianism”; on the self-invention of a Dalit identity (as he points out, in searching for a history outside Hinduism, “the modern Dalit has to seek his rebirth in a state of fearful loneliness. S/he has nothing to rely upon in his/her immediate Hindu surroundings”); on the need to build a united front of ecological, Dalit and tribal movements.

Nagaraj was a social scientist as well as littérateur whose mode of writing was sometimes empirical, at other times metaphorical. Here is a representative excerpt: “Babasaheb [Ambedkar] had no option but to reject the Gandhian model. He had realized that this model had successfully transformed Harijans as objects in a ritual of self-purification, with the ritual being performed by those who had larger heroic notions of their individual selves. In the theatre of history, in a play with such a script, the untouchables would never become heroes in their own right, they were just mirrors for a hero to look at his own existentialist anger and despair, or maybe even glory.”

This new edition of The Flaming Feet may be the most important work of non-fiction published in this country in 2010. At any rate, it is indispensable for anyone with any serious interest in society and politics in modern India.

‘ಅಂಬೇಡ್ಕರ್ ಪ್ರತಿಮೆ ಸ್ಥಳಾಂತರಿಸಿದರೆ ರಕ್ತಕ್ರಾಂತಿ’ Ambedkar Statue Shift : Bangalore


ದಸಂಸದಿಂದ ಪ್ರತಿಭಟನೆ, ರಾಜ್ಯಪಾಲರಿಗೆ ಮನವಿ
ಮಂಗಳೂರು, ಡಿ.20: ವಿಧಾನಸೌಧದ ಮುಂಭಾಗದ ಬಾಬಾ ಸಾಹೇಬ್ ಅಂಬೇಡ್ಕರ್ ಪ್ರತಿಮೆಯನ್ನು ಆರೆಸ್ಸೆಸ್ ಅಜೆಂಡಾದ ಕುತಂತ್ರದ ಭಾಗವಾಗಿ ಸ್ಥಳಾಂತರಿಸುವ ಹುನ್ನಾರ ನಡೆಯುತ್ತಿದ್ದು, ಒಂದು ವೇಳೆ ಸ್ಥಳಾಂತರಕ್ಕೆ ಮುಂದಾದಲ್ಲಿ ರಕ್ತಕ್ರಾಂತಿ ಆಗಲಿದೆ ಎಂದು ಕರ್ನಾಟಕ ದಲಿತ ಸಂಘರ್ಷ ಸಮಿತಿ (ಅಂಬೇಡ್ಕರ್ ವಾದ) ದ.ಕ. ಜಿಲ್ಲಾ ಶಾಖೆಯ ಸಂಚಾಲಕ ಸಂಜೀವ ಬೆಳ್ತಂಗಡಿಯವರು ರಾಜ್ಯ ಸರಕಾರಕ್ಕೆ ಎಚ್ಚರಿಕೆ ನೀಡಿದ್ದಾರೆ.

