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.

On Gandhi and Ambedkar


Bapu Gandhi, Babasaheb Ambedkar


Investigation of Arun Shourie


Dr. S L Dhani, IAS (Retd)


Advocate Delhi High Court

Scholar-Administrator, Researcher, Reviewer,

Thinker, Indologists, Critic, Iconoclast. Manvantaracharya

Formerly, Commissioner and Secretary to Haryana Government



The year 1997 has been an important year for India in some respects. For example, it witnessed the celebration of Golden Jubilee of India’s independence and it saw the first Dalit to be elected to the august office of President of India, who is regarded in that position to be the first citizen of the country. Mahatma Gandhi was the first to give the idea of seeing a Dalit occupy the highest office in India

. Thus, the dream of the Mahatma Gandhi also came true in the same year. The same year witnessed the first organised attempt of the Hindu Fundamentalists to denigrate the Mahatma and to glorify his assassin Nathuram Godse, his assassin, for being anti-India and anti-Hindu. The year 1997 also witnessed Babasaheb Dr. B. R. Ambedkar being vilified by one Arun Shourie, who likes to describe himself to be one of the best investigative journalists. He did it through his book Worshipping False Gods, Ambedkar, and the facts which have been erased. He will be hence forth generally be referred to as Arun Shourie after the first letter of his surname, namely, Shourie.

The independent India came to regard Mahatma Gandhi as the Father the Nation on the ground of his leading India’s struggle for freedom. Similarly, she came to regard Dr. Ambedkar as the Father of the Constitution of India. Arun Shourie has chosen to denigrate Dr. Ambedkar in comparison to Mahatma Gandhi.

Arun Shourie has kept Dr. Ambedkar in the category of false Gods. Dr. Ambedkar’s fault has been shown mainly to be two-fold – (1) being anti-Hindu and bringing shame upon the Hindus (2) being a Gandhi-hater and therefore, opposed to freedom struggle led by the latter. By implication Mahatma Gandhi has been regarded by Arun Shourie to be a true God of Hindu conception and Dr. Ambedkar to be a false god again of Hindu conception. Arun Shourie seems to have been peeved at the greater recognition of Dr. Ambedkar as compared to Mahatma Gandhi.

Both Arun Shourie and Nathuram Godse have come from the same RSS background. One might feel intrigued, on one hand, at killing Mahatma Gandhi by one of them (Nathuram Godse) and, on the other hand, at raising the same Gandhi to the level of true god by another, namely, Arun Shourie. One might get further perplexed at the declaration of Mahatma Gandhi as being anti-Hindu by Godse and as being declared a true God of Hindu perception by Arun Shourie. There are many points of similarities between Nathuram Godse and Arun Shourie, which will be discussed in the book in hand in an independent chapter It would appear therefrom that Arun Shourie seems to suffer from Nathuram Godse Syndrome.

We shall notice that the treatment of Dr. Ambedkar by Arun Shourie has been generally acknowledged to be prejudiced in the reviews of his book and also in numerous rejoinders to his book in question. Arun Shourie is not known to have responded to his criticism through another book. He seems to have ignored the rejoinders for reasons best known to him. In his interview recorded by Pritish Nandy, he had complained of nobody attempting point to point analysis of the charges levelled by him against Dr. Ambedkar.

The book in hand is being devoted, inter alia, to the psychoanalysis of mind of Arun Shourie in relation to his writings against Dr. Ambedkar. It is also going to examine the question whether he was motivated by a desire to live in history by killing the memory of India’s another icon of India, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, in a manner comparable to that of Nathuram Godse. Godse is living in history simply because he killed the most important icon of India, namely, Mahatma Gandhi. So far, Arun Shourie has done nothing, which can make him live in history. Perhaps, he wants to live in history, like Godse, by maligning another icon of modern India, Dr. Ambedkar. What a wish! A wish to occupy a place in history by killing the memory of an icon will certainly qualify one to be suffering from the Nathuram Godse Syndrome.

It is true that Arun Shourie has been a journalist of good standing but that standing alone cannot be deemed to qualify him for a place in history. There are and have been thousands of journalists known for their excellence in the field of journalism but none has been known to have acquired a place in history merely on that account.

Someone had said if you want to live after death do either of the two things:

  • Either you write something worth reading;
  • ii) Or do something worth writing. Although Arun Shourie has been writing a lot but most of his writing have been of ephemeral nature and mostly meant for the newspapers. Such writings generally become fit to be thrown into a waste-paper basket after a few hours after reaching the hands of a reader. As such, he cannot be expected to live after his death because of his journalistic writings. But, he can be deemed to have performed an important act, though negative in nature, of trying to kill memory of Dr. Ambedkar one of the two icons of Modern India, namely, Bapu Gandhi and Babasaheb Ambedkar.

This action of Arun Shourie is likely to keep him alive as long as the memory of Dr. Ambedkar lasts. The book in hand might be wrongly construed as helping him in accomplishing his objective. But his consequent gain, if at all, can be only in negative terms. It is bound to be so because the book in hand is going, inter alia, to expose his lack of objectivity as also his lack of relevant knowledge about Dr. Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi, in whose comparison the former has been mistakenly projected as a false god.

It is also to try to prove that Arun Shourie has been suffering from deep-rooted prejudices not only against Dr. Ambedkar but also against the Dalits, the Muslims and the OBCs and for Mahatma Gandhi and the orthodox Hindus. He does not appear to be a truly theist also (which is supposed to be the sterling quality of an orthodox Hindu), because he cites the example of the unfortunate suffering of his child as being a case against God. It in also going to show that to him, Indian culture means Hindu culture and Indian Society means orthodox Hindu Society, which naturally excludes about 85% population consisting of the Dalits, OBCs and religious minorities.

During 1997, the Dalits were made to taste the organised fury of the Hindu enthusiasts, in relation to Dr. Ambedkar, their Messiah. The former were humiliated by garlanding with shoes, in


, the statues of Dr. Ambedkar, the symbol of the Dalit identity. When the Dalits retaliated through peaceful demonstration, many of them were shot by the police without any warning as per the news paper reports. The Dalits have not only been physically attacked since then, but they have also been subjected to systematic hate campaign

Arun Shourie had formally inaugurated the campaign of vilification by publishing the above-said book against Dr. Ambedkar, Worshipping False Gods…. The book in question was published in 1997 about a month before the day on which the Independent India completed her 50 years of independence. Arun Shourie had admittedly started working on the book more than one and a half year before its release, apparently, in order to cover some political mileage for the BJP, which had been literally out of power till then.

While the writing of the said book of his was in progress, Arun Shourie had been publishing articles being an established journalist, against Dr. Ambedkar, in various papers. He had also been making use of the sympathetic platforms to malign Dr. Ambedkar, a fact that has been unwittingly acknowledged by him in the last two chapters of the book in question, which have been given under the title Invention, intimidation, assault. In one of such meetings, he has admitted, his face was blackened allegedly by some Dalit youth of Pune. He got the book in question reviewed from his friends in public media. Prominent among them were V N Narayanan and Khushwant Singh. Thus, when the celebration of the Independence jubilee started, there was already going on a vilification campaign against Dr. Ambedkar and the Dalits.

Significantly, Babri Masjid was demolished on 6 December, the day on which Dr. Ambedkar had breathed his last. Some time back, the Muslims and Dalits had exhibited a sort of solidarity between themselves. The choice of date of demolition was apparently made to cause a rift between the two communities, since the Dalits also happened to be Hindus, whose orthodox leadership was in the forefront in the matter of demolition of the Masjid.

Another important point to be noted is that those responsible for organising the Jubilee Celebrations did not appear to be keen to ensure the participation of the minorities and the Dalits. Although at the relevant time, it was the Gujral Government of Janata Dal at the Centre, yet it can be assumed that its thinking had come to be identical with that of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar. If so, why? Is it because those running the affairs of the State in India have already started rating India as a Hindu theocratic and autocratic State in spite of the Constitution of India, which favours democracy and a Secular State?

