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Ambedkar and Gita: There is a reason why Narendra Modi will never mention them together

PM Narendra Modi chose to ignore Ambedkar's critique of Gita in his speech at Iskcon even as he noted Gandhi and Tilak's supportive views on the text.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while unveiling the world’s largest and heaviest Bhagavad Gita at Delhi’s ISKCON temple, told the audience that this holy book is India’s best gift to the world. Modi invoked leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi as two great personalities who interpreted Gita for the larger audience. But there was another personality whom Modi, rather conveniently as he often does, chose to ignore: Babasaheb Ambedkar.

Ambedkar has written extensively on Gita and, like Tilak and Gandhi, interpreted it for the public too. But for Modi, who has called Ambedkar “the ray of hope for marginalised and oppressed”, the Dalit icon wasn’t a politically convenient figure to quote at ISKCON temple.

It is interesting that for his policy slogan Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas, Modi had earlier credited Ambedkar but at the ISKCON temple, in the presence of Hindu priests, Modi was citing Gita as the source for learning the principles for the slogan.

Modi has inaugurated an Ambedkar memorialswept the premises of Baba Saheb Ambedkar School, and credited his work as being crucial in making a ‘poor mother’s son who belongs to a backward community’ the prime minister of the country.

But at the ISKCON temple, Modi could recall German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer to underline how great Bhagavad Gita and its lessons are. He told the audience that his life has been most influenced by Gita and credited it for the public welfare work he has done. Quoting Tilak, he said Gita teaches Karma Yoga, and is therefore a useful source to follow while taking up the daily chores in life. But there was no mention of Ambedkar.

It is an act of convenient cherry-picking, while staying away from Ambedkar’s critique of Hindu religious texts.

Ambedkar had a very critical view of Gita, which he says provides a philosophic basis to the Varna system and has been influential in reproducing and perpetuating that system in the Indian society.

In his treatise, philosophy of Hinduism, published by Maharashtra government and popularised globally by the external affairs ministry, Ambedkar wrote a chapter titled ‘The Philosophic Defence of Counter-Revolution: Krishna and His Gita.’ He had also provided a critique of Gita in his most controversial book, Riddles in Hinduism, also a government publication. For the purpose of this article, all the quotations are from the third volume of the collected works of Babasaheb.

Also read: In Bhopal, PM Modi invoked many top leaders except his favourite Ambedkar

Gita may have been something great for Tilak and Gandhi. Tilak sees Nishkam or Anashakti Karma Yoga as a way of life, while Gandhi finds in the book a defence for the Varna system.  For Ambedkar, though, Gita is Manusmriti in a nutshell.

Ambedkar believed that the Manusmriti, the Vedas and the Gita are all woven in the same pattern and same threads run through them. He denounces those who say that Manusmriti is problematic, but Gita is good. According to Ambedkar, the difference is only in the detailing, not in the idea or philosophy. For him, all religious books of Hinduism – other than Upanishads – were written by the Brahmins who injected the same doctrine in all these books.

Ambedkar writes that it is actually Gita in which caste system is systematically ordained and explained. Ambedkar quotes from chapter 18 of Gita (41- 44) – “O, Parantapa! the respective duties of Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (tradesmen) and Shudras (menials) have been individually fixed with reference to the qualities arising from their inherent natures, that is, from Prakriti. The inherently natural duties of a Brahmin are peace, self-restrain, religious austerities, cleanliness, quietness, straightforwardness (humanity). Knowledge (that is, spiritual knowledge), Vijnana (that is imperial knowledge) and Astikya-budhi (that is belief in a future world). The inherently natural duty (karma) of the Kshatriya is bravery, brilliance, courage, intentness, not running away from the battle, generosity, and exercising authority (over subject people), ‘goraksya’ (that is, the business of keeping cattle), and vanijya (that is, trade) is the inherently natural duty of the Vaishya; and in the same way, service is the inherently natural duty of the Shudra.

