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Gandhi, Ambedkar, and the Untouchables

Ramashray Roy

I EXPLORE IN THIS paper some aspects of the relationship between M. K. Gandhi and B. R. Ambedkar, aspects that have either been ignored or bypassed by commentators and critics dealing with their political thought ways and work ways, especially in a comparative framework focusing on their relationship. Most of these commentators and critics take the empirically manifest external dimensions of these historical personages that are readily available in their writings and recorded political activities. These constitute the facts on which these critics and commentators build the edifice of their own analysis and explanation. In erecting this edifice they do not take into account the internal spring-board of experience, both spiritual and mundane, that constitutes the substratum of the ways of their looking at and doing things. Ignoring this source, they commit the error of what Eric Voegelin calls “phenomenalism.”1 In applying the standards of phenomenalism to Gandhi and Ambedkar, they do not realize that their political differences had their roots in their respective worldview to which they were deeply committed and bound and which they articulated in their thinking and action. This is amply reflected in the discussion about the then prevalent question of the social-political conditions of the Untouchables, a question irrevocably put them in two opposed camps. As such, two questions gain relevance in this connection, one related with the proper approach to the relationship between Gandhi and Ambedkar, the other, the question of the true significance of historiography.

The first question I take for discussion here leaving the other question for competent historians to tackle. However, it is necessary to stress that historiography in modern times has come to be equated with an account of a segment of reality based primarily on fact. Such an account may or may not be equated with the help of the projection of a central organizing principles on the world of facts to lend them organization and coherence.2 However, to rely on fact, both relating to thinking articulated and expressed in statements and action can, when applied to the relationship between Gandhiji and Ambedkar, do nothing else than to force the diversified field of human existence into a unified structure of speculative theory.3 And since there are multitudes of alternatives of doing this, what happens is that one speculative theory about the meaning and structure of a particular segment of reality follows another in quick succession ranging from stellar to earthily.4

W.H. MORRIS-JONES makes a distinction between different languages in which political discourse and discussion may be couched. He refers to three such languages, saintly, traditional and modern.5 What interests us here is that the saintly language takes its inspiration from the spiritual dimension of man’s existence and, when viewed from the spiritual perspective, it is found to be lacking in certain fundamental respects. Out of this realization emerges the determination to change it so that it conforms to the claims that the spirit makes on man. In contradistinction to this, the modern language has its genesis in the Enlightenment that brought about a radical change in the conception of man and his world. One of the major changes that took place was the de-divinization of the world that resulted in a heavy emphasis on the fulfillment of ordinary life needs involved with the gaining of wealth, power and prestige. The fulfillment of these needs depends on the extent to which a society promotes and sustains technologically induced economic growth. As the growth process catches speed and as it radiates the value of fulfillment of material needs is supposed to facilitate not only the consumerism, needs become diversely endless. This is so because fulfillment of material needs is supposed to facilitate not only the removal of poverty and inequality but also promote personal development and civilizational progress.

It is against this background that we need to make the vital difference between the categories of history, that is, secular and sacred. The former concerns itself primarily, even exclusively, with the pragmatic existence of man. In writing secular history, historians opt for a unity of meaning and use it to arrange facts around it. In contrast, sacred history or spiritalis intelligentia focuses on the spiritual understanding of the world content by placing it under the scrutiny of sacred principles. History written from this perspective differs radically from profane history in the method to employs, the purpose it sets to realize, and the language symbols it uses. The result of the use of myths and symbols in writing sacred history cannot obviously be, as Voegelin points out, “a rational scientific picture of the world and the picture cannot be changed by progressive criticism. The movement of symbolic thought has to originate in the realm of sentiments determining the purpose to which the symbolic method is to put.”6

It must be noted here that Gandhiji’s thinking and that of Ambedkar’s belonging to two very different and incompatible streams of thought. Looking from these different perspective positions, one gets a different image of man, the world as well as its problems and the possible solutions of these problems also look very different to those who do not share a common perspective on man and his world. This perspectival difference arises, as has been hinted earlier, from the fact that Gandhiji is located in a stream of thinking that inclines towards the spiritual end of the spectrum of thought ways. However, Ambedkar is, in contrast, ideologically committed to the secular perspective on man and his world. To put this difference in Morris-jone’s terminology, while Gandhi speaks the saintly language. Ambedkar expresses his thought in modern language. As a consequence, of this fundamental difference in their thought ways, their action choices, too, differ sharply leading to different conceptions of political problems and their resolution. Most commentators ignore this vital difference between them while discussing their relationship. As a consequence, explanations that they advance pertaining to the nature and source of their difference miss the mark.

This can be demonstrated quite effectively if we focus on their differential worldviews in which are embedded their sharply differing perceptions of the problem of Untouchables and Untouchability. Without a proper exploration of their differing worldviews it is not possible to apprehend the nature and content of their approach to the problems associated with the socio-economic problems of the Untouchables. This exploration must critically examine the fundamentals of the world views Gandhi and Ambedkar embraced and gave it articulation through words and actions. The question of the criterion of relevance for judging one worldview in comparison to another as superior or appropriate must, however, be clearly and precisely laid down. For our purposes, such a criterion underlines the need to examine a worldview with reference to its capability and effectiveness in resolving the tension and the possible conflict arising out of this tension that exists between the personal and the communal dimensions of man’s existence. To put it differently, a worldview must dimension of be appropriate or superior only if it succeeds in promoting and sustaining reconciliation between the good of one individual and the good of all individuals.

It is this criterion that we apply here, first, to the Ambedkar’s worldview and, then, move on to examining the appropriateness of the worldview that Gandhi held as desirable. As has already been pointed out, Ambedkar is squarely grounded in what we have characterized as a secular perspective. The one of the major defining the characteristic as a secular perspective is “the absorption of divine reality within human experience” and “the secular assertion of human independence from all divine connection.”7 With this assertion man himself assumes the responsibility of recreating the conditions of his own existence. The basis of this recreation is the radical transformation of economy and society with the help of technology. This transformation is aimed at ensuring the generation of sufficient goods and services to promote uninterrupted improvements in the standard of living of the people across the board may become possible.

