‘Babasaheb Ambedkar was P.S. Krishnan’s inspiration’

Since I was close to him, I can testify to the tremendous qualities of P.S. Krishnan’s head and heart. These enabled him to drink deep at the reservoirs of knowledge. At the same time he rushed to every nook and corner of this vast country carrying loads of succour wherever and whenever needed by individuals and communities, says Bhupinder Singh

A year has passed by. Our memories of our friend are still fresh. He lived not for himself but for the sections of society, namely Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Backward Castes (BCs), which needed every type of material and psychological support and succour. Last year, this day, when he left us suddenly, we poured our hearts out. Today, let us remember two great personalities. Not only P.S. Krishnan, my close friend, but also his inspiration Bharat Ratna Babasaheb Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar.

Babasaheb first 

I will show how in part Krishnan inherited Dr Ambedkar’s legacy. 

The indignities, deprivations and atrocities suffered by the Untouchables [also called then Depressed Classes then] left in Babasaheb’s early years ineradicable scars. Nature had endowed Babasaheb with the precious gifts of extraordinary internal and external strengths. He utilized them throughout his life to organize and educate his people.

Let us consider in barest detail for want of time, just the Yerawada [Poona] Pact. The MacDonald [Communal] Award, announced by the British Government on 17 August 1932 provided for “Special Depressed Classes Constituencies” in which candidates and voters would be from among the Untouchables, now generally called Dalits, only. The arrangement was to last 20 years. The supreme national leader of the times, Gandhiji, was against this provision and went on a fast from 20 September 1932 in the Yerawada prison where he had been incarcerated. The rest of the leadership was hard put to find a solution to stave off the fast. On their request, Babasaheb went to Yerawada. After intense negotiations, a compromise was struck whereby an agreement known as Poona or Yerawada Pact was signed on 24 September 1932. 

As per the accord, the demand for separate electorates was given up and a system of representation for the Depressed Classes by reservation in a larger number of seats in the Central and Provincial Legislatures then provided for in the MacDonald award was agreed upon. It was to continue till a date determined by mutual agreement.

In the matter of reservation, there was national agreement that the Depressed Classes should be represented in appointments in public services as well as in local bodies. While reservation in appointments in public services has continued since, reservation in local [elected] bodies, ie Panchayats and Municipalities, had to wait till 1993 when 73rd and 74th amendments of the Constitution came into force.

An offshoot of the pact has been that it recognized untouchability as a major national issue calling for a national campaign to eradicate it. 

In his book Social Inclusion and Justice in India, Krishnan makes a special mention of what he calls “the least known provision” in the Pact: Every province shall set apart an adequate sum from the educational grant for providing educational facilities for Depressed Classes. In his mind, this became the seed concept of the Special Component Plan which he conceived and developed during the Seventies in the context of a much wider sweep of national planned development.

Incidentally, while working in Odisha before the advent of Tribal Sub-Plan (TsP), I was always dissatisfied with the meagre provision for education of SCs and STs in my departments. I found the same situation in other states as indicated in the Dhebar Commission report 1960-61. It sparked in me a similar idea of TsP. I have mentioned in my writings, too. Just imagine two different individuals generating the same idea at different places on different occasions. 

P.S. Krishnan, the man himself

Krishnan has recorded in his book A Crusade for Social Justice that the knowledge of existence of “untouchability” came to him like an electric shock from a statement of Dr Ambedkar in the Times of India in 1942 or 1943 when he was about 10 or 11 years old. His father explained to him the indignities, the deprivations and injustices an Untouchable faced. His sensitive mind got set firmly on the path against untouchability and, later, against the caste system as a whole.

He knew he had to equip himself by way of greater knowledge of the people called the “low-caste” and Untouchables. He read and studied more and more intensively, and observed more of the social phenomena. Since I was close to him, I can testify to the tremendous qualities of his head and heart. These enabled him to drink deep at the reservoirs of knowledge. At the same time he rushed to every nook and corner of this vast country carrying loads of succour wherever and whenever needed by individuals and communities.