Ambedkar concludes that Gita is neither a book of religion nor a book of philosophy. The intent behind writing Bhagavad Gita was to defend certain dogmas of religion on philosophical grounds. Ambedkar, the lawyer, goes on to demolish these dogmas one by one.

The first dogma propounded by Gita is that the body and the soul are separate. It provides a philosophical defence of war and killing in war, and argues that since the soul is eternal and imperishable, it is wrong to say that when a man is killed his soul is also killed. Thus, according to Gita, war and killings should not become grounds for remorse or shame. Ambedkar argues that – ‘If Krishna were to appear as a lawyer acting for a client who is being tried for murder and pleaded the defence set out by him in the Bhagavad Gita, there is not the slightest doubt that he would be sent to the lunatic asylum.’

We don’t know if Modi has read these texts of Ambedkar or not. If he had read the volumes published by the Union government, he might have avoided praising Gita. Still, we should be thankful to the government for putting Ambedkar’s writings and speeches on the website of the MEA.

Also read: India’s Constitution makers Nehru, Patel & Ambedkar were divided on parliamentary system

The second dogma, according to Ambedkar, is Chaturvarnya (four Varna system), for which Gita provides two defences. The first line of defense is that Varna system is the creation of Supreme God and thus it can’t be questioned. But as this defence is based completely on blind faith, it can’t withstand the logical ideas, so Gita also provides a philosophical basis to the theory of Chaturvarnya by linking it to the theory of innate, inborn qualities in men. Ambedkar says that the soul of the Bhagavad Gita seems to be the defence of Chaturvarnya and securing its observance in practice. Ambedkar goes on to argue that the Gita provided Varna system a philosophic, and therefore permanent, basis which it never had before and without which the system would not have survived to date.

For Ambedkar, Gita is the culprit that made Indians still continue with the system of graded inequality based on birth.

The third dogma, according to Ambedkar, is Karma Kands. This also finds mention in Modi’s speech at ISKCON. Ambedkar said that Gita has removed the ugliness of Karma Kands or rituals by two means. One, Gita introduces the principle of Buddhi Yoga or Stihtaprajna to the Karma Kands. It gives a basis to the rituals by saying that Karma Kand should not be done under blind faith but Buddhi should be applied. And two, it introduces the principles of Anasaktior Nishkam, saying Karma should not have any attachment for the fruits (results).

In the Gita, Karma is not speaking of activity or inactivity in general, but of religious acts and observances.

Ambedkar wrote that by ‘Karma Yoga’, Gita means the dogmas contained in Jaimini’s Karma Kanda. He argues that Tilak should be blamed for the misconception that the Bhagavad Gita is an independent self-contained book with no relation to the literature that preceded it.

In this light, it’s interesting that Modi has spoken about Tilak’s reading of Gita in his speech.

Ambedkar further explains that ‘Krishna tells everyone (to) do the duty prescribed for his Varna and no other, and warns his devotees that they will not obtain salvation through mere devotion, but through devotion accompanied by observance of duty laid down for his Varna. In short, a Shudra, however great he may be as a devotee, will not get salvation if he has transgressed the duty of the Shudra — namely to live and die in the service of the higher classes.’ 

Also read: Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar: The man Ambedkar said was ‘better’ than him

The most important critique of Gita provided by Ambedkar is that it was written to save the Karma Kand and Varna system from the attack of Buddhism.

Ambedkar argues that Buddha preached non-violence and except the Brahmins, the masses largely accepted it as the way of life. Buddha also preached against the Chaturvarnya and turned it upside down, as Shudras and women could now become sanyasis. According to Ambedkar, the advent of Buddhism was thus a revolution. To counter this, counter-revolutionaries had only one defence – that these things were ordained by the Vedas, and as the Vedas were infallible, the dogmas were not to be questioned.

Ambedkar says that this defence was not sufficient in the enlightened age of Buddhism, and the dogmas resting only on blind belief couldn’t have survived. Hence, Gita was written to provide philosophic framework to the dogmas.

