Over the last couple of decades, B.R. Ambedkar has come to be idolized as no other political leader. His
statue is one of the largest in the Parliament complex. Political parties have reaped rich electoral dividends
riding on his name. A decades-old cartoon of him in a textbook rocked Parliament for days recently, causing
parties across the political spectrum to run for cover and call for the withdrawal of the 'offending' cartoon.
In Worshipping False Gods, Arun Shourie employs his scholarly rigour to cast a critical look at the legend of
Ambedkar and bring out facts that have been erased from public memory. With his distinctive eye for detail,
Shourie delves into archival records to ask pertinent questions: did Ambedkar coordinate his opposition to the
freedom struggle with the British? How does his approach to social change contrast with that of Mahatma
Gandhi, of Sri Narayana Guru? Did the Constitution spring from him or did it grow as a dynamic living
Passionately argued, based on a mountain of facts it presents, Worshipping False Gods compels us to go
behind the myths on which discourse is built in India today.
A nation forges deities in its imaginings, in its sacred literature, in wood and stone. The forms it gives them,
the forces it has them embody, the virtues with which it endows them reflect the accumulated experience of
the nation, the insights of its seers; they answer to its needs. When the nation is overpowered physically,
when it is vanquished spiritually and intellectually, it is made to shift, and per force it actually shifts those
representations from public places and cabines them within private dwellings. Next, within those dwellings it
herds them into almirahs. Soon enough it is made to feel ashamed of, and it actually becomes ashamed of
those deities and representations. Eventually it repudiates its own gods, its own tradition, its own history and
experience, and starts worshipping the gods of the conquerors.
This sequence was in full swing in northern India by the fourteenth-fifteenth century, and would have
proceeded to completion had the country not been saved by the bhakti movement. By the late nineteenth
century again the process was gathering momentum-the Christian missionaries, Macaulay were all set to
succeed. The country was rescued from drowning by Swami Dayananda, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami
Vivekananda, by Sri Aurobindo, by Narayan Guru, by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and a handful of others.
They reminded us of our heritage, they restored our faith in our traditions, our gods and goddesses, in our
forms of worship, in a word in ourselves. They showed us that far from being ashamed of our past, our nation
and country had gleaned and then, in spite of the vicissitudes of centuries, preserved for the world the pearl of
The net result of the last fifty years is that once again in India today that same sequence is afoot. The
Lokmanya is as good as forgotten. Few outside Kerala know of Narayan Guru. Apart from a narrow circle of
devotees no one remembers what Swami Dayananda, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Sri Aurobindo, Ramana
Maharshi, the Paramacharya at Kanchi did to stand us on our feet. Swami Vivekananda is dusted up and
taken out on occasion-dressed up exactly as the secularist he would have berated. Gandhiji is in the dock
every day - one day for having been a throwback, the next for having pushed the Muslim leaders into insisting
on Pakistan. And persons like Ambedkar are deified.
Indeed, no one is idolized these days the way he is. His statue is one of the largest in the Parliament
complex. His portrait in the Central Hall of Parliament is larger than life. The Bharat Ratna has been conferred
on him posthumously, a national holiday has been decreed in his honour. Postage stamps have been issued
in his honour. Universities have been named after him. His statues-dressed in garish blue, holding a copy of
the Constitution-have been put up in city after city: it is a fair guess that by now they far outnumber those of
Gandhiji. Politicians, activists and other notables flock to these on several anniversaries of his-on the
anniversary of his birth, on the anniversary of the day on which he converted to Buddhism, on the anniversary
of his parinirvana, the term which must compulsorily be used now for his death. He is hailed as the one who
gave us the Constitution we now have-the fourteen volumes of his speeches and writings which have been
published in his honour officially by the Government of Maharashtra include the Draft Constitution among his
writings. He is hailed as the one who strove to lift the lower castes, indeed the dispossessed in general. Not
just that, while Gandhiji and other Congress leaders - provided of course that they were Hindus, at least by
birth-are held to have been responsible for the Partition of the country, because of the propaganda
surrounding his name Ambedkar is assumed to have been, and shown to have been one of the fighters for the
country's freedom-in the television spots which were put out by government to mark the fiftieth anniversary of
the country's Independence, Ambedkar's photograph has been shown between those of Bhagat Singh and
Subhash Chandra Bose!
Several factors account for this inversion. During the last fifty years the history of the country's struggle for
freedom has been reduced to a few paragraphs in high school textbooks. Indeed, nationalism has been made
a dirty word. Moreover, with less and less to commend themselves, politicians have lunged for casteist
politics-and so they have made icons of persons like Ambedkar.
But in addition there is a factor for which our intellectuals are directly responsible. Discourse today consists of
'slogan- cum-stampede'. Some slogan is floated-Garibi Hatao one day, 'Social Justice' the next. No one goes
into the details of it. Instead, there is a stampede in its wake. In the case of persons like Ambedkar and their
deification there is in addition verbal terrorism, and, increasingly, actual, physical assault: once the slogan has
been put out, and the stampede with it as the banner has begun, anyone who draws attention to the facts,
even to the things which the man himself said and did, things which he flaunted, that person, as I can testify
from personal experience, is set upon.
Soon what started as the convenience of some politician becomes myth, and myth becomes fact. And the
country adopts as its deities the very ones who had striven for decades and decades with its enemies to keep
it in subjugation.
Disorientation, and from that disarray, and thence disintegration are the certain outcome.
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