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Political Play
Ratan Sharda
National Icons - Deification, Respect, Appropriation or Downsizing 24 April, 2015
I had an occasion to be part of a TV panel discussion on 'Appropriation of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar' by RSS/BJP and other political parties. Panel had grandson of Dr. Ambedkar, Dr. Prakash Ambedkar; Kumar Ketkar, Congress and BJP spokespersons and yours truly.

This debate spurs me to take this issue at a much deeper level. It’s about how we treat our national icons or national heroes tells us a lot about our society. I do not think, US or France political parties ever fought over the legacy of a particular president like Lincoln, Eishenhower or Charles de Gaualle or shouted about the party any of them belonged.

Nor is such a noise heard from UK or even China. In India, we generally deify a leader or downsize him to fit into our limited tunnel vision of a caste or language or turn him/her into a family heirloom. Any person or organization going against this norm is targeted for either ‘insulting’ or ‘appropriating’ a leader!

Is it pure politicking or is it a national trait of reductionism? Why can’t I respect a Mahatma Gandhi but talk about his frailties? Why can’t RSS salute him as it follows his lifestyle of simplicity and thoughts on economy more closely than the so called owners of his brand even if it criticised him for his unjust fast to give Rs 50cr to Pakistan during the heat of partition?

Why can’t a person respect Dr. Amebdkar for his great efforts to emancipate downtrodden dalit brethren but disagree with reservations? Why have we reduced Shivaji to a Maratha warrior instead of a trailblazing Hindu king who stood against Mughal might at its zenith and founded a small kingdom exemplifying true Hindu secular rule and laid foundation of an empire that reached Delhi and ruled major part of India at one time?

Why do we reduce Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose as beloved of Bengalese, Cholas as great Tamil rulers (not Hindu Kings or great national heroes who ruled the seas over entire South East Asia)? Why should Dr. Ambedkar be referred to as a Dalit icon and Nehru called a Pandit though he is supposed to be strongly against Hindu ethos, practices and casteism?

Our opinion leaders keep bemoaning about lack of national heroes and our youth cannot think beyond a Sachin Tendulkar or a Shahrukh Khan as their icons for this trait of ours. Political groups have appropriated exemplary leaders for their narrow political ends or family security or caste vote blocks.

I think, our political leaders barring perhaps members of Constituent Assembly have reduced politics to icon making to suit their narrow ends - as unquestionable heroes or as gods or family heirlooms.

The issue of Dr. Amebdkar being appropriated by RSS would not arise if people knew that he finds a mention with many other illustrious national heroes of yore and present in its 'Ekatmata Stotra' since decades. It is true and rightly so that Dr. Ambedkar was disillusioned with traditional Hindu religious orthodoxy which perpetuated ‘untouchability’. He appreciated RSS approach to untouchability or rather casteless treatment of all Hindus as one after his visit to RSS camp in 1935.

He met RSS people three more times till 1953. D B Thengadi, highly respected RSS ideologue, is quoted having said that Dr. Amebdkar found RSS way of reforming Hindu society very slow. He converted himself and his followers to Buddhism as he couldn’t wait so long for Hindu society to reform while his poor brethren suffered.

People forget that he deliberately chose a religion that had its roots in Vedic ethos; not Islam or Christianity though he was given all kinds of allurements by their leaders. But, did RSS ever criticise Dr. Ambedkar or his politics? Emphatically ‘No’. It went about its task of spreading social harmony and reforming Hindu society to accept all its members as equals.

RSS through Vishwa Hindu Parishad from the day it was established in 1964 got resolution passed through all the Shankaracharyas and other Saints of various sects of Hindu dharma that 'untouchability' is not part of Hinduism, and that no Hindu is untouchable, all are offsprings of same mother. It trained Dalits and Women to become priests.

RSS persuaded Marathwada people, including its own members’ to support renaming of Marathwada University after Dr. Ambedkar even though keeping quiet was more expedient. All this while Congress played caste politics and let the region be on the boil for years on this issue.

It may surprise many that Dr. Ambedkar’s views were similar to RSS on many national issues - His opposition to Article 370, his proposal for total transfer of population after partition, his criticism of Aryan Invasion Theory with his own scholarly research, his belief in spiritual and cultural unity of India and opposition to conversion to Islam or Christianity.

Though he was stopped from learning Sanskrit in his young days due to typical opposition from high caste educationalists, he pursued it. He went to the extent of a proposing an amendment in constitution in Nov 1949 to make Sanskrit the official language of India instead of Hindi. (Arvindan Nilakandan, He was also opposed to linguistic states like the then Chief of RSS M S Golwalkar (Guruji).

Now, consider the opponents’ claim over Dr. Ambedkar as ‘their icon’ or ‘not available to others’! Congress saw to it that Dr. Ambedkar never became an elected leader. He was defeated twice in 1952 and then in 1953 by Congress candidate. He was provided a Rajya Sabha birth as a courtesy by it so he could head constitutional body but never allowed to become a mass leader. They had no love lost for him as is clear from current history.

Look at Mahatma Gandh’s status. He talked of disbanding Congress after independence so people with different ideological leanings could then organize their own parties rather than use the ‘brand’ goodwill of an umbrella organization that carried people of all political leanings for independence struggle. He was eased out to distant regions while his followers enjoyed power. In spite of an attack a week before his actual assassination, and admission of the culprit, Madanlal Pahwa of a conspiracy, he was not provided security under the excuse that he didn’t want it. Hadn’t any one heard of police in mufti?

All his policies were debunked by his chosen successor. He remained only a photo-frame in government offices, nothing more. A person who was remembered on two days of the year by laying wreaths on his memorial. But, the moment you criticise him or try to perpetuate his memory by different means, the guards of his photo-frames wake up and start shouting that he is insulted or appropriated.

Mr. Prakash Ambedkar is invited only as the grandson of Dr. Ambedkar. He has done nothing else in his life apart from milking his legacy. His political posturing is anti-thesis of his grandfather’s politics. He has split party founded by his grandfather. He has done business with ideologies that Dr. Ambedkar criticised. Is Dr. Ambedkar his family icon?

We have so called ‘progressive’ journalists who have always reported elections only in terms of caste while spouting wisdom about ‘rampant casteism’ even as Indian populace is moving away from casteist politics. Journalists like Kumar Ketkar who lectures RSS on Brahminism and Ambedkar, also belongs to the tribe of journalists who think only in terms of caste but consider blatantly casteist parties like SP and RJD etc as ‘secular-progressive’ parties.

This is the progressive group who has no hesitation in marginalizing freedom fighters like Savarkar and all other revolutionaries; and white washing independence struggle as Gandhi and Nehru joint venture. This is the group that tried hard to erase Netaji Subhash Bose from collective memory of the masses. But, truth has a bad habit of sprouting out from anywhere somehow.

My plea to wise men in public life is - whether political, opinion builders or journalists - please give objective space to all national leaders, let anybody have access to memory of such great leaders and show respect. Stop hounding people who may think differently from the dominant intellectual class today. Times are changing. Stop perceiving any critique as an insult to them. Stop making bonsais out of these gigantic personalities by labelling them as caste, linguistic or regional leaders. They are part of history.

No critique can dislodge them from their high pedestal, unless they were hoisted on populace through subterfuge. Please, stop owning national leaders as family heirlooms or private assets of political groups.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
About The Author
Ratan Sharda is a citizen journalist. He has authored books like 'Secrets of RSS'. A marketing consultant by profession, Mr. Sharda is a keen observer of the country's political scenario.
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