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

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On the Ambedkar–Gandhi Debate

In response to the discussions around Arundhati Roy’s introduction to B R Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste, this article draws on Ambedkar’s views on caste in government policy to reiterate his continuing relevance today.

I have followed with interest, and some disquiet, the B R Ambedkar–M K Gandhi debate in the pages of EPW generated by Arundhati Roy’s introduction, “The Doctor and the Saint,” to Ambedkar’s seminal essay, Annihilation of Caste. Interest, because the debate brought to the fore the Ambedkar–Gandhi relationship on the question of untouchability and the larger question of caste. Disquiet, because at places the debate exudes bitterness and tends to pitch one against the other which, to my mind, was not the intention of Roy. She wanted to move “the Gandhi monument out of the way” in order that Ambedkar may be better understood and honoured, so as to present an appropriate account of “the complicated intellectual and political battle” that Ambedkar waged in order to get his people not only civil rights but also human rights, as well as to understand caste politics. It was impossible to do that without bringing in Gandhi. As to the charge of denigrating Gandhi, or comparing him with Ambedkar, she writes, in response to the critique of Rajmohan Gandhi that the selections she made to substantiate her arguments were

a means of telling the story of the significant and perturbing part that Gandhi played in Ambedkar’s struggle. To do this it became necessary to highlight things that the dominant historical narrative has gone out of its way to obscure (Roy 2015: 166).

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