BR Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi
BR Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi | Commons
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The careers of M.K. Gandhi, B.R. Ambedkar and K.B. Hedgewar took off in the same decades, but they had very few attributes in common. They shared almost two decades of public life and started their journey in the undivided state of Bombay. But surprisingly, Gandhi and Ambedkar almost ignored the presence of Hedgewar and the organisation he founded, the RSS.

Gandhi took the helm of affairs of Congress in 1920 — the year Congress started the non-cooperation movement, side-lining an array of towering leaders including B.G. Tilak, M.M. Malviya, C.R. Das and others. Three years prior, in 1917, Ambedkar got his first thesis titled ‘Castes in India’ published. By 1925, Ambedkar had emerged as the sole voice of the oppressed classes, and in 1932, he attended the Second Roundtable Conference in that capacity.

Hedgewar, then a Congress worker from Nagpur, left the freedom movement and founded the RSS in 1925. So, there were at least 15 years of overlapping in the public life of these personalities, before Hedgewar died in 1940. Gandhi and Ambedkar did not engage with the RSS even when Golwalkar became the RSS chief.


Also read: Mahatma Gandhi is arriving shortly


It can’t be attributed to just disagreements.

Despite disagreeing on many issues, Gandhi and Ambedkar continuously engaged with each other through various platforms. Gandhi and Ambedkar had different takes on the social reform movement and it was their main bone of contention. Still, they kept meeting and wrote long letters to each other, mostly to register their disagreement. Ambedkar argued that social reforms should precede political freedom whereas Gandhi’s argument was that India should first attain freedom and social issues can be resolved later on.

There was only one instance of Gandhi meeting Hedgewar, in 1934, and Gandhi rejected the idea of RSS summarily. Similarly, Ambedkar only once met a delegation of Hedgewar, Golwalkar and Savarkar, but rejected the idea of a Hindu Rashtra. The level of their disengagement was such that it’s hard to find even the name of Hedgewar in the 21 volumes of the writings and speeches of Ambedkar.


Also read: How Gandhi made Ambedkar a villain in his fight to be the real representative of Dalits


BJP’s plan to co-opt Gandhi & Ambedkar

Now, the BJP-RSS is trying to co-opt Gandhi and trying to pitch him against the Congress, but the same Gandhi never gave any importance to the RSS in his lifetime. He was an antithesis to whatever the RSS stood for on all public issues including nation-building, democracy, social reforms and secularism.

Today, after 71 years of all things Gandhi propagated, RSS-BJP only found cleanliness or swachhata as a legacy to co-opt. As if Gandhi had done nothing other than sweeping his ashram floors and cleaning his toilet in his entire life.

It seems that Gandhi and Ambedkar had a common itinerary, as far as nation-building is concerned, although they had different priorities. Whereas Hedgewar was charting an altogether different course of action – that of making Bharat into a Hindu Rashtra.

Before Gandhi returned to India, the Congress was a party of social and economic elites. Gandhi changed all that and had broad-based the freedom movement by inducting Muslims, farmers and Dalits in the Congress. The armchair politics of the Congress had to pave way for a mass movement involving lakhs of common men and women. A Bania Gandhi leading the freedom movement was not the idea of India envisaged by the likes of Chiplunkar, Tilak and their disciple Hedgewar. Soon after the demise of Tilak, Hedgewar left the Congress-led freedom struggle and started to organise the Hindus to regain the so-called past glory of Aryavarta.

Explaining this phenomenon, Ambedkar, in his treatise, Gandhi, Ranade and Jinnah, argued: “The intelligentsia was divided into two schools—a school which was orthodox in its belief but unpolitical in its outlook, and a school which was modern in its beliefs but primarily political in its aims and objects. The former was led by Mr Chiplunkar and the latter by Mr Tilak. Both combined against Ranade and created as many difficulties for him as they could.”

Tilak stood against all social reforms including empowerment of women, inter-caste marriages, increase in the age of consent, inclusion of farming communities and the underclass in public life, and so on and so forth. He imagined the past as glorious and even declared that if the British had not come to India, the Peshwas would be ruling the entire country. The RSS had a similar dream of making India great again. Gandhi and Ambedkar were of no use in this project as both were modernists as far as their political thoughts were concerned.