Similarly, have they started treating the minorities and the Dalits as second class or even third class citizens against the spirit of the Constitution of India? If so, the country can be said to be heading for a disaster because of lack of foresight of those who are or have been at the helm of affairs. This is a matter that calls for the serious consideration of all concerned. Dr. Ambedkar had foreseen such a situation and it was therefore, he had said that Indian independence would be disaster. And. Arun Shourie finds fault with Ambedkar for making a prophetic statement.

Failure of Arun Shourie

Arun Shourie had, of course, failed in his book under reference to state as to what he meant by false God or by true God. His political elevation can be misunderstood by the unsuspecting individuals that Dr. Ambedkar was really a false God. This brings us to the question of presenting a new rejoinder to the book of Arun Shourie, Worshipping False Gods, Ambedkar and the facts which have been erased.

Without doubt Arun Shourie and his associates, whosoever they may be, felt greatly angered against Dr. Ambedkar. He has however, suppressed the reason for such anger. They felt angered for the latter’s thread-bare examination and scientific analysis of Hinduism, its philosophy, its scriptures and the total unconcern of the followers thereof over the most demeaning effects of such religion almost on all the sections of Hindu Population, not excluding theBrahmanas even. Further, Arun Shourie has expressed his anger against Dr. Ambedkar but has not given the real reasons therefor but has only tried to side-track the real issue behind the false curtain of nationalism, fight for freedom and the supposed fighters for that supposed freedom.

The exact significance of the real motives of Arun Shourie, the author of the infamous book in question, cannot be appreciated, without taking an account of the well-considered and bold analysis of the Hindu religion etc. successfully endeavoured by Dr. Ambedkar. Any attempt at condemnation of Dr. Ambedkar should have been made only after the detailed analysis of his views expressed by him in print many decades ago, which have gone so far unrebutted by the best of the adherents, leaders, and exponents of Hinduism.

Incidentally, Arun Shourie has wrongly projected Dr. Ambedkar as Gandhi hater and as being opposed to the views and programmes of the latter. In actuality, it was the Mahatma who had volunteered to oppose the views of Dr. Ambedkar. He did so firstly in connection with caste system, immediately after the publication ofThe Annihilation of Caste in 1925. Dr. Ambedkar had condemned the caste system as also the Varna-Vyvastha of Hinduism after thorough analysis, and suggested total reformation of Hinduism for the sake of its survival. Secondly, Mahatma Gandhi opposed Dr. Ambedkar in 1932, by opposing the Communal Award, secured by Dr. Ambedkar after hard labour at the Round Table Conferences. At that time also, it was the Mahatma, who staked his life for the sake of orthodox Hinduism and in a bid to undo the gain secured for the Dalits by Dr. Ambedkar. Even after that the Mahatma went on asserting his support to the Varna-Vyavastha. In the face of all these facts, it would have been better for Arun Shourie to project the Mahatma as being opposed to Dr. Ambedkar.

The fact of Dr. Ambedkar being invited by Jawaharlal Nehru on the suggestion of Mahatma Gandhi to frame the Constitution of India without any preconditions, can be said to be tantamount to the Mahatma’s giving up his opposition of Dr. Ambedkar unconditionally. This aspect has been totally ignored by Arun Shourie while vilifying Dr. Ambedkar.

Naturally, Dr. Ambedkar gained because of his analysis of Hinduism etc. And, Mahatma Gandhi correspondingly lost by sticking to the old and discarded views about the same Hinduism. The Mahatma’s emphasis on swadeshi also received a set back by the ever-increasing emphasis on industrialisation. The Mahatma’s love of village democracy has also been a lost dream. Otherwise also, there has been a constant mobility of population from the rural areas to the urban areas, raising an important question mark on the over all thinking of the Mahatma. Mahatma Gandhi was against all doctors, all lawyers, all courts of law and all kinds of machinery. You cannot find any votaries for that policy in present day India. Still, Arun Shourie has condemned Dr. Ambedkar and eulogised Mahatma Gandhi.

Meanwhile, Arun Shourie has received so many undeserving wages for Ambedkar bashing given to him by his orthodox friends. Moreover, the he has been conferred a strange award, Freedom to Publish Award, obviously created only for him and in connection with the book of vilification against Dr. Ambedkar. The organisation conferring such award has been shown to be that of the Brahmin-Bania combine, which is known as the Federation of Indian Publishers. The hand of Kshatriya castes has also been noted in that award in the light of the fact that I K Gujral, who was the Prime Minister of India at the time of the release of the book in question, was the chief guest on the occasion.

New insight into the history of freedom movement has been provided in the book in hand. It has been specially highlighted that the Congress was never formed with the avowed objective of winning freedom for India. The objective to gain freedom had been announced only in 1929 after 44 years of Congress existence as a body and after 19 years of Mahatma’s return to India from South Africa. The methods adopted for the purpose were not also inducive to making any progress in the declared announcement. From this insight the roles of all concerned, namely, Mahatma Gandhi and his Congress, who had ostensibly carried on the so-called struggle for freedom, The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS, the Communists and the Arya Samajists and even Dr. Ambedkar gets underlined. The book in hand is also going to analyse the roles of Mahatma Gandhi and his Congress, on one hand, and that of Dr. Ambedkar on the other. It has been found that the roles of Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress in the matter of emancipation of the Untouchables had been not at all been impressive.

Another important aspect has been gone into. It pertains to the conditions at the time of formation of the Congress, to the early history of the Congress and the nature of inevitable collaboration between the Caste Hindus on one side and the British rulers on the other. Towards the end, we have examined the nature of true and false gods in order to see how far Arun Shourie was justified in calling Dr. Ambedkar as a false god, and in suggesting that Mahatma Gandhi.

From the beginning it has been made clear that the whole book of Arun Shourie was in the nature of comparing Dr. Ambedkar with Mahatma Gandhi. If so, the better title of the book in question could be Gandhi versus Ambedkar or vice versa.But that title would not have been catchy enough to make Arun Shourie the object of special focus, and an object of special veneration by the Hindu fundamentalists.

The book in hand is, therefore, in addition to being a rejoinder to the book of Arun Shourie, is sought to be an analytical endeavour to measure the personality of Arun Shourie himself. It is going to do so not only in the light of his so-called achievement of vilifying Dr. Ambedkar, but also in that of his claiming to be one of the most decorated persons as a journalist and a writer. In this connection, a questioning finger has been raised about those who have been sponsoring Arun Shourie and unjustifiably conferring such honours on him.

It might be clarified that the book in hand is not meant to cause an offence to Arun Shourie or to his mentors and admirers or to Mahatma Gandhi. All of them had to be unavoidably discussed and analysed for the purpose of logically defending Dr. Ambedkar, who has been maligned on the supposed opposition of theirs by Dr. Ambedkar. Thus, it is meant to inject some sense of rationality among those, who might have been led to erroneously believe that Dr. Ambedkar was as bad a man as wrongly shown by Arun Shourie to be, and to show that there is the other side also of the latter.

Had the work of vilification by Arun Shourie not rewarded him the way it has done, there would not have been a particular need for the book in hand. But now it appears that a great distortion of facts about Dr. Ambedkar and Arun Shourie has become introduced in public mind and life, to which an indirect presumption of truth seems to have come to be unjustifiably attached in view of the wages already earned by Arun Shourie. This distortion deserves to be removed in larger public interest. Hence the book in hand.

The book is going to serve another important purpose. Although, the book on vilification of Dr. Ambedkar resulted in publication of a number of rejoinders thereto, yet none of them could present a point to point rebuttal of the important issues raised by Arun Shourie. They also failed to notice some of glaring shortcomings of his book, which have continued to escape the notice of even those conferring the highest awards on Arun Shourie. This fact had emboldened Arun Shourie to erroneously believe that none could challenge him on his ‘facts’ about or against Ambedkar. This book is going to analyse at least the main charges of Arun Shourie against Dr. Ambedkar to the best of the ability of the author. It is also likely to help Arun Shourie look within and feel sorry for what he has been writing.

