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Discussion with Professor and Lord Bikhu Parekh

By Satya Narayan Sahu | PUBLISHED: 04, Aug 2017, 9:46 am IST | UPDATED: 04, Aug 2017, 9:56 am IST

Discussion with Professor and Lord Bikhu Parekh New Delhi: It was indeed exciting to spend some time with Professor and Lord Bikhu Parekh and discuss some fascinating ideas with him in India International Centre on 3rd August 2017 from 11.15 to 12 noon. As I entered his room I was introduced by him to  former Vice Chancellor of several universities Professor Shimadri. Prof. Parekh told me that Professor Shimadri has advanced an exciting idea according to which there should be a Dalit critique of Ambedkar.
 
CRITIQUE OF CULTRE OF HERO WORSHIP

He then added that while appreciating Ambedkar we need to retain the faculty to criticise him wherever there is ground to critically analyse his worldview.  I added by saying that Ambedkar himself would have been unhappy to see the manner in which people are now worshipping him as he was opposed to a culture of hero worship and outlined it in his last speech in the Constituent Assembly Debates and said that culture of hero worship would pose danger to India. 

Professor Parekh invoked Ambedkar in this context and said that he himself was of the opinion that while Bhakti is important in religion to pursue salvation, Bhakti in politics and public life would result in a culture of domination and hegemony on the part of those who get exalted status because of Bhakti.

In that context I told that now Ambedkar has become the victim of a culture of hero worship.  In that context I mentioned that the Government of Telengana is erecting a 125 statute of Ambedkar to commemorate his 125th birth anniversary.  Professor Parekh then added that a huge statute of Sardar Patel is being constructed by Gujarat Government on the basis of the vision of Shri Narendra Modi.  I added that there is competitive statue building exercise being undertaken by different political formations in India now.
 
DISCUSSION ON NEHRU CONCERNING  HIS VISION ON ENVIRONMENT AND GENDER EQUALITY  

Professor Parekh intervened and hoped that a a statue of Jawaharlal Nehru would be constructed in the pattern of what is being done for Patel.  I then said that the kind of study that should have been done to explore the ideas of Patel and  Nehru has not been done in India.  For instance, I added that Nehru's articulations that humanity would pass through the age of electronics and there should be measures  to protect environment and ensure better representation of women in legislature have not been flagged by neither scholars nor leaders of Indian National Congress. When I told Professor Parekh that Nehru wanted environmental assessment of big industrial and river valley projects he expressed surprise and admiration for Nehru's farsightedness. On getting  informed from me that Nehru wrote to Congress leaders in January 1950 to give more tickets to women candidates to contest elections and when more women were not given tickets he felt sad about it, he exclaimed at Nehru's desire to get more women to Parliament.  When  I told him that after the first general elections in 1952 Nehru regretted that more women were not elected to the Parliament and indicted the male dominated social order which did not give women enough space in public life he was amazed. Nehru wrote that religion and custom determined by masculine attributes kept women backward and,therefore, opined that there should be more women in legislatures to change such attitudes and social mores.  He then said that eventually future of India would depend more on women than men.  On hearing such views of  Nehru Professor Parekh commented that Congress has finished Nehru by projecting Rahul Gandhi as the representative of the legacy of Nehru. I added that the Congress party never did any thing to discuss Nehru's  legacy across India except organising a programme in Vigyan Bhavan where some top leaders of Congress  and left parties were invited to celebrate 125th birth anniversary of Nehru.  

DISCUSSION ON PATEL AND AMBEDKAR

I complimented Professor Parekh for saying in his speech on Ambedkar delivered in Bengaluru Conference that Ambedkar wanted to resign as the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution when Sardar Patel persuaded him not to give reservations in jobs and other legal safeguards  for scheduled castes in the Constitution and sent K M Munshi to Ambedkar to convince the later to drop it. Then Sardar took that resignation letter and tore it and asked Ambedkar to continue as the Chairman and give those safeguards On getting my compliments Professor Parekh said that the dialogue and debate which was there in those days needs to be sustained and deepened. When I asked for the source concerning the debate between Ambedkar and Patel he told me to see his book "Debating India" where he cited the exact source.

DISCUSSION ON GANDHI AND TAGORE

Then he informed me that Gandhi and Tagore had a debate on Tajmahal. While Gandhi described Tajmahal as monumental human folly to publicly exhibit private love, Tagore described Tajmahal as "a drop of tear in the cheek of eternity". I was spell bound by the words of Tagore and took down that line in a piece of paper.  Professor Parekh  said that Gandhi and Tagore also had a debate on "Puri" that we often eat in breakfast. While Gandhi said that violence is done to the wheat by putting it on boiling oil, Tagore said that organic content of wheat is transformed to food by the violence of the boiling oil.  I was indeed fascinated by such discussion and informed him that Gandhi described Bhakta Prahalad, Jesus Christ,  Imam Hussain and Meerabai as examples of  🌹 and promoted the cause of Constructive method of struggle for justice and freedom with a view to foster the ideals of creative and wholesome nationalism. He educated me by saying that Gandhi considered Socrates as the first Satyagrahi because he took poison to defend truth.

