ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Reconciling Gandhi with Ambedkar

This article carries forward the discussion on the controversy between M K Gandhi and B R Ambedkar occasioned by Arundhati Roy's essay, "The Doctor and the Saint." It takes note of Rajmohan Gandhi's criticisms of Roy in "Independence and Social Justice: The Ambedkar-Gandhi Debate" (EPW, 11 April 2015) and Roy's response, "All the World's a Half-Built Dam" (EPW, 20 June 2015) to stress that the views of Gandhi and Ambedkar are not as conflicting as they are made out to be.

The noted writer and activist, Arundhati Roy’s essay, “The Doctor and the Saint” (2014) has led to scholars revisiting the sites of spars between M K Gandhi and B R Ambedkar. The essay attracted the ire of both Gandhians and Ambedkarites—and those with deep entrenched positions in the Gandhi–Ambedkar debate. It raked up—for all the right and wrong reasons—an old controversy that had been dormant for many decades, finding occasional expression in the writings of Dalit thinkers and followers of Ambedkar.

Without concealing her strong admiration for Ambedkar (the “doctor” in the title of her essay) and his ideologies, Roy repudiates Gandhi and his methods in matters related to caste. She rips apart the aura surrounding the man, referred to as the “saint” in the title of her essay—with a slant on the term. The now infamous Poona Pact of 24 September 1932 forms the backdrop of Roy’s essay and her purpose seems to expose the “unholy” role Gandhi played in silencing Ambedkar and thereby weakening the empowerment of oppressed sections—strangely a common cause for both Ambedkar and Gandhi throughout their lives, albeit from different directions. Apart from kicking up much dust around Gandhi, Roy opened up the floodgates of fury that had been seething in Ambedkar followers. The fury erupted as if it was waiting for a nudge from a contemporary thinker.

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