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'Even though he had been heaping scorn at them for a quarter of a century, the Congress leaders put all that aside and invited him to join the government'

Independence came. For all the venom he had poured at Gandhiji and the Congress, Ambedkar was back in the Cabinet, this time Pandit Nehru's Cabinet of Independent India. How did he get there?

Ambedkar's own explanation was typical of the man: he had done nothing to seek a position in the new government, Ambedkar told Parliament later, it was the new prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru who had urged him to join the new government; the offer had come to him as a surprise, he said, he had been full of doubts, but in the end he had yielded to the call of duty and to the plea that he make his talents available to the new government -- that is how things had gone according to Ambedkar. Recall the pleas to Atlee, and set them against Ambedkar's reconstruction of the sequence in the speech he made in the Lok Sabha. It was 10 October 1951 and Ambedkar was explaining his resignation from the Cabinet of Panditji:

It is now 4 years, 1 month and 26 days since I was called by the prime minister to accept the office of the law minister in the Cabinet. The offer came as a great surprise to me. I was in the opposite camp and had already been condemned as unworthy of association when the interim government was formed in August 1946. I was left to speculate as to what could have happened to bring about this change in the attitude of the prime minister. I had my doubts. I did not know how I could carry on with those who had never been my friends. I had doubts as to whether I could, as a law member, maintain the standard of legal knowledge and acumen which had been maintained by those who had preceded me as law ministers of the government of India. But I kept my doubts at rest and accepted the offer of the prime minister on the ground that I should not deny my co-operation when it was asked for in the building up of our nation...

In a word, the reluctant expert who eventually yields to the implorings of others so as to help the poor country that needs his talents. Far from a word of gratitude for the fact that, even though he had been heaping scorn at them for a quarter of a century, even though he had been a most ardent member of the British government which had thrown them and kept them in jails for years, the Congress leaders had put all that aside and invited him to join the government, far from there being any word of gratitude, there was not a word even of appreciation, even of a mere acknowledgment at least for their sagacity, if not their magnanimity, in putting so much of the past -- of the past that was so recent, of the past that had been so bitter -- behind them. The new leaders had implored him to join the government as they had no alternative, so indispensable were the man's talents -- that was the implicit refrain.

The diary of Indrani Devi, the widow of Jagjivan Ram, records the exact opposite. In the entry entitled, Ambedkar ki sifaarish, she records,

And on this side Ambedkar had started coming over to our house. One day he (Ambedkar) told him to put in a word with Gandhiji to have him (Ambedkar) included in the Cabinet. Before talking to Gandhiji he (Jagjivan Ram) talked to Sardar Patel. Sardar Patel said, do what you think is appropriate. He (Jagjivan Ram) got into quite a quandary -- that Ambedkar had always opposed Gandhiji and the Congress, how could he now recommend his case to Gandhiji? Even so, given his large-heartedness, he pleaded with Gandhiji on behalf of Ambedkar, and told him that as he has surrendered in front of you please request Nehruji so that he may be taken into the first Cabinet.

In any event, either as a result of his lobbying or because Pandit Nehru requested him, Ambedkar joined the government. He broke with Nehru four years later and denounced the Congress and Nehru. He entered into an electoral alliance with the Socialists to oppose the Congress in the 1952 elections. His party was wiped out. There were a total of 489 seats in the Lok Sabha. Of these the Congress secured 364, that is almost three-quarters. Ambedkar's party got no seat in the Parliament, only one set in the Bombay assembly, and one in that of Hyderabad.

But presumably the inference to be drawn from this defeat too is the same. "It was a colossal failure, and Ambedkar fell like a rocket," writes his admiring biographer, Dhananjay Keer, about the election result. "It proved once again that there is no gratitude in politics. The nation which had conferred so much glory on him seemed now unwilling to show him gratitude..."

But I anticipate. For the moment we need bear in mind just a few facts.

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, continues