It is against this background that we can appropriate why Ambedkar put a strong emphasis, all through his active life, on the need to ensure liberty, equality and fraternity. As he observes, “my social philosophy may be said to be enshrined in three words: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.”8 As is well known, this slogan of liberty, equality and fraternity constituted the driving force of the French Revolution. Claiming to remove himself from the signification the French Revolution attached to it, Ambedkar claims: “Let no one, however, say that I have borrowed my philosophy from the French Revolution. I have not. My philosophy has roots in religion and not in political science. I have derived them from the teachings of my master, The Buddha.”9 It is relevant to note that, concomitants of degradation, conditions of the untouchables and their concomitants of degradation, humiliation, and exploitation, it was natural for Ambedkar as their undisputed leader to prefer their social and economic uplift. He is on record to say that ,for him, the Untouchables’ interest was prior to that of the country and that he would always give precedence to the former.10 The socio-economic emancipation of the Untouchables was, therefore, foremost in Ambedkar’s mind.

The one effective way, and highly relevant for the times he lived in was, of course, to recast the Hindus social order in the exhilarating and dazzling light of the three key words of the French Revolution deriving its inspiration from the liberal philosophy about man and his world, especially that of jean Jacques Rousseau. The image of man in liberal philosophy is that of the self-defining subject who defines his own purposes, the have as their objective the development of man and the progress of civilisation in accordance with material dimension of man. These objectives are realisable only through the fulfillment of ever proliferating needs involved with the fulfillment of ordinary life needs. Man is a self-defining subject in the sense that he himself, without being influenced from any source located outside him, derives his purposes from his own nature; this renders man basically homo economicus (the economic man). It is in this modern sence that man must have freedom, freedom from tradition, social conventions, even from the state. But freedom is vacuous if it is not accompanied equality social order that is based on an unequal distribution of social recourses, sustain this distribution pattern and, through it, makes it difficult for some sections of society to have access to societal resources.11 With out such an access, it is difficult for them to compete effectively in the race of life, use their freedom faces to defend what they have and obtain what they need. Even their what they need. Even their freedom faces severe threats of erosion in the lack of economic strength.

It is, therefore, apparent why the values of freedom and equality are so highly desired in modern times. With the help of these values the individual can hope to better his economic condition, acquire and safeguard his dignity and, if possible, cultivation of mind that life of culture and refinement. The goal of the cultivation of mind that the life of culture and refinement involves is, it is claimed, not possible in a situation where most people suffer from the alienation of poverty and penury. A life culture and refinement is attainable has sufficient leisure that allows him to engage in the cultivation of culture. Leisure is quite impossible unless some means are found to reduce both the length of toil and its harshness and drudgery for producing goods and services necessary to satisfy not only the bare minimum needs but also the ever proliferating needs associated with the life culture and refinement. This can happen only when machines takes the place of man.12

It is not therefore surprising that Ambedkar vehemently opposed Gandhi and his condemnation of machines. Ambedkar did so precisely because Gandhiji celebrating toil or at least, physical labour with a view to promoting self-dependence in fulfilling the need for food, on the one hand, and, on the other, to counterbalance the pronounced tendency today towards intellectual voluptuousness, However, Gandhi’s today towards intellectual voluptuousness. However, Gandhi’s opposition to machine prevented, as Ambedkar saw it, many, especially those who were forced to toil the hardest for earning their daily bread, to ease their problems related both to physical exhaustion and lowly living standard. Ambedkar equally detested orthodox Marxists although he praised Marx for advancing a Philosophy that was satisfying for the lower order of society.13 What he preferred was state socialism that he considered since qua non for rapid industrialization of India. In his view, Private enterprise could not do it because it would reproduce those inequalities that it had produced in the West. Nor could it bring prosperity in agriculture. Also neither consolidation of land holdings nor tenancy legislation could be of much help to the Untouchables who were just landless labourers. Only collective farm could help them.14 For Ambedkar, a dynamic, vibrant and agricultural economy in the villages of India held the key to the improvement of economic conditions of the poor, especially the Untouchables, and liberate them from want, hunger and hard toil. It would also make it possible for them to enjoy leisure so necessary for the cultivation of the life of culture and refinement.

It is clear, then, that, for Ambedkar, poverty is an anathema, and so is the lower standard of living. What he prefers is a dynamic and vibrant economic system capable for every body to enjoy the life of culture and refinement. This is possible only when recourse is taken to technically-induced economic growth for publishing economic growth for publishing economy to ever for economic plenty and a life of comfort and leisure going beyond the subsistence level. However, what the economy succeeds in fulfilling subsistence needs, the very fact of growing affluences proves instrumental in proliferating needs whose fulfillment requires the constant upgradation of technology for greater economic effect.

This situation has certain adverse consequences for collective life and relations.15 The one consequence that needs to be discussed here relates to the fact that, even while the availability of material goods goes on rising, the situation of scarcity continues, for various reasons, to prevail. What adds to this situation is that, even while economic system performs well, what one individual can get, another individual cannot because of acute income differentials. Also, add to it the fact that addition to the material goods that can be expanded for all will, in itself, increase the scramble for those goods and facilities that cannot be expanded. “Taking part in this scramble is fully rational for any individual in his actions, since in these actions he never confronts the distinction between what is available as a result of getting ahead of others and what is available from a general advance shared by all. The individual who wants to see better has to stand on tiptoe.”16

The increased scramble for material goods becomes instrumental in the grievous erosion of mortality with the result that structures of cooperation collapse; interdependence gives way to intense rivalry for getting privileged access to and control over scarce societal resources; and harmony and social concord are replaced by contention and conflict. It is with a view to avoiding the social disharmony that the idea of fraternity is added to those liberty and equality. The trouble, however, is that liberal view advocates the creation of a social order that encourages separation17 among people with all the possibility of conflict that inherent in this separation; it breeds excessive self-love at the cost of concern for others. However, the liberal view is aware of the possibility of rivalry, competition and conflict that the system of separation promotes. It underlines the necessity of solidarity through the generation of fraternity, that is, the need to widely engender the feeling of brotherhood among the people. However, the question that arises in this regard is: How can a sense of mortality as the firm seed-bed of fraternity be injected in a system that promotes and sustains self-regarding orientation?

