Why RSS is paying lip service to Ambedkar: Two poles of Indian political spectrum

Ambedkar was for implementing the concept of fraternity; on the contrary, the politics of majoritarianism has spread hatred against minorities, leading to violence and polarization of society.

Dr Ram Puniyani Nov 08, 2023
Babasaheb Ambedkar and Mohan Bhagwat

The RSS ideology and the ideology of Babasaheb Ambedkar, considered the 'architect' of the Indian Constitution, can be called two opposite poles of the Indian political spectrum. While Ambedkar stands for the "annihilation of caste", struggle for democratic values and marching towards social justice, RSS stands for the status quo and "revival of the hierarchical values system" of pre-modern times. It is ironic that despite this core opposition; RSS ideologues try to make a show of paying respect to Ambedkar in various forums including celebrating his anniversary. So in a way, it was not surprising when RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, in his annual Vijyadashmi speech (October 24, 2024) called upon his followers to read speeches of Ambedkar, particularly the last two speeches delivered by him in the Constituent Assembly. Bhagawat went to the extent of putting Ambedkar in the category of RSS founder and first Sarsanghchalak (Supreme leader) of RSS, Dr. K. B. Hedgewar. The response of RSS types to Ambedkar’s striving has always been to oppose his efforts at an ideological level under the garb of ‘our glorious past’.

As such the struggle for social justice which initially came up in the form of the ‘Non-Brahmin Movement’ in Nagpur area of Vidarbha (1920s) was one of the major reasons for the Landlord-Brahmin alliance to form RSS. In Maharashtra, this alliance is referred to as Shetji-Bhatji (Landlord-Brahmin) Alliance. The dalit awakening began with Jotirao Phule who struggled to open schools for education for dalits. The awakening of this section was backed up and enhanced by Ambedkar starting his paper Mooknayak in 1920 and Bahujan Hitkarini Sabha in 1923. These might have added tremendously to awakening.

Later in his pursuit of social justice Ambedkar organized Chavdar Talab movement (access to public drinking water for Dalits) in 1927 and Kalaram Temple entry movement in 1930. RSS itself is never known to have come forward to support these movements of Babasaheb. Actually, it was Gandhi, who took up the caste issue most seriously and devoted his time exclusively to improving Dalit’s plight for the next few years after the Poona Pact of 1932.

RSS was propagating Hindu Rashtra. Savarkar was at the forefront of the theory that there are two Nations here, the Hindu Nation and the Muslim Nation. This Hindu nation theory propagated by RSS came under severe criticism from Ambedkar as he wrote, "Strange as it may appear, Mr. Savarkar and Mr. Jinnah, instead of being opposed to each other on the one nation versus two nations issue, are in complete agreement about it. Both agree not only agree but insist that there are two nations in India—one the Muslim nation and the other the Hindu nation." (Dr. B.R. Ambedkar wrote in his well-known book Thoughts on Pakistan, published in 1940.)

RSS opposed Indian Constitution

Ambedkar was totally opposed to the concept of a Hindu Nation, “If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country.… Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost,” wrote B.R. Ambedkar in Pakistan or the Partition of India (1946, pages 354-355). He was against majoritarianism, which in the Indian context meant unbridled rule of the majority community, the Hindus. This is the current dominant ideology of RSS led by Bhagwat as Narendra Modi has come forward to defend it by asking as to what is wrong with Majoritarianism.

After the presentation of the final draft of the Constitution, RSS opposition to the draft of the Indian Constitution came from the unofficial mouthpiece of the RSS, Organiser. It wrote a scathing piece against the Indian Constitution, Organiser issue for November 30, 1949, carried an editorial stating “The worst [thing] about the new Constitution of Bharat…is that there is nothing Bharatiya about it… [T]here is no trace of ancient Bharatiya constitutional laws, institutions, nomenclature and phraseology in it”.

The Hindu Code Bill drafted by Ambedkar was a major step in efforts towards loosening the hold of patriarchy and striving for the equality of women. The orthodox forces led by RSS frontally attacked it. Ramchandra Guha, the eminent historian of Modern India, writes, “The Sangh opposed the passage of the Hindu Code Bill that sought to give Hindu women the right to marry outside their caste, divorce their husband, and inherit property. In 1949, the RSS organized hundreds of meetings and protests across India to stop the bill, where sadhus and sants came to speak.”

The Constituent Assembly in its wisdom enunciated the provisions of reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Through word-of-mouth propaganda, these provisions were undermined and defamed leading to anti-Dalit violence in Gujarat in 1980-1981 and again in 1985. Similarly OBC (Other Backward Caste) reservation provision, Mandal Commission was indirectly opposed when Rath Yatras for Ram Temple was jacked up and the then major leader of BJP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee stated something to the effect that “They brought Mandal, so brought Kamadal”. Interestingly, RSS Combine organized the Babri demolition on 6th December on the death anniversary of Ambedkar, a tactical move to undermine the importance of this day for democratic values.

Ideologies at odds

As far as the status of religious minorities was concerned Ambedkar was for providing full protective clauses for them. Though these clauses have not been implemented in full at any time, the attempt to implement them is labeled as "minority appeasement". Ambedkar was for implementing the concept of fraternity; on the contrary, the politics of majoritarianism has spread hatred against minorities, leading to violence and polarization of society.

The concept of social democracy was an inalienable part of democracy as far as Ambedkar was concerned. He was for the "annihilation of caste". RSS on the contrary has founded “Samajik Samrasta Manch” (Social Harmony Forum). For RSS different castes were part of the whole giving strength to Hindu society. In this lies the major opposition between the ideologies of these two streams. The attempt of Hindu majoritarian politics is to maintain the caste hierarchy in newer terminologies. While paying lip service to the Indian Constitution, its ideologues are arguing that India is a "civilizational state" (euphemism for caste and gender hierarchical values in holy books like Manusmriti) for which the constitution should be secondary.

Cleverly, while being totally opposed to Ambedkar, RSS Combine is paying lip service and now even quoting him. This is a clever ploy meant purely for electoral purposes.

(The writer, a former IIT Bombay professor, is Chairman, Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai. Views are personal.) 

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