In India, presence of a cartoon in the school text book has generated a convoluted debate. Portrayal of B.R. Ambedkar, one of the most important revolutionaries, in a cartoon has invited multiple construals. The Government of India had immediately expunged the cartoon from the school text book and formed the committee to look into other cartoons. The expert committee has recommended the deletion of certain cartoons aimed at politicians and bureaucrats. In the entire debate, B.R Ambedkar’s idea of freedom was missed. Class of politics, another tool to understand the nature of politics, has given a miss. This article emphasizes on idea of Ambedkar’s freedom and class of politics. Class of politics of a political class which took decision has to be explained because of their continuous scant attention to B.R. Ambedkar and now intriguing defense of removal of a cartoon in the name of him.
Cartoon controversy of National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) Political Science Book,Indian Constitution at Work, has brought forth Janus-faced consequences in India. On the one hand opinions have oppugned the legitimacy of action over cartoon and on the other hand, notion of B. R. Ambedkar’s freedom, which thus far had faced imposed oblivion, has come to fore. It has to be argued categorically that the nature of cartoon cannot be insulated from discussion. Along with, it is equally right that spur-of-the-moment translation of demand into action sans further deliberations turns the action into an inscrutable ploy. Above and beyond merit and demerit of both sides, association between Ambedkar’s freedom and agency of guarantor and implementer of freedom poses an intricate question. It has to be answered that whether ideational freedom of Ambedkar complies with political institution or not. If the political institution does not comply with Ambedkar’s freedom, interpretation of act is supplicated.
B.R. Ambedkar and Freedom
One of the authoritative scholars on Ambedkar and dalit movement, Eleanor Zelliot attributes many meanings to Ambedkar ranging from ‘inspiration for the educated, hope for the illiterate, threat to the establishment, creator of opportunities for dalits to discomfort for the elites’ (Zelliot, 2001, pp. 129-142). The numerous and vivid construal of Ambedkar is not speculative but corporeally rooted for arrival of freedom by way of ‘recognition of graded inequality’ (Guru, 2002, p. 41.), ‘rejection of humiliation’ (Guru, 2009), ‘assertion of the human rights’ (Keer, 2009, p. 523) and ‘production of new men [and women]’ (Kuber, 2001, p. 11). They are certainly not in existence due to process of profound production of hagiographic literature. Personification by pontiffs is also not required to discern the idea of freedom in him. Freedom is nomology in his schema. It is the foundational axiom around which connecting parts have been developed.
Freedom being nomological principle in Ambedkar’s schema, it has three intrinsic attributions. The first one is freedom fromChaturvarna. There are five rules of it. First, society is divided into four classes (Ambedkar’s uses term classes in place of group or category). Second, equality is prohibited amongst four classes i.e. graded inequality. Third, there is division of occupations without possibility of ‘trespassing’. Fourth rule is debarment of education of shudras. Fifth is division of life into four stages i.e.Brahmancharya (study and education), Grahasashram (live a married life), Vanaprasta (serving family ties) and Sanyasa (search of God and union with him). The first stage and last stage were not open the shudras and women (Ambedkar, 2006, pp. 87-89). Ambedkar categorically rejects multi-layered vertical divisions and emphasises on horizontal relations by the state intervention and preferring exogamous marriages over endogamous marriages. Freedom from Chaturvarana is freedom of transcendental mobility.
Second attribution confirms the synthesis among liberty, equality, fraternity. There have been invariable construals/misconstruals of these three values in terms of prioritising one against another two or either one. Indeed, in Ambedkar’s outline, freedom encompasses liberty, equality and fraternity. The difference between freedom and liberty is noteworthy. Liberty cannot be synonymised with freedom. Freedom has bigger circle and it is the circle of these three components. Freedom remains abortive sans either component. For Ambedkar, liberty encompasses civil liberty (liberty of movement; speech, i.e. thought, reading, writing and discussion; action) and political liberty (making and unmaking government; individual’s’ right to share in the framing of laws). In the absence of freedom of opinion, the status quo might become stereotyped and most necessary originality is discouraged (Ambedkar,1987). Ambedkar treated equality as created-equal (Ambedkar, 2009, p.45). Created-equal has to be seen in consonance with his critique of Brahmanism and Capitalism. Created Equal should not be treated as mere ascriptive equality but profound equality in eventual life. Fraternity is the necessary treatment to fellow beings as reverence, love and being in unity with her/him. Moreover, fraternity is not a docile sermon.
