Seminar on Constitutional Democracy, Social Justice and Ambedkar
Akshay Sharma Delhi
The 125th Birth anniversary of Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar has been marked by various events and celebrations. The Government of India has been leading the charge in organising these. Not to be left behind, the Congress is doing its own bit to pay tribute to the legacy of Ambedkar. The Rajiv Gandhi Study Circle (RGSC) organised a national seminar titled, “Constitutional Democracy, Social Justice and Ambedkar” at the Constitution Club in Delhi.
Senior Congress leaders Ashok Gehlot, former Rajasthan CM and current Chairman of the RGSC, Mukul Wasnik, PL Punia and Digvijay Singh were present on the occasion along with other dignitaries like economist and former Planning Commission member Bhalchandra Mungekar and eminent political scientist Sudha Pai.
The underlying theme throughout the programme was to identify Ambedkar as a staunch modernist who played a pivotal role in the building of modern India and not merely a Dalit leader whose contemporary importance is restricted to being an icon of parties like BSP.
All speakers who spoke on the occasion discussed the various aspects of Ambedkar’s personality and politics. However, there was also a lot of political rhetoric specifically targeting the BJP-led government and its alleged attempt to appropriate Ambedkar’s legacy.
Speaking at the beginning of the programme Gehlot attacked the BJP directly by saying that they never believed in the teachings of Ambedkar. Wasnik took forward this attack and asked how an organisation which is regressive in its outlook can invoke Ambedkar's name. He also asserted that those who talk about Hindu Rashtra cannot claim to be constitutional.
Bhalchandra Mungekar made a strong claim when he said, “Today we are in a neo-fascist state.” But he also talked at length about Ambedkar’s work and made the point that Ambedkar, contrary to what his critics say, was not against Hindus. Instead, he wanted social transformation without violence which is the essence of democracy.
Sudha Pai changed the course of the discussion by bringing up Ambedkar’s role and thinking on the reorganisation of States, an issue that was very relevant during his time. But the speakers focussed on the overall greatness of Ambedkar and his status among the founding fathers of the modern Indian nation.
Talking to Hardnews, Aditya Narayan Misra, one of the invited guests and speakers and former president of Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) and Federation of Central University Teachers Association (FEDCUTA) said, “There is nothing wrong with celebrating the man but there must not be appropriation of his legacy.” On the question of whether Ambedkar has been unfairly represented as solely a Dalit icon, he said, “Ambedkar was a great modernist and an advocate of democracy and he realised that democracy cannot be realised without equality, freedom and secularism.”
Indeed, this was the sentiment repeatedly expressed during the seminar. Chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and MP PL Punia too made the case that Ambedkar was against inequality and not just the leader of one caste. Dr Anju Gurawa went one step further and described Ambedkar as a top-level economist, a leading feminist and a great humanist. She praised the sheer breadth of the subjects he covered, including writings about Pakistan and religious minorities as well.
Nobody can question that Ambedkar was truly an intellectual giant, tributes to whom should not be restricted to the hoardings of Dalit parties only. But it cannot be denied that his status among Dalits has led to a political war among the two principal national parties to appear more committed to his vision. If this opens up the possibility of a better and fuller understanding of Ambedkar after all these years, it will not be unwelcome.