Life and Mission of Dr Ambedkar

Labor Leader

1. The Congress leaders formed their Ministry in Bombay. Being routed in the Muslim constituencies, the Congress leaders were in search of Muslim leaders for adoption. There was no need for a coalition. BRA was not in favor of coalitions. On his way to Dhulia BRA was accorded a great ovation by the DC at Chalisgaon station. He pointed out to the crowds that Brahmanism was asserting itself in India through the Congress ministries. All the Congress ministries were led by Brahmans while there were no DC ministers.

At the first general meeting of the ILP BRA was elected President & Treasurer. In August 1937, a Bill proposing salaries for the Ministers at Rs 500 per mensem plus house & carriage allowances came up for consideration before the Assembly. BRA opposed the bills on many grounds. Of the three arms of the state, he stated, the Executive was the Brain Trust & a salary of Rs 500 would make competent men turn to other walks of life. To this Premier Kher said that the principle underlying the Bill was the service of the motherland. Patriotism, BRA remarked, was the last refuge of the scoundrel according to Dr Johnson, but he would add, of a politician as well.

BRA’s propaganda continued unabated. In Sept 1937 he presided over a DC Conference at Masur where he told them that it was his confirmed opinion that Gandhi was not the man to look into the interest of the working classes & the poor. He said that he was a confirmed enemy of the communists who exploited the laborers for their political ends. BRA was doing his best to promote the interest of the agricultural masses that labored under unbearable advantages. On 17/9/1937 he introduced a bill to abolish the Khoti system of land tenure in Konkan. BRA was the first to introduce a bill for the abolition of the serfdom of agricultural tenants. But as the Govt postponed the issue BRA could not move the bill.

2. Peasants Leader - December 1937 BRA left for Pandarpur to preside over the Sholapur District Conference of the DC. BRA told the conference that there were three problems before them. One whether they would ever be given equal status in Hindu society, two whether they would get a proper share of national wealth and three what would be date of the self-respect, self-help movement. On one he said it is not possible till the caste system existed, on two he expressed strong resentment at the treatment they got from the Congress, which was ruled by the capitalists.

From Pandarpur BRA went to Sholapur to address the Matang Conference. ‘In the political situation that has grown up in this country, there has grown the habit among the people of paying homage to only one political party, the Congress. I am no believer in Democracy as an ideal to be pursued in all circumstances, and having regard to the present day condition in India, Democracy is the most unsuitable form of govt.’

Why BRA did not want to adopt Christianity - Next day he addressed Christians of Sholapur. He said in a very sarcastic tone that since the day he had declared his intention to abjure Hindu religion, he had become a commodity for bargain or a source of comedy. From his study of religion two personalities could captivate him. They were Buddha & Christ. He told the Christians that their co-religionists in Southern India observed caste system in churches. Besides they lagged behind politically. Thus there was no economic gain in their being Christians. Moreover, the Indian Christians, he remarked, as a community never fought for the removal of social injustice. The love for Sikhism evaporated with his return from London.

Immediately after his return from Sholapur BRA buried himself with a march of the peasants from districts outlying Bombay. The first demand presented by the deputationists was the enforcement of the minimum standard of wages for agricultural laborers. The second was that all arrears of rent should be remitted since the revenue arrears had also been remitted. They asked for legislation that provided for the abolition of the Khoti system and land-lordism, which was economically wasteful & socially tyrannous. The last demand was for reduction of 50% of irrigation rates payable by small holders. BRA made a very powerful speech. He exhorted workers to think over the causes of their poverty & told them that they lay in the richness of the exploiters.  The way out for them was to organize a labor front without any regard to caste & creed and to elect legislatures those who were their real representatives. The force, sharpness, logic of his speech would put any communist leaders into the shade. His opponents were afraid that BRA would develop into a dangerous leader of peasants, workers & landless.

3. Protest against name Harijan, Noble Words - at this time BRA had a major clash with the Ruling Party. They wanted to define the Scheduled Caste as Harijans or sons of God. Moving an amendment to this Congress plan Bhaurao G said that if the untouchables were the people of God, were the touchables assumed to belong to the monsters. Something practical should be done rather than giving them a sweet name. The Congress forced this amendment down the throats of the DC although the Congress had won only 2 out of the 15 seats reserved for the Untouchables. BRA & his supporters walked out of the house since Premier Kher’s arguments did not carry conviction.

BRA was now fully engrossed in the promotion of the welfare of the downtrodden. He was bent on organizing the peasants & rail workers. A big conference of Untouchable Railway workers was convened at Manmad. Addressing a conference of 20,000 workers he said that according to him there were two enemies of the working classes in the country, and they were Brahmanism & Capitalism. ‘By the former he stated, I do not mean the power, privileges, & interests of the Brahmins as a community. By Brahmanism I mean the negation of the spirit of liberty, equality & fraternity. In that sense it is rampant in all classes & is not confined to Brahmins alone though they have been its originators. He asked the untouchable worker to compare the opportunities of their class with those of a touchable and said that the former had less opportunities of obtaining work, securing service or advancement in his respective occupation.

