Lately, a growing number of political parties have been vying with each other to be seen ideologically aligned with Babasaheb Ambedkar, especially around his 125th birth anniversary. His grandson, Prakash Ambedkar, former MP and president of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, spoke to Vivek Bhavsar on the battle over Ambedkar’s legacy, Mayawati and extending reservations to Jats, Patels, Marathas...Excerpts from the interview.
What do you think of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh trying to grab Ambedkar’s legacy?
Before understanding the RSS and BJP’s stand over the legacy issue, we have to look into the history of Indian leaders and their religious stand. Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru spoke about issues related to Hindus, but they didn’t give a road map to resolve those issues. They recognised that there are a lot of conflicts among Hindus over gods, on methods of worshipping and hierarchy between gods.
There are cultural differences among Hindus and this is visible in their caste system... There is no unity among Hindus and, therefore, the BJP and the RSS have been appealing to Hindus to come together against Muslims. It is a negative aspect of Hindu unity. We don’t come together for a solution to our problems, but come together for suppressing somebody else.
What’s the connection between the Vedic card and Ambedkar’s legacy?
The BJP and the RSS represent Vedic religion, which is Manuwad. They want to rebuild Manuwad and have begun the process. We have no right to express our views, no freedom of speech even if you are a scholar, as we have seen in the case of Rohith Vemula. Ambedkar had said, in this political process, whether you are educated or uneducated, whichever caste you may belong to, you have equal rights. But the RSS opposes equality.
Then why are the RSS and BJP celebrating Ambedkar Jayanti in a big way?
They are just using Ambedkar for political benefits. They have accepted Ambedkar only physically, not ideologically. Celebrating his day by saying we have bought the building in London and are making monuments at various places is nothing but a show. This is not what Ambedkar stood for. He was against Hindu ways of worship and the RSS and the BJP are now introducing that as a way to worship Ambedkar.
Before Independence, the RSS wanted to bring their own system. (Ideologically) Gandhi doesn’t come in their way, Nehru doesn’t come in their way, Patel becomes helpful for them. Only Ambedkar stood with the law and did not allow the RSS to bring the Vedic system. They have to either overcome Ambedkar or appropriate him. Since they are in power, they are trying to overcome Ambedkar.
In your previous interviews, you have said that Ambedkar was Leftist, but didn’t he oppose the Left also?
I had said he was more towards the Left than Right in ideology.
Why are you supporting the Marxists?
I am not supporting the Marxists. Look, they neither have a social agenda nor a religious agenda. They only have an economic agenda. And the BJP is all for multinationals. They are opening each and every sector for multinational companies and that also has a caste angle... Industrialists only focus on profits and don’t care about the right to work of the lower classes of society. The BJP is supporting this and bringing laws that will only help industrialists. Ambedkar had said that economic growth cannot be achieved without the involvement of all sections of society. The Marxists are fighting for the rights of the backward classes of society. That’s why we are supporting them. We don’t have ideological similarities.
Mayawati too is working with the ideology of Ambedkar...
Mayawati didn’t work on Ambedkar’s ideology. Her move was to only grab power. Mayawati’s agenda was political.
But she did do social engineering…
It was not social engineering, but an eyewash. She chose candidates who could win seats. Despite being from the dalit community, she stopped the reimbursement of tuition fees of students from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. She took this decision immediately after she came to power for the first time. In Maharashtra, the state pays the fee of SC and ST students. That’s why she lost power in the last Assembly elections. She has looted the state.
There are aggressive demands for reservation from Maratha, Dhangar, Patel and Muslims... What is your opinion about extending the reservation policy?
I am against the reservation policy based on political agenda. Reservation should be given on economic basis to those who deserve it.
Does this mean you are against caste reservation? Do you want to say reservation for SCs and STs should be revoked?
No. I will not say SCs and STs should be removed from the category of reserved and backward classes. I want to say, keeping these two categories, add new communities who deserve it, but the criterion should be the economic status of the community.
According to you, what was the reason for changing the name of Gurgaon when there was no such demand from people?
As I said earlier, the BJP wants to create Manuwad once again. They want to bring back the Vedic era in India. Changing the name of Gurgaon to Gurugram is an example. Gurgaon is related to Guru Dronacharya of Mahabharata and we know that he had asked for Eklavya’s thumb. They want to say that they will behave with you as he behaved with Eklavya. It’s going back to the old age. They are trying to reset social order.
What was the motive of Rohith’s family to convert to Buddhism?
There are a large number of silent followers of Buddhism in India. They don’t feel conversion is the way to Buddhism. They just follow it. One of the best things about Buddhism is that you can express yourself, you have freedom and you have status in society. That is the reason people are attracted to Buddhism. If you read Rohith’s last letter, he said that he prefers to be a star rather than a human being in an inhuman, orthodox and regressive society. His letter is basically what I will call the last “straw that breaks the camel’s back”. Nobody wants to reform themselves. Hindu organisations do not want to bring reforms. In fact, they want to make it more regressive.
There is violent resistance at all levels... Let’s take the example of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union president Kanhaiya Kumar. He was expressing himself. You might disagree, but that does not mean you can throw stones, beat him or make an attempt to kill him. This is the intolerance in society. The BJP and the RSS need to explain why they are indulging in violence. I see double standards in the middle class. When the panthers and Naxalites become violent, the middle class reacts immediately. Why they didn’t react to Mr Kumar is the question. The middle class must understand that double standards cannot work. Society has to be honest to itself.
The Congress too organised a rally of the Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi at Nagpur on the occasion of Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary. Will that impress the dalit community?
The Congress has to give answers. Why did they ignore Ambedkar all these years? Without explaining why they ignored dalits and the reasons behind it, they cannot have a share of the dalit vote.