Further, the book in hand is going to throw light on the failures of those who organising the Golden Jubilee celebrations to make them appear celebrations by all the elements in Indian population. But the celebrations were made in a manner that they appeared to be not at all pertaining to a national event inviting participation by all sections of society. The organisers acted in a manner that the functions were made to appear as being exclusively of the orthodox Hindus only, to the exclusion of the minorities and the Dalits and even the OBCs.

The earlier book of Arun Shourie, The World of Fatwas, had gone unchallenged. Similarly, Missionaries in India also did not invite any criticism from the concerned quarters, for reasons unknown. This fact must have naturally encouraged him to select the next and the real target in keeping with already determined long-term strategy. It was obviously in this background that he chose to hit Dr. Ambedkar, the Messiah of the Dalits, and through him the Dalits themselves. As such, those books failed to bring the benefits of the type, which have accrued to Arun Shourie on account of the book of vilification against Dr. Ambedkar.

It was only the book against Dr. Ambedkar, which created a furore in some State assemblies and the Parliament as also in the public. But the voice raised in public was mainly from the Dalits only. Some rejoinders had also been published to his book. But they also emanated generally from the Dalit writers. However, because of lack of proper background knowledge or good home work, none of the rejoinders was considered important enough to hit back Arun Shourie, to his own satisfaction.
Hindu Fundamentalists’ Equal Malice Towards Gandhi and Ambedkar
We noted earlier that the year 1997, had been a bad year for both Mahatma Gandhiji and Ambedkar. Their faults had been that both of them emerged as the icons of India to an extent that all others have proved pigmies before them. Both of them have continued to be eyesore for the Hindu fundamentalists from the day IIndia gained independence. Gandhi’s fault was that he wished both the Hindus and Muslims, who had remained in India after the Partition to live like brothers. Since in India, the Muslims were at the receiving end of the retaliatory action of Hindus. He addressed the Hindus to show restraint. Had he been in Pakistan , he would have advised the Muslims on the same lines.

Dr. Ambedkar’s fault consisted in his framing the Constitution of India, in such a manner that it resulted practically in repeal of the Hindu Law of Manu-Smriti. Further, he paved the away for giving equal rights for women and Intermediary castes or the Sudras. He had to resign when he found Nehru opposing his plans to reform Hinduism through Hindu Code Bill. Later on, he left Hinduism and paved the way for a new form of conversion, namely that to Buddhism.

Gandhi and Ambedkar had become the common targets of the Hindu Fundamentalists, in connection with the removal of Untouchability. It is true that Mahatma Gandhi believed only in patchwork in this connection. But the Congressmen all over gave him the greatest credit and the widest publicity in this behalf so that the Congress Party which had been at heart as orthodox as the best of the orthodox Hindus, came to be regarded as an enemy of the latter.

Then, the Mahatma became an icon for Congress and other so-called secularists and Ambedkar became so for all the weaker sections. Combinedly they proved the greatest obstacle in the matter of usurping political power by the fundamentalists.
Under the circumstances, the Hindu fundamentalists decided to snatch Congress icon in the form of Gandhi and Weaker Sections’ icon in the shape of Dr. Ambedkar.

Gandhi was not found entirely useless by the Hindu fundamentalists, since his earlier performance had been on the whole to their own satisfaction. Hence, the Hindu fundamentalists have remained divided over the attitude to him.

The Indian Express of 15 July 1998 published a piece from Anagha Sawant, which was titled Making of the Mahatma. Anagha Sawant suspected therein that the theatre fraternity, in Mumbai, had developed an obsession with the Mahatma. He said, “Of late, Gandhi has ceased to be just a historical figure to them. They have even taken him off his pedestal and abandoned the halo around his neck. And the biggest irony is that in the 50th year of Indian Independence, plays like Chandrakant Kulkarni’s Gandhi Viruddh Gandhi, Chetan Datar’s Gandhi Ambedkar and Vinay Apte’s Mi Nathuram Godse Boltoy have been staged and to full houses.

But strangely enough this has not defiled the Mahatma. His autobiography is reported to have become a best seller after the campaign of his denigration was resumed with the release of and by the brother of his assassin some years back. Anagha Sawant has expressed satisfaction over the fact that the Mahatma has “become a more tangible construct, on one hand, and a less sensitive commodity on the other.” While mentioning the lifelong friction with and understanding of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, he has noted that the Mahatma “is being treated like a man”. He shares the myth with many that the Mahatma roused “a nation into independence without picking up arms is an epic tale that would fascinate theatrewallas anywhere.” He is of the firm view, and rightly so, that “Gandhi will always be relevant. Even after a hundred years.”

It is disclosed that the play Gandhi Viruddh Gandhi, a Marathi play ran packed houses and was later produced in Hindi, Gujrati and English. Lata Narvekar produced the play Gandhi Ambedkar, which was directed by Chetan Datar. The director said, “Gandhi is growing more and more relevant with every passing day, when multinationals have flooded the Indian market.” The three theatre stalwarts chose to focus on three very different aspects of the Mahatma:

In Gandhi Viruddh…, the audience watched the battle between a son whose father has given birth to a nation and a father who has no time for his own flesh and blood. The same audience watched in wonder Gandhi Ambedkar, where

India’s greatest statesmen took intractable stands. And today, the same audience is trying to understand Godse.”

Anagha Sawant makes a significant observation about the Gandhi assassin: “Nathuram was recognised only because he killed Gandhi. Gandhi is the real hero.” Datar believes that Gandhi “has become an icon like Krishna, relevant for all times and open for interpretations and reinterpretations.” Somehow, he fails to notice that Dr. Ambedkar has become a better reason to become an Icon, since he transformed the lives of 95% population of India, comprising the women, the OBCs and the people who are described by many as Harijans and Girijans.

Although, both Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Ambedkar are being regarded as the most important icons of modern India, Arun Shourie has mischievously made them stand against each other obviously with a view to cause dissension in Indian society. Considered in the light of the general impression that he is the ideologue of the Sangh Parivar, he must appear insincere either to the Parivar or to the Mahatma. Arun Shourie cannot be both an admirer of the Mahatma and true follower of Sangh Parivar.

Though the year 1997 has seen the denigration of both the icons, of modern India, namely, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Ambedkar, yet there has been a difference between their denigration. What is being termed as denigration of the Mahatma is primarily the publicity of the statement of Nathuram Godse before the court of competent jurisdiction in his capacity of being accused of the former’s assassination. Secondly, it is reduction of the said statement into a Marathi play called Mi Nathuram Godse Boltoi. Thirdly, it is the translation of the said play in some other languages.

It has commonly been admitted that the plays in question had been receiving great applause from the street audiences. The said applause has been construed to be the glorification of the assassin, Godse and the condemnation of the Mahatma. The crux of the play is to show Godse to be patriot and a devout Hindu and to project Mahatma Gandhi as being anti-Indian, anti-Hindu and pro-Pakistan and a Pro-Muslim. Godse has been credited to have performed a Hindu religious duty in killing the Mahatma.

Reaction to Denigration of The Mahatma

The reaction to the so-called denigration of the Mahatma has come mainly from the Congress Party and some Gandhian individuals. It has been evidenced in the form of indignation at the attempts to glorify the assassin and denigrate the Father of the Nation. More importantly the reaction has been exhibited in the Parliament and some State legislatures.

Godse is believed to have had RSS background and the then ruling coalition in Maharashtra had shown its state of unconcern about the staging of the play. The Central Government had been apparently advised to take note of the attempts at denigration of the Father of the Nation. It had, accordingly, suggested to the Maharashtra Government to stop the staging of the play.

The Maharashtra Government had deputed someone to report on the matter after seeing the play himself in presence of the media persons. But the angry Congressman had forced the Maharashtra Govt. to stop the staging of the play ever before report of the person appointed thereon after seeing the play. And the matter has seemingly ended there. No academic effort has been known to condemn the playwright or Nathuram Godse on whose statement the play had been based or his brother Gopal Godse, who had acted as Nathuram Godse in the street play. Similarly, none is known to have come forward in defence of Mahatma Gandhi by way of writing a rejoinder to the play in question or to its translations in some other languages.

