'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
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,
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
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 email@example.com