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Ramachandra Guha Is Wrong. There's Nothing Dubious About RSS's Celebration Of Ambedkar

13/05/2016 8:24 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Indians watch a procession to mark the birth anniversary of Bhim Rao Ambedkar in Mumbai, India, Tuesday, April 14, 2015. Ambedkar, an untouchable, or Dalit, and a prominent Indian freedom fighter, was the chief architect of the Indian Constitution, which outlawed discrimination based on caste. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

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Historians, intellectuals and political commentators owe a moral obligation to their readers: a bounden duty to present facts lucidly, objectively, truthfully and in their entirety so that the narrative remains intellectually honest.

Unfortunately, historian Ramachandra Guha's scathing 21 April op-ed, "Which Ambedkar?" in the Indian Express proves to be a biased obfuscation that draws generously on historical snippets pertaining to the Hindu Code Bill to portray the RSS as an opportunistic band of charlatans that has morphed its stance to shower praise on Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in recent times. It is a varnished version of events that wilfully colours history and uses selective excerption to pervert the true import of the discourse that followed the introduction of the Hindu Code Bill post-independence. What emerges is a photoshopped image that deliberately conveys a false impression.

While Hindu groups did play an active role in organizing resistance to the [Hindu Code] Bill, there was substantial opposition from the Congress party as well.

The Hindu Code Bill was an attempt by modern India to reform outdated practices in Hindu society that were inconsistent with the changing world, and to introduce a degree of uniformity in the interpretation and application of what was till then a diverse collection of traditions that varied with places and people. The Bill came up before the Constituent Assembly on 9 April, 1948 but immediately ran into rough weather.

The million-dollar question that begs for an answer in light of Guha's assertions is: Was the Sangh's reaction an isolated one, at variance with that of the larger Hindu community? The answer is a categorical no.

Right or wrong, the Hindu Code Bill at that point in time evoked strong negative sentiments across the entire gamut of Hindu society. While Hindu groups did play an active role in organizing resistance to the Bill, there was substantial opposition from within the ranks of the Congress party as well. Lined up against this Bill were a host of Congress luminaries like Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, President of India Rajendra Prasad, Congress President Pattabhi Sitaramayya, Speaker of the Constituent Assembly Ananthasayanam Ayyangar and Congress chief whip Satyendra Narayan Sinha.

Political commentator Inder Malhotra writes:

"The battle lines were clearly drawn, and neither side was prepared to give in. But primarily because the opposition to the Hindu Code within the Congress party was strong and widespread, its progress was glacially slow. In December 1949, when the Constituent Assembly, doubling as the Central Legislative Assembly, discussed it at length, 23 out of the 28 members who spoke were opposed to it. Most of them were Congressmen."

So vehement was President Rajendra Prasad in his opposition to the Bill that he threatened to veto it. Prabhu Chawla describes in India Today on 28 February, 1987):

"The brush between the two began even before the Bill was formally introduced in Parliament. Taking cognizance of press reports, Prasad wrote to the Prime Minister on September 15, 1951, saying: "My right to examine it (the Bill) on its merits, when it is passed by the Parliament, before giving assent to it is there. But if any action of mine at a later stage is likely to cause embarrassment to the Government, I may take such appropriate actions as I may be called upon to avoid such embarrassment consistently with the dictates of my own conscience."

Guha claims that "the RSS reviled both [Ambedkar] as well as his ideas" but fails to provide any convincing evidence to back this assertion.

Therefore, Guha's attempt to demonize the RSS by casting it as an outlier, a radical fringe that espouses retrograde ideas is duplicitous and invalid; it is a subtle attempt to slant the truth and mislead the public. Objectively, the RSS view was a reflection of the broader Hindu opposition that saw this intervention as an uncalled for interference in Hindu affairs.

The entire thrust of Guha's article is to prove that the RSS harboured an irrational and intense dislike of Dr. Ambedkar. Guha claims that "the RSS reviled both him as well as his ideas" but fails to provide any convincing evidence to back this assertion. Contradicting himself, he even confesses that, "Ambedkar was not mentioned by name."

Any reference to Ambedkar by the RSS was incidental to its views on the Hindu Code Bill; its criticism was a part of an issue-based debate that is the heart and soul of a democracy, certainly not a lowly argumentum ad hominem, which would have been unacceptable.

Additionally, Guha conveniently overlooks another critical facet of the discourse. The opposition to the Hindu Code Bill was steeped in a concept far more fundamental than what the sensationalized brouhaha surrounding the controversy suggests: The Bill violated a basic premise of the Constitution enunciated in Article 44 which states that "The State shall endeavour to secure for citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India."

The RSS response to the Hindu Code Bill was neither reactionary nor vindictive in nature.

Many feared and rightly so, that the introduction of a separate Hindu Code Bill would pave the way for silos of disparate religious laws under one Constitution resulting in individual inequities -- an anathema to modern pluralistic democracies. Though the entire leadership of the country favoured a uniform civil code, Muslim intransigence on the mater forced them to proceed along these parochial lines; one of the first instances of minorityism, a phenomenon unique to India wherein a minority bullies the majority to have its way.

In effect the Hindu Code Bill which has certainly helped to reform Hindu society sabotaged the Uniform Civil Code, a sine qua non of modern states and relegated a significant section of India's population -- mainly minorities -- to remain chained to outdated and discriminatory practices incompatible with modern laws in general and gender equality in particular.

Despite the egalitarian nature of a uniform civil code, India's so-called left liberal lobby which is essentially a cabal of retrogressive vested elements couched in the finery of modern clothes and anglicized accents, continues to oppose this notion only because it has been championed by the BJP.

The RSS response to the Hindu Code Bill was neither reactionary nor vindictive in nature. To dub it as an extremist view confined to the fringes of Hindu society is to ignore the prevailing sentiment at those times. It was purely an issue-based difference that in no way detracts from the organization's current celebration of Dr. Ambedkar.

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