In his speech at the ISKCON temple, Modi said he had presented ‘Bhagavad Gita, According to Gandhi’ to Barak Obama, who interestingly cited Ambedkar in Indian Parliament and spoke a lot about his contributions. We can only hope that Obama reads Ambedkar’s interpretation of Gita, too, to have a better understanding of the Indian social order.

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  1. I know that modi would be knowing about Ambedkar’s thoughts that’s why.. he didn’t quote Ambedkar😂. Some stupid here are saying that Ambedkar misunderstood Geeta🤣. They should know, that if one cannot understand geeta, so how can he become the no.1 scholar in the world n also symbol of knowledge.

    • Agye yahan par bhi Jai Bheem wale.. XD
      Apna surname likhne mein sharam aati h tumhe. Aur haq ki baate krte ho.

  2. If ambedkar was not able to understand gita ,it was his fault .not mentioning ambedkar has no relevance he is not god or some supreme personality .

    • Yes he was not god..exactly and hence he was able to give justice to downtrodden…bcoz geeta probably can not do it hence we have law my friends. You need to read a lot my friend…. belief and blind faith has a very thin line in between so be careful

  3. Ambedkar was a politician unlike Gandhi.
    A politician always has political intentions . Bhagwat Geeta is one of the most famous books across the world and people find it relevant ,unlike Quran .
    We don’t need your or Ambedkar’s interpretations for it we already have great sanskrit scholar who have written great interpretations:)

  4. The Bhagavad Gita is universally regarded as the single most influential philosophical text that provides an ultimate guide to self-realization.

  5. “Bhagavat Gheeta is a blabbering of an insane person”- Dr. Ambedkar. Modiji is using Ambedkar’s name but not with commitment . All including 90% Hindus should reject this Bhavat Gheeta which as per Ambedkar protecting Sathur varna and castism .

  6. Krishna had meant that people who are born on the earth fall into four categories with respect to the traits they posses not by the biological birth. For example even if a person who has taken birth in the so called modern day brahmin community he can not be construed as a brahmin if he does not practice the duties ordained by the scriptures. He would be considered as only a Kshatriya or a vysya or a shudhra depending on what kind of duties he performs in his day to day life. The castes were creation of the modern day humanity not by god. It is very simple to interpret from gita that Krishna never propagates the idea of castes.

    • I like how the default response to any critique of Hinduism is to question the flaws in another religion.

      • ohh please…ambedkar’s views on hindusim were hardly a critique stemming from logic and reason…at best it was a rant based on his hatred against uppper cast hindus….he was a trailblazer in the field of economics and polity but he was no philosopher…only a fool could say that bhagvad gita is not a philosophical work….in fact one can even argue that gita(specifically the part about varna system) just reiterated plato’s concept of utopian society and noble lie which undoubtedly falls in the realm of philosophy….

        no man is perfect ambedkar wans’t and neither were our ancestors…he was an exmplerary economist and truly a person who deserves to be called one of the founding fathers of the nation …that however doesnt mean that Modi has to abide by ambedkar’s thought on religon…criticising modi for not adhering to ambedkar’s views and for not mentioning ambedkar in an ISKON gathering is just stupid and pointless….do you really want the PM of a nation to go to religious organistaions and criticse and critique their religion?? that surely is something even ambedkar won’t endorse!!

  7. The author Dilip Mandal appears oblivious to the fact that nobody is a brahmin without taking the Brahmin Diksha (thread) from a Bonafide spiritual master. A person born in a Brahmin family does not automatically become a brahmin. He/she had to undergo the rigorous process of study, austerity & sense control to qualify to become a Brahmin. A child of a brahmin who does not qualify is called a “dwij-bandhu” and is not a Brahmin. Infact, ISKCON – an organisation at whose core lie the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita trains candidates and grants qualified people Brahmin Diksha irrespective of the Varna they were born in. These progressive thoughts and practices need to be highlighted, but alas! the author has done a disservice to the readers by not researching properly and mentioning these. During Ambedkar’s time progressive organisations like ISKCON were not present, but the true casteless brahmin Diksha was still bring given to qualified candidates of any caste by the progenitors of ISKCON in Bengal. Ambedkar was perhaps not aware of them. Had he been aware, he would have definitely included them in his views. Disappointed by the authors lack of adequate research, if not outright bias towards great scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita that have a universal appeal cutting across different phases of time.

