By Ojha Jai Prakash:
The pandemonium, engendered by the appearance of an Ambedkar cartoon in a NCERT text book, has raised many issues regarding the functioning of our democracy , in which, the space for dissent and intellectual discourse is receding rapidly. And what’s more alarming is the fact that rather than taking the bull by the horns to protect the spirit of the constitution, the government of the day either capitulates or prefers inaction. Imagine the shrill war cries of the Muslim clergy over the proposed visit of Salman Rushdie to participate in a literary festival at Jaipur, the hounding out of Maqbool Fida Hussain, the renowned painter for his nude depictions of Hindu goddesses in his paintings , by the so called right wing champions of morality and the hue and cry raised over the books like Great Soul on M.K Gandhi, Such a long Journey authored by Rohington Mistry and 300 Essays on Ramayan.
Coming back to the recent cartoon row, this cartoon on Ambedkar appeared in 1949 and was made by Shankar, the famous cartoonist. Ambedkar was very much alive at that time and did not object to the cartoon — after all cartoons are meant for satire and a lively little banter. Nehru is reported to have been a great admirer of Shankar’s cartoons. Why only Nehru? Politicians, all around the world are known to be the favourite whipping boys of the cartoonists but hardly, any politician complains.
According to Ambedkar, there are three obstacles to the smooth working of our democracy-hero worship, the hiatus between political rights and socio-economic rights and the recourse to unconstitutional means. Just think what the political class of today, specially the self proclaimed inheritors of Ambedkar’s legacy i.e. the dalit leaders are doing. A megalomaniac leader who lives in an ivory tower, away from the common masses, spends crores of public money on the installation of her own statues, lives and behaves like an empress and has several corruption charges pending against, threatens to disrupt the House over the issue. Parties, all across the political spectrum, support her and there are insane demands of invoking the SC/ST Act against persons responsible for the publication of this cartoon. Do such leaders emulate Ambedkar’s ideals? No, Ambedkar ,for them, is the means to attain their goal, the power and in doing so, they distort his vision, in tune to their nefarious designs of vote bank and divisive politics. The dalits may have got political rights, thanks to stellar efforts of Ambedkar but even today, after 60 years of independence, a sizeable chunk of them grovel under poverty and fare poorly on human development parameters. Their socio-economic plight is deplorable but are the so called Ambedkarites sensitive to their predicament? No, they are more focused on parks and statues to give their constituency a sense of history and pride. Empty stomachs don’t look for false pride and expect the leaders to feed them, clothe them and shelter them , rather than indulge in unproductive expenditure. Resort to unconstitutional methods and demands can sabotage our democracy. It’s a well settled point that dissent and divergence of opinions lend more credibility and vibrancy to a democracy and that’s precisely the reason why we have got the right to freedom of speech and expression. Time and again , the judiciary has upheld the validity of this sacred fundamental right but despite this, problems do persist.
It’s high time we stop branding Ambedkar as the property of a particular community. He belongs to all and people who speak on his behalf must do some serious introspection and find out whether they practice what Ambedkar preached. Or are their tantrums just directed in the furtherance of their vested interests of inculcating a feeling of insecurity among the dalits? These leaders are doing a disservice to the cause of national assimilation and integration, creating fissures and rifts on the path to reconciliation and hampering the growth of an all inclusive, hatred free society. The creation of a neo dalit elitist class, has led to a weakening of the dalit movement as most of the benefits meant for them, are being cornered by this self-obsessed class owing to their superior education and connections with the dalit leadership. This class, with the conniving dalit leadership, has often used the – historically wronged — bogey to keep the common downtrodden people away from the social mainstream , ghettoized and fearful because this suits their agenda of sectarian and vote bank politics. They are made to look at things through the prism of neo elite dalit class which ,frankly speaking, has nothing to do with the common dalit or the towering Ambedkar, but what suits them, very much keeping alive the historical wrong doing debate and shamelessly, indulgent in creating a sense of insecurity in the dalit mindset to nullify it’s integration with national mainstream.
For Ambedkar, reservation for weaker sections was a temporary measure but the so called champions of social justice want this arrangement to continue for eternity. In this age of globalization and integration, the Indian concept of social justice continues to lead to plethora of demands of various castes and sub castes for reservation , with the nod from political leaders who instigate them, cajole them to take to streets. The social justice bandwagon has created a class of leadership who behave like tribal chieftains, pandering to their caste, kith and kin and forgetting all about democracy and rule of law. Ambedkar’s legacy does not need such adherents who contemplate to patent him.
Ambedkar ‘s memory will remain etched in every right thinking Indian mindset without any dim and bustle on the part of his self proclaimed legacy inheritors, who get provoked on his name, without reason and standing poles apart from Ambedkar’s conviction and ideals.