Why is BR Ambedkar’s stock so low in Narendra Modi’s books now?
The prime minister has named Gandhi, Deendayal Upadhyaya and Lohia as
three leaders who have shaped Indian political thought in the 20th
4 hours ago
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd
The Bharatiya Janata Party has a dismal past and lacks leaders of its
own, which is why it is often accused of appropriating leaders
belonging to other parties.
Of late, Prime Minister Narendra Modi too has been naming different
leaders as his inspiration on different occasions and platforms.
“There were three great individuals who influenced and shaped Indian
political thought in the last century,” Modi said in his speech at a
public meeting in Kozhikode, Kerala, where he had gone to attend his
party’s National Council’s meeting on September 24.
“They were Mahatma Gandhi, Deendayal Upadhyaya and [Ram Manohar]
Lohia," he said. "Their thoughts and reflections are manifest in
Indian politics today too.”
He was proud, Modi said, that one of three greatest political thinkers
belonged to his party.
It is indeed good that he spelled out whom he considers to be the
greatest thinkers of the 20th century. Clearly, he does not consider
BR Ambedkar as important as the three he named.
But that was not the impression one got earlier.
“The credit for someone like me, whose mother washed neighbours’
utensils, becoming the prime minister goes to Dr Ambedkar," Modi had
said in April 2015, when he visited Mhow, Ambedkar's birthplace in
Madhya Pradesh, on his birth anniversary.
In other words, Modi was saying, without Ambedkar’s work it would not
have been possible for someone belonging to the Other Backward Classes
to have become the prime minister of India.
But that was when he was trying to woo the Dalits.
It is important to try and understand Modi’s choices for the greatest
thinkers who influenced and shaped Indian political thought in the
That Gandhi should figure in any such list is almost a given.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who has been treated by Indian and foreign
scholars as one of the greatest 20th century thinkers of India, quite
expectedly, does not figure. The BJP – and Modi in particular – for
quite some time has been trying to erase his name from that list and
that could be understood.
But what about Ambedkar? It is interesting to look at the other two
who are included.
Would Upadhyaya make the cut in any objective listing that is not done
by those belonging to Modi’s political persuasion?
And, as for Lohia being elevated to this stature, perhaps we should
remember that he has some influence in Uttar Pradesh, a state that is
going to elections in early 2017.
Let us also not forget that Gandhi and Lohia are Baniyas and Upadhyaya
is a Brahmin.
But why exclude Ambedkar?
Quite some years back, the University Grants Commission asked a team
of experts – I was one among them – to suggest a list of epoch-making
thinkers of India, ancient and modern. By that time I had published my
PhD thesis on Gautham Buddha’s Political Philosophy as a book with the
title God as Political Philosopher. I argued for Buddha to be treated
as the greatest ancient thinker of the world.
But the most common names suggested by most of the experts on modern
thinkers, who they thought had made the maximum impact on the Indian
thought process, happened to be Gandhi, Ambedkar and Nehru. Other
names like Lohia, Raja Rammohan Roy, Jayapraksh Narayan and so on were
But the majority were of the view that Gandhi, Ambedkar and Nehru, in
that order, must be adopted.
For the ancient period, the names of Kautilya, Manu along with Buddha
were suggested but the majority felt that Buddha’s role as an
institution builder and moral and utopian thinker was far greater than
Kautilya and Manu, who were also responsible for many negative ideas.
In my student days, only Kautilya and Manu used to be taught as the
greatest ancient thinkers. Buddha was not included in this list of
thinkers. But once the UGC selected Buddha as an epoch-making thinker,
universities started teaching him as one of the greatest ancient
Let us be clear that as a leader of the BJP, and also as a student of
Political Science, Modi has every right to name anyone he considers
appropriate for such a list. But he is also the prime minister of
India. His list now gets a lot of state support as well.
Which is why, the fact that this list excludes Ambedkar (and Nehru)
becomes significant. There would not have been any objection if Modi
were to project his party’s leaders as great thinkers in general
But here he was talking about three greatest thinkers of the 20th
century, and that is a problem. Because it has implications for higher
educational institutions in future.
The UGC recognised the four epoch-making thinkers – Buddha, Gandhi,
Ambedkar and Nehru – for the purpose of establishing research centres
in their names in the universities and formulating common opinion
about including them in the teaching courses.
None of these four, we should note, was included because of belonging
to any political party. Leaving Buddha aside, whose thought needs no
introduction, each one of the modern thinkers had written very
influential books. Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj, Ambedkar’s Annihilation of
Caste, Nehru’s Discovery of India are known as classics.
The expert team considered the books that they wrote (or in Buddha’s
case, the collections of his thoughts), the discussion that their
ideas generated and the broad influence of their thoughts on our
national thinking. And that is how the UGC came to choose them as
epoch-making thinkers of India.
What do we know Upadhyaya by? Four speeches delivered by him at Bombay
were put into a book form Ekatm Manavatavad Darshan, broadly
translated as “Integral Humanism”. It is hardly a text that could be
treated as coherent philosophical writing. He borrows some ideas from
MN Roy’s Radical Humanism and nets them into some kind of vague Hindu
Any major socio-political thinker to be included in such a short list
of three great thinkers of modern period must have formulated some
concrete ideas of socio-economic change. Or, to use Modi’s own words,
“influenced and shaped Indian political thought in the last century.”
Upadhyaya has no such ideas.
Modi praises Buddha and Gandhi as great thinkers and reformers of
India on international platforms. On Dalit platforms, he praises
Ambedkar to the sky. On the BJP platform, he releases a lists of three
thinkers – Gandhi, Lohia and Upadhyaya – without any logic and reason.
As I said earlier, Modi’s exclusion of Nehru could be understood but
why did he exclude Ambedkar?
That is a million dollar question, at this juncture of Dalit assertion.
Peace Is Doable
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