ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Tale of Ambedkar and Gandhi

Welding the Two Visions of Democracy

Radical Equality: Ambedkar, Gandhi, and the Risk of Democracy by Aishwary Kumar; Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2015; pp xiv + 393, price notindicated.

In the political iconography of the Indian nationalist struggle for independence, M K Gandhi and B R Ambedkar have more often than not been invoked as ideological opponents vying fiercely with each other to influence the trajectory of India’s social, moral and democratic space. Thanks to Arundhati Roy’s book-length introduction to Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste: The Annotated Critical Edition (2014), “The Doctor and the Saint,” and a vigorous response to it by Rajmohan Gandhi (2015a) (and a later rebuttal by Roy (2015)) in EPW, many decades after independence, the dormant chronicle of the alleged epic rivalry between Ambedkar and Gandhi has come alive and there is today more distance between ideological legacies of the two towering visionaries of India. As if chipping into this debate, Aishwary Kumar’s book Radical Equality: Ambedkar, Gandhi, and the Risk of Democracy offers refreshing insights into understanding and locating similarities and differences between the two radical thinkers. It explores the complex, but complimentary relationship that they together shared in shaping the contours of justice, equality, and democracy not just in India, but in broader South Asia.

Constructing the ontology of justice, democracy, and dissent in the anti-colonial struggles and writings of Gandhi and Ambedkar, Radical Equality seeks to shed light on an ethics of antinomies that constitutes the egalitarian muscle and fibre of Indian politics, and its moral republican centre. Through a probing enquiry, the book begins by succinctly engaging with the two seminal texts, Hind Swaraj (1909) and Annihilation of Caste (1936), and their shared, but nuanced filiations and affiliations in the rigorous pursuit of equality and sovereignty against the backdrop of the perceived antagonism between their authors. Aptly enough, the book not just locates the significance of Gandhi and Ambedkar in the wider cosmogony of Indian anti-colonial ideologies of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, M G Ranade, B G Tilak, V D Savarkar among others, but goes on to excavate the sites of religious and judicial exclusions that situate Dalit politics in charting out India’s political modernity.

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