After decades spent vilifying Ambedkar, why are the BJP and Congress so keen to claim his legacy?

After decades spent vilifying Ambedkar, why are the BJP and Congress so keen to claim his legacy?
Photo Credit: IANS
11.3K
Total Views

The popularity of Bhimrao Ambedkar in 2016 is remarkable.

Ambedkar was always a Dalit icon. On his birth and death anniversaries, his memorial in Mumbai draws huge crowds that are much larger than those at memorials of any other Raj-era political leader, including Mahatma Gandhi. But what is remarkable is how mainstream political parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress have scrambled to honour the architect of the Indian Constitution ahead of his 125th birth anniversary on April 14. Both parties had, last year, announced year-long celebrations in the run up to this day in an apparent bid to claim his legacy. And as the anniversary draws closer, the government is firming up plans for a nationwide commemoration.

These bids to claim the legacy of the Dalit icon continue even as reports of Dalit oppression emerge from across the country with disturbing regularity.

Political icon

Ambedkar’s installation as a mainstream political icon is quite recent. Kancha Illaiah, academic and thinker on Dalit issues, says:

“Until 1990, Ambedkar was untouchable to all mainstream political parties. The question of the BJP looking at him did not arise at that time. The implementation of the Mandal Commission report, the VP Singh government honouring Ambedkar with the Bharat Ratna and the massive Dalit civil societal celebration of his role across the country triggered a new debate. From 1991 to 2015, emerging civil societal forces acquired definite intellectual status in universities and colleges and became a force to reckon with.”

Ambedkar is today a national icon. However, during his lifetime, he actually had very little to do either with the Congress or the Hindu right wing that later coalesced into the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Mutual antipathy

As is well known, Ambedkar blamed Gandhi for suppressing the Dalit political voice. In 1955, Ambedkar angrily told the British Broadcasting Corporation that Gandhi did not deserve the title of Mahatma, “not even from the point of view of his morality”.

Ambedkar signed the 1932 Poona pact – as per which Dalit representatives would not be elected by a separate Dalit electorate but by all castes – after Gandhi went on a hunger fast. The pact is so seminal in the Dalit movement that the late Kanshi Ram, the founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party, called his book on the Congress party’s Dalit politics post that pactThe Chamcha Age.

Gandhi was wary of Ambedkar too. He wrote to Vallabhbhai Patel a year before Independence:

“The main problem is about Ambedkar. I see a risk in coming to any sort of understanding with him, for he has told me in so many words that for him there is no distinction between truth or untruth or between violence and non-violence. He follows one single principle, viz. to adopt any means which will serve his purpose. One has to be very careful indeed when dealing with a man who would become a Christian, a Muslim or Sikh and then be reconverted according to his convenience. There is much more I could write in the same strain”

Proud identity

Given his politics that revolved around a proud Dalit identity, Ambedkar naturally came into conflict with the Hindu right. In the run up to the Poona Pact, Ambedkar favoured separate electorates for Dalits to exclusively vote for Dalit representatives. But the Hindu Mahasabha signed a deal with a prominent Dalit leader of the time, MC Rajah, to accept joint electorates where caste Hindus and Dalits would vote together (i.e. the current system). Rajah, who compromised with the right wing, is now a forgotten figure.

Vallabhbhai Patel too disliked Ambedkar’s politics, accusing him in 1948 of wanting to divide the country. In the Constituent Assembly, as Ambedkar tried to move an amendment to grant Dalits greater electoral rights, Patel opposed it, and attacked him:

“Let us forget what Dr Ambedkar has done. Let us forget what you [Nagappa, another Dalit Assembly member and an Ambedkarite] did. You have very nearly escaped partition of the country again on your lines. You have seen the result of separate electorates in Bombay, that when the greatest benefactor of your community [referring to Gandhi] came to Bombay to stay in bhangi quarters it was your people who tried to stone his quarters. What was it? It was again the result of this poison, and therefore I resist this only because I feel that the vast majority of the Hindu population wish you well. Without them where will you be? Therefore, secure their confidence and forget that you are a Scheduled Caste.”

The most hated man in India

Patel wasn’t alone in his dislike of Ambedkar’s politics. Dhananjay Keer, Ambedkar biographer, wrote that after opposing Gandhi on the Poona Pact, Ambedkar became widely unpopular across India:

“Ambedkar now became the most hated man in India. He was stigmatised as an uncivil, insolent, inordinately rude man, devoid of human consideration. He was represented as a devil, was cursed as a public nuisance number one and was dammed as a reactionary, a stooge of the British government, a traitor to the country and a destroyer of Hinduism.”

