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Republic Day Doodling

January 26, 2012

It is quite interesting that Google has an India Republic Day Doodle! India has now arrived, and how – the Google Doodle says by riding elephants! I just hope Google doesn’t have new cases against it (like the censorship one wasn’t enough) for stereotyping Indians as elephant riders – ask Jeremy Clarkson of  TopGear [in]fame.

The conventional pen and paper [or should we say brick and mortar?] media – the newspaper offered some curious ideas on what Republic Day means to all of us – as in beyond Big Bazaar.  It was as if Mr. MK Gandhi’s PR agency had unleashed a ‘Gandhi Everywhere’ campaign. The Ministry of Minority Affairs, Panchayati Raj, Khadi Gramudyog  seemed to have kindly obliged with precious pages of newsprint dedicated to pictures and quotes of the Mahatma. While nobody can undermine Gandhiji’s role as a visionary, converting every public holiday into a celebration of Gandhiji undermines the importance of the day itself. Yes, we have the Republic Day parade with beautiful tableau from various states, but then Minority Affairs – Gandhi – Republic Day; it is too cryptic for me to connect. It seems to be but a cheap attempt at populism. Not to be left behind our media channels are playing Richard Attenborough’s  Gandhi to celebrate Republic Day.  In India, the term ‘an enlightened media’ has now become an oxymoron. [The only exception was an advert issued by the Karnataka Govt. which had pictures of the Chief Minister and Governor on top, but featured a quote and picture of Dr.Ambedkar]

So, what should Republic Day be all about. Of course, it is about celebrating ‘unity in diversity’ and India’s syncretic culture. Is it not also a day to remember the architects of the republic? There are many that come to mind beyond Gandhiji – C.Rajagopalachari, Sardar Vallabhai Patel et. al. But the one whose contribution is most exemplary is Babasaheb Ambedkar – Chairman of the Constitution drafting committee and independent India’s first law minister. Despite all our short-comings, time has proven that India’s constitution is one which is built to last. Look around at the way other countries in the sub-continent have swung in and out of anarchy. We have become fortuitous citizens of India and for this we must be grateful to the authors of our constitution for their fortitude and foresightedness.  The Constitution that has passed the test of time is perhaps the greatest legacy anyone could hope to leave behind. I wonder why today’s so-called Ambedkarites prefer others such as reservations and caste. While the Constitution has been ‘built to last’ ‘Reservations’ have been built for those those who come last and in today’s politics the Nation always comes last.

So why is not Dr.Ambedkar celebrated as a ‘Nationalist’? Why is it that he is relegated to a ‘Dalit Leader’ whose photographs must be hung up on walls of all Govt. Offices to show that ‘all are equal’. The constitution belongs to India and so does Dr.Ambedkar. The greatest travesty inflicted on his legacy is that it is restricted to ‘Ambedkar Jayanthi’ or at Chaitya Bhoomi. If ever a day was meant to celebrate Dr.Ambedkar, it is Republic Day. Ambedkar Jayanthi is about a personality cult which the man despised, while Republic Day is about the longevity of his work – it’s about what he did, what he created, what he left behind for his nation.

But I do understand why some people are uncomfortable with his legacy. He was a pragmatist- not a populist, and a man of principles. He resigned from the cabinet on account of differences with the government. As law minister, he sought to introduce the Hindu Code bill which would give equal rights to women in terms of inheritance and economy. It was an anti-populist move and obviously anathema to the Congress. This prompted his resignation from the Cabinet.When was the last time you heard the name Ambedkar in the media blitzkrieg over internet censorship, the Rushdie Ramayana or Hussain hooplah? For he was the man who pioneered the idea of civil liberties which was hitherto unheard of in India.  He also favoured liberal economic policies – which was tantamount to treason in the time of Nehru.

Perhaps the reason why the Ministry of Minority Affairs chose Gandhi over Ambedkar is explained in his essay ‘Thoughts on Pakistan’ where he questioned if Indian Muslims could ever be trusted post-partition. Ambedkar also vociferously criticised Islam saying that as a religion it virtually legitimised polygamy, slavery, purdah etc. Of course, Ambedkar was equally vitriolic about the Hindu faith. But one must not forget his bitter experiences with Hinduism, reason enough for him to be hardened. While one would like to assume neutrality, it is but natural that some of this bitterness flowed into the formulation of his opinion. It was not so with Islam – his opinion could only have been influenced by cold logic. Unfortunately, logic and populism don’t always go hand-in-hand. We chose to ignore the very principles prescribed by our constitution of an open society and space for multiple opinions. What makes the Minority Affairs Ministry’s ad even more abhorrent is the fact that the minister in charge is also the Law Minister!

Dr.Ambedkar ought to be celebrated as a statesman beyond a social activist. He perhaps would be the ideal conservative. It is indeed ironical that the legacy of a man who once lost an election for his statesmanly approach is now being used by lowly Luddites to form governments. His so-called followers seemed to have been reading his message in reverse – “Educate”, “Organise”, “Agitate”! We would do well to take a similar approach with our national holidays. First ‘Educate’, then ‘Proliferate’ and finally ‘Celebrate’!

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