Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ambedkar - greatest Indian since Gandhi

I am not a fan of polls that decide an individual's greatness but I find it very satisfying all the same that a CNN IBN- Outlook poll ended up with B R Ambedkar getting the highest votes for the title of the 'greatest Indian after Gandhi'.

I don't know whether the title refers merely to chronology or whether it is meant to signify rank, that is, that Gandhi is number one and Ambedkar is next. If so, the ranking is bound to be bitterly disputed. I guess it will come down to how you measure greatness- in terms of the impact somebody had on the people of India or the worldview that somebody espoused.

If the latter is the criterion, then Ambedkar has few competitors, not only in India, but anywhere in the world. His is a liberating, egalitarian view in which all men (and women)  get an opportunity to realise their potential. There is fundamental fairness and decency to Ambedkar's vision of India, as also a progressive or forward-looking dimension. If India is to realise its potential, not just in terms of growth or military power, but in terms of uplifting all sections of India, then the Ambedkar view is one that commends itself.

The Outlook issue on the subject is a collector's item; I have read several of the pieces in it already. S Anand's article deserves special mention. Anand asks how it is that Ambedkar ending up at the top of this ranking when this did not happen in earlier rankings. He explains:

Sceptic that I am, this “victory” for Ambedkar is most likely a result of the presence of a burgeoning internet-savvy, mobile-wielding, dedicated Dalit middle class that is almost invisibly making its presence felt. Still largely kept away from mainstream media, the private sector and our universities—which have undisguised disdain for Ambedkar’s greatest weapon, reservation—the Dalits, in India and abroad, have fashioned their own websites, mailing lists and blogs such as Round Table Conference, Dalit & Adivasi Students’ Portal and Savari, a YouTube channel called Dalit Camera, besides scores of Facebook groups.

Anand mentions the heart-rending story of Ambedkar's attempt to get his terrific work on the Buddha (The Buddha and his Dhamma) published:

The greatest exponent of Buddhism after Asoka had ruthlessly been kept out of this Buddha Jayanti committee presided over by S. Radhakrishnan, then vice-president and a man who embarrassingly believed that Buddhism was an “offshoot of Hinduism”, and “only a restatement of the thought of the Upanishads from a new standpoint”. Worse, when Nehru replied to Ambedkar the next day, he said that the sum set aside for publications related to Buddha Jayanti had been exhausted, and that he should approach Radhakrishnan, chairman of the commemorative committee. Nehru also offered some business advice, gratuitously: “I might suggest that your books might be on sale in Delhi and elsewhere at the time of Buddha Jayanti celebrations when many people may come from abroad. It might find a good sale then.” Radhakrishnan is said to have informed Ambedkar on phone about his inability to help him.

Today, thanks to a website (or several websites) dedicated to his memory, we have access to all of Ambedkar's works. That's how I discovered him myself - about six or seven years ago- and was shocked that I had remained unaware of his greatness all these years. Anand quotes a historian as saying that Ambedkar was "intellectually head and shoulders" above Gandhi, Nehru and other Congress leaders.

This is entirely true. He had a PhD from Columbia, a DSc from LSE and had also qualified as a barrister. Reading his works, one is struck, first, by the depth of his scholarship. This was a man who was steeped in public life and the world of action, who tirelessly fought for causes and laboured on the Indian Constitution, and yet found time to produce several works, at least a dozen of which could qualify as doctoral theses. One is also struck by his forensic mind and his dispassionate tone. Ambedkar had much to be angry and bitter about and yet very little of it intrudes into his scholarly analysis. He lays out the evidence and then proceeds to derive conclusions in a clinical way.

It is natural that the dalits should have claimed him as their icon but it is also unfortunate in a way because Ambedkar deserves to be  presented as a figure with universal appeal, somebody to whom all Indians, irrespective of caste, class and religion, can look up to as an authentic icon for the twenty first century.


sujatha said...

Dear Prof,
Well said and well written.

Anonymous said...

'Krishna believed in fraud. His life is nothing but a series of frauds. Equal dislike I have for Rama. Examine his conduct in the Surpanakha episode, in the Vali-Sugriva episode, and his beastly behaviour towards Sita.’

No doubt one can in academic discourse have such debates. But how exactly are millions of Indians who look up to Krishna and Rama as gods consider someone who insults them as an icon? Perhaps they should all recognize the folly of their beliefs,expiate for their sins and come around to Ambedkar's view. You should ask yourself if people of other religion would look up to someone as an icon if that person hailed such invective on their gods/prophets.

Ambedkar was a great man, but he was unquestionably divisive.

T T Ram Mohan said...


Far be it from me to justify everything that Ambedkar wrote- I would imagine that he was fallible like everybody else.


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rahul raj said...

The Greatest Indian:JRD TATA

Everyone must be aware of the show "The Greatest Indian" after Mahatma Gandhi which was launched by History Channel in association with CNN-IBN.

JRD TATA has been nominated,J R D Tata was known as a perfectionist among his peers. The only industrialist to get India's highest civilian honour Bharat Ratna, JRD was a pioneer aviator who started civil aviation in India.

Amitabh Bachan shares his view and experince about TATA in this Video.

Ashish Barna said...

And As Indian i am proud that Dr B R Ambedkar Is deserve the Best Indian and Greatest Indian who not only write but Role in drafting India's Constitution And Role in the formation of Reserve Bank of India. which is really big thing in the world. I salute Dr B R Ambedkar because of him now Indian and all Indian has their Right and living freely.


Asheesh Barna

anil kumar said...

read more at B R Ambedkar Quotes