  8. Dear Reader , I want to asked question to all that professor basically that all who know to them as kattarpanti hindu. When the name of Dr. Ambedkar came they don’t felt good they are trying to how to oppose the thought of Dr. Ambedkar. People want to know that These one man was ocean who had good knowledge from taking too much struggle from kattarpanti hindu people why people not thinking about that. Before committing on the topic they want came studying about them… Dr. Ambedkar was that who has written their all books in English reason behind that the truth of Hinduism want know to entire world . Jay Bhim Jay Bharat

  9. Why cannot these snakes leave.. Hinduism and india.
    Mr Mandal is so illiterate that he must know what Muslims and Christian have does to Bengalis.
    These missionary school products need a rinsing of their brains

  10. The author seems truly to hate Hinduism and the glorious culture, their teachings of Geeta that the soul is immortal, but the body , the clothing that it wears should be put off if it is propagating adharma, which is dharmic and sacred holy task, wars should be condemned if the untruth triumphs, but it should be praised off if the humanity ends the war with flying colors.

  11. Ambedkar said this and Ambedkar said that about Geeta doesn’t make whatever he said about Geeta the ultimate truth. He expressed his opinion and opinions should not be confused with facts. Just reading a few excerpts of Ambedkar about Gita makes one realize that his understanding of Gita was shallow and vacuous- the only intent being to attack Hinduism in the garb of critiquing Gita.

  12. What is the purpose/benefit of Cribbing about books written in some unknown past time, maybe several centuries ago? We are living in the 21st century. For past two hundred years, India has been governed by some modern law, made by British or Indians. Can the author produce even a single Government Order (GO) entailing anyone to do any particular kind of work? There is nothing to suggest that anyone in India has been forced by anyone to do work according to their so-called “caste”. People are doing jobs of their free will. 99% of Govt Jobs in TN are in the hands of SC/ST/OBC.

    It is surprising that media, continues to provide such vile men, copious opportunity to peddle their vile stuff. This fellow has still not apologised for publishing on 28.11.18 the fake privileges of Brahmins, while unscrupulously avoided mentioning the serious disadvantages like denial of jobs due to quota, caste-based sky-high fees, caste-based high marks cutoffs, etc. Here is a Gem from this great “Sr. Journalist” published on 28.11.18. “If I am a Brahmin, I will be revered in the society and a “Ji” will be added to my name. I will be known as a pundit, although I can be dumb or even illiterate” Unless this person, is cutoff from society, it is common knowledge that “Ji” is commonly added when dealing with all strangers. Everybody gets the privilege in India. Calling a Brahmin a “pundit” is a customary reference to their caste, and not an indicator of their intelligence. Even that is voluntary.

  13. Dear Author, could you refer the complete Shloka – it is stated chaturvarnam mayasrustam Guna karma bibhagasah not sure from where ‘inherently’ came. It was a misunderstanding of many scholars, can you please correct your basics by referring

  14. PM looks everything in context of his political career. He never goes into the depth of truths. Not on the domestic ground but globally he has spoken misleading facts about the historical things.

  15. The author seem to hate everything Hindu… Seem to be hell bent on degrading everything related to Hinduism, just because Varna system was practised centuries ago.
    What then should be read by Hindus other than Geeta, Vedas? Buddhist scriptures??
    All Hindus have moved on & away from Varna system over last several decades.

    • Varna system was practices centuries ago. All Hindus have moved on and away from Varna system.

      Please support your claims with evidence since you have decided to speak on behalf of all Hindus. (10 marks)

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