A non-Hindu Indian nationalism

Ambedkar remains the first and most important articulator of a non-Hindu conception of Indian nationalism, which makes current attempts by the Hindutva movement to appropriate him all the more hypocritical. Ambedkar deplored the religious sanctity accorded to caste discrimination, the lack of any record of shame or regret in Hindu literature over untouchability, the absence of any serious revolt against the practice by any major upper-caste figure and, by implication, Hindu society’s undemocratic nature as reflected in its internalisation of inequality and untouchability. ‘If Hindu Raj does become a fact,’ he bitterly exclaimed, ‘it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country.

No matter what the Hindus say, Hinduism is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost.’ The greatest Hindu of the age, Mahatma Gandhi, nonetheless, had expressed ‘the highest regard’ for Ambedkar, remarking: ‘He has every right to be bitter. That he does not break our head is an act of self-restraint on his part.’ (Interestingly enough, Ambedkar would have found himself on the same side as the Hindutva icon V.D. Savarkar on one issue today. Savarkar, as a rationalist reformer, would have had little patience for the cow vigilantism that those who swear by his doctrines have been practising in recent years, assaulting Muslims and Dalits for allegedly transporting or consuming the holy animal. Savarkar had urged Hindus to care for the cow because of its utility (upayuktavadi), rather than worship it. ‘Why are cow’s urine and dung purifying while even the shadow of a man like Ambedkar is defiling?’ Savarkar asked pointedly in terms that none of his admirers in the BJP would care to recall today.)

At the same time, Ambedkar, as a lawyer and constitutionalist, was perhaps more of a conformist than his radical reputation suggests. He wanted to reform the disabilities built into Indian society precisely because he foresaw the distinct possibility of a counter-revolution by the oppressed, in reaction to the paradox of political equality coexisting with social inequality and centralisation of economic power. ‘We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has so laboriously built up,’ he ominously warned the Constituent Assembly.

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