Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the architect of India´s Constitution, the first Law Minister of India, and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India were as different as could possibly get for two Indian beings. Ambedkar, born into the economically backward untouchable Mahar caste, gradually rose in life through hard work and merit, earning doctorates in economics from both Columbia University and the London School of Economics, gaining for himself a reputation of being a scholar in law, economics and political science. While Nehru, born in to an affluent Kashmiri Brahmin household, had a sheltered life and afforded himself a graduate degree at Trinity College, Cambridge and the Inner Temple, where he was trained to be a barrister. He swiftly rose in Indian politics under the patronage offered by M.K Gandhi and the charm offered by his elite background. If the relationship between the two iconic Indian leaders, Ambedkar and Nehru, could be surmised in two words, that would be – “trust deficit”.
For these obvious reasons, a one-to-one comparison between Ambedkar and Nehru is impossible, although their relationship, if one were to analyze, seems littered with irreconcilable differences. It appears simply a miracle that they could even hold a conversation together and stand under the same roof. Ambedkar had well formed views on several critical issues, that were mostly at loggerheads with the often ill-conceived ones of Nehru and the then cabinet ministers of the Congress. Ambedkar´s reservations about Nehru’s handling of the Kashmir issue, his opposition to Article 370 of the Constitution conferring special rights on Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), his support for an Uniform Civil Code and his frustration with the Parliament for stalling the Hindu Code Bill so passionately drafted by him – all remain just tip of the iceberg. Increasingly ill with diabetes, and bitterly disappointed by the political behavior of Nehru and the Congress, Ambedkar resigned from the Cabinet in 1951. He contested the General elections in 1952 as an independent candidate almost immediately after his resignation as well as in a by-election in 1954, but lost on both counts, to Congress candidates. Soon afterwards, he left political life for good. Ambedkar’s vocal criticism of Nehru’s policies at the time, particularly his foreign policy was highlighted by both the national and international media. The Time issue dated October 22, 1951, noted: “Ambedkar is the first important Indian official who has openly attacked Nehru for being too friendly to China and not friendly enough to the US”.
What were some of Ambedkar´s policy perspectives that took him on a tangential course to Nehru ? Ambedkar was particularly against the idea of Article 370 being inserted in the Constitution, giving a special Status to the State of J&K, sadly for him, it was inserted there against his recommendations !!. Yes, you heard it right “against his recommendations”. Ambedkar at the time, had clearly told Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, “You wish India should protect your borders, she should build roads in your area, she should supply you food grains, and Kashmir should get equal status as India. But Government of India should have only limited powers and Indian people should have no rights in Kashmir. To give consent to this proposal, would be a treacherous thing against the interests of India and I, as the Law Minister of India, will never do it.” Abdullah hurriedly approached Nehru, who with the help of Gopal Swami Ayyangar, and Sardar Vallabhai Patel got it passed when Nehru was on a foreign tour, avoiding any direct confrontation.
During the debates in the Constituent Assembly, Ambedkar was determined to reform Indian society by recommending the adoption of a Uniform Civil Code. But this couldn’t be done by force, he told the Constituent Assembly, adding that it would be “mad” to introduce it by “provoking Muslims”, and hence reserved it for the future by making it a Directive Principle. However, he soon turned his attention to unifying and emancipating the retrogressive Hindu society through a Hindu code bill. During the debates over the Hindu code bills in the General Assembly, despite having a huge majority in both houses of Parliament, Nehru buckled under the pressure of Hindu nationalists and Muslim leaders alike discarding his political will to be progressive. He told Ambedkar, “the nation is not ready for your modern thoughts on the issue of giving rights to Hindu girls in family property.” A disappointed Ambedkar soon resigned from the cabinet in 1951, when parliament stalled his draft of the Hindu Code Bill, which sought to enshrine gender equality in the laws of inheritance and marriage.
Ironically, it is this history of conflict between Ambedkar and the Congress, that the Sangh Parivar seeks to exploit for establishing their claims on Ambedkar, and to me, in all honesty, it appears most preposterous. The maddening competition between the BJP and the Congress in today´s politics, to appropriate Ambedkar´s legacy for bolstering their political fortunes will go down in Indian history as arguably the most hillarious paradox of all times.