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'Nationalist leaders were neither surprised that Ambedkar was on the platforms with Jinnah, nor had they any doubts about the inspiration behind these celebrations'

Ambedkar and his patrons were dealt a humiliating blow by the elections of 1937. There were a total of 1,585 seats in the 11 assemblies in 'British India'. Of these 777 were 'tied'-- in the sense that they were to be filled by communal or special representation from Chambers of Commerce, plantations, labour etc. Of the 808 'general' seats, the Congress, which Ambedkar, Jinnah and others denounced from the house tops, won 456. It secured absolute majorities in 5 assemblies -- those of Madras, United Provinces, Central Provinces, Bihar and Orissa. And was the largest single party in 4 others-- Bombay, Bengal, Assam and the NWFP.

From the point of view of Ambedkar and the British -- who had been holding him up to counter the Congress claim that it represented the harijans as much as any other section of Indian society -- worse was the fact that the Congress did extremely well in the seats which had been reserved for harijans. Thirty seats were reserved for harijans in Madras Presidency, the Congress contested 26 and won 26. In Bihar there were 24 reserved seats -- in 9 of these Congress candidates were returned unopposed; of the remaining 15 reserved seats, it contested 14, and won 14.

In Bombay of the 15 reserved seats, it secured 1 unopposed, contested 8 and won 5. In the United Provinces there were 20 reserved seats; two of its candidates were returned unopposed; it contested 17 seats and won 16. In Bengal of the 30 reserved seats, it contested 17 and won 6. In the Central Provinces of the 19 reserved seats, it contested 9 and won 5.

The lesson was there for all to see. Reporting to the Viceroy on the result in the Bombay Presidency, the Governor, Lord Brabourne wrote, "Dr Ambedkar's boast of winning, not only 15 seats which are reserved for the harijans, but also a good many more -- looks like being completely falsified, as I feared it would be."

The electorate, including the harijans, may have punctured his claims but there was always the possibility of reviving one's fortunes through politicking and maneuvers. Efforts of all these elements were focused on the objective of installing non-Congress ministries in Bombay and wherever else this was a possibility. Brabourne reported to the viceroy that Jamnadas Mehta, the finance minister "who is chief minister in all but name", was telling him that the ministry in Bombay would survive motions on the budget and may even get through the motion of no-confidence:

"His calculations are based on the fact that he expects to get the support of the bulk of the Muhammadans, the whole of Ambedkar's Scheduled Castes Party, and of half a dozen or so of those individuals who stood as Congressmen merely to get elected," he reported. But added, "I gather that he is in touch with Ambedkar, who is carrying on negotiations for him, but, as you will find from the next succeeding paragraph, it rather looks to me as if Ambedkar is playing a thoroughly double game, in which case Jamnadas Mehta's hopes are likely to be rudely shattered."

The governor went on to report that he had also had a long conversation with Jinnah, and that Jinnah had told him that, in the event of the ministry being defeated, the Muslim League would be prepared to form a ministry provided they could secure a majority of even two or three in the assembly. "He (that is, Jinnah) went on to say that Ambedkar and his party were prepared to back him in this," Brabourne reported, "and that he expected to get the support of ten or a dozen of the so-called Congress MLAs mentioned above.

He made it quite clear to me that they would not support the present ministry. The governor was sceptical about the claims and assurances of all of them. He wrote, "It is, of course, quite impossible to rely on anything that Jinnah tells me, and the only thing for me to do is to listen and keep silent. I obviously cannot tell Jamnadas Mehta what Jinnah told me, or vice versa, as both of them are hopelessly indiscreet. The only thing that is clear is that a vast amount of intrigue is going on behind the scenes, but, in the long run, I cannot see anything coming out of it at all, as none of these people trust each other round the corner. Were to hazard a guess, it would still be that the present ministry will be defeated on the budget proposals and the alternative will then lie between Congress or Section 93"-- the equivalent of our present-day governor's rule.

Congress ministries were formed. And in 1939 they resigned in view of the British government's refusal to state what it intended to do about Indian Independence after the War. Jinnah announced that the Muslim League would celebrate the resignations as 'Deliverance Day.' Guess who was at his side in these 'celebrations' addressing meetings from the same platforms? Ambedkar, of course.

Nationalist leaders were neither surprised that Ambedkar was on the platforms with Jinnah, nor had they any doubts about the inspiration behind these celebrations. Addressing the Congress Legislature Party in Bombay on 27 December, 1937, Sardar Patel noted, "We cannot forget how Sir Samuel Hoare set the Muslims against the Hindus when the unity conference was held at Allahabad. The British statesmen in order to win the sympathy of the world, now go on repeating that they are willing to give freedom to India, were India united.

The 'Day of Deliverance' was evidently calculated to make the world and particularly the British public believe that India was not united and that Hindus and Muslims were against each other. But when several sections of Muslims were found to oppose the 'Day of Deliverance', the proposed anti-Hindu demonstrations were converted into a Jinnah-Ambedkar-Byramji protest against the Congress ministries and the Congress high command..."

That rout in the election remained a thorn in the heart of Ambedkar for long. A large part of What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to the Untouchables which Ambedkar published in 1945 is a tortuous effort to explain that actually the Congress had not done well in the election, that in fact, while groups such as his which had opposed Congress had been mauled even in reserved constituencies, they had triumphed, and the Congress, in spite of the seats having gone to it, had actually been dealt a drubbing!

Though this is his central thesis, Ambedkar gives reasons upon reasons to explain why he and his kind have lost and why the Congress has won! One of the reasons he says is that the people in general believe that the Congress is fighting for the freedom of the country. This fight for freedom, Ambedkar says, "has been carried on mostly by Hindus." It is only once that the Mussalmans took part in it and that was during the short-lived Khilafat agitation. They soon got out of it, he says. The other communities, particularly the untouchables, never took part in it.

A few stray individuals may have joined it -- and they did so, Ambedkar declares, for personal gain. But the community as such has stood out. This is particularly noticeable in the last campaign of the "Fight For Freedom", which followed the 'Quit India Resolution' passed by the Congress in August 1942, Ambedkar says. And this too has not been just an oversight, in Ambedkar's reckoning it was a considered boycott. The Untouchables have stayed out of the Freedom Movement for good and strong reasons, he says again and again.

Excerpted from Worshipping False Gods by Arun Shourie, ASA Publishers, 1997, Rs 450, with the author's permission. Those interested in obtaining a copy of the book can contact the distributor at Bilblia Impex Pvt Ltd, 2/18, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi 110001or

Arun Shourie, continued