Arun Shourie, prominent right-wing intellectual and minister in the Vajpayee government, repeated the “Ambedkar is a traitor” trope in his book, Worshipping False Gods. In the book, Shourie states:

“There is not one instance, not one single, solitary instance in which Ambedkar participated in any activity connected with the struggle to free the country”.

Ambedkar was hated because he took bold positions and did not care for the upper-caste dominated mainstream of Indian politics. He often cooperated with the establishment – with the British during the Raj, and with the Congress after Independence. Political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot points out that Ambedkar was supremely practical and did whatever it took to help his community. Thus, in 1939, he tied-up with the Muslim League and Jinnah to mark a “Day of Deliverance” in order to celebrate the mass resignation of all Congress ministries to protest India’s entry into World War II.

Ambedkar meets Jinnah and Periyar in 1940.
Ambedkar meets Jinnah and Periyar in 1940.

Allying with the Socialists

In 1951, Ambedkar’s attempts to modernise Hindu personal law met with strong opposition from the Hindu right. One of them was SP Mookerjee, the founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the precursor to the Bharatiya Janata Party, who felt these new laws, which promised gender equality, were instruments that would “shatter the magnificent structure of Hindu culture”.

Frustrated with this Opposition, Ambedkar resigned as law minister from Nehru’s cabinet and allied with the Socialist Party to fight the 1951 general elections. Even during this campaign, Ambedkar went against the mainstream, promising his Muslim constituents that he would fight for separate electorates for them, just as he had for Dalits.

As a further measure of his protest, he converted to Buddhism in 1956, an event that the Bharatiya Janata Party glosses over given its strong opposition to conversion.

Bahujan politics and Ambedkar

Thus, Ambedkar is lionised today, but not for any of the principles he stood for during his lifetime.

His new-found popularity among mainstream political parties can be attributed to the rise of Ambedkarite politics, which uses the Dalit identity to vie for political, economic and social power.

It started with the formation, in 1978, of the All India Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation, known as BAMCEF, an organisation of mainly Dalit public sector employees. This later led to the establishment of the Bahujan Samaj Party, which changed Indian politics forever by creating an independent Dalit leadership.

Mainstream political parties now have to woo Dalits, a constituency they have always taken for granted.

For this, Ambedkar is a handy icon. Never mind that it is rare to find a Dalit holding a senior leadership position in these parties, and that ground conditions for this oppressed group remain mostly unchanged. Remember Rohith Vemula?

[“source-Scroll”]

This hilarious illustration is the Ravi Shastri of journalism cliches

This hilarious illustration is the Ravi Shastri of journalism cliches
Photo Credit: Karl Sharro
31.6K
Total Views

The stage is set. There’s a keen contest on the cards. At first glance, this might serve as a cautionary tale forcing us to think outside the box. But if you probe the matter and upon deeper reflection, you might conclude that this is just what the doctor ordered.

Confused? Most print journalists would find the lack of any semblance of meaning in the previous paragraph oddly comforting (or infuriating), because its made up of some of the most common cliches of newspaper copy.

A couple of years ago, the Washington Post‘s Sunday Outlook attempted to collect all the far-too-familiar phrases and idioms that journalists keep falling back on. That list, from “at a crossroads” to “only time will tell,” is now at 200 cliches and counting.

India has its own overused phrases, the most famous of which (at least for those of us on Twitter) is keen contest on the cards, a headline used so commonly by the Hindu that a Google search turns up more than 2,000 pages with that title.

India also has its own Ravi Shastri, a cricketer-turned-commentator who turns the form into an exercise in mouthing as many cliches as possible in the shortest period of time. Googling Ravi Shastri cliches, from electryfing atmospheres to a cracker of a game, will give you many more results than the keen contest.

Now Karl Sharro, an architect, satirist and blogger, has designed a house that brings together some of the most common elements of journalism and political punditry.

Some of the are a little more foreign – smoke-filled rooms and blue-sky thinking would be rather exotic references in Indian news copy – but the writing on the wall and the moral high ground are far too familiar. And don’t even ask about the elephant, um, in the room.

[“source-Scroll”]

What explains the astonishingly high number of accredited journalists in Andhra Pradesh?

What explains the astonishingly high number of accredited journalists in Andhra Pradesh?
13.2K
Total Views

Information obtained by way of a Right to Information query shows that Andhra Pradesh has an astonishingly large number of journalists who have been given official accreditation by the state government: more than 15,000.

