Why Guha Is Wrong In His Criticism Of Sangh’s Celebration Of Ambedkar 

by Aravindan Neelakandan - Apr 29, 2016 03:03 PM +05:30 IST
Why Guha Is Wrong In His Criticism Of Sangh’s Celebration Of Ambedkar BR Ambedkar
    • Guha’s fabricated binary of patriarchal, socially stagnant Hindutva versus progressive Nehruvian secularism is more fiction than fact.
    • Hindutva has its own rich legacy of social emancipation and internal space for evolution, which the Sangh’s celebration of Ambedkar continues today.

Ramachandra Guha, in his latest rebuke of the Sangh, has taken to task the mouthpiece of the Sangh Parivar, Organiser. Guha has quoted articles, editorials and letters to the editor published in the magazine during on the Hindu Code Bill. He has quoted some of the worst vitriolic attacks found in the editorials of the Organiser against Dr BR Ambedkar and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. The attacks are downright nasty and uncivilized.

Guha’s focus of attack, interestingly, is not the vitriol published against Dr Ambedkar. He knows they belong in the past. What he wants to know instead is how organizations of the Sangh, which vehemently “[defended] patriarchy in all its aspects”, could now accept Dr Ambedkar in a period of 60 to 65 years. Guha magnanimously concedes that organizations have the right to change (thank heavens for such small mercies), but holds that a frank and open reckoning with why and how it happened should be made available. (Does that apply to Marxists who embrace Nehru today after calling him the running dog of imperialism, Mr Guha?)

While unhesitatingly admitting that the articles that came up in the Organiser during the Hindu Code Bill controversy were the voices of conservatism, patriarchy and social stagnation, let us see if Hindutva provides enough room for change to justify the saffron celebration of Dr Ambedkar.

Guha tries to create a false equivalence between Hindutva and social stagnation. Social stagnation and conservatism transcended the ideological barriers of Hindutva and the Nehruvian version of secularism. There were those who supported Nehruvian secularism but were opposed to the Hindu Code Bill and there were those who opposed Nehruvian secularism but strongly supported the Hindu Code Bill.

The very first blow in modern India’s history to patriarchal stagnation came in the form of prohibiting child marriage despite tough resistance from the orthodox, and it was pioneered by a Hindu nationalist, Harbilas Sarda, the author of the then famous Hindu Superiority. The Arya Marriage Bill – which legally freed Hindu marriages from the clutches of orthodoxy, and made inter-caste and even inter-religious marriages possible through Vedic rituals – was initiated by Narayan Baskar Khare, a strong Hindu nationalist.

In the case of the Hindu Code Bill itself, we have the example of Kakasaheb NV Gadgil. A freedom fighter and member of Nehru’s cabinet, Gadgil was known for his pro-Hindu views. He fervently supported the Bill and famously praised Dr Ambedkar as ‘Abhinava Manu’ (Modern Manu). Gadgil had praised RSS for the work they did during Partition to protect Sikhs and Hindus. He also cautioned Nehru against criticizing Hindus, bitterly opposed Nehru’s betrayal of East Bengal Hindus, supported Somnath temple reconstruction movement of KM Munshi and later supported the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). “After the AICC session is over, I will come and join VHP,” he later wrote.

Dr Ambedkar himself defended the Hindu Code Bill, not from the Nehruvian point of view, but from the Hindutva point of view. He said in 1950: “The present bill is progressive. This is an effort to try to have one civil law for all the citizens under the constitution of India. The law is based on the religious scriptures of the Hindus.”

Both Dr Ambedkar and Hindutva ideologue KM Munshi were on the same wavelength with respect to the concept of a Uniform Civil Code. Prof Jivanta Schöttli, in the case study of Nehru’s policy choices with respect to the Hindu Code Bill, points out that “the two lone voices which stood up for the Uniform Civil Code were BR Ambedkar and KM Munshi who pointed out that (a) the idea that personal law was somehow an intrinsic part of religion was a British legacy and (b) that there was nothing immutable about either Hindu or Muslim Law.”

