Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah: A Speech by B.R.Ambedkar – A Review

176-babasaheb-ambedkar_bigEvery single time I take up and read Ambedkar, there is something within me which gets altered for good, to remain forever. His words brim with zeal, power and depth of the subject at hand. He leaves no stone unturned; ventures into every idea, even those that make an ordinary gentleman uncomfortable; and, never has any strings attached. Of all the qualities, the one that astounds me is his clarity. It is his clarity of thoughts and arguments which wake the morbid hearts and persuades them to accept his point of view, even grudgingly. This little speech is no different from the above-stated qualities. But, in its subject, it stands remarkably different and urgently worth reading.

Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah was addressed by Ambedkar before the Deccan Sabha of Poona on the 101 birthday of the late Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade (if you, reader, happen not to know him, have no woe. For we Indians, are mostly brainwashed with a petty history, that we almost don’t know about many of our own great men and women. Ranade is one such man). Although, the title has the names of Gandhi and Jinnah in it, this speech does not concentrate much on them, except for few criticisms on them which are quintessentially Ambedkar. The whole speech throws light on Ambedkar’s opinion on Ranade (from a third person point of view, which he insists to be made clear), his opinion on caste system in India, his ideas of what constitutes a great man, the urgent need for social reform and the areas where it must be brought in, and the decline of Liberal Party in India.

Ranade, Ambedkar makes it clear that he doesn’t know him personally and all his knowledge on him is only hearsay and through his writings, was a great social reformer of the 19th century India. He has greatly written and advocated against the caste system, the need to increase the marriage age for women, the necessity to break free of old taboos and from the clutches of outdated practices in the Hinduism. Ambedkar himself quotes Ranade, which I found to be extraordinary in its vision.

“You cannot be liberal by halves. You cannot be liberal in politics and conservative in religion. The heart and the head must go together. You cannot cultivate your intellect, enrich your mind, enlarge the sphere of your political rights and privileges, and at the same time keep your hearts closed and cramped. It is an idle dream to expect men to remain enchained and unshackled in their own superstition and social evils, while they are struggling hard to win rights and privileges from their rulers. Before long these vain dreamers will find their dreams lost.”

It is only through this speech I came to know about a particular issue which had been discussed widely then, during Ranade’s lifetime. The marriage age of a girl was 10 years then in India. One such girl who happened to have got married to a 35 yr old man was repeatedly raped (raped after marriage) and she had died. Subsequent to this particular incident, the British Government proposed, and a move which Ranade supported, to increase the age of marriage for girls from 10 to 12 yrs. And, this had been vehemently opposed by the Hindu conservative groups then, for the reason that it might destruct the sacramental Hindu marriage institution ( sounds like arguments heard very often in India today, eh?!).

Ambedkar also defends Ranade’s opinion that the British Empire provided a chance for India to relook herself and to have a new birth on her own. Ambedkar goes on to say that the British Government played as a shelter in the smooth working out of social, economic and political conflicts which are inevitable in every society which desires to advance. He gives an adequate reason for this opinion and goes on to say that any freedom brought without solving the various internal conflicts would result only in the disintegration of a nation.

The whole speech gave me a feeling that Ambedkar has just written for our own times. Many of his scathing opinions sound so true and real as if that they were written just today. Consider this:

“Journalism in India was once a profession. It has now become a trade. It has no more moral function than the manufacture of soap. It does not regard itself as the responsible adviser of the Public. To give the news uncoloured by any motive, to present a certain view of public policy which it believes to be for the good of the community, to correct and chastise without fear all those, no matter how high, who have chosen a wrong or a barren path, is not regarded by journalism in India its first or foremost duty. To accept a hero and worship him has become its principal duty. Under it, news gives place to sensation, reasoned opinion to unreasoning passion, appeal to the minds of responsible people to appeal to the emotions of the irresponsible.

Indian journalism is all that plus something more. It is written by drum-boys to glorify their heroes. Never has the interest of country been sacrificed so senselessly for the propagation of hero-worship. Never has hero-worship become so blind as we see it in India today. There are, I am glad to say, honourable exceptions. But they are too few, and their voice is never heard”.

Towards the end of this speech, Ambedkar provides a necessity to have a multi-party functioning in a democracy and elucidates the necessity to have a vibrant opposition. Reading it now, when India has a strong centre under BJP and a Congress which is quite in a shoddy condition, it sounds like a warning:

“It is undeniable that a Party is an essential adjunct to Popular Government. But it is equally undeniable that the rule of a single party is fatal to Popular Government. In fact it is a negation of Popular Government. The case of Germany and Italy furnish the most cogent evidence on this point. Instead of taking a warning from the totalitarian States, we are taking them as models to copy. The one-party system is being hailed in this country in the name of national solidarity. Those who are doing so are failing to take note of the possibilities of tyranny, as well as the possibilities of misdirection of public affairs, which is [=are] inherent in the one-party Government.

To make it subject to election is no guarantee against despotism. The real guarantee against despotism is to confront it with the possibility of its dethronement, of its being laid low, of its being superseded by a rival party”.

It is the white-hot passion and near precision of thoughts which adds power to the words of Ambedar. The more I read him, he not only sounds true but also too cool for his time. I have often wondered that in our times when all our politicians act as a trifle where would a youngster could turn for inspiration and guidance, and reading Ambedkar makes me convinced that looking up to this man is a great place to begin. He is a treasure trove of wisdom which our own land has generously gifted us, as a light to spark in all the ages to come.

One can read the book here:

Columbia University

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