July 5, 2013 By Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar

‘A politician, not a Mahatma; an episode, not an epoch-maker’


A Transcript of Ambedkar’s comments on Gandhi in an Interview with the BBC in 1955. 

I met him first in 1929 through the intervention of a common friend of ours, who asked Gandhi to see me. Gandhi wrote to me, saying he would like to see me. I went and saw him. That was just before going to the Round Table Conference. Then he came to the second Round Table Conference. He did not come to the first. He was there for about five, six months. There I met him face to face. Then, once thereafter, he asked me to come and see him. After signing the Poona Pact I went to see him. He was ther in jail. That is all the time I saw him.  I always say that as I met Gandhi in the capacity of an opponent, I had the feeling that I know him better than most other people because who opened his fangs to me and I could see the inside of the man. Those who go there as devotees saw nothing of him. They only saw his external appearance which he had put up as a Mahathma. I saw him in his human capacity, the bare man in him better than other people who got associated with him.
How would you sum up your observations of Gandhi?

At the outset, let me say that I felt quite surprised at the interest that the outside world, especially the western world seems to be taking in Gandhi. I can’t understand that. As far as India is concerned, in my judgment, he was an episode in the history of India, never an epoch-maker. Gandhi has already vanished from the memory of people of this country. His memory is kept up because the Congress party annually declares holiday either on his birthday or any day connected with some events in his life. Celebrations every year go on for seven days a week to naturally revive people’s memory. If these artificial respirations are not given, Gandhi would have long been forgotten
Do you think that he has fundamentally changed the aspects….

Not at all. All the time he has engaged in double dealings. He conducted papers in two languages: Harijan (before that Young India) in English and Din Bandhu (or something like that) in Guajarati. If you read the two papers together, you can see how Mr Gandhi is deceiving the people. In the English paper, he poses himself as an opponent of the caste system and untouchability and as a democrat. If you read his Guajarati magazine, you can see him as the most orthodox man. He has been supporting the caste system, the Varnashrama dharma and all orthodox dogmas that have kept India down all through ages. In fact somebody ought to make a comparative study of the statements made by Gandhi in Harijan and those in Guajarati papers (there are seven volumes of it). The people, especially the western world, only read the English paper, where Mr Gandhi, in order to keep himself in the steam of the western people who believe in democracy, is advocating democratic ideals. You have to see what he actually talked to people in the vernacular papers.  Nobody seems to have made any reference. All the biographies that were written are based on his statements in Harijan and Young India, not upon his writings in Guajarati.
What was his real intention with regard to the scheduled castes?

We only wanted two things: (1) Untouchability should be abolished. (2)  We also want that we may be given equal opportunity so that we must rise to the level of other classes. Mere washing off untouchability will be of no consequence. We have been carrying on with untouchability for the last 2000 years. None is bothered about it. Yet there are some harmful disabilities. For instance, people can’t take water. I have learnt how to cultivate water. The only thing which is far more important that the scheduled castes should have the same status in this country; we should have the opportunity to hold high offices so that not only dignity will go up, but also they will get what I call strategic position from which they could protect their own people. Gandhi totally opposed it.

He was simply content with the temple entry
Temple entry was all that he wanted to do. Nobody cares about Hindu temples now. The untouchables have become so conscious that temple does not have any consequence at all. If you live in the untouchable quarter, whether you enter the temple or not, it is the same. At a point of time people did not allow untouchables to travel by train because of pollution. Now they don’t mind, because railways is making separate arrangement. Because they travel together in train, it does not follow that their life in the villages vis-à-vis the Hindus has in any sense changed. Whenever the Hindu and the untouchable alights at a railway station, they assume their old roles.

So you say Gandhi was an orthodox Hindu
Gandhi was absolutely an orthodox Hindu. He was never a reformer. He had no dynamics in him (to be one). Firstly, all these talks about untouchability were just to make the untouchable get drawn into the Congress. Secondly, he also wanted that the Untouchables should not oppose his movement for Swaraj. Beyond that, I don’t think he has any real motive of uplift. He was not like Garrison (William Lloyd Garrison) in the US who fought for the Negroes.
Do you think that political independence would have been achieved without Gandhi?

Oh Yes. Without Gandhi, India would have achieved political independence in slow degrees. I personally think that If Swaraj had been achieved in slow measures, it would have profited the people better. For, each community and group suffering from disabilities would have been able to consolidate itself at each stage of the transfer of power from the British. But the whole thing came as a flood. People were unprepared. I always think that the Labour Party was the most stupid party in England.

So who was impatient, Gandhi or the Congress Party?