THE INTRACTABILITY OF the difficulty that this question brings out can be appreciated by what Martin Buber has to say in this regard. To quote him:

The abstractions freedom and equality were held together through the more concrete fraternity for only if men feel themselves to be brothers can they partake of a genuine equality with one another. But fraternity has been deprived of its original meaning, the relationship between children of God, and consequently of any real content. As a result, each of the two remaining watchwords was able to establish itself against the other and, by so doing, to wander further from its truth. Arrogant and presumptuous, each sucked into itself even more thoroughly the elements foreign to it, elements of passion for power and greed for possession.18

Ambedkar is fully aware of this possibility. However, he thinks that is not all difficult to obviate this possibility with the help of social democracy, on the one hand, and conversion to Buddhism, on the other. Ambedkar argues that most of the ills that Indian society has been suffering from can from can be overcome with the ills that Indian society has been suffering from can be overcome with installation of social democracy. And when people embrace Buddhism and follow the Marga (the way) pointed out by the Buddha, the Enlightened one, it will further help in completely eliminating these ills. He favours social democracy instead of political democracy that he rejects by saying that, “I am no believer in democracy as an ideal to be pushed in all circumstances and in all crimes; and having regard to the present-day conditions in India, democracy is a most unthinkable system of Government. At any rate, for sometime, India needs the strong hands of an enlightened autocrat.”19 Democracy is specially unsuited and unworkable in India where society is badly divided into privileged and unprivileged classes. This division breeds prejudice which, in turn, brings about isolation; isolated socio-economic groups develop hostility towards each other; and this leads to the infringement of the law.

In addition, political democracy, since it relies on number for the selection of representatives through election, the numerical weakness of the Untouchables will always force them to be at the mercy of the Savarna majority. In view of the fact that Hindu society practices exclusiveness on large scale and indulges in frequent infringement of human rights, the existential problems of the fact, the Savarna Hindu will continue to willfully violate laws to keep the Untouchables are not likely to get a sympathetic hearing. As a matter of fact, the Savarna Hindu will continue to willfully violate laws to keep the Untouchables depressed and deprived. And “there is no method found for punishing the multitude. It can never operate against a whole body of people who are determined to defy it. Social conscience…. that calm incorruptible legislator of the soul without whom all other powers would meet in oppugnancy is the only safeguard of all rights fundamental or non-fundamental.”20

It is against this background that we can appreciate why Ambedkar argues that a simple formal political democracy is the other name of concealed power play by the majority of India that happens to be savarna Hindu. It is, therefore, necessary to establish social democracy by which he means a way of life that recognizes liberty, equality and fraternity as pivotal values of life. As he points out, “a democratic form of government presupposes a democratic form of society. The formal framework of democracy is of no value and indeed would be misfit if there was no social democracy.”21

Rejecting Abraham Lincoln’s formulating of democracy, he defines democracy as “a form of government whereby revolutionary changes in the economic and social life of the people are brought about without bloodshed. “And the first thing, among others, necessary for the successful functioning of democracy is to see that “there are no glaring inequalities and there must not be either oppressed class or a suppressed class.”22

Ambedkar prefers that variety of democracy that instills in the people the feeling of respect for the dignity of others. It is therefore, not surprising that he equalities democracy with fraternity. As he says:

An ideal society should be mobile, should be full of channels for covering, carrying over a change taking place in one part to other parts. In an ideal society there should be many interest consciously communicated and shared. There should be varied and free points of contact with other models of association. In other words, there must be social endosmosis. This is fraternity that is the only other name of democracy, of conjoint communicated experience. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards fellowmen.23

In short, then, what Ambedkar’s vision of a good social order signifies involves the need to have a good match between what is good for one individual and what is good for all individuals. It is this match that constitutes the foundation of social democracy that he visualizes as the most preferred social and political system. This match has, how ever, to be achieved and maintained in a situation where man is primarily to use a Greek term, idiotic, that is, a being who is engaged in the sole task of meeting the demands of his own private existence, demands that have their roots in the private dimension of his existence, as separated from others of his kind in society. But Ambedkar’s insistence on social democracy also requires the individual to arise above the requirement of his own primarily existence that is of prime importance for him and, at the same time, be concerned with the good social democracy be translated into practice,” arises. Ambedkar believes, as we have already seen, in the commitment to and the shaping of individual lives and social relations on the firm ground of values of liberty, equality and fraternity, but strictly in the sense that Buddhism uses these terms. It is necessary, therefore, to examine the Buddhist significations of these terms.

Ambedkar is quite aware of the fact that Buddhism is the religion that is meant specifically for the renouncer; its central thrust pertains to the need transcend the realm of becoming since it is the immersion of man realm of becoming that arouses in him desires for worldly pleasure. Since desires are instanible therefore endless, they set all sensations and all sensibilities on fire, that is, the fire of appetites resentment, and delusion (rago, doso moho), birth, ageing, death and sorrow.24

When the senses catch fire, the process of becoming (bhava) takes hold of empirical individuality (atta-sambhava), the self that gets caught in the snare of tanha (wanting), a thirst can never be quenched, since it produces indetermination(anicca), and suffering (dukha). Caught in the vortex of becoming, man chooses mortality instead of immortality. As consequences, frustration, misery and unhappiness continue to haunt in all through his life. It is, therefore, necessary for him to wake up to the perils of the senses on fire and seek immortality by self-consciously impugning the life of appetites (apaulistic life, as Aristotle calls it or Kamachara as chhandogya Upanishad christens it). To be able to do so, man must set out in earnest to overcome his worst enemy, his own empirical self and its interests.25

To do so means to practice the opposite virtue of vijja (of rago26 doso, moho), with a view to attaining nibbana (liberation), To attain nibbana is to tame the self; to tame the self is to stir up sluggish energy; this energy calls up un-muddled mind-fullness that becalms the body and guards the pure self.27 As such, the self must be restrained by the Self.28