‘ಅಂಬೇಡ್ಕರ್ ಪ್ರತಿಮೆ ಸ್ಥಳಾಂತರಿಸಿದರೆ ರಕ್ತಕ್ರಾಂತಿ’
ಜಿಲ್ಲಾಧಿಕಾರಿ ಕಚೇರಿ ಎದುರು ಇಂದು ದಸಂಸದ ಜಿಲ್ಲಾ ಸಮಿತಿಯ ವತಿಯಿಂದ ಅಂಬೇಡ್ಕರ್ ಪ್ರತಿಮೆ ಸ್ಥಳಾಂತರ ಕೈಬಿಡುವಂತೆ ಹಾಗೂ ಸುಬ್ರಹ್ಮಣ್ಯ ದೇವಳದಲ್ಲಿ ಎಂಜಲೆಲೆಯ ಮೇಲೆ ಉರುಳು ಸೇವೆ ಮಾಡುವ ಪದ್ಧತಿಯನ್ನು ನಿಷೇಧಿಸುವಂತೆ ಒತ್ತಾಯಿಸಿ ಹಮ್ಮಿ ಕೊಳ್ಳಲಾದ ಪ್ರತಿಭಟನೆಯನ್ನುದ್ದೇಶಿಸಿ ಅವರು ಮಾತನಾಡುತ್ತಿದ್ದರು.
ರಾಜ್ಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಬಿಜೆಪಿ ಸರಕಾರ ಆಡಳಿತಕ್ಕೆ ಬಂದಾಗಿನಿಂದ ಹೆಜ್ಜೆಗೊಂದ ರಂತೆ ದಲಿತರ ಮೇಲೆ ದೌರ್ಜನ್ಯಗಳು ನಡೆಯುತ್ತಿವೆ. ಶೇ.3ರಷ್ಟು ಜನಸಂಖ್ಯೆ ಯನ್ನು ಹೊಂದಿರುವ ಬ್ರಾಹ್ಮಣವರ್ಗ ಶೇ.97ರಷ್ಟು ಜನಸಂಖ್ಯೆಯನ್ನು ಆಳುತ್ತಿರುವುದು ವಿಪರ್ಯಾಸ. ಆರೆಸ್ಸೆಸ್‌ನಲ್ಲಿ ರುವ ಕಾರ್ಯಕರ್ತರು ಕೂಡಾ ನಮ್ಮವರೇ. ಅವರ ತಲೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ಧರ್ಮದ ಬಗ್ಗೆ ಅನಗತ್ಯ ವಿಷಬೀಜ ಬಿತ್ತಿ ನಮ್ಮ ವಿರುದ್ಧವೇ ಎತ್ತಿಕಟ್ಟುವ ಹುನ್ನಾರ ನಡೆಸಲಾಗುತ್ತಿದೆ.
ಇತ್ತೀಚೆಗೆ ಮಂಗಳೂರಿನಲ್ಲಿ ವಾಮಾಚಾರಕ್ಕಾಗಿ ನಡೆದ ನರಬಲಿಗೆ ಕಾರಣವಾದ ಮೂಢನಂಬಿಕೆಯನ್ನು ಕಲಿಸಿ ಕೊಟ್ಟಿರುವುದು ಕೂಡಾ ಈ ಬ್ರಾಹ್ಮಣ ವರ್ಗ ಎಂದು ಸಂಜೀವ ಆರೋಪಿಸಿದರು.
ದಲಿತ ವಿರೋಧಿ ಧೋರಣೆ ಹೊಂದಿರುವ ಮಂಗಳೂರು ಬಂದರ್ ಸರ್ಕಲ್ ಇನ್ಸ್‌ಪೆಕ್ಟರ್‌ರನ್ನು ಅಮಾನತು ಗೊಳಿಸುವಂತೆ ಒತ್ತಾಯಿಸಿದ ಸಂಜೀವ, ಈ ನಿಟ್ಟಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಹೋರಾಟ ನಡೆಸು ವುದಾಗಿ ಹೇಳಿದರು.
ಪ್ರತಿಭಟನಕಾರನ್ನುದ್ದೇಶಿಸಿ ಜಿಲ್ಲಾ ಪ್ರಧಾನ ಸಂಚಾಲಕ ಎಸ್.ಪಿ.ಆನಂದ, ಚಂದು ಎಲ್., ಪರಿಶಿಷ್ಟ ಜಾತಿ ಮತ್ತು ಪ. ಪಂಗಡಗಳ ಒಕ್ಕೂಟದ ಜಿಲ್ಲಾ ಸಂಚಾಲಕ ನಿರ್ಮಲ್ ಕುಮಾರ್ ಮೊದಲಾದವರು ಮಾತನಾಡಿದರು.
ಪ್ರತಿಭಟನೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ದಸಂಸ ಕೋಶಾಧಿ ಕಾರಿ ಎಂ.ದೇವು, ಜಗದೀಶ್ ಪಾಂಡೇಶ್ವರ, ನಾಗೇಶ್ ಕಂಕನಾಡಿ, ಗೀತಾ ಸುಳ್ಯ, ಮೋನಪ್ಪ, ಸೀತಾರಾಮ ಪುತ್ತೂರು, ಅರುಣಾ ಪುತ್ತೂರು ಮತ್ತಿತರರು ಉಪಸ್ಥಿತರಿದ್ದರು. ಬಳಿಕ ಜಿಲ್ಲಾಧಿಕಾರಿ ಮೂಲಕ ಬೇಡಿಕೆಗಳನ್ನೊಳಗೊಂಡ ಮನವಿಯನ್ನು ರಾಜ್ಯಪಾಲರಿಗೆ ಸಲ್ಲಿಸಲಾಯಿತು.