Noble Words - BRA had also to address an important conference of DC youths. He delivered a very instructive, inspiring & thrilling speech. The rule in life, he said, they should keep in mind, was that they must cherish a noble ideal. Whatever might be one’s ideal, one should patiently exert oneself to reach it. He observed that all great things in the world were achieved by patient industry & by undergoing toil & tribulations. He said that one should concentrate one’s mind & might on one’s goal. ‘Character is more important than education’ he added. It pains to see youths growing indifferent to religion. What good things I have in whatever or me have been the benefits of my education to society, I owe them to the religious feelings in me. I want religion but not hypocrisy in the name of religion’,

4. Bombay Legislative Council matters - BRA urged his people to join the I.L.P. Since his health was not good he was advised by his doctors to observe complete fast for two days a week Saturday & Sunday. Encouraged by the success in the Assembly Elections BRA now turned his attention to the Local Board elections. Visiting Islampur he asked Marathas to form a separate political party independent of the Congress since the latter was dominated by capitalists & Brahmins.

Besides an interesting dual with Home Minister Munshi on the Primary Education Amendment Act where each one of them argued against their competence to judge the scheme another important issue was discussed in the Bombay Assembly in April 1938. It was the demand of Karnatak for its separation from Bombay province. BRA expressed his fears saying that it would be a province of Lingayats against anybody. Said he, ‘The feeling that we are Indians is still in embryo, and is only beginning to ripen, and to allow other loyalties to grow simultaneously is the greatest crime that we can commit and I for myself, will not be a party to it. I strongly oppose the resolution’.

Although the Congress ruled over the province, BRA continued as the Principal of the Govt Law College, Bombay. He resigned in May 1938, and in the words of the College Magazine, the college ‘undoubtedly lost in him a Principal who was greatly respected by the students for his learning and ability’. The magazine mentioned gratefully his enrichment of the Library during his tenure & radical views on legal education.

5. Next her went for a Konkan tour. Addressing a meeting of DC at Kankavli in Konkan district he said that DC should watch the work of their representatives in the Assembly, they should give up the nasty habit of begging & living on the leavings. He declared that he was determined to work for the abolishing of the Khoti system and if the Bill that he introduced failed, they should be prepared to launch passive resistance. At Chiplun he told the audience that Gandhi’s so called mesmerism could capture Nehru/Bose not him. He said that the Congress Party was postponing for the past ten months the Khoti Abolition Bill introduced by him.

On his return to Bombay he expressed surprise at the attitude of the Socialists who he said, had been all those years shouting for the confiscation of all Zamindari lands and the abolition of the capitalist system, but were now inactive when a concrete bill was brought forward to end the Khoti system.

Gandhi - During those days, if somebody praised Gandhi as a holy man, BRA replied that Gandhi was owly & described his conduct at the R.T.C. as an act of treachery! In an interview with a Marathi weekly he said that if a man with God’s name of his tongue and a sword under his armpit deserved the appellation of a Mahatma, then M K Gandhi was a Mahatma! No other leader in Indian politics had a rougher tongue! No revolutionary speaks a soft language and marches without raising dust & smoke. Addressing a meeting at Premabhai hall in Amdavad he admitted that he was opposed to Gandhi. It was because he had no faith in Gandhi; he did not believe that Gandhi would do any good to the DC. He said if Gandhi was sincere why should he not ask the Premiers of Bombay & C.P. to include representatives of the DC in their ministries? He maintained that the Congress Govt of Bombay was not reducing the land revenue nor was it prepared to tax the rich.

6. Labor Leader - The Industrial Disputes Bill was taken up in Sept 1938 by the Bombay Legislative Council. It was opposed by BRA & Jamnadas Mehta tooth & nail. Not going into too much detail BRA said that the bill restricted the right of the laborer to strike & made strike illegal & impossible. The Congress was determined to pass the Bill and did so. There was wide spread opposition to the Bill. A one day strike was called by the I.L.P. & B.P.T.U.C. Meetings were held, one at Kamgar Maidan was attended by not less than 80,000 laborers. Subsequently almost all the textile mills & Municipal workshops closed down. In response there was a partial strike in other districts too.

As a finale to the one-day strike, a huge rally was held at Kamgar Maidan, Bombay where stalwarts like J Mehta, Ranadive, Pradhan, the cream of Communist leaders, BRA amongst others. BRA congratulated the workers, stressed the need for capturing political power by electing their own representatives. Concluding he said that he would join the Congress it really started a genuine fight against Briitsh imperialism.

Two things emerged from this strike. It was proved that BRA could dominate the labor field too. His reputation as a labor leader was established & it prepared a background for his future relationship with All India Labor problems. So great was this event that Swami Sahajanand, the Peasant Leader from U.P. met BRA & talked with him about the labor problem in Bombay and agrarian reforms in general. He urged BRA to join the Congress to form a united front against imperialism. BRA replied that he would join the Congress if it decided to fight imperialism but it was using constitutional machinery to advance the cause of the capitalists.

In December 1938, BRA presided over the Aurangabad DC Conference at Aurangabad where the Chairman of the Reception Committee gave a graphic description of how the people were persecuted & converted to Islam by force & how the Brahmins with the help of the Muslims flouted their attempts to take water from public tanks & enter temples. BRA stressed upon the DC the importance of the Self-respect Movement.

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