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'Ambedkar was one of the few politicians who supported the Muslim League demand for Pakistan'

Throughout the twenty-five years of his public life before the British left India, Ambedkar took positions which were ever so convenient for the British, throughout these twenty-five years he hurled pejoratives at the Congress, in particular Gandhiji. At every turn he put forward formulae and demands which enabled the British to counter the national movement for freedom. The British were fully aware of the use he was to them, and they were anxious to give him a hand so that he could become even more the exclusive leader of the scheduled castes.

We shall have occasion soon to see what happened at the Round Table Conference in 1931, and what happened in its wake: Gandhiji had to stake his very life to thwart the maneuver the British made -- in consultation with Ambedkar, and to his great acclaim -- to split Hindu society asunder. Gandhiji survived, but he was kept in jail, as were the other Congress leaders. Ambedkar, of course, was again on his way to England to attend yet another Round Table Conference. And as on the previous occasion, what he said and did was to the full satisfaction of the British rulers.

On 28 December 1932, the Secretary of State, Sir Samuel Hoare, was recounting the proceedings for the Viceroy. He wrote, "Ambedkar had behaved very well at the (Round Table) Conference, and I am most anxious to strengthen his hands in every possible way. Coming from a family whose members have almost always been in the (British) Army, he feels intensely that there are no Depressed Class units left. Could you not induce the Commander-in-Chief to give them at least a Company? Ambedkar tells me that the Depressed Class battalion did much better in the Afghan War than most of the other Indian battalions. In any case, I feel sure that at this juncture it would be a really valuable political act to make a move of this kind."

Next, Ambedkar argued long and vehemently that India must not be given Independence in the foreseeable future. We have already seen some of his urgings in this regard. Consider an example from another sphere. As is well known, apart from the Communists, Ambedkar was one of the few politicians who supported the Muslim League demand for Pakistan. One side of his argument was that Muslims cannot stay in a multi-religious society; the other side of his argument was that no one can stay with the Hindus either, by which he always meant "upper-caste exploiters".

That in brief was the thesis of his book, Thoughts on Pakistan. In private he was telling the British something quite different. He had been yearning to be included in the Viceroy's administration, and in mid-1940 it was presumed that, in view of what he had been saying and doing, his induction was just a matter of days.

But those were uncertain times and the calculations of the British were changing from day to day: they were at war with Hitler; they knew that opinion within the Congress was divided, some important elements were of the view that Britain should be supported even though they were not prepared to spell out what they would do about India after the war; so they had to keep in mind the possibility of strengthening this section within the Congress. They also knew that inducting a person like Ambedkar would offend the Congress as a whole no end.

At the last minute, therefore, the Viceroy had called Ambedkar and the other aspirant, M S Aney, and told them that he would have to put off the expansion of his Council for the time being. Not only that, in view of what he might have to do to win co-operation of the Congress, the Viceroy had had to tell Ambedkar that he could not bind himself or his successor about the future. Recounting his meeting with Ambedkar the Viceroy told the Secretary of State on 19 November 1940, in a communication marked "Private and Personal," "I was at pains to protect my successor and myself so far as he was concerned by making it clear that while if circumstances led me to invite him to work with me again, it would give me personal pleasure to have him as a colleague, I or my successor must be regarded as wholly uncommitted in the matter, and under no obligation of any sort."

The conversation had then turned to the demand for Pakistan. The Viceroy noted, "He (Ambedkar) was quite clear that Muslims proposed to hold to their demands for 50:50 and so gradually lay the foundation of Pakistan, and he was perfectly content himself, he said, with that state of things, and in favour of the Pakistan idea quite frankly because it meant the British would have to stay in India. He saw not the least prospect of our overcoming difficulties here by guarantees of any sort and (like most minorities) he has, I suspect, little interest in constitutional progress...."

Eventually, of course, the British had decided that they would just have to leave. Ambedkar then pleaded with them that they tie the new government by a Treaty. Then that they get his organisation a place in the new set up. Then he went and pleaded with Jagjivan Ram, the sort of man on whom he had poured scorn for decades.

But today that very Ambedkar is a Bharat Ratna!

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