On the other hand, many Dalit organisations condemned Arun Shourie for leading a vilification Campaign against Dr. Ambedkar. Quite of a few Dalit writers came out with formal condemnation of Arun Shourie and in defence of Dr. Ambedkar. Further, some Dalit youth were known to have blackened the face of Arun Shourie on a stage for his fault of writing against Dr. Ambedkar. But that is no civilised method of expressing dissent.



Convergent Cosmopolitics in the Age of Empire: Gandhi and Ambedkar in World History


Debjani Ganguly
Australian National University

But Gandhi does not belong only to India…. He is…a world figure,
a man who belongs to us all.

—Horace Alexander

The mighty shadow of the Mahatma lay across the world. The mighty man
in Ambedkar was exposing man’s inhumanity to man and the ruthless strokes
of his hammer resounded throughout the world.

—Dhananjay Keer

1. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) led India’s struggle for independence from colonial rule and committed his life to the social reconstruction and regeneration of India. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956) fought to eradicate India’s internal apartheid manifested in the pernicious caste practice of untouchability and was committed to a vision of modernized India free of caste and colonial oppression. Both were champions of untouchables or dalits, both considered untouchability the most shameful smear on the Indian social fabric and both thought that social reform in India ought to precede political freedom. Both were also highly charismatic national leaders who carried the masses with them. Historian Judith Brown’s comment that masses reacted to Gandhi “with a mixture of religious adulation and millenniary anticipation” (Brown, 1972: 345) could apply as well to Ambedkar. They have both been compared reverentially to the Buddha and were hailed as prophets of their times. Further, their respective paternal honorifics—Bapu for Gandhi and Babasaheb for Ambedkar—testify to the affection of their followers.

2. Yet during their lifetimes, as has been well documented, they differed fundamentally on many social and political issues and occasionally even fought bitterly about their respective roles as champions of dalit masses. These quarrels are now part of national lore. D.C Ahir in his book Gandhi and Ambedkar, succinctly sums up the most common nationalist perception of their differences:

Gandhi christened victims of untouchability as Harijans, Children of God. Ambedkar, however, wanted to see his people as full-fledged “Children of the Soil” with equal rights and privileges and not merely as “touchables” under the guise of another name. (Ahir, 1995: 182)

3. Ambedkar’s biographer Dhananjay Keer characterized the differences between them as a clash of titans. As he dramatically put it: “Gandhi and Ambedkar were temperamentally what Vashistha and Vishwamitra or Voltaire and Rousseau were to each other!” (Keer,1962: 182). From the late 1920s to the 1940s, the differences between them were serious enough to be manifested not only at national, but also international forums such as the two Round Table conferences in London in the 1930s and the famous meeting with the King Emperor, where the apocryphal dalit narrative has the King infinitely more impressed with Ambedkar than with Gandhi:

Gandhi, with his ascetic mind and khadi apparel, stood exposed before the August Assembly by a man comparatively younger in age, but full of irreverent audacity, and who spoke with a cultivated ferocity and the fervour of an iconoclast. (Keer, 1962: 182)

4. Other depictions of the same event portray Gandhi in an admirable light and simply make no reference to Ambedkar. For instance, Viscount Templewood’s Nine Troubled Years, gives us this account of Gandhi’s meeting with the King Emperor:

When the conversation was drawing to an end, the King, the most conscientious of monarchs, evidently thought it was his duty to warn Gandhi of the consequences of rebellion. Just, therefore, as Gandhi was taking leave, His Majesty could not refrain from uttering a grave warning. ‘Remember Mr. Gandhi, I won’t have any attacks on my Empire’. I held my breath in fear of an argument between the two. Gandhi’s savoir faire saved the situation with a grave and deferential reply. ‘I must not be drawn into a political argument in Your Majesty’s palace after receiving Your Majesty’s hospitality’. (cited in Alexander, 1969: 82)

Templewoods’ is an eyewitness account for he escorted Gandhi to meet the King Emperor.

5. My aim in this essay is not to create yet another inventory of dissonance—mythic or real—between the two figures or even to compare their respective achievements from a nationalist matrix. It is rather to widen the lens beyond the nationalist framework and cast the two personages, not as two political leaders and social reformers who differed on Indian societal arrangements, but rather as interlocutors of modernity on the world stage. I suggest that histories of the Indian nation-state focus on their differences, while a world-historical approach shows deep points of convergence between them. World history, in other words, provides a different optic on the same set of historical events. As Geoffrey Barraclough put it in his History in a Changing World, “World history cuts into reality at a different angle from other types of history; and because its angle is different, it cuts across the lines they have traced” (cited in Stuchtey and Fuch, 2003: 44). My attempt to place Gandhi and Ambedkar on the stage of world history is based not so much on arguments to do with their respective global legacies after their deaths, as on a mining of their political vocabularies to unearth a critical mass of articulations demonstrating a cosmopolitical sensibility, one that invested deeply in the affective politics of living in and connecting with a larger world.

6. I intend to argue two propositions in the essay. One, the tense relationship between Gandhi and Ambedkar can be recast as a dialogic exchange between two idioms of non-European cosmopolitanism—nonviolence as hybridized Hindu life-practice, and democratic development  as a non-hierarchical Buddhist orientation to life. Two, the sharp differences between them notwithstanding, both Gandhi and Ambedkar, along with other nationalist leaders from Asia and Africa, were engaged in projects of world democratization in the era of the decline of modern European colonialism.

7. In his birds eye view of what he called “the short twentieth century”, Age of Extremes 1914-1991, historian Eric Hobsbawm talks of the importance of the 1930s as a crucial decade in the democratization of not just the third world, but the globe as a whole. The imperial powers—France, Britain—were besieged by both economic and political woes in the form of the Great Depression and the emergence of fascism in Europe. With the globalization of industrial capitalism in the age of Empire, these developments adversely impacted on the already disgruntled colonies:

The Great Slump of 1929-33 shook the entire dependent world. For practically all of it the era of imperialism had been one of continuous growth, unbroken even by the world war from which many of them remained remote…. The Great Slump changed all this. For the first time the interests of dependent and metropolitan economies clashed visibly, if only because the prices of primary products, on which the Third World depended, collapsed so much more dramatically than those of the manufactured goods which they brought from the West. For the first time colonialism and dependency became unacceptable even to those who had hitherto benefited from it…for the first time…the lives of ordinary people [in the colonies] were shaken by earthquakes plainly not of natural origin, and which called for protest rather than prayer. A mass basis for political mobilization came into existence. (Hobsbawm, 1995: 213-4)

8. The mobilization of colonized masses in Asia and Africa under an anti-imperialist umbrella throughout the thirties was paralleled by the mobilization of both liberal and socialist regimes in Europe under an anti-fascist umbrella. These developments had the radical impact of catapulting democratic impulses of various hues onto the world stage and for enabling, perhaps, for the first time in world history, a democratic political vision that was truly global. To paraphrase Hobsbawm, in the 1930s one could see the emerging outlines of a mass politics of the future that would envelop the globe. As modernity’s interlocutors among their mass followers, both Gandhi and Ambedkar were key participants in this emergent global democracy.

