GANDHI – AMBEDKAR DEBATE
With the establishment of the Indian National Congress in 1885, the social discourse which began with Raja Rammohan Roy in the 1820s slowly moved towards the political. However, the social concerns continued to dominate the nationalist discourse and this was evident in the two alternative views of Gokhale and Tilak. Gokhale emphasized the urgent need to tackle social issues whereas Tilak was concerned more with the cleavages and fault lines in the Indian society and warned about the dangers of a divisive sentiment arising out of social reforms. He, therefore, stressed the need to postpone the tackling of social issues after India became independent.
With the rise of Gandhi who combined the fight for independence with a radical social reform agenda through his constructive programme, these concerns acquired a new dimension but vindicated Tilak’s fears of social divisiveness. The Gandhi-Ambedkar debate on the best way to tackle the old caste divisions in the Indian society provides good evidence of this. The two opposite frameworks of Gandhi and Ambedkar in advancing the cause of group rights find an echo in the contemporary debate about group rights.
BASIC CONTENTION: Ambedkar’s basic contention against the Congress under Gandhi’s leadership was that the Congress claim of representing the entire population of India was false as the Muslims, except for once during the Khilafat agitation, and the untouchables have stood outside the movement. Individuals in the movement under Gandhi’s leadership joined only for personal gains. The overwhelming majority of the untouchables, asserted Ambedkar, stayed out of the freedom movement for some valid reasons. He thought that the Gandhian movement for India’s independence was both unnecessary and unjustified. Ambedkar’s position was nullified by the election results of 1937 in which the Congress did extremely well in the seats reserved for Harijans. However, without going into details of the...