Dr BR Ambedkar image on currency notes

NGO demands Dr BR Ambedkar image on currency notes

As the country paid rich tributes to Dr BR Ambedkar on his 54th death anniversary on Monday, a little-known organisation in Mumbai has suggested that the Government considers carrying the Indian Constitution architect’s picture on currency notes.

At Chaityabhoomi, Ambedkar’s memorial, the tens of thousands of his followers, who thronged the shrine, saw large banners promoting the cause. Ironically, the demand has no been put forth by any Dalit group. Muslim volunteers of an NGO have come up with the demand.

“Ambedkar was not only the leader of the downtrodden but was also the architect of modern India. And what better way to honour his contribution than to give him an esteemed place on the Indian currency,” said Saira Patel, general secretary of Mumbaikar Asanghatith Gharelu Kamgar Union, a non-governmental organisation working with Dalits and Muslims in Andheri.

Ambedkar Currency Note imagery

Patel added that they have sent a memorandum to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. “We will approach Dalit leaders for support and are considering a tie-up with mobile phone companies to initiate a public voting campaign through SMS,” she said.

She added that unlike in the West, where several leaders are featured on currency notes, in India we only have Mahatma Gandhi’s picture.

“Gandhiji is no doubt the most recognised face of the Indian freedom struggle. But we think that Dr Ambedkar also deserves to be on the Indian currency,” Patel said.

Mohammad Patel, another member of the group said, “We are not saying that Gandhi’s pictures should be taken off the notes.

However, Dr Ambedkar’s pictures can appear on at least some denominations.”

Though the demand for Dr Ambedkar’s to feature on currency notes has been made by a Muslim group, there is support aplenty from Dalit organisations.

Rajendra Gavai, national general secretary of the Republican Party of India said, “Dr Ambedkar is the architect of the country’s constitution. We will support the demand.”

Unbiased Recitals: Guha at Ambedkar Lecture London


Ramachandra Guha’s new anthology gives us some carefully selected writings from what he chooses to call Makers of Modern India. The book cannot but offend adherents of those excluded and offend some for its inclusions. “Where is Patel?” he has been asked. “Where is our Netaji?” The plaintive

questions are not invalid.But it is his anthology, not that of the questioners. He can choose what to include and what to leave out.


But he has to explain the procedure he has followed, which is to select the works of those ‘Makers’ who were original thinkers and have left a body of writing behind. This fact is not immediately grasped by readers of the book, for which difficulty the title of the book is partly responsible.

At the book’s launch in Chennai, he was asked: “Why have you left Kamaraj out ? Was he not a maker of modern India?” Ram said Kamaraj was a giant of a man and he (Ram) had paid Kamaraj the huge tribute he deserved in his India After Gandhi, but then Kamaraj was a doer, not a thinker and  did not leave a body of published material behind.

The questioner was not quite mollified, nor was I.

“What about Annadurai?”

“Yes, he was an extraordinary political figure too but his influence outside Tamil Nadu is limited and then again his thought is not available to a wider non-Tamil readership…” Then, an ‘inclusion’ was raised. “You have included Jinnah who did not make India, rather he broke it…”

“Thank you for that question,” Ram said, “it is important for us to know Jinnah’s mind precisely for that reason…We should know the negatives that make our positives…We should know how the  Muslim India of Jinnah’s conception and a Hindu Pakistan of Golwalkar’s are the antithesis of Nehru’s secularism.”

