Delivering what could be his last major speech in the Lok Sabha before the general elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on 7 February, invoked both Dr BR Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi to lash out at the Congress.
On Ambedkar, PM Modi said:
"Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar was always ahead of his time. He said that joining the Congress is like committing suicide."
Did Dr BR Ambedkar Ever Say Joining Congress ‘is Like Committing Suicide’?
The prime minister appears to have sourced this claim from the following newspaper clipping, where the headline reads, ‘Joining Congress Will Be Suicidal’.
The statement was reportedly made as part of a speech the Dalit leader had delivered at the UP Scheduled Castes Federation in Lucknow on 25 April 1948. The Quint was unable to independently verify the veracity of this clipping.
Taking this as cue, we searched The Indian Express's archives for its coverage on the speech.
The 26 April 1948 edition of the daily carried an article on Ambedkar's speech headlined 'Scheduled Castes Asked to 'Capture Power''.
According to the article, Ambedkar had discouraged the community from joining the Congress or the socialists, pushing them instead to form a new party of their own:
“It is a big organisation and if we enter the Congress it will be a mere drop in the ocean... We can only attain our salvation if Congress is divided into various factions and groups. By joining Congress will increase the strength of our enemies. Congress is a burning house and we cannot be prosperous by entering it. I shall not be surprised if it is completely ruined in a couple of years.”
Ambedkar's statement likening Congress to a "burning house" was probably interpreted as the act of joining the party being 'suicidal' by the newspaper which had reported so.
However, Ambedkar's complete speech from the event, which is available in the compilation, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings & Speeches Vol 17 Part 3, carries no record of him ever having used the words 'suicidal' in reference to joining the Congress.
Reflecting upon PM Modi's comment on Ambedkar, JNU Professor YS Alone, who has authored several works on Ambedkar's life, told The Quint, "Everybody has tried to appropriate Dr Ambedkar. But no political party has worked to really engage with or agree with what Ambedkar wrote. Their appropriation is more cosmetic in nature rather than making any social transformation."
AMBEDKAR AND THE CONGRESS: A NOT-SO LOVE STORY
However, it is a known fact that Ambedkar did not have a rosy relationship with the Congress.
Elucidating Ambedkar's tumultuous relationship with the Congress, Professor Alone said:
“Ambedkar’s difference with Congress had always been there and he always expressed his unhappiness on what Congress has done and was very vocal against the Nehru government’s policies. Prior to 1960, he also made it very clear that there is need for seperate and qualified electorate for Scheduled Castes.”
In fact, in the very same speech's conclusion, Ambedkar observed that he had only become a member of the Central Government, and not a Congress member. He also dissuaded the members of the Scheduled Castes community from joining the Congress. He said:
“If I join the Congress, I will do it openly declaring my intention to join it. If I think it will be in the interest of Scheduled Castes I will advise you to do so., But until I openly ask you to join the Congress, do not join.”
Did Gandhi Dream of a ‘Congress-Mukt Bharat’?
Claiming that a 'Congress-Mukt Bharat' was really Mahatma Gandhi's dream, and not the BJP's, PM Modi said: “Gandhi ne kaha tha Congress ko bikher do. Congress-Mukt Bharat Gandhi ka sapna tha.”
This is not the first time the idea of 'Congress-Mukt Bharat' is being attributed to Gandhi – this rhetoric had made its way to the Karnataka election campaign as well.
This same claim was later reiterated by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath as well. Addressing an election rally in Bijnor on Monday, 8 April, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said that Mahatma Gandhi had wanted Congress to be dismantled because he knew that that party was going to be synonymous with one family.
"Bapu had in 147 said that end the Congress, dismantle it. He knew that the Congress would mean just one family. The brother-sister duo is now working towards achieveing Bapu's dream", he said.
But how far is this statement true?
The so-called last wish of Mahatma Gandhi, often (mis)quoted in support of the political slogan of "Congress Mukt Bharat", is actually based on a note written by Gandhi. This note was published after his assassination on 15 February 1948 in Harijan magazine under the heading, ‘His Last Will And Testament’, where he wrote:
"India having attained political independence through means devised by the Indian National Congress, the Congress in its present shape and form, i.e, a propaganda vehicle and parliamentary machine, has outlived its use. India has still to attain social, moral and economic independence... The struggle for the ascendancy of civil over military power is bound to take place in India’s progress towards its democratic goal. It must be kept out of unhealthy competition with political parties and communal bodies. For these and other similar reasons, the AICC resolves to disband the existing Congress organisation and flower into a Lok Sevak Sangh."
Clearly, Gandhi has been quoted out of context by the prime minister. The former had only advocated making the organisation 'stronger and better prepared to play a stronger role in nation building,' even if it meant bringing in a new structure and renaming the organisation.
Also, the note was only a draft of the Congress' constitutional amendment process, which would be used for further deliberations.
Further, Gandhi, in one of his final columns for Harijan published on 2 February 1948, spoke of the importance of Congress, and how it cannot be allowed to die:
“Indian National Congress, which is the oldest national political organisation and which has, after many battles, fought her non-violent way to freedom, cannot be allowed to die. It can only die with the nation.”
(Editor’s note: This article, originally published on 8 February 2019, was updated with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s statement on 8 April, 2019.)
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