Forward Press

Forward Thinking, December 2014

At FORWARD Press we constantly hold two truths in tension: ‘Indians are largely an ahistorical people’ and ‘Journalism is the first rough draft of history’. We become acutely aware of this when we are planning for and working on an issue like this Ambedkar Special. Though the 20th-century learned leader was himself an amateur but good historian, as an activist he was too busy to maintain diaries or journals. So we are dependent on the treasure trove of his letters, speeches and published writings, many of which have been published and even translated. And yet there are many areas of darkness in Ambedkar’s life, thought and work.

Ambedkar himself aspired to go beyond the 19th century’s Leopold Von Ranke’s “objectivity of a eunuch” to arrive at “serviceable truth”, that is, truth in the service of a greater cause. But, ultimately, as he wrote in his introduction to Who were the Shudras?: “An historian ought to be exact, sincere, and impartial; free from passion, unbiased by interest, fear, resentment or affection; and faithful to the truth, which is the mother of history …”. He saw imagination and interpretation as handmaidens of historical research, especially when faced with missing links in history. That should be the touchstone with which you should read and evaluate the articles on Ambedkar in this issue.

When we decided we wanted a Cover Story on Ambedkar and the OBCs, there were very few takers. Finally, appropriately from Maharashtra, activist and author Nutan Malwi came forward. Her piece sheds light on several non-Brahmin and non-Dalit associates of Ambedkar from his earliest days as an activist and politician. But it equally raises several questions for other researchers.

Another largely neglected facet of the multi-talented Ambedkar’s writings and work is him as an economist. That was his major subject of specialized study and research. In fact, his three scholarly books are all on monetary economics.

Atif Rabbani has pulled together a good introduction to Dr Ambedkar’s economic vision, some of which is still relevant to India today. We have added a bonus: Milestones from Ambedkar’s evolution as an economist. From this it becomes abundantly clear that his active phase as an economist ends in the 1920s, though he does contribute on economic matters to the Bombay Legislative Council till the late 1930s. After that his sociopolitical activism eclipses the economist in him.

Then we have a brief but deep reflection by Ambedkar scholar Gail Omvedt on the limits and potentials of the philosophy underpinning Babasaheb’s emancipative agenda. Read and re-read this brief piece to unpack all of its wisdom marinated in lifelong research and activist reflection on Ambedkar’s life, thought and work. It is sure to stimulate and challenge.

In the late Prof M.S.S. Pandian we have another example, like Ambedkar, moving from an academic specialization in agrarian economics, through sociopolitical activism, into a historian who pushed and crossed all academic categories and boundaries. Who better to pay tribute than orphaned disciple Abhay Kumar, to whom he was much more than his doctoral dissertation guide – a guru.

Finally, Bihar CM Manjhi’s provocative statements on the Aryan upper castes being originally outsiders are the subject matter of an FP report that is a “first rough draft of history”. Prem Kumar Mani’s reflections, as usual, are historically informed and bring a unique Dalitbahujan perspective to a politically charged statement of what most historians accept as fact.

Published in the December 2014 issue of the Forward Press magazine

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