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Sudha Pai

AMBEDKAR: TOWARDS AN ENLIGHTENED INDIA
By Gail Omvedt
Penguin/Viking, New Delhi,, 2004, pp. 167, Rs. 295.00

TALISMAN: EXTREME EMOTIONS OF DALIT LIBERATION; BUFFALO NATIONALISM: A CRITIQUE OF SPIRITUAL NATIONALISM
By Thirumaavalavan ; Kancha Ilaiah
Samya, 2003 & 2004, pp. 185 & pp. 206, Rs. 200.00 each

VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 10 October 2004

The books under review analyse the chal- lenge posed by the dalit upsurge from below and the urgent need for construction of an egalitarian society in India. While Gail Omvedt’s biography of Dr. Baba Sahib Ambedkar against the background of the national movement, explores different aspects of his rich personality and legacy as a lawyer, scholar, national leader and leader of the underprivileged, the other two provide a window into contemporary dalit discourse. The collection of articles by Thirumaavalavan and Kancha Ilaiah address issues such as increasing casteism in society, atrocities on dalits, authoritarianism of elected governments and Hindutva in contemporary society.   Gail Omvedt has provided a handy, concise and yet comprehensive biography of Ambedkar for the general reader. Covering the major phases of his life and activities, its main aim is to provide Ambedkar his rightful place among the builders of modern India. Omvedt places him among dalit-bahujan “organic intellectuals” (p.157) such as Phule and Periyar, who provided leadership to the lower castes and stood for a modern, egalitarian society. In comparison Gandhi who drew inspiration from the Vaishnavite Bhakti movement, stood for a “superficially modernized” (p.159) caste system in which traditional occupations were to be retained. They therefore had deeply divergent understandings of how the new nation was to be constituted. Gandhi could not separate his Hinduism from his nationalism, while for Ambedkar this was too narrow and exclusive a definition of the new nation. A second difference, which places him closer to Nehru as a builder of modern India, was Ambedkar’s attraction for Marxism and his emphasis on centralized planning, industrialization and the establishment of a liberal, social welfare state. But Ambedkar found Marxism deficient, as it did not address caste-based inequality, which led him to embrace Buddhism.   Omvedt bemoans that despite his achievements, Ambedkar is not acknowledged as an architect of modern India, but viewed as just a leader of the ex-untouchables. Even his growth in stature in recent years is largely in this mould, though his contribution to the making of the Constitution has been acknowledged. She correctly attributes this to the failure of the National Movement to construct a more socially inclusive, national project, which remains an unfinished task and underlies the renewed rise of Hindutva forces.   The translation of Thirumaavalavan’s writings and speeches by Meera Kandasamy is timely. Unlike Mayawati the well-known leader of the BSP, not many are familiar ...


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