In history textbooks while growing up, we are shown only two sides of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar: Dalit icon and Father of the Indian Constitution. However there were many other facets to this multiple personality.
A look at some of them…
Gandhi’s intellectual rival: Most of the freedom fighters generally went along with Mahatma Gandhi and the few who opposed him like Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had to leave. Ambedkar was a rarity who sparred with Gandhi all the way.
They differed on the way caste problems should be handled and the effectiveness of Satyagraha. He called the bluff of Gandhi’s impractical rural utopia. Ambedkar believed in both industrialization and agriculture. He saw the importance of both villages and cities.
While Gandhi by and large had a one-dimensional approach, Ambedkar was a politician, economist, juristand also professor and he wrote books on multiple topics.
However he suffered for this. Nehru was the biggest disciple of Gandhi and ruled till death. Ambedkar on the other hand soon found himself on the sidelines of the Congress party.
Nehru’s political rival: After we got Independence, the freedom movement, India, the Congress and Gandhi were all equated with each other. There was absolutely no political or intellectual space outside this equation.
Ambedkar was the first to realize the fallacy of this one-dimensional approach. In many ways he was a bigger intellectual than our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and couldn’t work under him.
He was our first Law Minister from 1947-51 but he quit and went on his own. He had founded the Independent Labour Party way back in 1936, but there wasn’t much space for any other party other than the Congress at that time.
He was unsuccessful because he was way ahead of his times. The whole country was still in a honeymoon period over Independence and was firmly behind Nehru.
Had Ambedkar lived when anti-Congressism ruled in the 1960s, he may have succeeded in making a much sounder political alternative.
In fact it was only in the 1980s when Kanshi Ram launched the Bahujan Samaj Party inspired by Ambedkar. BSP’s Mayawati first became Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh in 1995.
Father of the Reserve Bank of India: Ambedkar wasn’t just a politician and lawyer but also an excellent economist. He wrote many books and papers including The Problem of the Rupee: Its Origin and Its Solution.
Ambedkar studied in the London School of Economics, University of Mumbai, Columbia University and the University of London.
You could say that the RBI was built on Ambedkar’s research. However this is one facet of his achievements that hardly receives any mention. He was also a pioneer in economic planning and established the Finance Commission of India.
Opponent to Article 370: If the Father of the Indian Constitution opposed Article 370 it was a big thing and yet even this is downplayed. Ambedkar saw the pitfalls of giving a special status to Jammu & Kashmir and not integrating it fully into the rest of the country.
However now it is quite difficult and status quo has set in and nobody can make drastic changes vis a vis J&K because it would probably require two-thirds agreement in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.
Buddhist revival: Ambedkar’s last book was The Buddha and His Dhamma and he also converted to Buddhism. He formed the Bharatiya Bauddha Mahasabha and is associated with the Navayana or Dalit Buddhist movement.
His influence is greatest in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra where the largest minority there are not Muslims and Christians but the Buddhists, a rarity for any Indian region.
While CRajagopalachari, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Nehru, Govind Ballabh Pant, Rajendra Prasad and Zakir Hussain all got Bharat Ratnas during Nehru’s lifetime, Ambedkar was totally ignored for the honour.
He got it posthumously only in 1990.
Since 1947 the country only focused on Gandhi and Nehru as if all the other freedom fighters didn’t matter. It is heartening to see recent debates on the importance of other leaders like Ambedkar and Bose.
Our Independence movement saw a galaxy of stars and it is high time all of them were recognized and not just the two names that have been thrown at us non-stop from 1947.
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