AMERICAN CIVIL rights activist Martin Luther King Jr and architect of the Indian constitution Dr B R Ambedkar were “brother revolutionaries” cut from the same cloth, Martin Luther King Jr’s son and US civil rights activist Martin Luther King III said here on Friday at the inauguration of an international conference on Dr B R Ambedkar.
Speaking at the event organised by the Karnataka government to mark the 126th birth anniversary of Dr Ambedkar, Martin Luther King III said he believed that Ambedkar and King were “intellectually, philosophically, morally and spiritually cut from the same cloth”. “They were brother revolutionaries whose minds and hearts were driven by justice and compassion,” he said.
He said the call to “educate, agitate, organise” made by Ambedkar to empower the marginalised is similar to the calls made by King to mobilise people against discrimination. “It is morally right to insist that every person has a peaceful house, education and enough money to provide basic necessities for one’s family. Achievement of these goals will be difficult and will need great discipline, understanding, organisation and sacrifice,” he said.
India and the US are at a similar juncture in terms of their present political scenario, he indicated. “We are at a time of great opportunity and great danger. While there are many echoes between Dr Ambedkar and Dr King, there are also many echoes between the current political situation in the US and in India. Both countries are being led by individuals who have little regard for the poor and disinherited, with a lack of respect for a free press or rule of law,” he said.
“Like (Donald) Trump’s campaign, the election of (Narendra) Modi has unleashed a ferocious reaction against minorities. Parallels abound between the alt-right in the US and the Hindu extreme right in India,’’ he said. Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of B R Ambedkar said a counter-revolution that occurred between 1946 and 1950 is becoming dominant again. “It is time for political parties and intellectuals to decide whether they are going to disturb the social order. Sovereignity and democracy can only survive if the social order is based on equality and respect for humanity,” he said, calling for an end to a social order based on scriptures which propagate a caste system.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who was one of the guests, said that “reality is being strangulated all around” by the Narendra Modi government. “The BJP wants to transport India to a period in the past, to an age of kings where no questions are asked, where there were a few rich people and many poor,” he said. The government is drowning out voices of dissent in a systematic effort to capture democracy, he said.
The three-day event put together by the state government is an effort to reclaim social justice, Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said. The event is widely seen as an effort by the Congress to build support in the Dalit community in the run-up to the 2018 Assembly polls. “The time has come to reclaim the idea of social justice through the thought and vision of one of the founding fathers of our Constitution, Dr B R Ambedkar,” Siddaramaiah said.
Nearly 300 scholars from different countries are participating in the conference. “I am confident that the scholars, who have travelled from far and wide, will ponder over the current social, political and economic challenges and their deliberations will guide us towards equity and justice in the years to come,’’ Siddaramaiah said.