Parliament was rocked (May 2012) with the discussionon the alleged insult of Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar in the cartoon in NCERT textbook for standard XI. The MHRD Ministerimmediately declared the withdrawal of the book and asked for review of allbooks for which a committee has been appointed. This is yet another instancewhere the intent and meaning of the said cartoon has not only been misrepresentedbut also the hype has been associated with the alleged insult of Dr. Ambedkar. Interestinglythis cartoon appears in the book, which is part of a series, brought out byNCERT, which can easily be rated as of being of very high standard, being verylively and incorporating the core issues related to the politics of the country.
The cartoon by one of the foremost Indian cartoonist,Shankar Pillai, shows Dr. Ambedkar sitting on a snail and prodding it to gofaster. Behind the snail Pundit Nehru is standing prodding the snail to movefaster. The whip in the hands of Nehru, in no way is directed against Ambedkar,but is directed against snail. Ambedkar is in command of the snail, which isdepicted as the process of making of Indian Constitution. The reading of thecartoon, put extremely creatively in the book, is to show the slow pace of theconstitution making process. In what way this is against Ambedkar, defies thelogic in toto. The dalit leaders who have raised the issue, Ramdas Athawaley,and later supported by Mayawati and others needed to think more on the lines,as to why Constitution making process was at snail’s pace rather than pickingup a totally misreading of the point and making it an emotional issue.
On the same issue some youth rampaged the office ofProf Suhas Palshikar, who has been the advisor of NCERT committee, which wentinto the making of this book. What a paradox, the person who drafted aConstitution giving us freedom of thought and expression, in his name the samefreedom of expression is being throttled. The cartoon was made in late forties,when Ambedkar and Nehru both were very much there, and surely both must havemused at the cartoon and realized their helplessness in pushing the speed of Constitutionmaking rather than penalizing the legendary cartoonist Shankar.
The whole episode raises multiple questions. None of these relates to the plight of dalitsand Indian constitution. One recalls that just a decade ago NDA Government ledby BJP had undertaken the exercise to ‘review’ the Constitution on the groundsthat it needs to change. That time dalits stood in unison and saw the designsof BJP, the political arm of RSS, to change the secular democratic structure ofconstitution and to replace it with one based on Hindu holy books as desired bythe RSS in its pursuance of its agenda of Hindu Rashtra, was thwarted. A decadelater we need to be more concerned about the threat to the values of IndianConstitution rather than focus on an emotive issue related to the same.
Why was the Constitution making process slow? Is itbecause Dr. Ambedkar wanted it to be slow? Not in the least. It was slowdespite the best efforts of Dr. Ambedkar and despite full support from Nehru,because the opposition to this process was prevalent all around. RSS chief M.S.Golwalkar articulated the opposition to this process by saying that we don’t needa new Constitution as we already have the glorious constitution in theform of Manusmriti. One recalls here that the chief architect of Indian ConstitutionDr. Ambedkar had burnt Manusmiriti on the grounds that it has provisions ofslavery of Shudras and women. The process of Constitution making was slowbecause communal orthodox forces were not for the social change which the Constitutionenvisaged. Those following the values of Ambedkar need to focus more on thefact that the forces which were making the process slow have become strongertoday and are posing an obstacle to the issues of social justice even today. Socialjustice was the major plank for Dr. Ambedkar and even while introducing the draftof Constitution in the Constituent assembly he pointed out that with thisConstitution we are entering the era of ‘One Man One Vote’, i.e. politicaldemocracy, but the social democracy seems to be still a goal not very easy toachieve.
Times are a changing. In the decades of 40s to 70s thesocial focus was on the social, economic and political issues. From the decadeof 1980s the issues related to identity have come to the fore and the freedomof expression is becoming the big victim at the hands of one or the othersocial groups. The paintings which Husain drew during earlier times were notdestroyed at that time but were subjected to attack during these times. TheShankar Cartoon which must have given a food for thought at that time is underattack now. This transition from the focus on social issues to identity issuesis a matter of deeper worry. The identity related issues harp on social statusquo, while the social issues come up to ensure the social transformation.
Somewhere many dalit leaders, those who should be forsocial change, have also got influenced by the short cut to power riding on theshoulders of identity issue. Ram Temple was an easy enough path to come topower for BJP. It was a gross abuse of identity issue for games of power. Touse identity built around Dr. Ambedkar or anybody else has similar function. Asection of dalit leadership is doing the same in the name of Dr. Ambedkar. Inthe cartoon controversy also, those for social change need to identify as towhy the process was going on at snail’s pace? What were the forces which wereopposed or apathetic this major process of Constitution making for the nation?But it seems those who are raising the cartoon controversy themselves arerubbing shoulders with forces of status quo. Ramdas Athwalay is now part ofcoalition which aims for Hindu nation. Maywati had time and again allied with BJP,had campaigned for Modi in Gujarat elections. K. Sudrashan of RSS said (year2000) that Indian Constitution is based on western values so it should bereplaced by the one based on Indian holy books. It is time we need to look atdeeper content of issues rather them turning them into emotive ones’, we needto strengthen the processes represented by the Constitution rather than misreadthe cartoon to rouse the emotions.