The ideologies of the RSS and B.R. Ambedkar can be called two opposite poles of the Indian political spectrum. While Ambedkar stood for the annihilation of caste, struggled for democratic values and marched towards social justice, the RSS stands for the status quo and the revival of the hierarchical value system of pre-modern times.
It is ironic that despite these core contradictions, RSS ideologues try to make a show of paying respect to Ambedkar in various forums, including celebrating his birth anniversary. So in a way, it was not surprising when RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in his annual Vijyadashami speech on October 24 called upon his followers to read speeches of Ambedkar, particularly the last two speeches delivered by him in the Constituent Assembly. Bhagawat went to the extent of putting Ambedkar in the same category as RSS founder and first sarsanghchalak (chief) K.B. Hedgewar.
Usually, the response of RSS types to Ambedkar’s quest for equality has been to oppose his efforts at an ideological level under the garb of ‘our glorious past’.
As such, the struggle for social justice which initially came up in the form of the ‘Non-Brahmin Movement’ in the Nagpur area of Vidarbha was one of the major reasons for the landlord-Brahmin alliance of this region to form RSS. In Maharashtra, this alliance is called Shetji-Bhatji. The Dalit awakening began with Jyotirao Phule who struggled to open schools for oppressed castes. It was backed up and enhanced by Ambedkar starting the newspaper Mooknayak in 1920 and the Bahujan Hitkarini Sabha in 1923. These might have added tremendously to the awakening.
Later in his pursuit of social justice Ambedkar organised the Chavdar Tale Satyagraha (access to public drinking water for Dalits) in 1927 and the Kalaram Temple entry movement in 1930. The RSS itself is never known to have come forward to support these movements of Babasaheb. Among upper caste leaders, it was only Gandhi who took up the issue of caste most seriously and devoted time to improving the plight of Dalits in the years after the Poona Pact of 1932.
Meanwhile, the RSS was propagating the idea of a Hindu rashtra. V.D. Savarkar was at the forefront of the theory of the two-nation theory, the Hindu Nation and the Muslim Nation. This Hindu nation theory propagated by the RSS came under severe criticism from Ambedkar as he wrote:
“Strange as it may appear, Mr. Savarkar and Mr. Jinnah, instead of being opposed to each other on the one nation versus two nations issue, are in complete agreement about it. Both agree not only agree, but insist that there are two nations in India—one the Muslim nation and the other the Hindu nation.” [Thoughts on Pakistan (1940)]
Ambedkar was totally opposed to the concept of a Hindu Nation. “If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country.… Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost,” he wrote in Pakistan or the Partition of India (1946, pages 354-355). He was against majoritarianism, which in the Indian context meant the unbridled rule of the majority community, the Hindus. This is the current dominant ideology of the RSS led by Bhagwat as Narendra Modi has come forward to defend it by asking what is wrong with majoritarianism.
After the presentation of the final draft of the constitution, the RSS’s opposition came its mouthpiece, Organiser. A scathing editorial in the November 1949 edition read:
“The worst [thing] about the new Constitution of Bharat…is that there is nothing Bharatiya about it… [T]here is no trace of ancient Bharatiya constitutional laws, institutions, nomenclature and phraseology in it”.
The Hindu Code Bill drafted by Ambedkar was a major step in efforts towards loosening the hold of patriarchy and striving for equality for women. The orthodox forces led by the RSS frontally attacked it. Ramachandra Guha, the eminent historian of modern India, writes:
“The Sangh opposed the passage of the Hindu Code Bill that sought to give Hindu women the right to marry outside their caste, divorce their husband, and inherit property. In 1949, the RSS organized hundreds of meetings and protests across India to stop the bill, where sadhus and sants came to speak.”
The Constituent Assembly in its wisdom enunciated the provisions of reservation for Scheduled Castes and and Scheduled Tribes. Through word-of-mouth propaganda, these provisions were undermined and defamed by right-wing leaders, which led to anti-Dalit violence in Gujarat in 1980-1981 and again in 1985. Similarly, reservations for the OBCs, under the Mandal Commission, were indirectly opposed when rath yatras for a Ram temple in Ayodhya were jacked up and then BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee stated something to the effect of “They brought Mandal, so we brought Kamadal.” Interestingly, the Sangh parivar oversaw the demolition of the Babri masjid on December 6, the death anniversary of Ambedkar, a tactical move to undermine the importance of this day for democratic values.
As far as the status of religious minorities was concerned, Ambedkar wanted to grant full protective clauses. Though these clauses have not been implemented in full at any time in Independent India’s history, the attempt to implement them is labelled as ‘minority appeasement’. Babasaheb was for implementing the concept of Fraternity; on the contrary, the politics of majoritarianism has spread hatred against minorities, leading to violence and polarisation.
The concept of social democracy was an inalienable part of democracy as far as Ambedkar was concerned. He was for the annihilation of caste. RSS, on the contrary, has founded “Samajik Samrasta Manch” (Social Harmony Forum). For RSS, different castes were part of the whole, giving strength to Hindu society.
Here lies the major opposition between the ideology of these two streams. Hindu majoritarian politics attempts to maintain the caste hierarchy in newer terminologies. While paying lip service to the Indian constitution, ideologues of Hindu majoritarianism argue that India is a ‘civilisational state’ (symbol for caste and gender hierarchical values in scriptures like Manusmriti) where the constitution should be secondary!
Cleverly, while being opposed to Ambedkar’s ideology, the Sangh parivar is paying lip service to him and now even quoting him. This is a clever ploy meant purely for electoral purposes.
Ram Puniyani is president of the Centre of Study of Society and Secularism.