Gandhi and Ambedkar in World History

9. Attempts to write about India, especially modern India, from the perspective of a world historical model is bound to attract much skepticism, not least because till recently such a model was scaffolded to a narrative of European imperial formations. India in such a formulation entered “world” history as a British colony and as a “footnote” to the history of Britain. World history was interpreted as the globalization of European domination from the late eighteenth to mid twentieth century. One early expression of this is found in David Thompson’s “What is World History”:

One feature of recent history is the spread of European power and influence throughout the world, and the manifold consequences of this both for Europe and for the other five continents. The result today is a world in which any momentous event anywhere really matters, within a relative short time, to all other parts of the world…a war, breaking out initially between groups of nations in Europe, tends to spread until it entangles nearly every other people on the globe. It seems possible, therefore, for the historian of world history not to write the history of the continents separately.   (Thompson, 1963: 2)

10. In spite of his claims that world historians could now write about all continents together, the structure of Thompson’s book relegates decolonization in Asia and Africa to a chapter in the final stages of his book. Since Thompson there have been many attempts to redress this Eurocentric bias in theorizations of world history   (Pomper, 1998, Stuchtey and Fuchs, 2003). Nevertheless, in the context of India, there is still much skepticism about these efforts. For instance, historian Vinay Lal notes that, while in recent times, there has been a widening of India’s “world” horizon”, not only through the history of the Indian diaspora since World War Two, but also through globalization discourses that see India and China as major global economic and political players in the twenty-first century, world history even today is not much more than “the history of the West energizing the rest of the world”. (Lal, 2003: 287)

11. While one does not doubt his proposition that the West is far from being provincialised even in current attempts to write world history, many recent projects re-imagine colonial histories in a global context by breaking out of the “nations and empire” mould or the “colonizer’s model of the world” and refocussing attention on cultural traffic among imperial centres and colonies. This has had the effect of bringing together the mundane and monumental aspects of imperial systems in intricate networks of not only trade, military power and politics, but also cultural practices, social formations and knowledge-making. Tony Ballantyne and Antoinette Burton use the metaphor, “webs of empire” to describe these networks. As they put it, “the web…conveys something of the double nature of the imperial system. Empires, like webs, were fragile and prone to crises where important threads were broken or structural nodes destroyed, yet also dynamic, being constantly remade and reconfigured through concerted thought and effort”. (Ballantyne and Burton, 2005: 3)

12. While Ballantyne and Burton’s focus on the networked nature of empires does to some extent counter Vinay Lal’s pessimism that world history invariably re-centres the West, there is one aspect of Lal’s analysis that has a bearing on my attempt in this paper to read Gandhi and Ambedkar from a world historical perspective. Lal draws our attention to India’s extensive connections with the world in pre-colonial times and highlights the makings of another kind of world history for India, one that connected her to vast regions in Asia, Africa and the Mediterranean through both trade and cultural-religious enterprises. He cites Janet Abu-Lughod’s monumental work on the pre-European expansion of world systems in the second millennium in which India was part of a vast trading network.   The Coromandel Coast in the south-east, the Malabar Coast in the south west and the ports of Gujarat in western India had active trade connections expanding from south-east Asia to eastern Africa, the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean. The Gujarati trading class, to which Gandhi belonged, had a long pre-colonial history of extensive contacts with the world:

Classical sources suggest that Gujarati merchants may have been present in Eygpt in remote antiquity, and their presence in the ports of the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, along the Arab littoral, and on the east coast of Africa, where there seems to be some evidence of Indian settlements from around the tenth century, is well documented. By the late Middle Ages, they appear to have gained dominance in the trade with East Africa, and obtained control over the ports…along the Coromandel coast. (Lal, 2003: 277)

13. Apart from trade, other world historical connections of pre-colonial India included those related to the spread of Buddhism in China, Sri Lanka and south-east Asia much before Christianity and Islam, and what the renowned Indologist, Sheldon Pollock, has called “the Sanskrit Cosmopolis”. The millennium-long temporal stretch of this latter from AD 300 to 1300 had an awesome political and cultural reach from Afghanistan in the West to Vietnam and Central Java in the east. According to Pollock, the cosmopolis was a “new kind of vast zone of cultural interaction, what some might name an ecumene” (Pollock, 1996:199). But since the dominance of empire-led world history, the Sanskrit cosmopolis has remained a little known world cultural formation. Further, India’s pre-colonial links with vast swathes of Asia and Africa are now mediated through an epistemology that foregrounds the history of European colonialism and the rise of the West as normative. In short, the insertion of India into a world history dominated by the making of European empires has had the effect of shrinking the horizon of India’s total historical contact with the world to the history of its relationship with the West.

14. Can then one effectively bypass this conundrum in reading two modern Indian figures against a world historical background? Not wholly perhaps, but the conundrum can be tackled if one argues for the world historical provenance of both Gandhi and Ambedkar not just in terms of British imperialism, but also in terms of traces of India’s pre-colonial links to the world that their respective cosmopolitical projects carry. The rest of my essay will place Gandhi and Ambedkar in world history precisely in these terms. The argument here is that Gandhi’s peripatetic life and work in the context of his genealogy in the old global Gujarati thalassocracy, and Ambedkar’s attempts to revive Buddhism in India and reconnect with the rest of the Buddhist world, when inserted into a narrative of their interventions in global democracy in the age of Empire, unsettle assumptions of modern India being engulfed by an Euro-American dominated world history.

15. In the sections that follow, I trace the “world” orientation of Gandhi and Ambedkar in two ways. First, I delineate their deep engagement with world events during the period of empire and focus on their commitment to global democracy. Second, I briefly trace the vernacular and cosmopolitan idioms of their respective political projects—nonviolenceas a vernacular Hinduised life-practice in Gandhi and democratic development for Ambedkar as a non-hierarchical Buddhist orientation to life. I suggest that these can be read productively in complementary rather than in oppositional terms for both Gandhi and Ambedkar offered resistance to the oppositional way in which the discourse of “normative modernity” (Ganguly, 2005: ix) reads the vernacular in relation to the cosmopolitan, with the later invariably valorized over the former. In doing so, I argue for the provenance of these two thought figures in the domain of a “critical modernity” that bears witness to not just the achievements but the horrors of colonial modernity’s civilizing mission, and that continues to carry traces of pre-colonial modes of connecting with the world. The reading is, in the final analysis, postcolonial in the complex historicist sense of the term, intertwining discrepant temporalities and articulating the pull of the vernacular and the push of the cosmopolitan in one single gesture.

Conversing Democratically in the Age of Empire

16. In an interview with The New York Times on 27 April 1940 Gandhi was asked to comment on the future of India in the context of the Allied struggle in World War Two. In a global democratic gesture linking nationalist struggles in the colonies with the western world’s fight against European fascism, his response categorically connected the democratic future of India to a world free of both fascism and colonialism:

Of what value is freedom to India if Britain and France fail? If these powers fail, the history of Europe and the history of the world will be written in a manner no one can foresee…. [At the same time] by doing justice to India, Britain might ensure victory of the Allies because their cause will then be acclaimed as righteous by the enlightened opinion of the world. (Gandhi, 1987: 309)

Throughout his political career, Gandhi never thought of India’s freedom from colonial rule in isolation from world events. Empire, he believed, needed to be challenged globally, not merely nationally or territorially. As so many Gandhi scholars have noted, his early experience of the colonial race divide in South Africa was the crucible that honed his cosmopolitical vision of a world free of all forms of inequities and bondage. Sifting through his voluminous corpus of books, letters and essays, one finds evidence of a mind constantly at pains to address colonial, communist and fascist excesses in all corners of the globe—Turkey, South Africa, Palestine, Israel, Germany and Russia.

17. One of the earliest manifestations of Gandhi’s commitment to take the fight against imperialism onto the world stage can be seen in his mobilization of Indian masses on behalf of the Caliphate of the defeated Ottoman Empire in World War One. According to the Treaty of Versailles, the British as victors of the War had promised not to abolish the Caliphate claimed at the time by the Ottoman Emperor in Turkey. The Caliphate symbolized for the Muslim world, even if in a tokenistic way, a spiritual and temporal authority uniting the Muslim ummah . So as to ensure that the British kept their promise, an already besieged global Muslim leadership appealed to Indian Muslim leaders to join forces with them and keep up the pressure on colonial authorities. Hence was launched the Khilafat Movement in India to which Gandhi mobilized the masses and provided his wholehearted support, convinced as he was of the necessity to resist the juggernaut of British colonial authority decimating all non-Western political and socio-cultural formations. The Khilafat Movement’s three primary objectives were: to preserve the Turkish Caliphate, to maintain the unity of the Ottoman Empire within its 1914 frontiers and to maintain Islamic protection over the Holy Places of Islam including Palestine   (Minault, 1982). The movement, which did not gain the desired momentum from the very beginning, suffered its fatal blow when, in 1924, Turkey’s new secular republican leader, Kemal Ataturk overthrew the Ottoman Sultan himself and relinquished the Turkish state’s claim to a universal caliphate. In most accounts of this movement Gandhi’s role is seen in strategic terms as a bargain with the Indian Muslims, pledging his support for this pan-Islamic movement in return for their support towards Hindu-Muslim unity in his call forswaraj or total freedom on home ground. This is broadly the thrust of Gail Minault’s argument in her fine and detailed account of the movement, The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilization in India (1982).

