Colours of Ambedkar: The Dalit advocate is now a pivotal symbol for all political parties

by Badri Narayan

Ambedkar’s symbol has become a necessity for those in power as well as those in opposition. It is required not only by people for whom Ambedkar fought during his life time but also by those against whom Ambedkar fought. Symbolically, it is required by the lion as well as the deer, by the vulture as well as the hunter. In short the Ambedkarite symbol has become indispensable. Each one wants to appropriate Ambedkar in their own way and add to it their own colour. The Marxists want Ambedkar in red, the Sangh family and the BJP want Ambedkar coloured in saffron, the Congressmen want Congressi Ambedkar. The RPI or the Dalit sects engaged in Dalit politics and the BSP want Ambedkar coloured in blue. It is thus, evident that every political party as per their political position wants to include Ambedkar within their own fold by making their own evaluations about him.

Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called himself a follower of Ambedkar. He inaugurated the Ambedkar Memorial in New Delhi and sketched a new model of symbols from the Hindutvavadi lens in which he showed his willingness to place Sardar Patel along with Ambedkar. In this programme he said that Sardar Patel and Ambedkar played a great role by linking the nation and the society respectively. Modi, through the medium of these symbols clearly elucidated the political lines on which BJP wanted to work in the future. During his explanation he said that nationalism and Dalitness should walk hand in hand. In other words we can say that he pointed towards the well thought politics of BJP of linking Hindutvavadi nationalism with the Dalit votes. During his speech he said that parties like BSP are involved in doing Dalit politics and link themselves with Dalit political tradition by portraying Ambedkar in the form of blue colour. In order to assimilate the Dalits within its fold the Prime Minister said that we are doing injustice to Ambedkar by portraying him only as the messiah of Dalits. He was not only the messiah of the Dalits but also the voice of the poor, deprived and the downtrodden. The Prime Minister through his speech endeavored to associate the Dalits with the terms poor and marginal as well, in effect not just looking at them through the caste lens, so that they could be made free from Dalitness and their symbolic door could be opened up for saffron nationalism.

The Prime Minister is soon going to visit Ambedkar’s birthplace, Mhow which has been visited on and off by Sonia Gandhi. Recently Rajnath Singh said in his speech that the BJP, in order to associate the Dalits, will accelerate the social harmony campaign once again. In a programme held by Rashtriya Sewak Sangh a few days ago in Rajasthan, a life -size statue of Ambedkar was placed in the centre of the stage. Many issues of the Sangh’s leading magazine Panchjanya have been published in the recent days. It is clearly seen that the magazine's evaluation of Ambedkar in their articles, tries to bring him close to the Sangh’s ideologies. On the occasion of Ambedkar Jayanti being celebrated on 14 April, the BJP wants to carve a niche for themselves in Dalit hearts by celebrating the function through Ambedkar’s symbols in their big and small offices.

The BSP supremo seems annoyed at BJP's attempts to imbibe the symbols of Ambedkar. She said in one of her statements that people who were against Baba Ambedkar’s life and politics are today talking in his favour just to garner votes. She is skeptical that the BJP may steal Ambedkar’s symbol on the occasion of Ambedkar Jayanti and is therefore going to organize a big programme on this occasion in Lucknow. The Congress, threatened by BJP's endeavors, is also trying to bring Baba Saheb Ambedkar's symbol in their court.

Colours of Ambedkar: The Dalit advocate is now a pivotal symbol for all political parties

A man holding up an Ambedkar calendar. AFP

Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are seen associating themselves with Ambedkar’s symbols by visiting Ambedkar’s birthplace at Mhow and Nagpur where he embraced Buddhism. Rahul Gandhi in order to retain his place in the Parliament as well as in Dalit politics outside has been raising Dalit issues on a large scale. Recently Congress introduced the Bheem Jyoti Yatra in various parts of UP. The Leftists, by associating the suicide case of Dalit scholar Rohit Vemula of Hyderabad University and the fight on the issue of torturing JNU student President Kanhaiya, are trying to look for similarities between Ambedkar's ideologies and the Leftists ideologies.In his much talked of speech after being granted bail, Kanhaiya garnered appreciation from left groups for his thoughts on unity between 'red and blue'.

While developing an understanding of the research and ideologies of social symbols I feel that symbols that are used frequently tend to lose their meaning, as opposed to other symbols that give space to many groups to  interpret it the way they want to and appropriate it  in their political structure by not considering its root. This can happen with the Ambedkar symbol too. But the contemporary politics of Ambedkar’s symbol reflects that it seems powerless as well as powerful. It is powerless because everyone wants to take political benefit of these symbols and powerful because it is not easy to cut off the original context or meaning of Ambedkar’s symbol. Ambedkar’s ideologies have its own cons that may be indigestible for those appropriating his ideologies for their own benefits. This process of appropriation will be especially difficult for the Hindutvavadi structures given the staunch criticism of the Hindu religion and the Indian caste system by Ambedkar.

Not only the Hindutvavadi forces but the Ambedkarite attack on the caste system has been worrying political parties at present and might worry them in the future too. Many leaders and workers discriminating against the Dalit castes at the grassroots occupy high positions in the political parties. In this situation their efforts to associate themselves with the Ambedkar symbol will clearly elucidate the difference and contradictions between myths and truth, theory and practicality.

It is not always possible to conceal the contradictions and fake identity of any political party or political figure. I feel that the only political parties that can make good use of Ambedkar's symbol is that which can live up to Ambedkar's concept of caste, religion, women and other critical concepts of nation in their everyday life. Otherwise any political identity in disguise symbolizing Ambedkar has immense possibilities of slipping off.

The author is a professor at the Centre for the Study of Discrimination and Exclusion, JNU.

Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to and hit the Subscribe button.

Updated Date: Mar 28, 2016 11:39:48 IST

Also See