In his comments at the Chennai launch, Ram said something that tallied with a recent experience of mine, totally. He said that followers of some Indian icons know their hero’s life-line well, but not his thought-line. Others, academics among them, know the thought-lines well and do not share the ‘followers’ bhakti-like fascination for the icon’s person.

Both deficits are unfortunate, for the first leads to hero worship which does understanding little good, and the second leads to dry-as-dust intellection that leaves out the human dimension entirely.

An experience I had some days ago bore out Ram’s point totally. At a lecture in London in memory of BR Ambedkar, I made the point that Ambedkar cannot be monopolised anymore than he can be marginalised. He cannot be fenced-in anymore than he can be fenced-out. To typecast a man like Babasaheb as a spokesman, howsoever formidable, for one section of India alone, for one interest, and one cause, or to label him as the chief architect, howsoever formidable, of one legislative edifice, one enactment, is to deny and impoverish the totality of his legacy.

Some questions followed and I responded to them in various degrees of inadequacy. Just as one last hand went up, the question slot was over and the meeting closed. But as I had noticed the raised hand, as the audience dispersed, I invited the young man to come over for a chat. I said I was sorry he could not put his question. Whereupon the young man said: “You referred to Babasaheb as ‘Ambedkar’, as ‘Dr Ambedkar’ and as ‘Babasaheb’…For me he is Babasaheb and he is my God.” There was little for me to say to this beyond indicating respect for his feeling. He added: “I also wanted to ask you a silly question”. Saying it may not be silly at all, I encouraged him to pose it. He said: “You have just spoken about Babasaheb…can you please tell me: first, his full name, the expansion of the initials of his name. Second, the date and place of Babasaheb’s birth. Third the date and place of his death. That is all”.

I did not expect the question to be this simple and this challenging, this courteous and this startling. I had just expatiated on Babasaheb and made what I had thought was a point worth making, but I had clearly ‘reckoned without the host’. I may have known the sum, but did I know my tables ?

Now, I was aware that ‘B’ stood for Bhimrao but told him, honestly, I did not recall the expansion for ‘R’. This was inexcusable. If I knew that the ‘K’ after ‘M’ in Gandhi’s full name stands for ‘Karamchand’, ought I not to know what the ‘R’ in ‘BR Ambedkar’ stands for? Of course, I should. Next, I knew the dates of his birth and death (having attended the Ambedkar Jayanti and Ambedkar Nirvana Divas in Kolkata annually for five years) but, again, was not sure of the year of his birth, nor of the place of his birth.

If I knew axiomatically that Gandhi was born in Porbandar and Jawaharlal Nehru in Allahabad, could I afford to not know where Babasaheb was born?  Especially, when I was giving a bhashan claiming an intellectual kinship with him? In three minutes, I had learnt more from him than my audience had from me, over my 30-minute lecture. And I am not referring to the bare facts alone.

The young man had made me realise the inherent hypocrisy in pompous public speaking. His question  also reminded me of a television ‘operation’ that had some MPs scurrying for cover when asked by a TV channel on Independence Day simple ‘GK-type’ questions like “Who wrote Vande Mataram?” I had laughed at their ignorance. This time round, it was my turn to be shown up for my ignorance.

But my questioner has also made me reflect on India’s and Indians’ attitude to their Founding Fathers.

Everyone is entitled to favourites, intellectual or emotional. For us, however, our favourites have become means for self-fulfilment.

Guha’s eclectic anthology helps us see that history is different from humans. It owns no favourites, only facts and these go beyond ‘mere’ awareness  or ‘pure’ bhakti. And history’s destination is neither the self-projecting speaker’s podium nor the selfless devotee’s pedestal, but a straight unbiased recital.

Which recital shows Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (born 2.10.1869 at Porbandar, died 30.1.1948 in New Delhi) and Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (born 14.4.1891 in Mhow, died 6.12.1956 in New Delhi) giving a psychologically splintered India very similar messages in differing vocabularies.


Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor The views expressed by the author are personal.