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In the Political Arena, against Gandhi

This article primarily focuses on Dr. Ambedkar and his tryst with the Indian political scenario when fighting for the rights of Untouchables. In these political stand offs with the Hindu Mahasabha, Arya Samaj, Congress the article showcases the relationship of Dr. Ambedkar with Mahatma Gandhi. Given below is the gist of the article.

Ambedkar and Untouchability

A pioneer of equal rights for Untouchables, Ambedkar, considered political action as one of the instruments for their emancipation. Two options prevailed in his mind so that they could be heard, one of Reserved Seat (RS) and the other Separate Electorate (SE). The difference was in Reserved Seats, as the number of Untouchables was usually in minority, the high and intermediate castes could elect an Untouchable of their choice, for whom the local Untouchables wouldnt have voted. In the Separate Electorates, only Untouchables could vote for Untouchable candidates. Ambedkar and the Simon Commission: Simon Commission was formed to reform the constitution of India and called various communities, but was boycotted by the Congress. Here Ambedkar lay down the demand for Separate Electorates. Congress formed the Nehru committee in response and suggested that Untouchables should not be granted RS or SE. The Simon Commission granted reserve seats to the Depressed Classes, which was Congress dint take part in the drafting. To resolve this deadlock, conferences were held in London. Round Table Conferences (RTC): First RTC was boycotted by the congress. In the 2nd RTC, Gandhi was invited and he attended it. Here the confrontation between him and Dr. Ambedkar reached a crescendo when he opposed Ambedkar and his stand as the representative of the minorities. Gandhi was totally against creating a divide in Hinduism by reservation. Statements like I do not mind the Untouchables being converted to Islam or Christianity made it very clear, where his ideals lay.

Arm Wrestling with Gandhi and the Poona Pact

After the 2nd RTC, the Communal Award was announced in August 1932 which recognized the right of Untouchables right to have a Separate Electorate. Gandhi who was in Prison in Poona at that time went on a fast against this rule.

Gandhi and Caste: Initially Gandhi had always looked to help out in the social upliftment of the Untouchables (1920). However he focused on the religious dimensions which led him to the problem of temple access for the Untouchables. He supported the campaign, but during his visit to the temples, the local Brahmins eroded his convictions. Soon, he refrained from demanding social equity for the Untouchables (1922 onwards). He followed the Sanatan dharma and believed in the fundamental divisions of caste in the Hindu Society (4 varnas). Ambedkar and Gandhi: Ambedkar praised Gandhi for his non-violent modus operandi and his efforts for the temple access Satyagraha. Subsequently Gandhi made statements, where he put his faith in the Hindu Society and how a separate Electorate would create a division in this Society. The Poona Pact or the failure of Ambedkars Political plan: As soon as Gandhi announced that he was beginning his fast to death in response to the Communal Award he received messages from all over India. Not only upper castes, but also Dalits who believed in the freedom movement voiced their support for him. After this emotional pouring, a Conference of Hindu and Untouchable Leaders was held where Ambedkar was emotional blackmailed to compromise. His turnaround was only due to the fact that Gandhis health was deteriorating and they could in turn be blamed for the death of Gandhi, leaving the untouchables in a worse situation with the Hindu Society. The Poona Pact was established where 148 seats were granted to the Untouchables in the Legislative Council. Gandhi commented to Ambedkar In accepting this, you accept the position that you are Hindus. Later Gandhi approved the setting up of the All India AntiUntouchablility League which he followed intensively. At one point of time the Orthodox Hindus (Upper Castes) very all angry with him for his support for the rights of Untouchables which mollified Ambedkar. The legal Abolition of Untouchability: At the end of 1932, a bill was introduced with the aim of abolishing untouchability but it was never put to vote, which showed lack of bite Gandhi had in making decision or taking a stand against Congress

leaders. This was shown again when the Temple Entry Bill was sought to be moved in the Madras Council, but was not at the advice of Gandhi to appease C. Rajagopalachari, then CM and another conservative boss of Congress. The struggle between Gandhi and Ambedkar, ended with the formers victory, with the signing of the Poona Pact. Reserved Seats thwarted Ambedkars desire to transform the Untouchables into a political force. Given that they were never in a majority in a constituency an alliance of the Upper and intermediate castes, could elect an Untouchable of their choice. Gandhi always had to make compromises with the Upper Castes who thought he was going too fast and Ambedkar who thought he was going too slow. This was repeated again in the Arya Samaj.

Ambedkar and the Arya Samaj

Some Arya Samajists tended to identify themselves with Ambedkars plea for the abolition of Untouchability and the eradication of the Caste System. They were unfortunately opposed by the orthodox old guard of Arya Samajists. This led Ambedkar to mistrust the Arya Samajists even more. He was totally against the idea of Chaturvanya or the division of society in four classes instead of 4000 that were present in India at that time. He knew it was impossible to convert the existing 4000 castes in 4 as the higher castes would never admit merit as the ultimate determinant of social status. Intellectual work would remain the monopoly of Brahmins, whereas the Shudras would continue to work the land and to serve the upper orders. In the end Ambedkar was therefore confronted with two types of reformers The Arya Samajists and Gandhi in whom he detected a strong reluctance to put their words into practice. His faith in the political action now eroded, he envisaged at one time to converting to another religion as a way to ridding himself of the Untouchability. Yet he was to remain a politician. In 1936, Ambedkar founded his first political party, the Independent Labour Party.