The individual who cultivates the Self for conquering his self is a person who swims against the current and, as a consequence of it, his mind is freed” and is fired by the desire of the Untold (anakhata)”and is…. “freed from love and hate.”29 But the knowledge that stimulates the individual to seek the Untold cannot be communicated.30 Everyone has to carve out for himself the path of his liberation. It is true that Buddha does not tell the way ( that is, the eightfold way) and enunciates. The Dhamma that should guide the seeker in his search of liberation. However, the “Buddha” does not tell the way: it is for you “to swelter at the task.”31 In this sweltering, it is the faith in the magga (the way) shown by the Buddha that sustains the seeker and, finally, conduses to knowledge. Liberation, in the Buddhist perpective, is a moral disciplines requiring the .Liberation, in the Buddhist perpective, is a moral discipline requiring the taming of the Self Buddhism, thus, underlines the corruptibility in a corrupt and corrupting world caused especially by self-forgetfulness. This unleashes man’s appetites from the disciplines of morality. The bondage to appetites can be terminated if the individual pursues the good of the soul; it is the good of the soul that restores order in the interior of man; it is this order that becomes the basis of compassion and mortality as well as of order in society.

The trouble, however, is that a liberated person prefers to live in the pure realm of spirit and declines to have to do anything with the affairs of the mortals.32 He tends to dichotomise the universe in terms of sacred and profane, the former he prefers because he values liberation, and latter he abhors because the phenomenal world corrupts. The profane world is unconcerned with the purity of means and ends; this corruption can be checked by replacing prudence (Aristotelian Phronesis) with mortality that has its root in prajna (Platonic Sophia), that is, consciousness illuminated by the flash of immortality. Thus, Buddhism in its central thrust signifies renunciation of the world by refusing to live by the standards of pragmatic affairs of man’s life where the primary concern is with the world as we know of here and now. It is only by renouncing the world as we know it that this become possible. For this transcendence; it is the trained insight acquired through the experience of transcendence; it is the trained insight acquired through the experience of transcendence; it is the trained insight that helps man to attain nibbana, Since Buddhism is the religion of the renouncer, it cannot serve Ambedkar’s idea of man and society unless its key terms and tenets are infused with meanings that are relevant and helpful for human beings living in modern times.

This is possible only when Buddhism, as Fitzerald points out, is couched in terms of “scientific rationalism.”33

In this transmutation of perspective, nibbana is shorn of its transcendental significances and is equated with social and political liberation.34 Ambedkar does recognize the crucial importance of the principles and tenets of Buddhism for civility since it constitutes the basis of community35 But true religion must be without God; this religion is truly reflected in the slogan of the French Revolution: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. This slogan underlines the central importance in man’s life of social-political system. This is amply reflected in Buddhism. However, to be useful in modern time, it must be shorn of its non-secular contents by eliminating its transcendental significance and meaning. For this purpose, it is necessary to redefine some of the key terms of Buddhism so men can successfully learn the true significance of liberty, equality and fraternity. Ambedkar does precisely that. To give one example, he transposes on the Buddhist idea of suffering purely the idea of suffering engendered by social, economic and political inequality. As he says: “Man’s misery is the result of man’s inequality to man; it is what we do to each other than what we do to ourselves. The sorrow that is envisioned by the Buddha is not the sorrow of the soul, of rebirth, of the law of karma, but the sorrow of the present injustice, performed by the established class.” 36

It is clear, then, that Ambedkar imputes by means of transposition on Buddhism the secular values that it traditionally never had had. In the Buddha and His Dhamma, Ambedkar “tends to emphasise an interpretation of the notion of liberation as articulated in Buddhism as a social and political liberation, rather than as traditional enlightenment. For examples, he equates nirvana to eightfold path….37 when, as a result of numerous transpositions that Ambedkar imposes on the spiritual meaning of the key terms of Buddhism’s, Buddhism is reduced to a mode ritual observance of the eightfold path incapable of sustaining a life of civility and morality. As a result, morality is substituted with law to keep the self-aggrandizing man in control .And the life of pleasure that thrives in the absence of mortality leads to the erosion of both liberty and equality. As a consequence, fraternity becomes a helpless prey of the constant tussle that goes on taking place between liberty and equality.

Commited as ambedkar was to the liberal vision of man and the crucial role of technologically induced economic growth in improving his wordly conditions, he was not at all conscious of the ills, both personal and social, that industrial civilisation implied. This civilization spread the spurious charm of modernization all over the globe. 38 But in contrast, Gandhi aware of its corrupting influences on man and his world, condemned saying that it celebrates on bodily comfort as the highest value in man’s existence. For ensuring bodily comfort, man engages in the act of pacifying his insatiable hunger for amassing wealth. This he seeks to do in a situation where resources are necessarily limited. Competition in a situation of acute scarcity leads inevitably to violence both at the individual and the collective levels.39 But what is paradoxical is that the individual and the collective does offer to everybody the promissory note of bettering his material condition through the fulfillment of ordinary life needs. Influenced by this promise, every individual unashamedly strives to attain an every rising level of bodily comfort and luxury. However, it creates a situation in which only a few succeed in this and that also at a great cost not only themselves but also to others. However, the promissory note keeps alive the hope that if one is not able to break through the barrier of dispossession and deprivation today; perhaps he will be able to do so tomorrow. But that tomorrow never comes, and, if it comes, it comes only for a few fortunate ones among the dispossessed and the deprived.

Thus, the industrialization holds, in Gandhi’s view, the sword of violence but, at the same time, carries a cross’ holding forth the promise of smoothing the hurt inflicted by the industrial society on the afflicted humanity.40 It is this characteristic of the industrial civilization that impels to Gandhi to equate it with Upas tree that does provide soothing shade but poisons the body at the same time. This civilization is rooted in, thrives on, and radiates immorality because of its preference for and active propagation of the cult of bodily comfort as the prime object of life. This does not mean that the body does not count for anything for Gandhi. He would not, however, condone its torture and oppression as some Christian sects do, nor is he prepared to pamper it. Gandhi insists on taking a good care of it remains in a fit condition to allow the pursuit of higher things in life.41 However, what must be noted is, first, that, where it is fulfillment of ordinary life needs that is instrumental in acquiring felicity as well as in personality development, such a perspective discounts and devalues the merit of the pursuit of higher life purposes.42 Add to it’s the fact the fulfillment of ordinary life needs is also considered as the instrument of prime value that, Giambatista Vico insists, promotes the self-making of man signifying the creation of institution, culture and history.

