There are now more books being written about Dr B.R. Ambedkar than grand statues erected in his memory, a phenomenon the Constitution drafter may have himself preferred. Writers and scholars are trying to unravel more about the man and his philosophy, whose influence is only growing and being acknowledged. But can something new about his life, in fact be discovered?
The latest book on Ambedkar by Aakash Singh Rathore provides some of the missing links in the dalit leader’s life, and more significantly, corrects the anomalies and inaccuracies which had crept in relied upon by researchers and biographers. In the first part of the two-part biography, Becoming Babasaheb— the Life and Times of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Rathore unravels the man in flesh and blood. While most books on Ambedkar chart out his intellectual journey, the author has kept his focus on Ambedkar’s life and personality.
Majority of the previous books on Ambedkar sourced a great deal of insights from two of his earliest biographies by Dhananjay Keer and C.B. Khairmoday. Rathore regrets that he, too, relied on standard biographies in the past, which in fact were full of inaccuracies, and he was now correcting them, be it from the change in Ambedkar’s name, key dates to sequence of events in his life.
Rathore has done a great service with his detailing and academic rigour to flesh out the man through cross referencing material. Ambedkar is no longer a staid figure as he appears on his statues; he comes alive in these pages. Through descriptive and crisp writing, Ambedkar’s struggle and personal scholarship shine through the pages. The author says he merely doesn’t want to recount what Ambedkar did, but understand who he was as he was doing all of it.
The book is divided in 15 chapters charting his life, education, discrimination at various stages, and finally transition from being a scholar to an icon.
The first part of the biography sketches how harsh experiences were shaping his personality and views, the second half his transition. It was through Ambedkar’s speeches in Bombay Legislative Council and writings in two newspapers he edited – Mook Nayak and later in Bahishkrut Bharat—that the world started to notice the transformation of a scholar into a leader. As the writer says, the last work widely available to the people was his 1925 book on provincial finance in British India. Two years later, he was publishing writings in Bahishkrut Bharat, of outright social revolt.
His extensive touring, lecturing, and engaging with people of his caste was bringing change, certainly of attitude. His editorials charted out the shift in the attitude of the dalits, after the Mahad agitation: “Until Mahad we agreed with Mahatma Gandhi that untouchability was blot on Hindu religion. But now we have changed our views: untouchability is a blot on our own body....Non-violence wherever possible; violence whenever necessary.’’
By 1927, Dr Ambedkar had turned to Babasaheb as his future biographer, Khairmoday, reverentially referred to him.
The biography will enlighten the new and young readers amid renewed interest in Ambedkar, and of course those politically and ideologically inclined, and the academic researchers who have been missing out on the crucial details while referring to the older biographies.
Perhaps, it is time for the scholars to update their notes on Ambedkar.
Becoming Baba Saheb: The Life and Times of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar
Volume 1: Birth to Mahad (1891-1929)
By Aakash Singh Rathore
Published by HarperCollins Publishers
Pages: 272, Price: Rs 699