Third attribution is finality of universality of freedom. Ambedkar’s recourse to freedom unveils two strategies. At the first level, contextualisation of freedom remained an inalienable theory and practice of him. It reflected on many occasions. For examples, during the All-India Depressed Classes Conference, July 18 and 19, 1942, Ambedkar’s advice to dalits (depressed classes) was to ‘educate, agitate and organise’ (Keer, 2009, p. 351). Freedom would remain unachievable sans being educated. Process of education leads to creation of active agency/ self culminates into agitation and finally resulting to collective organisation. These three are inseparable for activating agency. It is imperative for dalits to be an activated agency. The second strategy was to combining first with non-ascriptive struggle. Movements against Khoti landlord system in 1930s and anti-working class bill (1938), also known as black bill, suggest inclusion of not only freedom issues of ‘self-others’ but also thereby attempt to demolish the dichotomy of ‘self’ and ‘other’, i.e. your issue and my issue. It was confirmed by him while suggesting that his “battle is a battle for freedom and reclamation of human personality” (ibid.).
Class of Politics
The aforesaid theory and practice of freedom must become a vantage point to discern Ambedkar’s idea of class of politics. There is a difference between political class and class of politics. Political class resembles political society for the managing affairs the government being a representative of people. Partha Chatterjee interprets political society as a group of underclass bargaining with political system particularly during election for their survival (Chatterjee, 2004, 2011). Ambedkar would differ significantly from this definition of political society. For him, political society ipso facto includes people who do not bargain but directly control the state power. The idea is not to bargain but control. Political society in Ambedkar’s lexicon is people’s power directly or indirectly controlling the government. He had great deference for the political class as people’s power. He himself was part of the Bombay Legislative Council, the Constituent Assembly and the Indian Parliament; and founded political parties. Eleanor Zelliot opines that behind numerous political activities, Ambedkar had ‘a strong, unwavering belief in the power of democratic institutions to bring about social equality’ (Zelliot, 1996, pp. 115).
Class of politics is evaluation of politics itself. Class of politics is a methodological tool whereby nature of politics in terms of class-caste-gender is being judged. Political class or people’s power remains the desired goal. The quintessence of political class is political power. Highlighting the significance of political power, Ambedkar says that the essence of the distinction between a ruling race and a subject race is exclusion of latter from political power (Ambedkar, 1990). There is no anathema concerning political class or political power in Ambedkar unlike neo-liberal propagators of shining-India. Politics and being political are enlivened entity. Ambedkar remained sanguine of political class without losing sense of its nature. Class of politics was used by Ambedkar to judge the tenacity and nature of political class. Therefore, the entire issue of representation right from the first round table conference till provision for reservation in the Constitutional Assembly Debate were thoroughly discussed and adopted. Ambedkar was certain about of political class/power for the transformation but remained sceptical of prominent leadership about their commitment and desire towards transformation. Class of politics informed him about nature and actuality of political class, not against it.
Now the real problem comes to fore, i.e. how to deal with the political institution or political class. Class of politics would tell us about the existence of variety of political classes. India has witnessed heterogeneity of political class. It is utterly wrong to suggest the presence of homogeneity of political class. Progressive politics has created its own niche. There is nothing the political class but political classes. It is also true that fundamentally Indian political institutions have been ruled by a particular class due to fragmentation of progressive political class and inability to mobilise class-caste-gender oppressed sections.
Judging from Ambedkar’s freedom, a particular political class is answerable for graded inequality, synthesis of liberty-equality-fraternity and upholding of universality of freedom. Regarding graded inequality, dalits remain the worst victim of physical annihilation. They are not only faced with humiliation but also physical annihilation by dominant castes has been resorted. Liberty, particularly of opinion, is being attempted to be thwarted by introduction of bill, censorship or control in few hands. Pauperisation of people has mocked the idea of equality. Intermittent attempt to not reduce poverty but poor by introducing /setting melancholic criterion is the complete sign of post/neo-liberal methodology wherein appearance becomes need and recognition over essence. Commodity fetish discourse onwards liberalisation has reduced moral worth, important concern of fraternity, of each as exchangeable commodity. Universality of freedom has been circumscribed to freedom of few who have become beneficiary of the institutions.
In these circumstances, firstly, the act of the political institution led by a political class on cartoon controversy owes an explanation. It has to be answered by the defenders of the action as to why does a political ruling class remain silent over gross violation of Amedkar’s axioms but suddenly become active to protect the dignity of him. A particular political class was forced by progressive political class is an untenable position because despite the latter’s many attempts, the former has not budged on aforesaid issues which were very close to Ambedkar and are needed for social revolution in India. Secondly, can any act of defiance or opposition to acts of a political class in and out institutions be construed as a defiance of political class? This is also an untenable position for the following two reasons. Firstly, opposition to an act is not opposition of political class precisely because nature of act has its own merit and demerit. Secondly, exposing the demerit is not deriding the political class. An act of a political class and challenge to it is to posing challenge to the respective group. Asking for interpretation of an act of asymmetrical institution is asking for revelation of class of politics.