Second, since the pursuit of self-interest has been elevated in modern times to the highest pedestal, the ceaseless quest of pleasure does not allow a person, even if he wants to, to avoid the trap of what Gandhi calls voluptuousness because the individual cannot decide where to stop in his pursuit of felicity to avoid hurt to himself and to others.43 In a situation marked by acute scarcity of resources, industrial civilization promotes “might is right” and “survival of the fittest.” As a result, industrial civilisation “does not respect all life and in its progress onward, it has not hesitated to resort to wholesale destruction of even human life.” 44 Third, the quest for felicity leads, on the one hand, to ceaseless activity and, on the other, to the annihilation of time and space. It produces two ill effects: it reinforces man’s separation from the divine ground of truth and reality and rising expectation. Man’s soul gets divorced from the divine ground of being; self-love preponderates; and the world is dedivinised and becomes available for wreckless exploitation by man. Also, man is caught in the vortex of rising expectations and wishes for improving his lot in relation to well-off persons. And, lastly, the pursuit of the ever rising standard of living makes it imperative to adopt the industrial mode of production to satisfy man’s hunger for more and more goods and services. Competition for getting access to and control over societal resources becomes increasingly acute and, as a result, mortality takes a hard drubbing.

All these factors have combined to create what is called “modern problematic” or “civilizational crisis” It is this crises that impels Gandhi to look for a radical solution which he identifies as the linking of or attuning the soul to the divine ground of being. The search for the divine is to restore the rightful place of spiritual quest that was considered to be irrelevant because of the predominance of the material aspect of human existence. This predominance reduces man to the status of what Iris Murdoch calls “broken totality.” Gandhi’s primary quest was the restoration of the wholeness of man as a combination of biological, sociological, intellectual and spiritual dimensions of existence. Gandhi treats man as the spark of the divine and its dwelling place. As broken totality man emerges as a being who attends to, as Plato puts it, “what is his, not what he is.45 In order to find what he is, man has to arise above the bondage of his body and engage in a ceaseless effort to elevate himself and lift himself from the brute he has in him and prove that he is “a special creation of god precisely to the extent that he is distinct from the rest of his creation.”46 Man rises up to the moral plane when he explores what his true nature is. His true nature is, as articulated in Chhandogya Upanishad, the residence of Purusha, the absolute, and to submit to this interior dweller is to be become swarat.47

Attaining the status of swarat cannot be equated to the modern notion of liberty; it is consequent upon “an inward change…. It is transformation of the heart…. And that absolute transformation can only come by internal prayer and a definite and living recognition of the presence of the mighty spirit residing within.48 This internal transformation is not possible by changing the outer forms, but a radical change more in inward spirit than in the outward form.”49 This requires the attunement of the soul to the divine ground of reality. This attunement forges a link between the finite existence of man and the absolute as the source of meaning, truth and value. It is this attunement; again, that is the fountain source of mortality. But since the realization of absolute truth is beyond the range of possibility for the man of flesh and blood one must hold on to releative.50 This implies the acceptance of the phenomenal world and the importance of life’s vital concerns. This does not mean to accept totally and fully as it is, but to seek its transformation, if it appears to be out of tune with the basic values of concern for others, mortality, love of God’s creature, etc.; the values that one acquires in the life of the spiritual experience one gets in the process of radical transformation of his internal being. Thus, the relationship that establishes itself between the givens of man and society and the search for certain values through the quest of the transcendental being revolves around action impregnated with the commitment to the absolute truth; otherwise it is liable to be afflicted with the dilemma of relativism- absolutism.

Action in this séance is the bearer, for Gandhi, not only of truth; it constitutes also a means of self-disclosure as a precondition of uncovering the absolute truth. Such an action cannot but be based on ahimsa (nonviolence) since violence destroys the organicity of the situation in which self- disclosure takes place. As such truth, truth and ahimsa are the two sides of the same coin.51 For Gandhi; it is the service of God through the service of his creation. But action must be without any expectation of rewards. Such an action is equal to yojna; for Gandhi, yajna signifies the discharge of the obligation one has of preserving the social order. It on this basis that it becomes possible to rise above self- interest and relate with others in the embrace of love. Thus, for Gandhi, love of man is possible only through the love of God. But to sustain this love and to preserve the social order, social network of cooperation, interdependence and harmony, it is necessary to become self-sufficient in the matter of earning one’s bread, minimization of want, radical reduction in the use of machine, local production, Swadeshi, etc. Complete decentralization become an integral part of Gandhi’s worldview, which constitutes the basis of self-rule in the economic and political terms.

Given the radical difference between the worldviews of Gandhi and Ambedkar, it is not surprising that should both approach the problem of untouchability and the Untouchables in entirely antithetical ways. As already pointed out, samadrishti is the foundation of community; such a community signifies a yajna requiring different function and their performers. Looking from this perspective, the Untouchables are an integral part of the Hindu social order and the solution to their existential problems must be sought within the fold of the Hindu social order. This, of course, requires the removal of all social, ritual, economic distortions affecting the Untouchables. In contrast, Ambedkar insisted on treating the Untouchables as apart from evils the Hindu social order must involve giving them special privileges and rights meant only for them. It is not, surprising that Gandhi chided Ambedkar for his particularistic obsession with the good of the Untouchables alone ignoring the larger claim of the whole of which the Untouchables formed only a part.