But democratic politics has its own exigencies and for the sake of it, the BJP-RSS is now trying to co-opt both Gandhi and Ambedkar in its scheme of things.


Also read:  You can be a Hindu nationalist and an Ambedkarite both


A difficult task

For the BJP-RSS, Ambedkar is a difficult pill to swallow because he had an explicitly antithetical stance on the Hindu Rashtra. He unequivocally declared that, “If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country. No matter what the Hindus say, Hinduism is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost.”

On the other hand, it is easier for the RSS to appropriate Gandhi, who had a lenient view on the varna system-based Hindu society and looked back in history and mythology (Ram Rajya) to explore the idea of India.

The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.

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13 Comments Share Your Views

13 COMMENTS

  1. I believe that this article will enable to have a re-look into RSS before blindly following it legacy.
    The current regime did nothing for the marginalised and trying push towards extreme marginal conditions.

  2. The views expressed in the print news by the author very correct. RSS &BJP can’t adopt Ambedkar’s and Gandhi’s view in their ruling of the country because they are sanadanic in nature and against the corner Stone of Democracy ie,.rule by people. They want adopt mausmiriti and rule which advocates inequality amongst people. How it is possible. They are befooling the mass. Majority not voted for BJP. They won by manipulation of EVMs. The think that can rule for long. Time will decide everything. Thanks for the Print to bring out facts.

  3. When Gandhiji sought support of RSS during his Non-Cooperation Movement, RSS leader Dr Hedgewar chose to support the “disciplined” British Raj . . .

  4. कृपया इस प्रकार के महत्वपूर्ण लेखों को हिन्दी में अनूदित कर के प्रकाशित करने का कष्ट करें। भारत देश की अधिकतम आबादी अंग्रेजी भाषा के पर्याप्त ज्ञान से अछूती है। जो इन उपयोगी सूचनात्मक सामग्री से वंचित रह जाती है।
    इस प्रकाशन का अधिक से अधिक लोगों को विषयात्मक ज्ञान उपलब्ध हो सके तो ज्यादा बेहत्तर होगा ।

  5. All personalities discussed gave their views in the context of social n cultural fabric prevailing in their times. Carrying over these thoughts today verbatim is travasty of analysis. Wonder if their thoughts would have undergone change post partition and why did not they do vehemently against partition.

  6. It is for those who suffered to comment on whether the system has changed or not for the better , and it is heart warming that there are voices from this category who point out how history was and whether we will in anyway be repeating it or not .My own feeling on ths is , things are changing slowly for the better albeit rather too slowly and at all times there were so called ‘greats’ by some who were ruled by idiotic thoughts .It is good that such frailties in human beings are highlighte so we realise that human beings howsoever’ great’ will have atleast some level of stupidity .

  7. Ambedkar was very unhappy with Islam and its human rights record.
    Ambedkar strongly believed that there should be full population exchange between India and Pakistan – that is, all Hindus from Pakistan should come to India and all Muslims in India should go to Pakistan.
    He was a far better leader than Gandhi. He should have been the father of the nation. Unfortunate that Gandhi, who was too controversial, was called Mahatma and father of the nation.

  8. What the erudite author very cleverly sidesteps are the views Babasaheb Ambedkar had about Islam. In fact, Babasaheb was amongst the first few to point towards the inherent and embedded fascistic nature of Islam. The straightforward person that he was, he did not mince words in his criticism of Islam. What is even more is that he took a very dim view of Mr. Jinnah and his Muslim League.
    However, all of these will obviously not suit the agenda of Mr. Mandal. Hence, he chooses to ignore rather than engage. Too clever by half.

  9. The link which writer has provided, he should read it properly, half reading is dangerous for health. Back then no society was democratic of the kind of today’s prevailing system. Dr Ambedkar also says all Muslim population should be exchanged if partition has to happen. Why not writer quote it. It is mentioned in the same highlighted link which he has pointed out.

  10. Dear Mr. Mandal,

    Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Ambedkar, whether they met somebody or not, is immaterial.

    What is, is if the ruling dispensation of today is working for the emancipation of the marginalised and for social cohesiveness & well-being , or not.

    And the current regime is doing it, hence the matter ends there.

    Your article of course seems intended for those who believe otherwise.

      • One of the most enlightening articles, I have read. Its a matter of political convenience for the BJP, as it always has been with them. But your analysis of the whole thing was a delightful read!

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