In the tapestry of Indian history, few figures loom as large and influential as Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. These towering personalities, each with their distinct philosophies and visions, left an indelible mark on the nation's struggle for independence and the quest for social justice. While their paths often diverged, it is in the exploration of their shared ideals and profound differences that we uncover a richer understanding of the complex tapestry of India's past and present.
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, an eminent social reformer and the chief architect of India's Constitution, was known for his unapologetic critique of Mahatma Gandhi. He steadfastly refused to accept the title of "Mahatma" for Gandhi, challenging conventional wisdom. Yet, beneath their public disagreements lay a complex web of shared ideals and profound differences. In this in-depth report, we delve into the nuanced relationship between these two iconic figures, examining both their similarities and their divergent visions for India's future.
Eradicating Evil Practices in Hinduism: Despite their differing approaches, both Gandhi and Ambedkar were unwavering in their commitment to dismantling the entrenched social evils within Hinduism. Gandhi's philosophy of "Sarvodaya" aimed at reforming Hindu society from within, while Ambedkar, as a champion of Dalit rights, advocated for radical change through conversion to Buddhism.
Freedom of Religion and Separation of State: Both leaders ardently championed the cause of religious freedom and the separation of state from religious interference. Gandhi's principle of "Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava" emphasized equal respect for all religions, while Ambedkar's impassioned advocacy for secularism found its place in the Indian Constitution.
Religion as an Agent of Social Change: Gandhi and Ambedkar shared the belief that religion could serve as a powerful agent for positive social transformation. While Gandhi's principles of "Truth" and "Non-violence" drew from his spiritual convictions, Ambedkar's embrace of Buddhism as a means of liberation reflected a similar faith in the transformative power of faith.
Non-Forced Separation from Religion and Society: Both leaders vehemently advocated for the non-coercion of individuals when it came to their choices regarding religion and society. Gandhi's commitment to "Ahimsa" extended to respecting the religious choices of others, even when they diverged from his own, while Ambedkar's insistence on Dalits' voluntary conversion to Buddhism underscored the importance of personal agency in these decisions.
The Sovereign State and Democratic Transformation: Gandhi and Ambedkar envisioned a sovereign Indian state with limited authority for the government, placing their faith in the people as the ultimate sovereign. Their shared belief in the power of democracy to bring about transformative change manifested in Gandhi's calls for Swaraj and Ambedkar's commitment to constitutional democracy
A Clash of Philosophies- At the heart of the ideological clash between Ambedkar and Gandhi was the concept of the Mahatma itself. Ambedkar's critique, published in the Chittra (Marathi) Dipavali Special Number in 1938, sheds light on the profound differences in their perspectives. Ambedkar, a staunch advocate for social justice and the rights of marginalized communities, expressed his deep aversion to the very idea of Mahatmas. He believed that these revered figures perpetuated blind faith, stifling intellectual discourse and critical thinking in society.
Gandhi, on the other hand, embodied the archetype of a Mahatma for many, with his robe, character, and doctrine epitomizing the concept. While some viewed Gandhi as a spiritual and political leader who championed truth and non-violence, Ambedkar raised thought-provoking questions about the originality and depth of Gandhi's ideas.
Gandhi once believed in and openly supported the caste system until 1922. He thought it had many benefits, like keeping Hindu society strong, helping with self-governance, education, and defense, and maintaining order. He even saw it as an eternal and important principle of hereditary jobs to keep society in balance. Because of these beliefs, Gandhi opposed anyone trying to end the caste system.
Mahatma Gandhi's Title: The most apparent difference was Ambedkar's refusal to acknowledge Gandhi as a "Mahatma." While Gandhi was widely revered as the "Father of the Nation," Ambedkar's stance reflected a significant point of contention, rooted in his deep critique of Gandhi's actions and character.
In a 1955 BBC interview, Ambedkar said, “Gandhi was never a Mahatma; I refuse to call him a Mahatma.”
In an audio file of the interview uploaded to You Tube, Ambedkar can be heard saying that Gandhi was no reformer. “He was just an episode in the history of India, not an epoch maker,” Ambedkar said.
Questioning Originality- Ambedkar pointed out that Gandhi's principles of truth and non-violence were not novel. Lord Buddha had preached these principles thousands of years earlier. This observation led Ambedkar to question the uniqueness of Gandhi's philosophy, asserting that his teachings were not ground breaking but rather a reiteration of ancient wisdom.
Moreover, Ambedkar believed that Gandhi's lack of exploration into the complexities of truth and non-violence prevented him from contributing significantly to their understanding. He argued that Gandhi's teachings did not offer the depth and clarity needed to address the intricate challenges posed by these concepts in contemporary society.
Critique of Gandhi's Character-Ambedkar did not limit his critique to Gandhi's ideologies alone but also questioned his character. He said Gandhi’s politics is hollow and noisy, full of treachery and deceit, accusing him of political opportunism rather than sincere commitment to his principles.
Ambedkar highlighted instances where Gandhi shifted alliances and appeared to betray causes he claimed to champion, such as his treatment of the Depressed Classes and his dealings with the Muslim community. These actions, according to Ambedkar, contributed to tensions between various communities in India.
One of the central criticisms levelled by Ambedkar was the notion that Gandhi's philosophy seemed tailored for the privileged leisure class, a viewpoint that gains resonance when examining the class status of contemporary torch-bearers of Gandhism. Ambedkar's discerning analysis revealed that the ideals propagated by Gandhi appeared ill-suited to fulfill the aspirations of a democratic and diverse nation like India.
Ambedkar did not merely scrutinize Gandhi's philosophy from a personal standpoint; he unearthed deep-seated issues that went to the heart of India's social fabric. His critique focused on the Brahminised status-quoist formulations within Gandhian thought, which he believed perpetuated the systemic injustices and inequalities rooted in the caste system.
The tension between Ambedkar and Gandhi transcended personal differences; it epitomized the profound fault lines of caste that run through Indian society. Their clash of ideologies, therefore, becomes a microcosm of the larger struggle for social justice and equality in India.
The Call for Alternative Voices
Ambedkar called for other "Mahatmas" to emerge and offer an alternative to Gandhi's political leadership. He argued that a diverse political landscape, with multiple Mahatma-like figures representing different ideologies, would benefit the nation. This, he believed, would counteract the pernicious influence of Gandhi's politics, which, according to Ambedkar, had introduced commercialism and stripped morality from Indian politics.
Ambedkar's critique of Gandhi's ideologies and politics provides a unique perspective on their complex relationship and their differing visions for India's future. It reflects the profound ideological differences that shaped the political landscape of pre-independence India and continue to influence the nation's discourse today.
Karthik Raja Karuppusamy. (October 2, 2020). "Never a Mahatma': A Look at Ambedkar’s Gandhi." The Wire.
Gandhi’s politics is hollow and noisy, full of treachery and deceit’: Read what Dr. Ambedkar said about the ‘Mahatma’." OpIndia. (December 30, 2021).
Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Volume 17, Part 2. Published by Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, Government of India