Babasaheb Ambedkar and P.S. Krishnan

A voracious reader, before and during his career in the service, he acquired phenomenal understanding of the poor and downtrodden through the writings of and literature on Ambedkar, Gandhi, Narayana Guru, Savitribai Phule, Vivekananda, Marx and others. He developed contacts with and had listened to innumerable experiences of SC, ST and BC persons and communities which he stored in his razor-sharp memory, enabling him to create what he called a unique ideology. For understanding his achievements, I would recommend a perusal of Dr V. Vasanthi Devi’s brilliant introduction in A Crusade for Social Justice.

Dr Ambedkar had wrested in the 1932 Poona Pact reservations for SCs in Central and State Legislatures while ceding SCs separate electorates. The provision figured in the Government of India Act 1935. Babasaheb’s tenure from July 1942 to June 1946, as member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council enabled him, in Krishnan’s words, “to sew up a firm scheme of reservation for SCs in 1943-44” in Central and Provincial legislatures. It was extended to STs in 1950. To complete the picture, reservations became applicable to both SCs and STs in elected panchayat and municipality bodies in 1993 through the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments. It had not been possible earlier as per the relevant provision in the Poona Pact. It was a tribute to Krishnan’s alacrity that at the appropriate juncture, he could get reservations to the posts of chairpersons of the local bodies approved in addition to the already approved reservations for SCs and STs for members.       

The crucial point here has been that through his strenuous efforts inside and outside the vast network of official and non-official agencies, Krishnan has been instrumental in ensuring that reservations are secured in public sector undertakings and institutions like banks and universities. Efforts to bring the burgeoning private sector remained under Krishnan’s scanner but now need to be brought to fruition. The slow pace in the representation of SCs and STs in the higher positions, obliged reservations to be extended to promotions.   

A second important element of Babasaheb’s legacy has been the landmark “Post-Matric Scholarship Scheme” for SCs and a little later for STs, too. Another such landmark scheme, the National Overseas Scholarship Scheme, has been productive. To these, under-matric scholarships, hostels, book banks have been added. But herculean efforts are called for if substantial headway is to be made in the educational progress of the SCs, STs and BCs.

We need to orient our focus now to Krishnan’s original achievements.

I have already mentioned Krishnnan’s “seed concept”. It matured to the Special Component Plan for SCs (SCP). It has been the twin of Tribal sub-Plan or TsP. Both were conceived on the basis of an integrated, holistic idea of resources of all sectors – agriculture, horticulture, irrigation, education, drinking-water supply, sanitation, technology, etc – braided together into a coordinated bouquet to yield optimal benefits with the help of varied sector-specific staff working in tandem under one leader. It was a wonderful idea and it worked well when there was a dedicated set of competent heads. Their absence led to its decadence. SCP became routinized and trivialized.

I have barely the time to touch on one of the most potentially powerful weapons in the hands of the State to enable SCs and STs to come into their own and make handsome contributions. It is the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 combined with the “Right to Life” of Article 21 in the Constitution. A proper, sincere and judicious implementation of the Act will infuse a new spirit in the lives of these communities enabling them to make their valuable contribution to society. 

A hugely significant contribution of Krishnan has been passage of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013. He used to say that it needed to be improved considerably and implemented seriously.

A Central Educational Institutions (Reservations in Admissions) Act, 2006 relating to government institutions exists. Krishnan has suggested enactment of a new Bill to be known as “The Private Educational Institutions Admissions Bill” providing for reservation for SC, ST and BC in private institutions.     

Krishnan had this roving perspective, as few of us have, on the condition of the hapless backward poor on the national horizon. I have tried today to catch perhaps a part of the elephant’s body.

Today, on the death anniversary of Shri P.S. Krishnan, I chose to speak about Babasaheb Ambedkar, too. I felt closeness between the two. Krishnan used to speak warmly about Babasaheb. The two are among the rare members of a pantheon who heard the heartbeats of the suffering humanity. They had unfathomable springs of empathy and compassion for them as well as the passion and energy for the alleviation of their suffering.

Let us pay our homage to Krishnan and Babasaheb as well as those kindred souls who came before them.  

This is the transcript of a speech delivered at a webinar held on 10 November 2020, the first death anniversary of P.S. Krishnan.

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