Salting the father’s wound

It is that time of the year again—2 October. Meat becomes sparse, alcohol stops flowing. It is a time when we stock up on the things the father doesn’t like and consume them in secret. After all, somebody’s father of the nation is celebrating his birthday, wagging his prohibitive finger. At Navayana we have been trying to turn the finger back at the so-called father. Branded as ‘nonviolence’, his politics of violence was in effect throughout his career, in South Africa and in India. And Dr Ambedkar not only recognised this, but was one of the prime victims of Gandhian machinations.

After the blackmail of the Poona Pact, when Gandhi went on a hunger strike against separate electorates for the depressed classes in 1932, he once again came under Ambedkar’s radar when the latter published his revolutionary treatise, Annihilation of Caste, in 1936. In their back and forth, two different and opposing politics were formalised. In our edition, Annihilation of Caste: The Annotated Critical Edition, you can find note just the urtext, but also Gandhi’s critique and the subsequent replies by Sant Ram and Ambedkar. The book also has a study of the Ambedkar–Gandhi split and its contextualisation in contemporary politics by way of an introduction by Arundhati Roy.

The famous divergence and animosity between the two leaders took a life of its own in post-independence India. One of its renderings can be found in Premanand Gajvee’s play, simply titled “Gandhi–Ambedkar”. In it, Gandhi and Ambedkar are questioned about their differences by a clown, who forcefully tries to make sense of the unfolding politics. The play can be found in The Strength of Our Wrists: 3 Plays published by Navayana in 2013.

In The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire we trace the origins of Gandhi’s discriminatory ways back to his days away from India. Meticulously researched and argued by South African scholars, Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed, the book collects together incidents, statements and actions by Gandhi that actively denigrated the colonised black population and their struggle. Our most recent publication, Radical Equality: Ambedkar, Gandhi and the Risk of Democracy brings together all these disparate strands and studies the philosophical divergence and similarity between Ambedkar and Gandhi. Written by Aishwary Kumar, this book is a deep-dive into the political lexicons of the two leaders, where we find ourselves reading their work through a surprising collection of thinkers, from Nietzsche to Arendt.

All these books are meant not simply to sustain a shallow adversarial relationship, but to lay bare the hypocrisy of the founding assumptions of a certain paradigm of thinking equality and statehood. If annihilation of caste is to be envisioned, the rejection of such a paradigm is paramount. Our enjoyment in being polemical is just insult to injury. Dip into our anti-Gandhi backlist, get into the true spirit of 2 October.