Is Ambedkar more acceptable than other icons like Periyar?
There is a hypocrisy in the Sangh Parivar’s co-option of leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and B.R. Ambedkar. This is symptomatic of an ulterior political agenda. They don’t follow Gandhian ideals despite using him to leverage political clout, and it is the same in their use of Ambedkar.
Although I hold Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru in higher regard, I have a deep abiding respect for Ambedkar. There are two reasons for his relevance today — the political and the theoretical. The first is that he created an environment that fostered in Dalits a very uncommon dignity. He told them to always agitate for their rights, and this sage advice will be followed for all time to come.
The second thing is that he was chairman and the chief architect of the Drafting Committee of the Indian Constitution. Ambedkar was an ardent supporter of a unified Indian nation-state. However, when people compare Ambedkar to other agitators like Periyar, they often forget this fact. He never considered the vivisection of India.
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Periyar’s politics did not allow him to support the idea of a united India. Of course, Ambedkar had had many problems with Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress, but he never wanted India to be torn asunder. This is something that makes him politically relevant for parties today.
Dalits have found their footing in his philosophy. When Ambedkar was active, he was more revered in Maharashtra than across India. Now Dalits across the nation form a very vocal group in India; they represent a large demographic in the country. They start their mornings with ‘Jai Bhim’. Ambedkar is their prime icon. Thus, it is not surprising that all political parties adopt an obsequious approach towards him. Even the Prime Minister paid tribute to him today. Ignoring him would mean ignoring a significant vote-bank.
P. A. Krishnan is a retired bureaucrat and columnist.