DISCUSSION ON CENTENARY OF CHAMPARAN SATYAGRAHA AND SABARMATI ASHRAM

When such animated discussion was going on I informed him about my article "Global Significance of Champaran Satyagraha" written on the occasion of the centenary celebrations of Champaran Satyagraha in 2017 and told him that Mahatma Gandhi invoked non-violent spirit of Champaran Satyagraha in 1931 in Geneva and urged the League of Nations to anchor itself on non-violence and cautioned that without non-violence it would face failure. I then informed that in 2017  Sabarmati Ashram is also celebrating its centenary. In that context I told him that when Miraben requested Mahatma Gandhi to build a shrine in Sabarmati Ashram and place an idol in it for the purpose of offering prayer Gandhiji refused to do so and explained that prayer was being offered in open air in the Ashram and sky constituted the ceiling of such open air prayer hall and four directions -East, West, North and South- formed its four walls and the objective of offering prayer in such a prayer hall  was to go beyond the barriers of religion, nationality, language or any other identity.  In giving such a broad and expansive meaning of prayer Gandhiji was embracing the cosmic identity which included in its scope all other identities without obliterating any.  I could see the expression of happiness on Professor Parekh's face on hearing such expansive meaning prayer.
 
DISCUSSION ON MULTICULTURALISM AND MUSCULAR LIBERALISM

At the end of the discussion I asked him about the report he produced as the head of the Commission on Multicultural Britain. I also informed him that in many of my lectures I used to quote from his report. He stated that his stand on multi cultural Britain was based on an approach by which it was necessary to look at Britain in a new way and examine its monolithic identity in a new way to make it more inclusive. When I informed him that the former Prime Minister of Britain David Cameroon coined a term "Muscular Liberalism" to integrate Muslims of Britain to British society, he asked a question to Cameron to explain the meaning of "muscular liberalism".  He maintained that if liberalism is there how can there be muscle for the purpose of integration?And then he explained that there is now no opposition to the idea of multicultural Britain which he advocated and recommended in his report.  

Indeed it was an animated, absorbing and educative interaction I had with Professor Bhikhu Parekh for almost an hour.  I could not believe that such a globally renowned thinker and professor could spend so much time discussing such serous issues. At the end he said "Sahu, good that we met".  Indeed it was a life time opportunity to interact with such an outstanding personality with a fine mind.  

It was indeed exciting to spend some time with Professor and Lord Bikhu Parekh and discuss some fascinating ideas with him in India International Centre on 3rd August 2017 from 11.15 to 12 noon. As I entered his room I was introduced by him to  former Vice Chancellor of several universities Professor Shimadri. Prof. Parekh told me that Professor Shimadri has advanced an exciting idea according to which there should be a Dalit critique of Ambedkar.  

CRITIQUE OF CULTRE OF HERO WORSHIP

He then added that while appreciating Ambedkar we need to retain the faculty to criticise him wherever there is ground to critically analyse his worldview.  I added by saying that Ambedkar himself would have been unhappy to see the manner in which people are now worshipping him as he was opposed to a culture of hero worship and outlined it in his last speech in the Constituent Assembly Debates and said that culture of hero worship would pose danger to India.  Professor Parekh invoked Ambedkar in this context and said that he himself was of the opinion that while Bhakti is important in religion to pursue salvation, Bhakti in politics and public life would result in a culture of domination and hegemony on the part of those who get exalted status because of Bhakti. In that context I told that now Ambedkar has become the victim of a culture of hero worship.  In that context I mentioned that the Government of Telengana is erecting a 125 statute of Ambedkar to commemorate his 125th birth anniversary.  Professor Parekh then added that a huge statute of Sardar Patel is being constructed by Gujarat Government on the basis of the vision of Shri Narendra Modi.  I added that there is competitive statue building exercise being undertaken by different political formations in India now.
 
DISCUSSION ON NEHRU CONCERNING HIS VISION ON ENVIRONMENT AND GENDER EQUALITY  

Professor Parekh intervened and hoped that a a statue of Jawaharlal Nehru would be constructed in the pattern of what is being done for Patel.  I then said that the kind of study that should have been done to explore the ideas of Patel and  Nehru has not been done in India.  For instance, I added that Nehru's articulations that humanity would pass through the age of electronics and there should be measures  to protect environment and ensure better representation of women in legislature have not been flagged by neither scholars nor leaders of Indian National Congress. When I told Professor Parekh that Nehru wanted environmental assessment of big industrial and river valley projects he expressed surprise and admiration for Nehru's farsightedness. On getting  informed from me that Nehru wrote to Congress leaders in January 1950 to give more tickets to women candidates to contest elections and when more women were not given tickets he felt sad about it, he exclaimed at Nehru's desire to get more women to Parliament.  When  I told him that after the first general elections in 1952 Nehru regretted that more women were not elected to the Parliament and indicted the male dominated social order which did not give women enough space in public life he was amazed. Nehru wrote that religion and custom determined by masculine attributes kept women backward and,therefore, opined that there should be more women in legislatures to change such attitudes and social mores.  He then said that eventually future of India would depend more on women than men.  On hearing such views of  Nehru Professor Parekh commented that Congress has finished Nehru by projecting Rahul Gandhi as the representative of the legacy of Nehru. I added that the Congress party never did any thing to discuss Nehru's  legacy across India except organising a programme in Vigyan Bhavan where some top leaders of Congress  and left parties were invited to celebrate 125th birth anniversary of Nehru.  

