As we approach the 126th Birth Anniversary of Dr BR Ambedkar, we can see how Dr Ambedkar’s call to ‘Educate, Agitate, Organise!’ is under an all-round attack by the Modi-led Central Government and other State Governments, which are instead replacing that call with the motto of ‘Exclude, Alienate, Oppress.’ At the same time we repeatedly see attempts by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to cynically appropriate and distort the legacy of Dr Ambedkar to “synchronize” it with the Hindutva agenda of the RSS.
In the latest instance of the Central Government’s offensive against students, students of Panjab University, Chandigarh who were protesting steep fee hikes have been subjected to a brutal lathicharge by the Chandigarh Police. The Chandigarh Police also slapped sedition charges on 66 students, though it reportedly withdrew those charges subsequently. The Chandigarh Police comes under the Home Ministry, indicating that the assault on students comes with the approval and on the orders of the Modi Government.
Meanwhile, the attack on other Universities continues unabated, with massive seat cuts in MPhil/PhD research seats in JNU and other Universities; steep cuts in fellowships and scholarship; and the attempted disintegration of the largest Central University, Delhi University to make way for self-financing “autonomous” colleges.
Meanwhile SC/ST students in schools all over India are being subjected to caste, class and gender atrocities. There are moves to forcibly saffronise education in UP, Assam and other BJP-ruled states. Teaching is being contractualised and casualised.
Dalits all over India are facing attacks for asserting their rights to homestead and agricultural land. Workers are being jailed for unionizing and organizing. Human rights activists who act as conscience keepers of a democracy are being branded as ‘anti-national’ and facing attacks ranging from jail, murder, false cases and organized campaigns of abuse and slander. Dr Ambedkar’s legacy as a fierce defender of the rights of workers and of civil liberties is one that the Government’s eulogies will seek to suppress – but it is one that inspires and empowers trade union and civil liberties activists today.
In an outrageous insult to Dr Ambedkar, the intrepid fighter against Manuvad who burnt the Manusmriti, Narendra Modi in 2007 wrote a eulogy for RSS founder Golwalkar in which he referred to Ambedkar as the ‘modern Manu.’ Indeed, Modi and the RSS try to empty Ambedkar of his own ideas and vision, and equate him with the RSS’ philosophy of ‘Samajik Samrasta’ (Social Harmony) which is a rationalization of the existing caste and gender hierarchy.
With Modi as PM and Yogi Adityanath as UP CM, the BJP is trying hard to speed up its attempt to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation). Dr Ambedkar had seen this danger long ago and warned in 1945 that “If Hindu Raj does become a fact it will no doubt be the greatest calamity for this country. It is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost.”
As the Sangh-supported mobs, protected by BJP Governments go on a spree of lynching Muslims and Dalits on the pretext of ‘protecting the cow’, and the RSS and BJP leaders like Venkaiah Naidu falsely claim Constitutional sanction for a nationwide ban on beef, it is important to reiterate Ambedkar’s historical approach towards the question of the beef taboo. Dr Ambedkar traced the links between untouchablity and the Brahminical taboo on eating beef: “There is no community which is really an Untouchable community which has not something to do with the dead cow. Some eat her flesh, some remove the skin, some manufacture articles out of her skin and bones.”
Last year, following the assault by a Hindutva mob against Dalits in Una on the pretext of ‘cow protection,’ Modi had belatedly sought to contain Dalit anger against the BJP by making an impassioned appeal, “Shoot me, kill me but don’t attack Dalits.” Contrast this appeal with the resounding silence of the Prime Minister as well as Rajasthan Chief Minister on the Always lynch mob murder of Pehlu Khan, both of whom managed to tweet their shock and sorrow on the far-away terror attack in Stockholm! The message of such selective speech and selective silence is a cynical one: the BJP is keen to attract Dalit votes while it wishes to subtly signal its support for the slaughter of Muslims.
Dr Ambedkar was no advocate of blind nationalism that brands all criticism and dissent as ‘anti-national.’ He stood for a constant striving to acknowledge, confront and resist the deep social and economic inequalities that undermined India’s democracy. For today’s movements that seek to expand and defend India’s democracy, it is imperative to resist the RSS-BJP’s attempts to appropriate Dr Ambedkar, and to assert the struggles to educate, agitate and organize for a better, more democratic India.