Compared to this, Karnataka has 815, Bihar 770, Punjab 450, Orissa 157, Jammu and Kashmir 81, Himachal Pradesh 76 and Goa 72 accredited journalists. Those figures are lower than the number of officially recognised journalists in any single district in Andhra Pradesh: upward of 900.

Accredited journalists are entitled to concessions on trains and buses and health facilities, among other benefits .

What explains this?

Some argue that the number of accredited journalists in Andhra Pradesh is high because of the large number of dailies in the state. Amar Devulapalli, secretary-general of Indian Journalists Union and consulting editor of Sakshi TV, brushed away allegations that Andhra Pradesh was accrediting journalists indiscriminately. “There is no hanky-panky,” he said.

However, according to a 2014-’15 report of the Registrar of Newspapers in India, the largest number of publications are published in Uttar Pradesh (5,506), followed by Madhya Pradesh (2,494), Delhi (2,465) and Uttarakhand (1,847). Andhra has only 1,648.

While the number of accredited journalists for some of the above states was not readily available, it is instructive to note that the number of accredited journalists in Rajasthan is 1,631, which has about the same number of publications – 1,660.

So what accounts for this high number?

“No qualification or experience is needed,” says TVR Rao of a channel called 6 TV. “I know a journalist who is 19 and got his accreditation card in three months.” Rao, who has been a journalist for 12 years, was accredited in 2005, after around a year on the job.

A journalist with a Telugu daily, who has worked in the state for past 30 years, said that political leaders attempt to ensure favourable coverage by giving journalists the benefits of accreditation.

Andhra’s mediascape

But why isn’t this happening in other states too?

Andhra Pradesh has a mix of TV news channels – mostly owned by politicians and businessmen. The Hoot, a media watchdog website, reported that out of 24 TV channels in Andhra, 21 are in the hands of corporate and political giants. “A few try to be neutral, but are hardly objective,” says the report.

For instance, Sakshi daily and its sister TV channel are owned by politician YS Jaganmohan Reddy. Chief minister Chandra Babu Naidu’s close aide Vemuri Radhakrishna owns ABN Andhra Jyothi. T News belongs to Telangana Broadcasting Private Limited, the official mouthpiece of the Telangana Rashtriya Samiti.

Email queries sent to P Krishna Mohan, Andhra Pradesh’s Commissioner of Information and Public Relations Department, did not elicit any response.

Benefits of an accreditation card

According to the website of the Information and Public Relation Department, accredited journalists get access to several government facilities, including an employee health card that gives them and their families medical coverage of Rs 2.5 lakh every year.

Besides, accredited journalists get fare-waivers in Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation buses. They get free bus rides within the district and only have to pay 33% of the fare when travelling to other districts in the state. Accredited journalists also get 50% waive-offs in trains.

“Waive offs in trains and buses help journalists immensely,” said Suribabu S, a reporter with Eenadu in Visakhapatnam. “Journalists mostly apply for accreditation to avail these two benefits, health and travel.”

It is also possible for journalists to get a plot of land at a subsidised price: accredited Andhra journalists are entitled to 3.5 cents of land (around 1,500 sq ft) at less than market price.

Rules for accreditation

The accreditation process is theoretically governed by strict norms, and by that token is limited to journalists who fulfil those conditions.

According to Information and Public Relation Department, of Andhra Pradesh, there should be a two-tier accreditation committee – the state media accreditation committee and the district media accreditation committee to issue official recognition to journalists.

Rules laid down by the Information and Public Relation Department clearly state:

“he/she (journalists) shall have spent not less than five, three and two consecutive years in the profession of journalism for accreditation at State Headquarters, District Headquarters and at Mandal level respectively.”

But in practice, the management of the publication decides who should be given the card and sends names to the department, said Eenadu reporter Suribabu. Qualifications and experience do not matter much.

Devulapalli of the Indian Journalists Union admitted that there are loopholes in the accreditation process. “Sometimes the lower-level officials in Information and Public Relation Department take bribes for giving accreditation,” he said.

The outcome

Not everyone is pleased with the situation. “To say the least, it is extremely unethical on the part of journalists,” said former Deccan Chronicle journalist VS Krishna. “Some kind of racket is going on in the state.”

However, others argue that the benefits don’t amount to much. “The small favour one gets from government accreditation doesn’t really count for much,” said the bureau chief of an English national daily based in Visakhapatnam, requesting anonymity. “They mainly ensure better operations for a reporter working on the ground.”

Added a senior Telugu journalist based in Delhi: “You guys are barking up the wrong tree. Journalists don’t count. When the government already has media barons in its corner, who needs journalists?”

