Monday, May 12, 2008


Since July 25 1990 when the Sensex reached the magical four figure mark for the first time ever heralding the advent of global power and cultural hegemony which saw an inexorable decline in the concept of a welfare state, the discourses of Gandhi and Ambedkar have become rallying points in the Indian political and cultural space. The nationalistic spectrum with them was never as discursive as it has been over these years without them!

One does feel in the larger context of socio-cultural and political ambience an urgency to relocate the two and their ideology as different paradigms opposed to one another and fix them in disparate slots so that they remain mutually exclusive.

The reasons are obvious. The social and private worlds refuse to take up the dalit question. One tends to believe that Gandhian discourse which anchors the self, but not the 'other' is largely emaciated as it does not address the dalit issue in the changing circumstances as an inevitable route to build an egalitarian society. Dalits continue to remain outside the historical process and a political and cultural aesthetics for them is stymied by their presence only on the fringes.

It is true that both these leaders carved a niche for both what they were, and what they were not and again have given themselves an inviolable space in the present for what they are, and what they are not! They opposed colonialist discourses in their own ways and both imbibed the west after their own fashion. Ambedkar was not a die hard ideologue and Gandhi was a bit of a romantic. But both triggered a non violent approach to end the British Raj. They had the same end in view though their ways were practically divergent.

To be clad in suit was not a habit to mime the west. It was a semiotic necessity with significations of an outward text of a dress. Ambedkar was an iconic hero with a style imitable and substance unique. His colonial outfit was not a result of an unconscious mind, but a very well perceived and practiced signifier. Gandhi clad in loin cloth and a shawl draped across his body placed himself in perspective as an authentic server of what he called 'daridra narayan' who was always his spiritual guru. He could invent a native sign to preempt the exotic and deconstruct an existing political and cultural metaphysics. Ambedkar disowned whatever was native. He could transplant an exotic heart into a native body which was again masquerading in an exotic gloss of a dress. A timid body covered in the wistfulness of the west also hid a heart which was to put into practice colonial metaphors of politics and culture against themselves. This was a paradox very ingenuously practiced by him. Gandhi baked the west in native fire and Ambedkar tried to warm the indigenous in the flames of the west though he was not completely enamoured of it. Ambedkar 'othered' the self and Gandhi, quite the opposite! But conceived as images the hermeneutics practiced by them had transcendental reverberations.

An indignant Ambedkar wanted the British to remain till the emancipation of dalits was complete. For Gandhi India's freedom meant freedom from all kinds of oppression from within as also without. Gandhi worked in this wider canvas of political and social determinism which he practiced by inventing his own tools of culture as abstract as truth and as concrete as non-violence with 'Charaka' being a seminal counter discourse to technology. Gandhi was against all great narratives and as such he didn't want the freedom struggle to become one. He embossed every single narrative of protest against caste and class on the larger text of freedom movement. Even Ramayana and Mahabharata from which he drew copiously were conglomerates of little narratives for him.

But Ambedkar's doubts were absolutely genuine. A freedom without the freedom from all macabre inequalities was only an achievement of inequity, but not justice. Freedom sans justice was an egregious act of self-deceit and 'harakiri'. The narrative of freedom would not accompany that of an individual unless the true Indian free of all servitudes was discovered in that narrative. The idea of freedom for him was a veritable discovery of the 'other' which he impeccably sought to achieve.

Gandhi's idea was abstract and heavily nuanced. He wanted to discover the 'other' through his self. The 'other' became his self in the process. Anchoring one led to nourishing the other. But the 'other' was an indefatigably nurtured ego in Ambedkar, but badly needed for the self proclamation of the dalit identity. Swathed in the eclectic and elitist, he smothered the pastness of a past which history was to replace once the British left. Ambedkar historicised the textuality of a past with a futurist agenda indentured on the modern, yet not utopian, and on a premeditated non-existential ethos. He represented the 'angst' of his people which as a predator was ruining the very fabric of their being. He countered this 'angst' and also the past trying to replace it with a history of dalit aesthetics of politics and culture.

Where as Gandhi grounded his metaphysics on the past trying to desilt it of its dregs of all hierarchies. He was an apologist of tradition, but he fawned on the limited space, tradition had offered dalits by founding his theory on the grid of self belief and practising it with the virtue of a saint. He wanted this self belief to be a trait in every dalit.

Gandhi was a diehard practitioner of truth whatever it might have meant in the given context of time and space. If he ever were to choose between truth and non-violence, the twin facets of his metaphysics, he would have stood by the former. He had such a conviction of mind and heart that 'Satya' and 'Ahimsa' were always inclusive and inseparable. His intermittent acts of fasting were committing violence on his own body to spread the message of truth. Jeopardising neither, enroute to freedom from the manacles of British imperialism and also from class and caste oppressions existing within, Gandhi had embarked upon a relentless soul searching endeavour at the same time. His sleeping with naked women was only a grain in an avalanche of self beliefs. He sought to purify himself and also the politics and culture of a nation that was impoverished by centuries of colonial rule. His atavistic candour had the assiduousness of a saint which he directed against himself and a past that had created him.

Ambedkar at another end riveted his energy on the dynamics of caste and creed and the whole apparatus of an oppressive system in vogue for centuries. He was always despaired to predict that such a deeply sunk ‘colonization’ inside India would sour fruits of freedom. The nation had to be rid of an exploitative ‘regimen’ doled out by upper caste hegemony. He didn’t want this to exacerbate with power in the hands of upper caste and class. Only then would he visualize a free India.

For which the country was still unprepared when the British finally left. The seething turmoil of caste and class was a worrying factor for Ambedkar. His distaste for past and tradition was a direct corollary of this.

Gandhi too knew this – the dalit ignominy and upper caste hegemony. His was a multi-pronged approach simultaneously carried out. He conceived India not only as a state but also a society at the same time. They were not different categories to be treated differently. A strong state for him was as important as a well knit society. He remained in Naukali trying to bury communal pathos following partition when the transfer of power was taking place at New Delhi.

In the context of a world order, the talk of welfare state, national identity and boundaries, empowering the dalits and the impermeable nature of the self have all become atrophied. Retrieving Gandhi and Ambedkar and restructuring a post colonial discourse on their coexistent philosophies seems inevitable.

But then the sameness and differences in Gandhi and Ambedkar have to be dealt with together. The complex and profound dialectics between them can be understood only then but not when one is foregrounded ahead of the other. In fact, they enrich and complement each other. If we traverse along one leaving the other by way side, we would pathologise all our discourses and lose both.

Both of them were against elite caste and class being the sole custodians of the new hegemony of power in independent India, even as Gandhi’s naming Nehru as the first Prime Minister of India drew flak from many quarters. The current scenario wants them more for the same reason. The country is not poorer without them, but richer than when they came to inhabit it years ago.
The Sensex, a powerful signifier of nation’s development rises and falls, but the poor man’s plight seems to never end.

This is the truth.


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