I don’t know how Mr Atlee suddenly agreed to give India independence. That is a secret that he will disclose in his autobiography. None expected that he would do that. It seems to me from my own analysis that two things led the Labour party to take this decision:
1. The national army that was raised by Subash Chandra Bose. The British had been ruling the country in the firm belief that whatever may happen in the country or whatever the politicians do, they will never be able to change the loyalty of soldiers. That was one prop on which they were carrying on the administration. And that was completely dashed to pieces. They found that soldiers could be seduced to form a party-a battalion to blow off the British. I think the British had come to the conclusion that if they were to rule India, the only basis on which they would rule was the maintenance of the British Army. Going back to 1857, when the Indian soldiers rebelled against the East India Company, they found that it would never be possible for them to supply India with enough European troops to keep their hold on it.
2. In my opinion, the British soldiers wanted the disbandment of the Army immediately so that they wanted to go to their civil jobs. You know how much indignation there was at the gradual disbandment of the Indian Army. Because those who were not disbanded fell and those who were disbanded were going to take their jobs. What is going to happen to them? They could not think of having enough British Army to keep India down.
3. What the British gained from India was commerce, not so much salary on civil servants or army. That is a small thing. They had better be sacrificed so as to earn something more profitable that is trade and commerce. Whether India gets independence or it accepts dominion status or something less, the trade and commerce would go on in the same way. I think personally, since I have no authority to say, that is the way the mind of the Labour party turned.
Regarding the Poona Pact, can you remember what Gandhi said to you and you said to him?

The British government had, in the original award which MacDonald had given, had accepted my suggestion. I said, look, the Hindus want there should be a common electorate so that there may be no separatist feeling between the Scheduled Castes and the Hindu. We think if we have a common electorate we would be submerged and the nominees of the Scheduled Castes who would be elected would be really slaves of the Hindus not independent people. Now, I told Mr Ramsay MacDonald this is a sort of a thing that he might do! Give us a separate electorate and also give us a second vote in the general election so that Gandhi cannot say that “we are separated” in point of election.
My contention was this: for five years we live separately from Hindus with no intercourse or intercommunication either spiritually or socially. What can one day’s cycle of participation in a common electorate do to remove separatism which have grown for centuries? It is a foolish thing to think that if two people vote together in a common polling booth that their hearts will change. Nothing like that will happen. But Mr Gandhi got this madness in him. In this system, give untouchables two votes and give them representation in the ratio of their population. So the weightage would be in terms of votes and not representatives so that Gandhi and others may not complain. McDonald accepted my suggestion. The award was my suggestion. I wrote him a letter from Naples that this is what I would like him to do. This is exactly what he did, too. He gave separate electorates and votes in the general election. Gandhi did not want that we send our two representatives. Therefore he did not want the separate electorate part. He went on fast. They all came to me. The British government said, if he agrees to abandon the award, we have no objection. But we can’t abandon the awards ourselves. ‘We have given the award; we have taken all things into consideration. We think this is the best. You have to disarm McDonald’s letter.” This is a very clear statement. “We have not done anything to aggravate the separation. In fact, we are trying to bridge it up by bringing the two sections together in a common electoral road. But Gandhi’s object was that we should not get free independent representatives. Therefore he said, ‘No representation shall be given to us.” That was his stand in the Round Table Conference. He said, I recognize only three communities: Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. These are the only three communities that will have political recognition in the Constitution. But the Christians or the Anglo-Indians or the Scheduled Castes will have no place in the Constitution. They must merge themselves in the general community. That was the stand he had taken, whereas all his friends were asking him how foolish his attitude was. His own friends quarreled with him on the subject. If you are prepared to give special representation to Sikhs and Muslims, who are thousand times be superior in strength and political and economic stamina, how can you deny it to SC and Christians? He said: You don’t understand our problems. Even (Horace) Alexander, a great friend of Gandhi’s, had serious quarrel with him. A French woman who was his disciple (I don’t remember her name) had also quarrel with him: ‘Either you say you won’t give anything to anybody; let there be a common road. We can understand that. That is democratic. But you give it to Muslims and to the Sikhs, but not to the Scheduled Castes. It seems absurd.’ He could give no answer.
We suggested this method. In the beginning he said: the Scheduled Castes should have nothing-no representation. So his own friends said to him: This is asking for too much. Nobody will support you in this regard. Then Malavya and others came to me and said: ‘Could you help us solve this problem?’ I said: ‘I don’t want to solve this problem by sacrificing what we have been able to get from the British Prime Minister.
So I suggested an alternative formula: I am not prepared to give up the separate electorate. But I am prepared to modify it in this way: the candidate who will stand in the final election on behalf of the Scheduled Castes should be first elected by the Scheduled Castes themselves in the primary election. And the Scheduled Castes will elect four people. The four will then stand in the general election. Let the best one come so that we get some assurance that you don’t put up your own nominees. So, we will get people who will express our voice in the Parliament. Mr. Gandhi had to accept it. So he accepted. We had the benefit of it only in one election in 1937. There you see the federation set the poll. Gandhi was not able to get a single member of his party elected.
Did he bargain hard at the end of his fast?
He bargained and bargained. I said nothing going. I am prepared to save your life, provided you don’t make hard terms. I am not going to save your life at the cost of the life of my people. This is how much I labored. I am not going to sacrifice it to your whim. I will not sacrifice our people’s interest just to satisfy your whim. How can one day’s common election alter the situation? It simply can’t.

He was afraid that Scheduled Castes will become as much an independent body as the Sikhs and Muslims. Then Hindus will have to fight against a combination of these sections. That was at the back of his mind. He did not want Hindus to be left without allies. He was just a politician, not a Mahatma. I refuse to call him Mahatma. I have never called him Mahatma. He does not deserve that title on the basis of morality.

The Interview can be heard at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJs-BJoSzbo

(Photo caption : A still from the play Ambedkar aur Gandhi that was held as part of the Dalit Theatre Festival, Credit http://mohallalive.com/2011/04/26/will-dalit-drama-festival-devide-theatre/)

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