18. However, if one turns from this nationalist focus and places Gandhi’s articulations on Khilafat within the wider ambit of an imperial globalism taking shape in the early years of the twentieth century, one begins to trace a dialogue between Gandhi and the world that has hitherto not been audible in this specific context. Why does Gandhi, for instance, say in his Young India essay of 10 March 1920 that “the Khilafat Question has now become a question of questions”? That, “it has become an imperial question of the first magnitude?” (Gandhi, 1920: 145). Why does he refuse to equate the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre in 1919 with the international importance of the Khilafat Movement, as when he says, “However grievous the wrong done in the Punjab, it is after all a domestic affair…the Punjab grievance does not arise out of the peace [the Versailles Treaty] terms as does the Khilafat question. We must isolate the Khilafat question if we wish to give it its proper value”? (Gandhi, 1919: 140-1) Surely statements such as these cannot be read purely in instrumentalist terms as trying to “win over” Indian Muslims to his nationalist cause. In fact, his relegation of the Amritsar massacre to a “domestic” concern could hardly have endeared him to the masses, either Hindu or Muslim. A clue to Gandhi’s global orientation in the matter of the Caliphate lies in his invocation of a rich Islamic pre-Europe-dominated geopolitical and geocultural space and time that was now under threat of extinction from the modernizing machinations of a colonialist-capitalist enterprise:

The Great Prelates of England and Mahomedan leaders combined have brought the question to the fore. The Prelates threw down the challenge. The Muslim leaders have taken it up. (Gandhi, 1920: 145)

19. In a fascinating recent reading of Gandhi in the context of the Khilafat Movement, Faisal Fatehali Devji notes Gandhi’s resistance to the rhetoric of liberal interest and state arbitration in arguing the case of the Ottoman Empire (Devji, 2005: 86-7). He cites these words of Gandhi to make his case:

Oppose Turkish misrule by all means, but it is wicked to seek to efface the Turk and with him Islam from Europe under the false plea of Turkish misrule…. Was the late war a crusade against Islam, in which the Mussalmans of India were invited to join? (Gandhi, 1921: 190)

20. Devji offers a reading of the Gandhian stance in terms of “prejudice” and a “politics of friendship” towards Islam and Muslims that are not reducible to either the rhetoric of nationalist brotherhood or the rational rhetoric of liberal interest. To that extent he upholds Gandhi as an exemplary articulator of the limits of liberalism in the context of empire, a relationship brilliantly explored by Uday Mehta a few years ago in his book Liberalism and Empire (1999). While such a reading provides another fillip to my attempt to situate Gandhi in a dialogic relationship with the imperial world, it is another comment that Devji makes merely as an aside to his main argument that has a more significant bearing on the way I wish to place Gandhi in a world historical context. It also relates to a point made in an early part of this essay about pre-colonial world historical formations that a Eurocentric world history has all but erased from collective global memory. Devji refers to Gandhi’s “antiquated geographical imaginary”, derived from pre-colonial Indian Ocean trade routes dominated by Arabs and Gujaratis, that ever so often impinged on his readings of British imperial territoriality (Devji, 86). So much so that Gandhi’s rhetoric in his early writing subconsciously linked his passages to London and subsequently South Africa in a continuum with journeys of the old Gujarati thalassocracy rather than in terms of the routes of colonial capital. These old Islamic routes were part of his collective history that he could not orient himself out of simply because the European imperial order charted and controlled them in different ways. It is not an exercise in anachronism or even nostalgia, I submit, to read Gandhi’s conception of his and India’s involvement in the Khilafat movement in terms of his vision of a clash between old Islamic world formations and a new imperial globalism dominated by Europe. The clash may have been decisively settled in favour of the latter, but no historicist account of Europe’s triumph over pre-modern life worlds, can take away from the reality of their survival in some ready-to-hand ways in collective imaginaries across vast swathes of the non-European world. The complexity in worlding Gandhi, however, is not so easily resolved by marking his orientation towards Islamic world formations at a time of their imminent ruin. For Gandhi was as eloquent and forceful in identifying himself as a serious player in the British Empire and in world events as a whole. As he put it famously in 1920, “I serve the Empire by refusing to partake in its wrong” (1920: 192). His critiques of communism with its highhanded statism, of Zionism with its dispossession of Palestinians or of anti-colonial nationalism with its elitist stance towards the masses can certainly be read in this light.

21. The carnage of World War Two evoked in turn exasperation and anguish from him. “Europe seems to be heading for another war. It’s not sufficiently exhausted”, he told Louis Fischer after the atomic Holocaust in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Gandhi, 1987: 581). In his personal correspondence with Mira Behn he expressed sorrow at the bombing of London. On 22 May 1941 he wrote to her:

War news continues to be sensational. The news about the destruction in England is heart-rending. The Houses of Parliament, the Abbey, the Cathedral seemed to be immortal. And yet there is no end…. (1949: 329)

He coped with his anguish by occasionally comparing the War with the epic battle in theMahabharata and drawing on the message of the Bhagvad Gita to be philosophical about victory and defeat. His letter to Rajkumari Amrit Kaur on 25 May 1940 is reminiscent of Krishna’s exhortation to Arjuna not to grieve over the death of his loved ones in the war:

Why should you feel depressed? The Allies seem to be losing everywhere. These are the fortunes of war. You must not grieve over these things. The slaughter is awful but it is part of the game. All parties know what is what. (1961: 181)

22. The War was a prime test of his ethical stance on the non-negotiable nature of nonviolence. The atrocities of Nazi Germany on the one hand and the threat to India’s borders through Japanese invasion on the other demanded more than just a pacifist response. His writings are scattered with his thoughts on the Nazi persecution of Jews. Obviously not able to imagine that the sheer monstrosity of anti-Semitism and the venality of the Nazi bureaucratic machine far exceeded the excesses of British rule in India, Gandhi urged the Jews to resist Germans nonviolently, through Satyagraha, just as the Indians did in South Africa. In 1938 he wrote in the Harijan:

If there ever could be a justifiable war in the name of and for humanity, war against Germany to prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race would be completely justified. But I do not believe in any war…. If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and earned my livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest gentile German might…. The Jews of Germany can offer satyagraha under infinitely better auspices than the Indians of South Africa. The Jews are a compact homogeneous community in Germany. They are far more gifted than the Indians of South Africa. And they have organized world opinion behind them. I am convinced that if someone with courage and vision can rise among them to lead them to non-violent action…what has today become a degrading manhunt can be turned into a calm and determined stand offered by unarmed men and women possessing the strength of suffering given to them by Jehovah. (cited in Mehta, 1976: 166)

23. In response to the panic among members of the Indian National Congress about an imminent Japanese invasion of the east coast of India, Gandhi pleaded with the INC to exercise restraint and not think in terms of an armed conflict. A troubled Nehru wrote:

The approach of the war to India disturbed Gandhi greatly. It was not easy to fit in his policy and program of non-violence with this new development. Obviously civil disobedience was out of the question in the face of an invading army or between two opposing armies. Passivity or acceptance of invasion was equally out of the question. What then? (Nehru, 1948: 127)

