In case you are wondering why I have not mentioned any author for the book “Ambedkar: An Overview” I must clarify that the book (published by Rupa Publications in 2018) is a collection of essays/writings of Bharat Ratna Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar ( 1891-1956). To that extent I think the title of the book itself is somewhat misleading. It suggests that someone has written about Dr Ambedkar but in reality is a collection of his own writings! Even “Essays by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar” or ” Selected Writings of Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar” would have been more apt as a title, in my opinion.
I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed the book because it gives deep insights to a man who overcame many social and cultural barriers to become virtually the key architect of our Indian Constitution. You may recall that as Independent India’s first Law Minister he shepherded the drafting of the Constitution. The country owes a huge debt to Dr Ambedkar, not only for his work in the drafting of the Indian Constitution finalised in 1950 but his leadership and fight for the rights of the downtrodden of this country called as “Untouchables”in those days. Now they are called ” Scheduled Castes” or “Dalits” in popular parlance.
It is good that in the introduction, Dr Abhijit Kundu has given a brief sketch of Dr Ambedkar’s career. He was born in 1891 to a Mahar family in Mhow and since his father was in Government service he was able to get admission to Elphinstone High School and later Elphinstone College. In 1913 he was admitted to the famous Columbia University in the United States. A generous scholarship by the Maharajah of Baroda enabled the young Ambedkar to set off for his Master’s degree. Later he did one more Master’s degree and subsequently his doctorate at the prestigious London School of Economics.
Returning to India, in the 1920s and 1930s, Dr Ambedkar was in the forefront of the movement to bring some dignity into the lives of lakhs of ” Untouchables” as they were then called. He was not only very articulate as is evident from his writings but a man of principles. He was not overawed by the reputations of others and he disagreed vehemently, as we see in this book , with Mahatma Gandhi.
An opponent of the Hindu religion and its teachings for all his life, he embraced Buddhism in 1956 towards the end of his life.
The book is made up of 10 Essays in which he is brutally frank in stating his views. He argues convincingly on his points of view and why he took stands at different times in his career. The first essay, ‘The Failed Promise” is in my view one of the best in the book. He lambasts the Indian National Congress for promising much and doing little to help people like him who were considered outside the purview of Hindu society. He is particularly severe on Mahatma Gandhi accusing him of being partial to Hindus at the cost of the Untouchables.
“The Pakistan Question” and “Debunking Pakistan” were two other essays which I thought were brilliant. Also interesting were, ‘ A Critique of Gandhi” and extracts of Dr Ambedkar’s book, ” The Annihilation of Caste.” Frankly, this was my first exposure in such depth to the writings of Dr Ambedkar and I was truly impressed.
While the last essay, an extract from his book, ” The Annihilation Of Caste” has annotations which were very helpful, the other essays do not have any editorial notes worth mentioning. If nothing else, notes highlighting the time period in which Dr Ambedkar wrote these essays and the social and economic circumstances then prevailing, would have made what he wrote more meaningful to today’s reader.
All in all, it was an interesting book and I hope to read more works from Dr Ambedkar. Reading his book, I feel that in his lifetime he deserved greater honour and it is sad that Indian Governments (mostly ruled by the Congress Party) did not reward him with India’s highest civilian honour of Bharat Ratna till 1990, a full 34 years after he had passed away!! In contrast, Jawaharlal Nehru who was the Prime Minister was awarded the Bharat Ratna in 1955 as was his daughter Indira Gandhi in 1971, and her son Rajiv Gandhi in 1990, oddly enough the same year as Dr Ambedkar!!