Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar (Vol. 9): Gandhi, Congress and the Untouchables


Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar (1891-1956), was a scholar, social reformer, powerful advocate of the rights of Dalits and women, chairman of the Constituent Assembly of India, and the country’s first law minister.

In 1976, the government of Maharashtra set up the Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Source Material Publication Committee to compile Dr. Ambedkar’s complete works. The Committee consisted of the state’s then education minister and noted scholars and writers. In 1978, when Vasant Moon (Dalit activist, author and Officer on Special Duty) joined the Committee, it decided to procure and publish Dr. Ambedkar’s unpublished writings too.

The state’s Education Department started to publish a 22-volume series titled Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches in 1979, and it brought out this ninth volume in 1991. The series was re-printed by the Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, in January 2014.

The writings in the ninth volume – which is arranged in two parts or ‘books’ – highlight the differences in opinion between Dr. Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi.

Book 1: What Congress and Gandhi have done to the Untouchables

This is a reprint of a book which was first published in June 1945, by Thacker and Company, Bombay. Focusing on the activities of the Indian National Congress between 1917 and 1935, the book discusses Dr. Ambedkar’s two main arguments against the party, on establishing constitutional and legal safeguards for Untouchables, and Mahatma Gandhi’s claim to be the “sole champion of the Untouchables.” The book draws on speeches, articles, private conversations, electoral data, and various other sources.

A key reason for the animosity between Ambedkar and Gandhi was their difference in opinion on the matter of separate electorates for Untouchables. Dr. Ambedkar believed that in order to secure liberty and equal opportunity for the Untouchables, it was important to first secure constitutional and legislative safeguards through separate electorates. But Gandhi and the rest of the Congress party maintained that Untouchability was essentially a social issue and should be tackled through social reforms. Gandhi further argued that separate electorates for Untouchables would be divisive for the Hindu community and a “vivisection of the nation.”

This debate had culminated in Gandhi’s fast unto death in opposition to the Communal Award of 1932. The Award granted the Untouchables a fixed quota of seats to be elected by a separate electorate for the community, and the benefit of a ‘double vote’, through which they could vote in the general as well as separate electorates. For Dr. Ambedkar, “This [opposition] was nothing but a declaration of War by Mr. Gandhi and the Congress against the Untouchables.”

The fast – which began on September 20, 1932 – ended when Ambedkar agreed to negotiate the terms of the Communal Award, in what became the Poona Pact of 1932. The pact increased the fixed quota of seats for Untouchables in the legislative assemblies, but it took away their right to separate electorates and double vote. According to Dr. Ambedkar, this increased the Untouchables’ political vulnerability: “To end this long and sad story, the Congress sucked the juice out of the Poona Pact and threw the rind in the face of the Untouchables.”

Rather than creating social solidarity, joint electorates would only lead to the Untouchables being overruled by the Hindu majority once British rule ends, wrote Dr. Ambedkar. “These elections take place one every five years,” he said. “It may well be asked how can social solidarity between the Hindus and the Untouchables be advanced by one day devoted to joint voting if for the rest of the five years they are leading severely separate lives.”

Discussing such events as the temple entry movement of 1932, Dr. Ambedkar argues that Gandhi and the Congress don’t truly represent the Untouchables. He contends that the Congress’ purported support for the Untouchables’ interests is “nothing more than mere tactics” to garner support for their ‘Fight for Freedom’.

Book 2: Mr. Gandhi and the Emancipation of the Untouchables

This book is based on a conference paper presented by Dr. Ambedkar in Quebec, Canada, in December 1942. It was first published in December 1943 by Thacker and Company, Bombay. In this book, Dr. Ambedkar introduces the reader to the social, political, educational and economical demands of the Untouchables in their struggle to achieve legal and social emancipation. He writes: “If there is any cause of freedom in this Indian turmoil for independence it is the cause of the Untouchables. The cause of the Hindus and the cause of the Mussalmans…is a Struggle for power as distinguished from freedom.”

The 94-page book has 10 chapters, and begins with an overview of the social structure of Indian society, particularly the relationship between the Untouchables and the Hindus. Dr. Ambedkar critically assesses the political demands of the Untouchables, including the issue of separate electorates, representation for Untouchables in the Executive and Public Services and separate settlements.

“It is the close-knit association of the Untouchables with the Hindus living in the same villages which marks them out as Untouchables and which enables the Hindus to identify them as being Untouchables,” Dr. Ambedkar writes. “It is the village system which perpetuates Untouchability and the Untouchables therefore demand that it should be broken and the Untouchables who are as a matter of fact socially separate should be made separate geographically and territorially also, and be grouped into separate villages exclusively of Untouchables in which the distinction of the high and the low and of Touchable and Untouchable will find no place.”

Dr. Ambedkar appeals to individuals outside India to question the Congress’ stance on the abolition of Untouchability. “I would like to warn the American friends of the Hindus,” Ambedkar writes, “not to be content with the ‘glittering generalities’ contained in the Congress’ declaration of Minority Rights. To declare the rights of the minority is one thing and to have them implemented is another.”

Focus by Zeena Oberoi.


Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar
First edition compiled and edited by Vasant Moon

Second edition edited by Hari Narke


The first edition was published by the Education Department, government of Maharashtra, in 1991. This is a 2014 reprint by the Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, Delhi, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.


01 Jan, 2014