Who slowed the Constitution Assembly?

THE ALLEGED insult of Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar in the cartoon in Class XI textbooks led to the human resource minister withdrawing the book and appointing a committee to review all books.
Why was the Constitution-making process slow? Is it because Ambedkar wanted it to be slow? Not in the least. It was slow despite the best efforts of Ambedkar and despite full support from Nehru, because opposition to this process was prevalent all around. RSS chief MS Golwalkar articulated the opposition to the process it by saying that we don’t need a new Constitution as we already have the ‘glorious’ Constitution in the form of Manusmriti. One recalls here that the chief architect of the Indian Constitution Dr Ambedkar had burnt Manusmiriti on the grounds that it has provisions of slavery of Shudras and women. The process of Constitution-making was slow because communal orthodox forces were not for the social change which the Constitution envisaged.
Those following the values of Dr.Ambedkar need to focus on the fact that the forces which were making the process slow have become stronger today and are posing an obstacle to the issues of social justice even today. Social justice was the major plank for Dr.Ambedkar, and even while introducing the draft of Constitution in the Constituent Assembly, he pointed out that with this Constitution we are entering the era of ‘one man one vote’, i.e. political democracy, but the social democracy seems to be still a goal not very easy to achieve.
Cartoon and after
If we rework Shankar’s cartoon with, say, Mahatma Gandhi riding a bullock cart of democracy in his dwija dress and Jawaharlal Nehru standing in his sanatan pundit’s dress, a thread across his body, and Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar in his suit unbolting that cart, would Dr Yogendra Yadav and Suhas Palshikar — former NCERT advisers — have included that cartoon for a lesson in democracy? I am sure they would not.
In 1949, when Shankar drew that cartoon — wherein Dr.Ambedkar sits on a snail that is the Constitution, with a whip, and Nehru stands behind also with a whip in his hand, while the masses watch the fun — Dr.Ambedkar’s role as the chairman of the drafting committee had still not been appreciated by the Indian elite. The political elite, in particular, were cursing him. His image was also not very high among the people at large. Only a very few educated dalits treated him as their worthy representative.
After he resigned from the Cabinet in 1953, and after he embraced Buddhism three years later, his image and status transformed quite dramatically. And after the Mandal movement of 1990, Dr.Ambedkar’s stature assumed messianic proportions. The present Dr.Ambedkar is not a negotiator with Nehru or Gandhi. Rather, as a messiah of the large army of the oppressed people of this country, he’s quite different from Gandhi and Nehru.
While picking up this cartoon from Shankar’s archives for class XI political science textbooks, the editors should have understood this phenomenal change in perception, in the media, of the bahujan masses.
Early this month dalit MPs cutting across party lines took up a cultural issue that related to the dignity and status of the most oppressed community and their icon. Human resources development minister Kapil Sibal did the right thing by apologising over the matter, and promising immediate withdrawal of the textbook that carries the controversial cartoon.
Questions like why this issue is being raked up after seven years of the publication of the book, or why this cartoon is being attacked after 63 years of its drawing, need to be answered with a sound reasoning and proper understanding of the level of consciousness of the dalit leadership itself.
Do these questions not sound like yet another question, namely, why make an issue of untouchability and caste as, after all, they have been practised for the last five thousand years? The answer lies in the changing consciousness, as also the possible avenues that are opening up, in fighting the matter out. If Dr.Ambedkar had not fought for the lower caste people’s education, as also for reservation in politics and jobs, there would not have been dalits in Parliament. Had it not been so, nobody would have asked any questions even if Dr.Ambedkar’s name was removed from the Indian history itself.
The consciousness of Mr Yadav and Mr Palshikar is couched in Lohiate-Marxist-Gandhian politics, which refuses to recognise the far greater transformative status of Dr.Ambedkar. In the intellectual realm, Mr Yadav represents a typical, symptomatic socialist transformation of Lohia — similar to what Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav do in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. This gets reflected in the selection of this cartoon in the 21st century — a time when Dr.Ambedkar has overtaken Gandhi, Nehru and Lohia in stature.
What Mr Yadav and Mr Palshikar refuse to recognise is that Dr.Ambedkar was not just a writer of Indian Constitution, not just a nationalist leader, and not just a theoretician, but he was a prophetic figure who revived Buddhism that was driven out of India by a whole range of social forces over a period of several centuries. Thus, in every Buddha Vihar today he sits along with Buddha.
The icon of the oppressed community cannot be compared with a god or goddess of the oppressors. Nor can the protest against the Dr.Ambedkar cartoon be seen at par with the Hindutva protest against the Goddess Saraswati cartoon drawn by M.F. Hussain.
The May 11 Parliament protest of the dalit MPs to remove the derogatory Dr.Ambedkar cartoon from the NCERT’s political science textbook is a demand that came from those representing the oppressed masses. This is the first ever major fight for the cultural transformation of the Indian society.
Earlier, dalits were not seen as a people who could fight for their own cultural identity. They were seen as a people who fight for higher wages, reservation and scholarships. Shankar Pillai’s cartoons were friendly jokes for the upper-caste English-educated elite of the post-Independence ruling class, but certainly not for the SC/Other backward Classes/Adivasi population.
Cartoons also carry with them the politics and culture of the ones who drew them. In fact, no cartoon is free from politics and caste-class bias. This is where the need arises for the emergence of a new brand of cartoonists from among the deprived sections, if only to induct the dalit culture into the realm of cartoons. Caste bias operates not only in religion, politics and economics, but also in art, music and dance. Political scientists Mr Yadav and Mr Palshikar know this only too well.
When NCERT textbooks were written by Right-wing historians and political scientists, they were criticised by the Left-wing historians, political scientists and sociologists. Later, the Left-wing secular academics undertook a rewriting of the secular, democratic textbooks. However, the problem with secular, democratic social scientists is that they are not caste-sensitive. They also do not include enough of caste-sensitive dalit-bahujan social scientists.
Today, any discussion on caste is seen as undemocratic, and Mr Yadav and Mr Palshikar thought Nehru belonged to the fast-track democratic school whereas Dr.Ambedkar drove a snail-paced Constitution drafting! This kind of senseless handling of democratic casteism needs to be checkmated, and that’s precisely what has happened in the Indian Parliament on May 11.
One way to train our children in ideological politics is by making use of school textbooks. When the NDA was in power, it prepared school textbooks with an overdose of Hindutva ideology. Later on the UPA government appointed a well- known educationist, Prof Krishna Kumar, as the director of NCERT. The textbooks that have sparked a controversy now were prepared under his directorship. By and large the new team prepared much better schoolbooks. But the problem was that the Left, secular and socialist social scientists never bothered to examine the Indian caste system. Most of these men treat Dr.Ambedkar simply as one of the nationalist leaders. They also did not seriously examine the socio-spiritual status of Dr.Ambedkar and the deep
emotions of the oppressed masses that got constructed around his Buddhist spiritual existence. It is this status that is likely to lead to many self-assertive struggles by the oppressed.
A national-level response to any desecration of Dr.Ambdekar’s statues and a similar response to remove a cartoon that depicted him in a derogatory manner are all part of an effort at putting him on a different liberationist level from what an ordinary political scientist could comprehend. All the same, it’s important that one respects the decision of the Parliament in all humility. It’s also important that one does not demonstrate an intellectual Annagiri against Parliament. Parliament is supreme, and can decide about everything in this country.
The writer Kancha Ilaiah is director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad.

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