Ambedkar, however, was adamant in getting social, economic and political concessions for the Untouchables. In his discussion with Gandhi (22 September 1932) about the terms of the contemplated Poona pact, Ambedkar insisted: I want political power for my community. The basis of agreement should be: I should get what is due to me. I wish to tell the Hindus that I should be assured of my compensation (i.e., for the age-old humiliation and degradation of the Untouchables).”52 Gandhi’s counter-argument that he has in mind the interest of the whole community, and that he does not like the idea of dividing the community for the benefit of the Untouchables alone had no effect on Ambedkar. Influenced by this perspective, Gandhi vehemently opposed separate electorates and argued that it “would spell their bondage in perpetuity.” The radical difference between Gandhi and Ambedkar in viewing the problems of the Untouchables and in advancing solutions to these problems can appreciated better with the help of two statements, one by Gandhi and the other by Ambedkar. Elaborating his opposition to separate elaborate electorate for the Untouchables, Gandhiji observed in his speech on 13 November 1931 at the Minorities Committee (of the Round Table Conference) meeting;

(W)ith all my regard for Dr Ambedkar, and for his desire to see the Untouchables uplifted, with all my regard for his ability, I must say in all humanity, that great wrong under which he has labored and perhaps the bitter experience that he has undergone, have for the moment warped his judgment. It hurts me to have to say this, but I would be untrue to the cause of the Untouchables, which is as dear to me as dear to me as life itself, if I did not say this. I will not bargain away their rights for the kingdom of the whole world.

Moreover, Gandhi was convicted that Ambedkar was not at all working for the promotion of the interest of the untouchables; what he was, in fact, doing had the consequences of bringing about a double spit, one among the Untouchables and the other in the Hindu social order.53 Responding to the observations of Gandhi, Ambedkar, in single-minded pursuit of his mission, hinted that he treated everyone who failed to see his point of view as enemies, And this was one point that pitched Ambedkar against Gandhi. As he himself made it clear to Gandhi when he met in England on 22 September 1932: “I have only one quarrel with you. You are working for so – called national welfare and not for our interest alone. If you devoted yourself entirely to the welfare of the depressed classes, you would then become our hero.”54 It is out of this attitude that Ambedkar’s concept of politics different sharply from that of Gandhi.

For Gandhi, politics, devoid of its spiritual underpinning was an invitation to conflict and violence. However, Ambedkar held entirely a different view of politics. Underlying this difference was their differential understanding of what the term “political” signified. The term “political” has to play a central role in the political life of a political community; to do so, it must be able to occupy a middle terrain between the sheer givens nature and society on the one side, and the transcendental ends towards which men aspire on the other. Political action is that type of action through which men publicity attempt to order and to transform the givens of nature and society by the light of values which are above or outside the order to the givens.55

If Gandhi embraced this idea of the political, Ambedkar did not, For Gandhi, the principles objectives of political action was to preserve harmony and goodwill in the community. He recognised that there are conflicting interests and views; however, they could be reconciled through persuasion based on the commitment to the exploration of truth. His conception of satyagraha is rooted in this perspective which he treated as not only the instrument par excellence of avoiding conflict but also of preserving order and harmony; in addition it was an apt of exploring truth also. In contradistinction to this, Ambedkar treated society simply as an aggregate of socio-economic groups, each of which is looking for the promotion and preservation of its own interest. In this process conflicts do emerge which have to be resolved on the basis of negotiation, bargaining and compromise. In this perspective, politics is nothing else than process of reciprocal resistance in which superior power position and, dependent on it, the bargaining power are crucial factors. It neither morality nor the concern for the collective interests of the community that matters. Ambedkar’s single –minded pursuit of the Untouchables stemmed from this differential conception of political action.

Writing about the relationship between Gandhi and Ambedkar, Nagraj refers to the irony of ironies that is “to understand the nature of Babasaheb’s political career one has to place it along with Gandhi’s for the divergence between the two will highlight the unique problems of the former.”56 By the same token, it underlines how politics of passion puts itself forward against politics of goodness ,asserts its claim to be the only viable and legitimate basis for organizing public life and relegations; as a result, it makes the appearance of politics of goodness in the phenomenal world well-nigh impossible.

The irony that Nagraj speaks of is not that Ambedkar’s political career alone. It is also the irony of Gandhi’s political career. And by extension, it is also the irony of history-history understood in the sense of a moving field where the voice of reason does arise to curb the depredations of passion but gets muffled in the din of clashing interests. It is this that is symptomatized in the relationship between Gandhi and Ambedkar, although in a limited way and on a limited scale. When analysing, appraising and explaining the relationship between Gandhi and Ambedkar, most commentators and critics tend to ignore this. They fail to see the perpetual irony of history reflected in the conflict between Gandhi and Ambedkar because of their conflicting adherence to incompatible visions of man and his world. As such, the problem of improving the life conditions of Harijans. It gets transformed into the problems of how to view human existence and provide it with a durable and benign organisational base so that the conflict between the private and the public can be minimized, if not completely eliminated.

Thus, the conflict between Gandhi and Ambedkar is not idelogical; it is essentially philosophical reflecting antagonistic views on how to order human life. It is this aspect of the relationship between Gandhi and Ambedkar that most commentators and critics lose sight of and, therefore, fail to see the cosmic drama played out in the microcosmic event of the movement of Harijan uplift. As a result, they offer seemingly credible but really highly distorting interpretation of the relationship between Gandhi and Ambedkar.

The spiritual cleavage symbolised by the political antagonism and the insistence on the part of Ambedkar to speak and work only for the promotion of the interest of a particular group ignoring completely the good of the collectively is sign of the spiritual decay in the modern times. This decay becomes instrumental in the erosion of rational conceptual apparatus that is supposed to serve the adequate expression of ideas. The common philosophical language begins to break down, and, with it, the possibility of men understanding each other across the difference of sentiments and attitudes.