24. In 1942, Gandhi had already dispatched his trusted lieutenant Mira Behn to Orissa to “prepare” as Mira Behn put it, “the masses for non-violent, non-co-operative resistance to the probable Japanese invasion of the east coast” (1949: 335) From Orissa Mira Behn sent a detailed report to Gandhi on The Question of Invasion and Occupation by the Japanese (1949: 336-40). The report outlined nonviolent strategies that the people of Orissa would be persuaded to adopt in the event of an invasion. The course of history did not allow Gandhi to have his way, not only because the Japanese did not get beyond India’s North East, but also because negotiations with Nehru and Congress compelled Gandhi to “swallow the bitter pill” and accept that the “primary function of the provisional government of free India would be to throw all her great resources in the struggle for freedom against aggression and to cooperate fully with the United Nations in the defense of India with all the armed and other forces at her command” (Nehru, 1948: 115)

25. While Gandhi went along temporarily with Nehru’s pragmatic position that India’s cooperation in regard to the Japanese invasion would expedite her freedom from British rule, he remained convinced of the long term efficacy of his nonviolent stance in resisting world wide colonialism and bondage. Tied to this commitment was his very radical vision of democracy that plumbed the very depths of what it was to be human in those fraught times. Calling himself a “born democrat”, he added, “I make that claim, if complete identification with the poorest of mankind, longing to live no better than they, and a corresponding conscious effort to approach that level to the best of one’s ability can entitle one to make it” (cited in Nehru, 1948: 189). It is worth reading this radical Gandhian democratic gloss on the ethicality of being poor retroactively into a recent exposition of the “poor” as “the common denominator of life, the foundation of the multitude” found in Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Empire (2000: 156). What kind of democracy was Gandhi espousing and why was identifying with the poorest of mankind such a radical gesture that unsettled discourses of liberal democracy then circulating in the colonies? Hardt and Negri’s exposition on the poor helps us answer these to some extent:

In each and every historical period a social subject that is ever-present and everywhere the same is identified, often negatively but nonetheless urgently, around a common living form…. The only non-localizable “common name” of pure difference in all eras is that of the poor. The poor is destitute, excluded, repressed, exploited—and yet living! …. This common name, the poor, is also the foundation of every possibility of humanity (2000: 156).

For Gandhi to live democratically was not merely a matter of reaping the benefits of electoral politics and representative government. It meant putting oneself in touch with the very root or foundation of what made humanity possible—the condition of being poor, bereft, destitute, a condition of pure difference in all eras and yet a common living form.

26. To turn now to Ambedkar’s links with the world in the age of empire, by even the most sympathetic of accounts he did not command the presence that Gandhi did in the global order of things. Nevertheless, over his lifetime he displayed a unique cosmopolitical sensibility, one forged during his graduate study days in New York and London during World War One when he began to imagine perhaps for the first time in the history of India’s untouchable castes, the dalits, the possibility of a genuine global democratic revolution that would link dalit freedom from the shackles of untouchability to the overthrow of racism against coloured and black people across the world. Ambedkar’s intervention on behalf of Indian dalits, in fact, can be inserted in any twentieth century political and legal narrative of the global passage of the notion of rights from “civil rights” to “human rights”. Even though he would later make fine distinctions between caste and race, this aspect of his legacy has remained with the dalit movement and was given global articulation at the UN Conference on Racism in Durban in 2001. Ambedkar’s biographer, Dhananjay Keer, notes the impact on him of the Fourteenth Amendment declaring freedom of African Americans when he was a student of John Dewey and Edwin Seligman from 1913-1916. Keer also notes how affected Ambedkar was by the death in 1915 of the African American reformer and educator, Booker T. Washington. What did not happen, however, was the quick transformation of the student into a revolutionary, and this in spite of the presence of the Indian Gadar Party revolutionary leaders such as Lala Har Dayal and Lala Lajpat Rai in New York at the time. Ambedkar preferred to concentrate on his studies at the time. After three years at Columbia University, he proceeded to the University of London to do his doctorate.

27. But he could not maintain his detachment from colonial politics for long. His doctoral thesis called The Problem of the Rupee , which he submitted to the University of London in 1922, caused a furore for it offended his imperial examiners and they demanded that he rewrite it. In the thesis Ambedkar argued that in the final settlement of the currency problem the exchange rate between the rupee and the pound was manipulated to the greater advantage of the pound and that this would lead to further impoverishment of Indians. While his pragmatism made him revise the thesis to some extent, he refused to modify his conclusions and stood his ground. A few weeks earlier he had spoken passionately to the students’ union at his University about the responsibilities of the colonial government in India. His paper was later circulated among University staff and students and it evoked an alarmed response from Professor Harold Laski who commented on the “revolutionary nature” of Ambedkar’s exposition. (Keer, 1962: 49)

28. Unlike anarchist tendencies in Gandhi’s response to nation-making, Ambedkar’s academic training in law, economics and political science oriented him towards arguing for the importance of the constructionist role of the state. He researched liberal democratic frameworks and aspired to a form of representational governance that spoke the language of identity-based politics. This implied, for him, not just recognition of minoritarianism on the basis of religion, but also of caste. The untouchables, he argued, could never hope to participate in nation-making unless they had special political representation. This was the basis of his disagreement with Gandhi who aspired to a non-fragmented Hindu constituency and who believed that the untouchable cause could be redressed through revolutionary transformations in the domain of civil society. Gandhi could not conceive of a political scenario where the untouchables stood outside Hindu representation, even though the social reality through millennia was precisely that the untouchables were located outside the bounds of Hindi sociality. Gandhi was steadfast in his conviction that his commitment to and identification with the destitute, which constituted the cornerstone of his democratic vision, would be sufficient to transform Hindu society and eradicate untouchability. Ambedkar’s social-scientific and legally trained mind was deeply suspicious of Gandhi’s emotive and sentimental take on the problem of untouchability, especially when Gandhi announced in the same breath that he was and would always remain a Sanatani Hindu. Theirs was a critical dialogue on competing visions of representational democracy and resolution of minoritarian questions—liberalism, socialism Marxism, anarchism—in the era of fledging nation-building in the colonized world. The rest of twentieth century politics would continue to resonate with these meta-themes and agonistically witness radical manifestations of democratic life forms across the postcolonial world.

29. For more than half his life, Ambedkar negotiated the dialectic between nation and the world through conversations on democracy with Indian nationalist leaders, with the colonial government and with the vast tomes of political, social and legal philosophy in which he immersed himself from his early youth. But he eventually found his home in the world by recuperating for India a link with a pre-colonial world historical formation in the form of Buddhism. In the concluding section of this paper, I propose to read his conversion to Buddhism in terms of a vernacular cosmopolitical act that drew on the cosmopolitical genealogies of the non-Christian world while at the same time resisting both antiquarianism and indigenism (Pollock, 2000: 582). Here I very briefly want to foreground Ambedkar’s renewal of India’s connections with the world through Asia, which, as we saw in early parts of this paper, were severed with the advent of colonial rule. Ambedkar’s determination to lead untouchables out of the Hindu fold and into a more egalitarian religion, Buddhism, was tied to a desire to bring Buddhism back to the land of its birth and make India once again an important node, if not the central one, in Asian Buddhist transnationalism. For this purpose, all through the late 1940s right up to his death in 1956, he travelled to many parts of Buddhist Asia—Sri Lanka, Burma, Tibet and Japan—in order to forge spiritual alliances and bring to life once again an Asian world formation that could converse with modernity in tongues both sacred and secular. His dialogic uptake on Marxism through the teachings of the Buddha was the substance of his intervention at the World Buddhist Conference in Kathmandu in 1949 and again in 1956. He spent many days in Sri Lanka in 1954 to specifically study Sinhalese Buddhist practices. He subsequently attended the Rangoon World Buddhist Conference. In these years, he also frequently conversed with an English monk, Denis Lingwood (Sangharakshita), who was then based in a monastery in north-eastern India. His letters to Sangharakshita exhorted the young English monk to take the message of Buddha to the western world. Sangharakshita subsequently founded the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO) in the UK in 1969 which now has branches all over the world. In one of those recursive ironies that so characterize world history, after Ambedkar’s death in 1956, the role of FWBO has been critical in keeping Buddhist religious practices alive among neo-Buddhist dalits in India, especially in Maharashtra, Ambedkar’s home state.

