'Nationalist leaders were neither surprised that Ambedkar was on
the platforms with Jinnah, nor had they any doubts about the inspiration
behind these celebrations'
Ambedkar and his patrons were dealt a humiliating blow by the elections of 1937. There were a total of 1,585 seats in the 11
assemblies in 'British India'. Of these 777 were 'tied'--
in the sense that they were to be filled by communal or special
representation from Chambers of Commerce, plantations, labour
etc. Of the 808 'general' seats, the Congress, which
Ambedkar, Jinnah and others denounced from the house tops, won
456. It secured absolute majorities in 5 assemblies -- those of
Madras, United Provinces, Central Provinces, Bihar and Orissa.
And was the largest single party in 4 others-- Bombay, Bengal,
Assam and the NWFP.
From the point of view of Ambedkar and the
British -- who had been holding him up to counter the Congress
claim that it represented the harijans as much as any other section
of Indian society -- worse was the fact that the Congress did extremely
well in the seats which had been reserved for harijans. Thirty
seats were reserved for harijans in Madras Presidency, the Congress
contested 26 and won 26. In Bihar there were 24 reserved seats -- in
9 of these Congress candidates were returned unopposed; of the
remaining 15 reserved seats, it contested 14, and won 14.
of the 15 reserved seats, it secured 1 unopposed, contested 8
and won 5. In the United Provinces there were 20 reserved seats;
two of its candidates were returned unopposed; it contested 17
seats and won 16. In Bengal of the 30 reserved seats, it contested
17 and won 6. In the Central Provinces of the 19 reserved seats,
it contested 9 and won 5.
The lesson was there for all to see. Reporting to the Viceroy
on the result in the Bombay Presidency, the Governor, Lord Brabourne
wrote, "Dr Ambedkar's boast of winning, not only 15 seats
which are reserved for the harijans, but also a good many more
-- looks like being completely falsified, as I feared it would
The electorate, including the harijans, may have punctured his
claims but there was always the possibility of reviving one's
fortunes through politicking and maneuvers. Efforts of all these
elements were focused on the objective of installing non-Congress
ministries in Bombay and wherever else this was a possibility.
Brabourne reported to the viceroy that Jamnadas Mehta, the finance
minister "who is chief minister in all but name", was
telling him that the ministry in Bombay would survive motions
on the budget and may even get through the motion of no-confidence:
"His calculations are based on the fact that he expects to
get the support of the bulk of the Muhammadans, the whole of Ambedkar's
Scheduled Castes Party, and of half a dozen or so of those individuals
who stood as Congressmen merely to get elected," he reported.
But added, "I gather that he is in touch with Ambedkar, who
is carrying on negotiations for him, but, as you will find from
the next succeeding paragraph, it rather looks to me as if Ambedkar
is playing a thoroughly double game, in which case Jamnadas Mehta's
hopes are likely to be rudely shattered."
The governor went on to report that he had also had a long conversation
with Jinnah, and that Jinnah had told him that, in the event of
the ministry being defeated, the Muslim League would be prepared
to form a ministry provided they could secure a majority of even
two or three in the assembly. "He (that is, Jinnah) went
on to say that Ambedkar and his party were prepared to back him
in this," Brabourne reported, "and that he expected
to get the support of ten or a dozen of the so-called Congress
MLAs mentioned above.
He made it quite clear to me that they
would not support the present ministry. The governor was
sceptical about the claims and assurances of all of them. He wrote,
"It is, of course, quite impossible to rely on anything that
Jinnah tells me, and the only thing for me to do is to listen
and keep silent. I obviously cannot tell Jamnadas Mehta what Jinnah
told me, or vice versa, as both of them are hopelessly indiscreet.
The only thing that is clear is that a vast amount of intrigue
is going on behind the scenes, but, in the long run, I cannot
see anything coming out of it at all, as none of these people
trust each other round the corner. Were to hazard a guess, it
would still be that the present ministry will be defeated on the
budget proposals and the alternative will then lie between Congress
or Section 93"-- the equivalent of our present-day governor's
Congress ministries were formed. And in 1939 they resigned in
view of the British government's refusal to state what it intended
to do about Indian Independence after the War. Jinnah announced
that the Muslim League would celebrate the resignations as 'Deliverance
Day.' Guess who was at his side in these 'celebrations'
addressing meetings from the same platforms? Ambedkar, of course.
Nationalist leaders were neither surprised that Ambedkar was on
the platforms with Jinnah, nor had they any doubts about the inspiration
behind these celebrations. Addressing the Congress Legislature
Party in Bombay on 27 December, 1937, Sardar Patel noted, "We
cannot forget how Sir Samuel Hoare set the Muslims against the
Hindus when the unity conference was held at Allahabad. The British
statesmen in order to win the sympathy of the world, now go on
repeating that they are willing to give freedom to India, were
The 'Day of Deliverance' was evidently calculated
to make the world and particularly the British public believe
that India was not united and that Hindus and Muslims were against
each other. But when several sections of Muslims were found to
oppose the 'Day of Deliverance', the proposed anti-Hindu demonstrations
were converted into a Jinnah-Ambedkar-Byramji protest against
the Congress ministries and the Congress high command..."
That rout in the election remained a thorn in the heart of Ambedkar
for long. A large part of What Congress and Gandhi Have Done
to the Untouchables which Ambedkar published in 1945 is a
tortuous effort to explain that actually the Congress had not
done well in the election, that in fact, while groups such as
his which had opposed Congress had been mauled even in reserved
constituencies, they had triumphed, and the Congress, in spite
of the seats having gone to it, had actually been dealt a drubbing!
Though this is his central thesis, Ambedkar gives reasons upon
reasons to explain why he and his kind have lost and why the Congress
has won! One of the reasons he says is that the people in general
believe that the Congress is fighting for the freedom of the country.
This fight for freedom, Ambedkar says, "has been carried
on mostly by Hindus." It is only once that the Mussalmans
took part in it and that was during the short-lived Khilafat agitation.
They soon got out of it, he says. The other communities, particularly
the untouchables, never took part in it.
A few stray individuals
may have joined it -- and they did so, Ambedkar declares, for
personal gain. But the community as such has stood out. This is
particularly noticeable in the last campaign of the "Fight
For Freedom", which followed the 'Quit India Resolution'
passed by the Congress in August 1942, Ambedkar says. And this
too has not been just an oversight, in Ambedkar's reckoning it
was a considered boycott. The Untouchables have stayed out of
the Freedom Movement for good and strong reasons, he says again
Excerpted from Worshipping False Gods by Arun Shourie, ASA Publishers, 1997, Rs 450, with the author's permission. Those interested in obtaining a copy of the book can contact the distributor at Bilblia Impex Pvt Ltd, 2/18, Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi 110001or firstname.lastname@example.org