DISCUSSION ON PATEL AND AMBEDKAR

I complimented Professor Parekh for saying in his speech on Ambedkar delivered in Bengaluru Conference that Ambedkar wanted to resign as the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution when Sardar Patel persuaded him not to give reservations in jobs and other legal safeguards  for scheduled castes in the Constitution and sent K M Munshi to Ambedkar to convince the later to drop it. Then Sardar took that resignation letter and tore it and asked Ambedkar to continue as the Chairman and give those safeguards On getting my compliments Professor Parekh said that the dialogue and debate which was there in those days needs to be sustained and deepened. When I asked for the source concerning the debate between Ambedkar and Patel he told me to see his book "Debating India" where he cited the exact source.

DISCUSSION ON GANDHI AND TAGORE

Then he informed me that Gandhi and Tagore had a debate on Tajmahal. While Gandhi described Tajmahal as monumental human folly to publicly exhibit private love, Tagore described Tajmahal as "a drop of tear in the cheek of eternity". I was spell bound by the words of Tagore and took down that line in a piece of paper.  Professor Parekh  said that Gandhi and Tagore also had a debate on "Puri" that we often eat in breakfast. While Gandhi said that violence is done to the wheat by putting it on boiling oil, Tagore said that organic content of wheat is transformed to food by the violence of the boiling oil.  I was indeed fascinated by such discussion and informed him that Gandhi described Bhakta Prahalad, Jesus Christ,  Imam Hussain and Meerabai as examples of  🌹 and promoted the cause of Constructive method of struggle for justice and freedom with a view to foster the ideals of creative and wholesome nationalism. He educated me by saying that Gandhi considered Socrates as the first Satyagrahi because he took poison to defend truth.  

DISCUSSION ON  CENTENARY OF CHAMPARAN SATYAGRAHA AND SABARMATI ASHRAM

When such animated discussion was going on I informed him about my article "Global Significance of Champaran Satyagraha" written on the occasion of the centenary celebrations of Champaran Satyagraha in 2017 and told him that Mahatma Gandhi invoked non-violent spirit of Champaran Satyagraha in 1931 in Geneva and urged the League of Nations to anchor itself on non-violence and cautioned that without non-violence it would face failure. I then informed that in 2017  Sabarmati Ashram is also celebrating its centenary. In that context I told him that when Miraben requested Mahatma Gandhi to build a shrine in Sabarmati Ashram and place an idol in it for the purpose of offering prayer Gandhiji refused to do so and explained that prayer was being offered in open air in the Ashram and sky constituted the ceiling of such open air prayer hall and four directions -East, West, North and South- formed its four walls and the objective of offering prayer in such a prayer hall  was to go beyond the barriers of religion, nationality, language or any other identity.  In giving such a broad and expansive meaning of prayer Gandhiji was embracing the cosmic identity which included in its scope all other identities without obliterating any.  I could see the expression of happiness on Professor Parekh's face on hearing such expansive meaning prayer.
 
DISCUSSION ON MULTICULTURALISM AND MUSCULAR LIBERALISM

At the end of the discussion I asked him about the report he produced as the head of the Commission on Multicultural Britain. I also informed him that in many of my lectures I used to quote from his report. He stated that his stand on multi cultural Britain was based on an approach by which it was necessary to look at Britain in a new way and examine its monolithic identity in a new way to make it more inclusive. When I informed him that the former Prime Minister of Britain David Cameroon coined a term "Muscular Liberalism" to integrate Muslims of Britain to British society, he asked a question to Cameron to explain the meaning of "muscular liberalism".  He maintained that if liberalism is there how can there be muscle for the purpose of integration?And then he explained that there is now no opposition to the idea of multicultural Britain which he advocated and recommended in his report.  

Madhusudan Das and Ambedkar

I told  him that Madhusudan Das preceded Ambedkar in saying in 1913 that caste system did not represent division of labour but came on the way of division of labour which Ambedkar said in 1940.  He told that it is important to develop this idea.  

Indeed it was an animated, absorbing and educative interaction I had with Professor Bhikhu Parekh for almost an hour.  I could not believe that such a globally renowned thinker and professor could spend so much time discussing such serous issues. At the end he said "Sahu, good that we met".  Indeed it was a life time opportunity to interact with such an outstanding personality with a fine mind.

# Mr Satya Narayan Sahu was OSD and Press Secretary to the late President of India Shri K.R. Narayanan and served as Director in the Prime Minister's Office. He is currently Joint Secretary in the Rajya Sabha Secretariat. The views expressed by him are personal and not that of Rajya Sabha Secretariat.