Dr B R Ambedkar was among the first in his community (born to Hindu Mahar parents, treated as untouc-hables) to go to Columbia University and the London School of Economics.
His politics, conditioned by his reflexive anger at what he experienced as the only “untouchable” in the course of his schooling, and life in his village, put upliftment of his community at the centre of his concerns.
He was completely opposed to the Brahmin orthodoxy and though born in Mhow, in Madhya Pradesh, his early politics was centred in Maharash-tra. What he stood for was diametrically opposed to the ideals espoused by the RSS in the same state.
Not that Ambedkar’s relationship with the Congress or Mahatma Gandhi was very smooth. There was a longstanding debate, where he saw most mainstream nationalist parties falling short of calling for the complete emancipation of the depressed classes (Dalits).
He believed in separate electorates for Dalits as he saw their liberation in being able to secure that from the British. This was something Mahatma Gandhi opposed. Ambedkar was invited for the Second Round Table Conference in 1931 in London, where he argued with Gandhi who was opposed to separate electorates on caste or sectarian lines. However, Ambedkar strongly made a case for them and prompted the British to give separate electorates to the Dalits.
In 1932 at the Yerwada Central Jail in Pune (Poona then), Mahatma Gandhi began a fast unto death against this. Orthodox Hindu Congress leaders like Madan Mohan Malviya and others held extensive discussions with Ambedkar, pressurising him to agree to Gandhi’s demands of giving up separate electorates and agree to reservation of seats. Ambedkar gave up his demands, apprehensive of what might happen in the event of Gandhi’s death and acts of reprisal against Dalits all over India. This Poona Pact, signed between Ambedkar and the Congress, is also credited with being a principal force and reason for pushing reservation for Dalits and tribals in the Constituent Assembly.
By 1935, his views against the Hindu orthodoxy hardened and on October 13, at the Yeola Conversion Conference near Nasik he announced his decision to leave Hinduism.
On August 15, 1947, he was inducted as Independent India’s first Law Minister and on August 29 as Chairman of the Constitution’s Drafting Committee. Ambedkar’s wish that the idea of ‘one man one vote’ translating one day to ‘one man one value’ remains an important lodestar for India.
Ambedkar worked closely with Nehru on the Hindu Code bill, but resigned in 1951, when his draft version of the bill was rejected. Nehru and many others, in the Congress and in Parliament, supported him but his draft could not get accepted.
In the 1950s he travelled to many countries where Buddhism flourished and on October 14, 1956, converted to Buddhism in Nagpur.