Curiously, Golwalkar was against the Uniform Civil Code. It should be noted here that KM Munshi was one of the founders of the VHP, and today’s Hindu nationalist demand for Uniform Civil Code can be said to have originated through the Ambedkar-Munshi stream rather than from the initial stand of Golwalkar himself.

‘Guruji’ Golwalkar, the second chief of RSS had himself shown a remarkable change in his perception of social realities. The statements of RSS heads were no ex-cathedra Papal statements. They were amenable to change. A good example is Golwalkar’s stand on caste – Varna. Initially, he stated that “as the older dried branches fall off a growing tree, to give place to the new ones, the society would shed Varna Vyavastha, the existing social structure at one time and would give place to a new necessary one.” He considered this “a natural process of the development of the society.”

Later, he nuanced this position. Far from the natural withering away of the caste system, Golwalkar envisioned a proactive annihilation of caste. He talked of demolishing the old building for the construction of a new one: “… for the sake of construction of a new house, old house requires to be destroyed. Similarly, perturbed social system must be put to an end here and now, and should be destroyed root and branch.”

‘Guruji’ Golwalkar had great respect for Dr Ambedkar, who had assured him of support if the issue of the ban on RSS came up in cabinet discussions. Nehru’s speeches, which, as VN Gadgil reported, were as if “he could not prove his nationalism unless he criticized Hindus”, vitiated the atmosphere. This was true even before the murder of the Mahatma.

Further, the way Nehru used the opportunity of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination to witchhunt the RSS, despite no evidence, had embittered the vast majority of RSS cadre. They saw nothing but anti-Hindu motives in Nehru’s selective sponsoring of the Hindu Code Bill. To make matters worse, Nehru yielded to Islamist pressure in Parliament and failed to make Uniform Civil Code the fundamental right of all citizens.

Yet, Golwalkar never tolerated any personal attacks on Nehru. In fact, not all articles which appeared in the Organiser were to the liking of the RSS chief. Hindu nationalist historian Sita Ram Goel had recorded his dismay at how Golwalkar stopped a series of articles attacking Nehru over the Chinese debacle of 1962.

The social emancipation stream of Hindutva was forcefully pursued by the third RSS chief, Bala Saheb Deoras. His famous speech made in 1974 at ‘Vasant Vyakyanmala’ (a festival commenced in 1875 by the great social reformer MG Ranade, whom Dr Ambedkar highly respected) is today a policy document of the Sangh. It is interesting that Guha has selectively ignored this document, which should have provided him vital clues to understanding the way the Sangh worldview has evolved.

In his speech, Deoras referred to the Hindu Code Bill with respect. “Pandit Nehru and Dr Ambedkar were the main architects of the Code,” Deoras said. He pointed out the justified rationale behind naming the bill ‘Hindu’: “in order to make the Code applicable to the largest social group in the country”. He went on to quote the Sanskrit saying that one cannot drink salty water from the well just because one’s ancestors dug the well. “Just because something is old, it need not necessarily be good and valid for all time,” he said.

Further, he pointed out the Jewish practice of seers reviewing and reinterpreting texts according to modern times and challenges. He pointed out how Christendom, which once conducted Scope’s trial, is today largely at peace with the theory of evolution. According to him, all of these had “a great lesson for Hindus”.

Since then, this has been the moving spirit behind the social vision of the Sangh Parivar. This has been repeatedly demonstrated, as by the late Ashok Singhal, the international president of VHP. Singhal sided with Sangh Pracharak and Chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, Suraj Bhan, against orthodox religious heads, when Bhan stated that Smritis which demean sections of society should be discarded. 

So looking down the history, Hindutva in general and the Sangh in particular have shown remarkable openness and ability to not only adapt to change but also catalyze social emancipation. However, eminent historians prefer to exist within the selective time warps constructed by them for their own vested ideological interests.

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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