Ambedkar and Gandhi – A rivalry of ideologies


By Harshmeet Singh

It won’t be incorrect to say that no other political leader had so much impact on the text of the Indian Constitution as Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi. These two stalwarts championed the cause of the society in their very own ways. Despite working towards a common goal, Ambedkar and Gandhi were often at loggerheads with each other. Neither of them held back his criticism of other’s ideologies.

The animosity between the two great leaders was never a closed door affair. Ambedkar believed that Gandhi wasn’t sensitive enough to understand the real plight of the untouchables. For Gandhi, freedom struggle was a much more significant goal as compared to the interests of the untouchables.

The question of caste

While assuming the leadership of the lower castes in the country, Ambedkar strengthened his understanding of the caste system by critically analyzing the Hindu scriptures and their justification behind the caste system. While Ambedkar was against the entire caste system, Gandhi’s primary concern was the caste based discrimination which was rampant in the society. For Gandhi, removal of untouchability would bring an automatic end to the caste system. Therefore, Gandhi never launched any Satyagraha on the issues of caste or caste based inequality – a point which Ambedkar often used to criticize Gandhi. Though Gandhi made several appeals to the Hindus to put an end to untouchability, he didn’t favor a separate political identity for the untouchables which could be achieved through separate electorates for the depressed classes. Instead, Gandhi agreed for reservation of seats for the lower classes. An agreement for the same was signed between Gandhi and Ambedkar, which was termed as ‘Poona Pact’.

Ambedkar argued that values of apartheid are inbuilt in Hinduism. He said that discrimination against the lower class and women are critical parts of Brahmanism. (He said that there is nothing like Hinduism. Hindu was a term given by Muslims to those who lived by the river Indus. Hinduism is actually Brahmanism and is made to suit the needs of Brahmins.) Ambedkar, therefore, urged his followers to convert to Buddhism.

There are proofs to suggest that Gandhi believed that the varna system is for division of labor. Everyone should attend the duties of his varna, Gandhi suggested. While responding to Ambedkar’s arguments, Gandhi wrote an essay called ‘The Ideal Bhangi’, wherein he mentions that “Brahmin’s duty to look after the sanitation of the soul, the Bhangi’s that of the body of society. In my opinion, an ideal Bhangi should have a thorough knowledge of the principles of sanitation. He should know how a right kind of latrine is constructed and the correct way of cleaning it. My ideal Bhangi would know the quality of night soil and urine. He would keep a close watch on these and give a timely warning to the individual concerned.” 

For all their differences, Gandhi and Ambedkar also had a few meeting points, with the most important being their idea of an ideal society based on the values of fraternity and justice. A rivalry such as this where critique is answered with explanation is hard to find in today’s time. Though these two great leaders followed opposite ideologies, they certainly justified their stance with their emancipating acts.

The author is a Freelance writer. This article was written exclusively for NewsGram.