Very few nations are gifted with contemporary icons, who complement each other’s efforts to guide the destiny of their societies. India is one such country whose social ethos was shaped by visionaries such as Mahatma Gandhi and Babasaheb Ambedkar. If one was instrumental in achieving freedom for the country from the clutches of British rule using non-violence as the weapon, the other was the architect of the Constitution that guided nation’s journey into the future. If one is revered as the Father of the Nation, the other is regarded as the saviour of underprivileged. Both the luminaries enjoy a complementary relationship in defining nation’s character. Any attempt to pit one against the other and rate them against a set of present-day political yardsticks would be an exercise in intellectual fallacy. It would be unfair to their legacy to ask the question as to who is greater of the two. Viewing the two iconic figures from the prism of narrow political objectives would be a great disservice to their memory. Hyderabad MP and AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi’s remark, during a recent election rally in Uttar Pradesh, that Ambedkar was a “bigger leader” than Gandhi would amount to trivialising the narrative. However, Owaisi emphasises a valid point that there would have been greater level of injustice in the country had Ambedkar not given a secular Constitution.
We need to be equally inspired by such visionaries whose contributions towards building a modern India were invaluable. They should both be treated as heroes in their own right. Both Gandhi and Ambedkar fought against the pernicious caste system, though their approaches may have been different. While Gandhi, a deeply spiritual person, favoured social change to come from within, Ambedkar advocated using the state as an instrument for correcting social evils. To ensure justice for all Indians, it is imperative to follow Gandhi’s insistence on a socio-political revolution to effect an organic transformation in the country’s social consciousness and Ambedkar’s faith in the state as a means to guarantee equality of opportunity. There is a need to desist from positioning Ambedkar as an icon confined to a particular section of society. His life and ideals are an inspiration to all Indians and his body of work, from framing the Constitution to laying the foundation for autonomous institutions like the Reserve Bank of India, is too huge to confine him to narrow political definitions. His ideas of secularism and social justice continue to serve as a beacon for the country. More than ever before, India now needs the compassion of Gandhi and egalitarianism of Ambedkar. The two icons should not be divorced from each other in the interests of social justice.