The Precariousness of Vernacular Cosmopolitics

30. In the concluding section of this paper I wish to bring together the various lines that have so far traced the world historical provenance of Gandhi and Ambedkar on to a conceptual matrix that I call after Bhabha, “vernacular cosmopolitanism” While I do draw on Bhabha’s assertion that the phrase best applies to the orientation of embattled leaders and thought figures of the non-White, non-Western world—Du Bois, Gandhi, Ambedkar, Fanon, Morrison—who attempt to “translate between cultures and across them in order to survive, not in order to assert the sovereignty of a civilized class or the spiritual autonomy of a revered ideal” (Bhabha, 2002: 23-24) in my reading of Gandhi and Ambedkar, I wish to explore the phrase a little further both conceptually and historically. The term at first glance is an oxymoron. For “vernacular” connotes an affiliation to a domain that is local, finite, while “cosmopolitan” invokes an orientation to a world larger than one’s own immediate habitus . How then does one yoke them together? What does this oxymoronic adjacency generate? Before I attempt to answer these questions, I would also like to note that the origins of the word “vernacular” lie in the term “verna” which etymologically denotes the language of slaves in Roman Republics. The circulation of the term “varna” in the Indian context further complicates its meaning, for in Sanskritvarna literally means “colour”. A philological reading of “vernacular”, one that traces its embeddedness in historical practice, cannot help carrying signs of subjugation—slavery of course, but also racial subjugation if colour is refracted on to race in the age of Empire. The passage of meaning from subjugation to a finite, local boundedness is not hard to imagine. So, I ask again, what does its yoking together with “cosmopolitanism”—a term that connotes a “world” orientation facilitating a free crossing of boundaries—achieve in the context under discussion?

31. One yokes them together, I submit, in order to mark critical moments of historical conjunction when historically disenfranchised “small” narratives engage in dialogue with firmly entrenched “world-enveloping” ones to generate radical transformations in both. So that, for instance, liberalism when translated or carried over to the domain of the colonized through the lexicon of Gandhian ahimsa or Ambedkarite-Buddhist dhamma, becomes a term loaded with plural histories of the individuating self and its relationship with community and the State. In the domain of Empire, liberalism, as Uday Mehta has shown, repeatedly confronts its limits in other non-European political narratives and is willy-nilly forced to hybridize itself. Again, notwithstanding the “ancient” cultural repertoire from which Gandhi and Ambedkar draw their political lexicon, their own deployment of predominantly “vernacular” Hindu and Buddhist terms is shot through with modern hybrid genealogies that bespeak the historical and cultural permeability of modernity’s multiple practices. Such a reading breaks through the dichotomy of a modernizing cosmopolitanism and a vernacular traditionalism. Let me briefly illustrate this argument with examples from the writings of Gandhi and Ambedkar.

32. In enunciating his principle of nonviolence through terms such as ahimsa,satyagraha and sarvodaya (“nonviolence”, “truth-force” and “welfare of all”), Gandhi is constantly at pains to foreground the “vernacular” connotative force of these concepts, to highlight that they are not exactly recuperable in English through terms such as “passive resistance”. On June 11, 1917, he writes to an English friend, Esther: “You may not know that the Gujarati for passive resistance is truth-force. I have variously defined it as truth-force, love-force or soul-force” (Gandhi, 1987: 23-24). In 1914, he writes about truth-force and soul-force in the Indian Opinion:

It is totally untrue to say that it is a force to be used only by the weak so long as they are not capable of meeting violence by violence. This superstition arises from the incompleteness of theEnglish expression. It is impossible for those who consider themselves weak to apply this force. Only those who realize that there is something in man which is superior to the brute nature in him, and that the latter always yields to it, can effectively be Passive Resisters. This force is to violence and, therefore, to all tyranny, all injustice, what light is to darkness. (1987: 21)

33. Gandhi’s emphasis on the power of the Gujarati term satyagraha which the English translation cannot convey, however, does not prevent him for invoking Socrates, Christ, Tolstoy, Thoreau, Ruskin, Emerson, and many ancient Indian philosophers, to account for its complex etymology. In doing so, I argue, he seeks to distil into his Gujarati use of the term the combined connotative force of global registers of nonviolence available to him as his peripatetic inheritance and training. In this issue of the journal, Leela Gandhi’s paper discusses yet another aspect of the complex etymology of Gandhian nonviolence and locates some early influences on Gandhi in a radical fringe late Victorian animal-welfare and vegetarian movement. During his student days, Gandhi imbibed from this movement a critique of imperial masculinity, a resistance to modern forms of governmentality and a regard for multiple forms of relationality that included strangers in radical ways. Leela’s argument is not only that these can be read as constituting part of the vocabulary of Gandhian nonviolence, but that their very “integrity” and “organicity” can themselves be read under the comprehensive sign of ahimsa. Each gets translated into the other. This resonates strongly with the line of argument I have pursued, that the vernacular cosmopolitics of a Gandhi or an Ambedkar is about generating transformation in the assured global registers of the political through their translations into and from myriad petit registers.

34. Ambedkar’s mining of Buddhist discourse to seek in it points of convergence and dialogue with modern political philosophy, especially Marxism, socialism and liberalism, can be seen precisely in terms of such a vernacular cosmopolitical practice. As an aside I also wish to note that, like Gandhi, he wrote in a register that was truly vernacular, truly accessible to ordinary men and women who invested so much faith in him.   He did not allow his specialist training in legal and political philosophy and his vast erudition to come in the way of writing in an accessible manner. One very good example is his attempt to read the principles of the French Revolution into Buddha’s social message in terms of four rhetorical questions:

Did the Buddha teach justice?

Did the Buddha teach liberty?

Did the Buddha teach equality?

Did the Buddha teach fraternity?

(Ambedkar, 2002: 218)

He then goes on to impatiently mark a lacuna in esoteric traditionalist interpretations of Buddha’s message by adding, “These questions are hardly ever raised in discussing the Buddha’s Dhamma” (2002: 218). His famous ahistoricist comparison of Marx and Buddha, written in a register suspect to academic specialists, was actually delivered at a World Buddhist Conference in 1956 with the express intention of translating a possible dialogue between the two thought figures to the world at large in terms of a truly inclusive ethics of universal humanity. What is significant about this piece of writing is not so much Ambedkar’s successful demonstration through a series of syllogisms that Buddhism has ethically more to offer than Marxism in terms of a democratic world order, but its subtext that the world is that much poorer for not taking into account (or merely dismissing as traditional) other legitimate and ethical ways of dwelling democratically on earth in the present.

35. In an earlier part of this paper, we read Ambedkar’s place in world history not only in terms of his attempt to forge along with Gandhi a democratic vision for India and the world in the age of Empire, but also in terms of his efforts to reestablish India’s links with the Asian world through Buddhism. His translational cosmopolitical efforts were thus, directed, not just westwards towards Euro-American life-worlds, but also towards an aspired Buddhist cosmopolis that would be truly global in its reach and vision. Likewise, Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance to the imperial regime was an effort to globalize the forces of soul, truth and love through acts of active translation in disparate tongues and registers, especially those disenfranchised by the British imperial machine. In spite of drawing deeply from the wellsprings of India’s spiritual heritage, neither was antiquarian, nor indigenist in his response to the horrors of colonialism. In treading the faultlines of seismic political and cultural upheavals in the twentieth century, especially from the side of the vanquished, both were acutely aware of the precariousness of their cosmopolitical vision. But they were equally convinced of the sheer urgency of their moral and political enterprise in an age that stood at the threshold of a global democratic revolution of the kind never witnessed before.

Debjani Ganguly is Director of Research Development and was formerly a Research Fellow at the Centre for Cross-Cultural Research, The Australian National University. She is the author of Caste, Colonialism and Counter-Modernity: Notes on a Postcolonial Hermeneutics of Caste (Routledge, 2005) and is co-editor of this specialBorderlands issue.


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© borderlands ejournal 2005