As a result, we enter a period of confusion in which anybody can easily be right because everybody else is wrong to the extent that it sufficient to stress the opposite of what somebody else says in order at least to be partially right as the opponent.57

As a result of this confusion, the philosophical realist speaking the saintly language finds himself in an intellectual and social environment that is no longer receptive to the rational, technically competent thought of a spiritually well-ordered personality. He faces the dilemma of not remaining neutral in a situation of increasing of civilisational malaises, and being ineffective when he does intervene. If he does intervene, speaks out and acts, his philosophical purpose is most likely to be defeated. As Voegelin puts it:

In order to be heard he would have to be a partisan himself, and in order to become a partition he would have to surrender the standards of rationality. If, on the other hand, he has sufficient spiritual strength as well as philosophical consciousness to take his position beyond the disorder of the ages, where as a philosopher he ought to take it he will remain socially ineffective to the point of even being misunderstood.58

This is what has happened in the case of Gandhi. While Ambedkar’s brand of politics has become regnant, philosophical realist cannot escape the strange destiny that is his. “Uncompromising attacks are his lot and equally incomprehending praise, at best some pragmatic misuse of his arguments for a partisan purpose, and for the rest oblivan.”59


Notes and References

  1. For a very useful discussion of Voegelin’s concept of Phenomenalism, see Barry Cooper, Eric Voegelin and the Foundation of Modern Political Science (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999), pp.108-113

  2. Needless to say that such a mode of reconstruction of reality equates historiography with something that is and must be organised around a rationalistic ideal of history. This idea stresses the need to lay bare the objective conditions under which human actions take place. This is tantamount to reconstructing men and societies as natural objects and applying “medical rationalism to exploring historical conditions in which men lived and worked.” This means a rigorous and objective construction of the historical conditions that constitute not only the context but also conditioning, limiting factors for human action. Such a historical account requires that one must steer clear of a set of a a prioristic ethical principles for a better understanding of historical process as it unfolds. For a very useful example of this mode of writing, see Thomas Hobbes, Eight Books of Peloponnesian War by Thucydides (London: the Author, 1629: This is available also in The English Works of Thomas Hobbes of Malmsbary, ed. William Molesworth and published in London in 1893-45 as Vol. VII).

  3. For a good example of this, see D.R.Nagraj, The Flaming fac,: A study of the Dalit movement in India (Banglore : South Forum Press,1993); See Ramashray Roy, “Gandhi and Ambedkar Collision of Two Worldviews,” in politics and society: A New Perspective(Delphi: Shipra Publication,2002) for a critique of Nagraj’s approach to the relationship between Gandhi and Ambedkar.

  4. Eric Voegelin, quated in Ramshray Roy, “Purush, Purana, and Itihas: A Spiritual Perspective,” am unpublished paper.

  5. Needless to say that these categories of language are not neat classification; they overlap each other. Moreover, substantively speaking, if the saintly language is separated from either the traditional the modern language, it leads to certain adverse consequences. For examples, the traditional language loses its significance, if it is dirempted from its spiritual or saintly source. Similarly, modern language depicts a world that rests on hubris.

  6. Eric Voegelin, History of political idea. The Middle Ages to Acquinas,ed. and intro.by peter Von Sivers(Columbia:Missouri University press,1997) Vol.2, p.126

  7. David Walsh, Introduction to Eric Voegelin, History of political ideas: The latter Middle Ages (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998), Vol.3,P.17.

  8. Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches (Bombay: Eduacation department, Government of Maharashatra, 1982), pp.222-23 (To be cited hence forth as Writings and Speeches).

  9. Ibid. It is, however, very difficult to justify this claim on two grounds. First, Ambedkar did embrace Buddhism but very late in his life. However, his references to the central importance of these seminal modern political ideas go earlier in time. Second, in his expositions of Buddhist philosophy, he superimposes on Buddhism a battery of liberal ideas and makes Buddhism not so much the instrument of the spiritual transformation of man, but of socio-economic emancipation of the depressed and deprived segments of the people in India, especially the Untouchables, which he called the bahiskrit samaj (the outcast).

  10. Taking part in the Bombay Legislative Council debates on 2 October 1939, Ambedkar strongly underlined that his loyalty to his country was not in any way lesser than anybody else. However, he also underscored the fact that he had another loyality, “loyality to which I am bound and which I am bound and which I can never forsake; that loyalty is to the community of the Untouchables, in which I was born, to which I belong and which I hope never to desert.” Writings and Speeches, II, P.258. He also wanted to make it clear that whenever there was any conflict of interests between the country and the interest of his community, he would always give precedence to the latter. “As between the Depressed Classes, Depressed Classes will have precedence, the country will not have precedence. “Ibid.,Vol.2 pp. 503-504

  11. For a very useful discussion on the central role of freedom and equality in the life of man in modern times , see Charles Taylor, “Growth, Legitimacy, and Modern Identity, “Praxis International 1, 2 July 1981

  12. H. V. Desai, My Interview with Eminent Personalities, P.26 Quoted in Dhananjay Keer, Dr Ambedkar: Life and Mission (Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1954), p.389.

  13. For a very useful discussion on Ambedkar; economic thought see Sukdeo Thorat, Ambedkar’s Role in Economic Planning and Water policy (Delhi: Shipra Publications 1998).

  14. Government of India, Reconstruction Committee of Council (1944); Record of the First Meeting of the Policy Committee, No, 3C (Public Work and Electronic power) held at Delhi on 23 September 1943, Magazine Government of India.

  15. For a very insightful discussion in this regard, see Fred Hirsh, Social limits to Growth (Londan: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977).

  16. Ibid., pp.10.

  17. See Pierre Manent, “Modern Democracy as a System of Separation.” Journal of Democracy, Vol.14 No.1 (January 2003).

  18. Martin Buber, Pointing the way : Collected Essay: Quoted in Roy Oliver, The Wanderer and the way: Hebrew Tradition in the Writing of Martin Buber(Ithaca,Cornell:Cornell University Press, 1968), p.53

  19. Writing and Speeches, Vol.2, pp. 222-23

  20. Ibid., p.222.

  21. Ambedkar’s address at Poona (22 December 1952) while unveiling the portrait of L.R.Ranada in Poona District Law library.Quated in Keer, Dr Ambedkar: life and mission, P.442.

