Saturday, 7 April 2012

Gandhi vs Ambedkar.

 ' But in their one-upmanship battle as to who could speak for Depressed Classes with authority, Ambedkar held the trump card for he himself was an Untouchable. Gandhi admitted that he had at first taken Ambedkar to be a Brahmin obsessed with helping the Untouchables. It was not until their clash in London that Gandhi realized that Ambedkar was an Untouchable—which says much about Gandhi’s stereotype of Untouchables as the “dumb millions” that he and Congress maintained they represented (Writings 2:660).'
All quotations are from Harold Coward 'Indian critiques of Gandhi'
  Gandhi and Ambedkar had previously co-operated because they had completely misunderstood each other. Ambedkar thought Gandhi was a good man who wanted to remove Untouchability because, more than a crime, it was a piece of National folly. Gandhi approved of Ambedkar because he thought the young chap was a Maharashtrian Brahmin. (Ambedkar's school teacher had given his young prodigy of a pupil his own surname as a mark of distinction)- probably Chitpavan and hence Manly. But Gandhi believed he was more Truly Manly than everybody else so he naturally got riled when Ambedkar started talking law and ethics and so on for no good reason other than the uplifting of the oppressed classes. How dare this young fellow wag his tail like this? What for this Brahmin is getting so heated over some damn untouchables? Just showing off his machismo isn't it? So Gandhi had to cut the fellow down to size.
Anyway, turned out the chap wasn't a Brahmin at all but a pariah of some sort- like that Sri Narayana Guru down Vaikom way. Just because these chaps know Sanskrit or have PhD from Columbia or LSE or whatever, they forget their karma caused them to be the 'younger brothers' of us caste Hindus.  Anyway, now I've invented a new name for the achooths. Let them be called Harijan. Since it is a name I have coined and I am the only one who understands Bhagvad Gita, though I don't know Sanskrit and Mimamsa and all that rot, still it is clear that I am the voice of Hari and thus they are my children and must listen to me and buy my worthless magazine which I have called 'Harijan'.
Since Ambedkar won't call himself a Harijan he can't represent them. They are my monopoly. Let Ambedkar whine to his heart's content that I am paying High Caste lawyers to sit around doing nothing out of funds  ostensibly collected for the up-liftment of his caste-fellows. This is how the world works. Why do people call me anti-modern and medieval in my thinking? What could be more modern and avant la lettre than the Gandhian prior to the current epidemic of holier-than-thou Anti Poverty parasites and plague of Eco-Feminists?

The British at this time, or a little earlier, had granted full universal suffrage with strong minority protection to Sri Lanka, thanks to Sidney Webb. They gave limited franchise with separate electorates for Muslims, Sikhs and Untouchables to India. Had Gandhi let this stand, then Muslim fears, especially in the United Provinces, would have been allayed. The road to Partition would have been closed. Why? The numerical preponderance of the Hindus would have ceased to be a cause of anxiety.
The British were right. Minorities need to be protected. It was only when Sri Lanka jettisoned those constitutional protections that it became prey to the evils of civil war and insurrectionary politics. Gandhi, however, only had importance as a bridge between communities at daggers drawn with each other. His stock in trade was
1) to champion Hindu-Muslim unity while doing everything in his power to put the two creeds at loggerheads thus making himself an 'obligatory passage point'.
2) to take money from the Mill owners while pretending to protect the handloom weavers from competition with the machine by generously supplying them with hand-spun cotton yarn- though what his acolytes produced was not fit for purpose.
3) to be a sort of High Caste Pundit, though completely ignorant (his defeat at the hands of the Vaikom Pundits was a foregone conclusion. The man knew no Sanskrit, no Nyaya, no Mimamsa and had zero common-sense) on the basis of a fraudulent service to the  Hindu Religion by keeping the Untouchables within the fold and in a submissive posture.
The Poona pact with Ambedkar, on the face of it, looks generous- it doubled representation for the oppressed class but, since members were returned on the general ballot, it meant Congress Uncle Toms would capture those seats and thus the Muslim League's position had become more rather than less precarious. This fact was underlined by Congress failing to pass Untouchability Abolition Acts when they could easily have done so. Ambedkar, now known to be an 'achooth' himself, soon saw through 'Gandhi-giri' but here too, as with Khilafat, Gandhi had managed to turn Untouchability into a weapon to destroy Hindu Muslim Unity. The Harijan Sevak Sangh, dominated by High Caste fuckwits, wanted to turn the 'bhangi' (night soil carrier) into a vegetarian, teetotaller, so as to make his service that much more pleasing and hygienic to his patrons. This was Congress's plan for the 'Untouchables', towards whom they claimed to feel great penitence. What did they have in mind for the meat-eating Muslims towards whom they felt not penitence but rancour? No doubt, there was some dangerous or dirty job these Banias and Brahmins already have in mind for us but why wait for Bania Raj to find out what that might be?