[“source-Scroll”]

The world condemns North Korea’s rocket launch and misses the point again

The world condemns North Korea’s rocket launch and misses the point again
Photo Credit: Kyodo/Reuters
12.4K
Total Views
The collective global roar of disapproval that greeted North Korea’s launch of its satellite Kwangmyongsong-4 is a familiar sound by now. The universal fury at Pyongyang’s actions was similar to that which greeted its purported recent underground test of a hydrogen bomb.

As they did after that event, the US, South Korea, Russia, Japan and China (and many others) were forced into an uncomfortable diplomatic lockstep by their need to issue loud objections – though later statements on what might be done to censure North Korea were rather more uneven. And just as was the case with the size of the January 2016 test at Punggye-ri, the scale of the Kwangmyongsong-4 launch’s technological achievement has already been questioned. South Korea’s Yonhap agency was characteristically quick to suggest it had been a failure.

Business as usual, then. And as usual, the world is overlooking any context for the launch beyond the issue of nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles. As is generally the case when it comes to North Korea and technology, there’s a glaring gap between what’s actually going on in North Korea and the invective thrown back by its foes. Kwangmyongsong-4 is as much about national scientific and economic development as much as it is about geopolitical messaging.

In December 2012, North Korea launched Kwangmyongsong-3, which it described as an earth observation satellite designed to generate data to support North Korean agricultural planning (though it was also intended to broadcast the Song of Kim Il-Sung to the planet on a 470Mhz frequency). Unfortunately for Pyongyang, nothing was ever heard from it; both computer simulation and visual observation proved that whatever had been placed in orbit was spinning hopelessly out of control.

So far, North Korea has refrained from bragging about Kwangmyongsong-4’s technical capacity, and has issued no claims as to its musicality. It is once again described as an “earth observation satellite” containing “measuring apparatuses and telecommunications apparatuses needed for observing the earth”.

But this time, according to analysis of its path and orbit, the object released by the final stage of the orbital vehicle appears to be under control; in fact, its orbit has even been described by respected Dutch satellite tracker Marco Langbroek as “consistent with a remote sensing role”.

Of course, nations around the world seem determined not to accept Kwangmyongsong-4 as anything other than yet another example of provocative weapons testing. They are keen to negate Pyongyang’s assertions that this is indeed an exercise in the development of its capacity to explore space for peaceful ends.

Getting a grip

Such exploration and utilisation is of course entirely legal under the United Nation’s 1967Outer Space Treaty and the 1975 Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space – both of which North Korea acceded to in 2009.

Why indeed would it be so strange for Pyongyang to want to develop its capacity to launch vehicles into space, or to build functional earth observation devices? North Korea’s conception of 2012’s device as an element of projects focused on improving its agricultural capacity surely makes perfect sense given the historically haphazard nature of North Korean industrial planning.

Reuters/Kyodo

If the satellite really does have remote sensing capacity, that could be a boon to North Korea’s ability to manage its forests and fisheries, and could greatly improve the country’s meteorological monitoring ability.

These are major domestic priorities. The Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-Un, quite unexpectedly and viciously denounced the country’s weather forecasting service in 2014, and in 2015, his government put a lot of work into developing the fishing industry and improving flood prevention and forecasting (especially after recent floods in the important Rason Special Economic Zone).

And aside from the obvious potential practical benefits, external commentators have paid scant attention to Kwangmyongsong-4’s place in North Korea’s charismatic political calendar.

Fascinating vapour

Western commentators certainly made mention of the North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun’s euphoric report of the launch, which marvelled at “the fascinating vapour of Juche satellite trailing in the clear and blue sky in spring of February on the threshold of the Day of the Shining Star”. But they failed to connect the commemorative dots.

February 16, the Day of the Shining Star, was Kim Jong-Il’s birthday, what better posthumous gift could there be for the Dear Leader?

The outside world has also overlooked any connection with the impending Seventh Party Congress of the Korean Workers Party in May 2016, and the political and developmental theatrics that will accompany this year-long event.

Instead, the wider world is railing against Pyongyang using its typical themes of threat, fear and danger. The global gnashing of teeth shows us just how myopic and black-and-white the thinking on North Korea has become.

We live in a world where potentially dual-use technology is blasted above the stratosphere many times a year, and where the launch of astronauts such as the UK’s new “hero” Major Tim Peake can be lauded as manifestations of national pluck. Even in the depths of the cold war, the Soviet Air Force’s Yuri Gagarin was lionised in the West for his pioneering space voyage. And yet, for all that the domestic context for this launch is plain to see, we refuse to open our minds to the idea that Pyongyang’s space ventures may be motivated by anything other than belligerence.

[“source-Scroll”]