  22. Writing and speeches, p.442.

  23. Bombay Legislative Assembly Debates, 27 October 1939 in Writings and speeches, vol.2, p.529.

  24. A. K. Comaraswamy, The Living Thoughts of Gautam the Buddha (Bombay: Jaico Publishing House, 1958),p.29.

  25. Anguttara Nikaya, IV: 445: Dhammapada, 5,223.

  26. Ibid. 261.

  27.  Dhammapada, 160.

  28. 28. Ibid.,pp.379,380 It is argued by many that Buddhism does not merely deny the self but also the self. This denial is, to say the least, simple-minded. Note, for examples, that one cannot be selfless without having a self. As Edward Conze admits, the doctrine of anatta is very deep. One must assume that is will need more than a life time to get to the bottom of Buddhism. Buddhism: Its Essence and Development (New York: Harper Torchlooks, 1959), P.19. The Buddhist doctrine of nibbana is akin to Meister Eckhart’s saying: the Kingdom of God is for none but thoroughly dead, “And, as Coomaraswamy notes, “ Nirvana is a death, a being finished (both in the meaning of ended and of “perfected”) “ The living Throughts of Gautam the Buddha, P.28. The means employed to get nibbana are not themselves nibbana; The means are directed to taming, Conquiring, Curbing and rejecting the self (atta) and making it quiet. Thus, for Buddha, the Archant is one “whose self (atta) has been cast off (atta-jaha), his burden, has been laid down (ahit-bharo), and what there is to done, has been done (katam-Karaniyam),” Ibid. What needs to be stressed here is the fact that Buddhism does talk of the distinction between the Great self (mahatma) and the little self (alpatment),natho ( The self alone is the Lord of the self 380, attahi, natho gato (The Self alone is the destiny of the self) Thus Buddhism recognises many selves but only one Self). That is why it insist, just as Jainism does, that it is the one that many are to find.”He who conquers many Banarsidas (1964), Part I Of the Akrang Sutra,Tr Herman Jacobi ( Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas(1964), Part I of the Akrang Sutra, The Kalpasutra, Vol.XXII of the Sacred Books of the East).

  29. Anguttara Nikaya, III: 444.

  30. Dhammapada, 276.

  31. Samyutta Nikaya, IV:298.

  32. C. Plato, Republic, 515c 7-9.

  33. Timothy Fitzgerald, “ Ambedkar, Buddha and the Concept of relidgion,” in S.M.Michael, ed.,Dalits in modern India, Op. Cit., p.126.

  34. Undoubtedly Ambedkar believed in the liberation of the individual. However, he argued that this liberation should no more refer to its traditional spiritual meaning emphasising the need to renounce the worlds; it must now the liberation from social institutional bondage.Ambedkar argues the latter are not only those karmic hindrances which condition the individual’s consciousness from one birth to the next, they are also institutionalised realities, sympotomatised for example, by they are also caste system. These institutionalised realities prove injurious to the interests of the Untouchabilities; these too need to be modified. This requires an appropriate political situation that can prove efficacious in improving life chances (in the material sense) of the poor and the deprived, especially the Untouchables. See Fitagerald, op. cit, pp. 199-20.

  35. Jati pratha Unmulan (Aannihilation of caste) In Baba sahib Ambedkar: Sampurna Vargamay, ed Shyam Sing Shastri( New Delhi: Ambedkar Pratisthanm, Ministry of welfare, Government of India, 1993), I, p. 99.

  36. D. R. Jatav, “Dr Ambedkar’s Philosophy of Religion” In Ambedkar and Social Justice (New Delhi: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Government of India, 1992 II, P. 91, a volume prepared under the auspices of Dr B.R. Ambedkar Birth Centenary Celebration Committee, Ministry of welfare, Government of India.

  37. Fitzgerld, P.124. For a fuller discussion on Ambedkar’s effort to secularise Buddhism, see Ramashray Roy, Gandhi and Ambedkar A Study in Contrast, Ch.5

  38. S.C. Gail Omvedit, when she argues that Ambedkar saw modernity from a perspective quite contrary to that of Gandhi. As Omvedit puts it, “He looked to the values underlying it as the revolutionary aspirations to liberty, equality and community. Modernisation was something that he sought, not feared. “Democratic Movements and Environmentalism: Gandhi, Ambedkar and the Polarities of Revolution in India. “Fourth World, April 1997.

  39. Competition for scarce resources creates inequality in the life condition and life chances; this inequality gets frozen into social order that institutionalises what Johann Galtung calls “structural violence. “Structural violence is discernible within society as well as in the interrelationship of nations.

  40. This has a reference to Gandhi’s comment on a cartoon published in English Journal, The NewAge, in 1910 under the caption, “March of civilisation. “This cartoon depicted an army on March under a general with a grotesque figure, with a gun in one hand and swords dripping with blood and a cross in the other hand.

  41. Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (Delhi: The Publication Division, Government of India), LXIII, p.241. To be cited as CWMG hereafter.

  42. Note what john Locke has to say in this regard: We are not born in heaven, but In this world where our being is to be preserved with meat, drink and clothing, and other necessaries that are not born with us must be got and kept with forecast, care and labour, and therefore we cannot all be devotion, all praises and hallelujah, and perpetually in the vision of things above. Quoted in Sheldon Wolin, Politics and Vision (Boston: Little, Brown & Co. 1960), p.298

  43. For an excellent discussion about it, see Darrel Dobbs, “Choosing Justice: Socrates’ Model City and the Practice of Dialectics,” The American Political Science Review, 88,2(June1984). See also Ramashray Roy Political Science Review,88,2(June 1984).See also Ramashray Roy, Political Order:The Vedic Perpective (Shimla:Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 2003), pp.68-69.

  44. CWMG, VOL.7 P.243.

  45. Alcibiades 131B

  46. Sriman Narayan, ed., Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi ( Ahmedabad:Navajivan Publishing House,1969), Vol.6,pp.110-11. To be cited as SWMG hereafter.

  47. CWMG, Vol.37, p.18.

  48. Ibid.,Vol.34,p.506

  49. Ibid., 55,p.62.

  50. SWMG,Vol.6,p.95

  51. CWMG,Vol.6,p.95

  52. CWMG, Vol.57, Appendix, p.440.

  53. Ibid.

  54. Ibid., P.439.

  55. John H.Schaar, Escape from Authority: The Perspective of Erich From on (New York: Basic Books, 1969), p.296.

  56. Jhrgln Glebhart and Thomas A. Hollwec,eds., Eric Voegelin, History of political Ideas: The New Order and Last Orientation (Columbia: Missouri University Press, 1999),P.194.

  57. Ibid., p.197

  58. Ibid., p.198

  59. Ibid., Loc cit.

Source: From Gandhi Marg, Issue: – January-March 2005, Vol. 26, No. 4

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