There was an easy way to destroy the caste system- embrace meat eating, wine drinking and grant legitimacy to children of pratiloma or other types of Union. The Japanese abolished the ban on the flesh of four legged animals, including cows, and equalized the position of merchants and samurai. Hedonism worked as a great leveller. So did conscription. Gandhian austerity operated in a manner precisely the reverse. It was a Bania hypocrisy, ignorance and stupidity writ large, nothing more.
 “One born a scavenger must earn his livelihood by being a scavenger, and then do whatever else he likes. For a scavenger is as worthy of his hire as a lawyer or your President.”
But, this was precisely the argument of the Vaikom pundits who had defeated Gandhi in debate ten years previously. They had been born as upholders of Untouchability. That is how they earned their livelihood. They and others like them had put up a Case, decided in their favour, to the High Court by which the road to the temple was declared a private, rather than public thoroughfare and thus exempt from an older law. Why did they do this? It was a hereditary duty incumbent upon them by reason of their livelihood. In private life they might drink with or have sexual relations with people of the oppressed class but that was a different matter. Now, if threatened with a beating or a fine, it would be perfectly proper for them to desist from discrimination because that duty was defeasible by reason of exigent circumstances. In other words, it was a duty which only became binding if it could be carried out with perfect safety from harm or opprobrium.
  When Rajaji was seeking to implement Temple Entry, he found that the Priests wanted Legislation to enforce it because otherwise they faced costly court cases for delinquency to duty. If Gandhi was ignorant of this aspect of the matter- and Gandhi was a deeply ignorant man- he nevertheless does not escape censure. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, at least for a lawyer. Ignorance of Indian conditions is no excuse if you claim to lead the Indian people.
I once read somewhere that Sankaracharya taught cows to chant the Vedas as a way to rebuke the arrogance of the ritualists. What about Gandhi?

'When Ambedkar indicated that he and the Untouchables should find another religion and leave the Hindu fold, Gandhi was shocked to see Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs vying with each other to convert  untouchables. In a conversation with the Christian leader John Mott, Gandhi said that such activities hurt him and were an ugly travesty of religion (CW 64:35). Aside from it being an unseemly competition, said Mott, should Christians not preach the gospel to Untouchables who were thinking of leaving Hinduism? Gandhi’s response did not endear him to the Untouchables: “Would you preach the gospel to a cow? Well, some of the untouchables are worse than cows in understanding . . . they can no more distinguish between the relative merits of Islam and Hinduism and Christianity than a cow” (CW 64:37)


Gandhi's greatest victory- perhaps his only one-against the forces of reform came towards the end of his life when he persuaded Congress to give Ambedkar a Ministerial berth. According to Gandhian thinking, Ambedkar would be utterly annihilated as a rational and moral being, the moment he planted his bottom on a Ministerial 'kursi'. But Gandhi miscalculated. Ambedkar had aptness, not appetency, for high office. If his only service was as a draughtsman of the Constitution, he would still stand head and shoulders above all his contemporaries. However, yet greater heights remained for him to scale. History will remember him as a Boddhisattva.

2 comments:

  1. What does the citation "CW 64:37" mean?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Manisha,
    CW is Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. 64:37 means volume 67 item 37. This is online here https://www.gandhiheritageportal.org/cwmg_volume_thumbview/NjQ=#page/28/mode/2up. Unfortunately, there are some discrepancies in scholarly use, so one can't always verify a reference immediately.

    ReplyDelete