The Right or Wrong of a Cartoon !

R.D. Bharadwaj “Noorpuri”
For the past few days, a controversy is raging on inside the Parliament and in print and electronic media as well, over a cartoon of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, which is published in Class XI Political Science text book by NCERT, under one of its chapters called “Indian Constitution at Work”. People who have created a furore over this cartoon are describing it as an insult and derogatory to the great scholar who was the chief architect of Indian constitution, whereas, others have taken it very lightly and have even opined that there is nothing wrong or offensive in this cartoon.

Before going deep into this wide ranging controversy, let us first examine as to what is this cartoon all about and to what extent it is right or wrong or derogatory to make and publish such a cartoon, which depicts Dr. Ambedkar in such a poor shade. This cartoon is about making of the constitution of India and it shows Dr. Ambedkar riding on the back of a snail (with a word – “constitution” written on it), holding a whip in his hand so as to make a gesture to the snail to move fast. Pandit Nehru is also shown in the picture walking behind Dr. Ambedkar, he too is cracking a whip in his right hand and a few people are also following them holding sticks in their hands and making a lot of hue and cry over its slow speed. The crux of the matter is that – in this cartoon, Dr. Ambedkar, who was the Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, is shown as a lazy man who cannot complete the work assigned to him within the given time-frame, and thus, meaning thereby, “whole illustration of the cartoon shows the snail’s pace at which the constitution of India was made” and every effort has been made to put the entire blame on him over the long delay in making of the constitution.

This cartoon was initially made by the then famous cartoonist, K. Shankar Pillai in 1949 and it was first published in his weekly magazine known as “Shanker’s Weekly.”

Let us now go a little bit further and deeper into the right or wrong side of this cartoon so that a fair opinion could be made to judge as to whether there was really some delay or not, and if at all, there was indeed some delay, what were the reasons behind it. After a century of struggle and huge sacrifices made by lakhs of patriotic people, India attained independence on the 15th August, 1947. But, the work on the constitution was started much before that, under the instructions from / a decision taken by the Cabinet Mission Plan. This Cabinet Mission Plan was headed by its President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, who had constituted Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) and Dr. Ambedkar was made the Chairman of the CDC. Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who often acknowledged Dr. Ambedkar’s educational and scholastic credentials and legal expertise, also made him first Law Minister of India. There were 30 members of the CDC and by the virtue of powers bestowed on him because of being the Chairman, Dr. Ambedkar assigned various works to all the members to study different articles of successfully working democracies of the world over and submit their drafts to him for further vetting and presenting it to the Parliament in legal format for discussions etc. Those drafts were to be discussed in the Parliament and the final & combined wisdom and will of the house was to be ultimately incorporated in the bill. However, after a few meetings, it was observed that some of the members of CDC did not even touch pen and papers to draft their respective jobs / tasks, and on enquiring, it was revealed that they were not feeling comfortable working under Dr. Ambedkar due to the latter’s caste factor.

The matter was brought to the notice of the Prime Minister and all efforts to persuade such non-willing and non-working members to make them to start their works failed, as caste and untouchability were very much dominant factors during those days. It is also pertinent to mention here that some people were also jealous of Dr. Ambedkar over being made him the Chairman of the CDC and they wanted that he should not succeed in his gigantic efforts to make the constitution of the biggest democracy of the world. Possibility was also explored to replace the non-working members with some fresh members and assign the left-over work to them, but the malaise of casteism was so much ingrained in the psyche / minds of the people that even those replaced members also expressed their unwillingness to work under the Chairmanship of Dr. Ambedkar. The entire emerging scenario was discussed with the Prime Minister and then Home Minister, Sardar Patel etc., and thus ultimately, Dr. Ambedkar assured the Government that the entire left-over work of the rigid and non-working or unwilling members shall be done by him, no matter whatever additional efforts and pains he might have to take for completing it.

While on the caste based prejudices, it is very much pertinent to mention here that a similar situation had also arisen in 1977 when the then Defence Minister, Babu Jagjivan Ram quit the Congress party and many small political parties including Jan Sangh joined hands under the overall guidance and leadership of Loknayak Jai Prakash Narayan to contest general elections, particularly against the Congress Party headed by then powerful Prime Minister, late Mrs. India Gandhi. Incidentally, the newly formed Janata Party won the elections with a clear majority. Later on, after their historic victory, the Loknayak decided that the most experienced leader, Babu Jagjivan Ram should be made the Prime Minister, but another prominent Jat leader – Chaudhary Charan Singh flatly refused to join the government if a Dalit leader is made the Prime Minister. The rest is the history as to how Morarji Desai was then made the Prime Minster.

It was initially expected that the constitution shall be made within a period of 18 to 24 months or so, but ultimately, it took around two years, nine months and 11 days to finally complete the entire work and give the final shape to the Constitution. No doubt, the final draft of the constitution was approved and signed by the Parliament to be made the supreme law of land on the 26th November, 1949; but it was officially adopted two months later, i.e. on the 26th January, 1950, for some historical reasons. Thus, the Constitution was enacted by the Constituent Assembly on the 26th November, 1949, but it came into effect on the 26th January, 1950 and this date i.e. 26th January was chosen to commemorate the Purna Swaraj Declaration of Independence of 1930. And that is how India became a socialist, secular and democratic republic on the 26th January, 1950 and since then, this day is celebrated as the Republic Day of India.

Now, after taking into account all the above mentioned factors, it is totally wrong, malicious and unfair on part of the critics to say that the CDC headed by Dr. Ambedar has taken a long time to make the constitution of India. And despite this, if somebody talks of delay, he might be denigrating a great scholar like Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and his herculean efforts to complete it in spite of so many odds and obstacles coming his way and give the biggest democratic polity of the world, a complete new and written constitution.

It is also not out of place to mention here that the school text books are not meant to shoot satires or sarcasms and thereby make fun of the great men of huge repute, rather they should fairly and logically present a factual position; otherwise, the children who read these books may grow-up with biased opinions and prejudices about our great scholars. If at all, the book has tried to talk about delay in making of the constitution, it should have also made some sincere efforts to explain the factors which have led to its delay and also discussed about the character of those who were responsible for such an unwelcome delay. Simply presenting one aspect of a problem and deliberately concealing the other related vital factors, certainly amounts to cheating and thereby, tarnishing the image of our great scholars.

Moreover, I don’t deny that a cartoonist should not draw a cartoon and thereby create some light hearted fun and humour, but it is also imperative on part of the cartoonist to first study all the related aspects and only thereafter make a caricature out of their imagined or well thought of characters, more particularly those amongst the prominent personalities in any field of social or political life. Otherwise, it will amount to – as the world famous great English poet and dramatist, William Shakespeare has said, “A wit without discretion is a sword in the hands of fool.”

It may also be mentioned here that the efforts of this great man (Dr. Ambedkar) in achieving this gigantic task were appreciated by many countries around the globe and the University of Columbia, USA, in recognition of his Herculean task, bestowed on him the honorary degree of the Doctorate of Law on the 6th June, 1952.

That is why, keeping in view the bruised sentiments of the followers of Dr. Ambedkar, the Union HRD Minister, Kapil Sibal, has assured the Parliament that this derogatory cartoon shall be withdrawn from the text books next year. Some of the people who take false pride in attacking the great leader of the poor and the down-trodden, may term this withdrawal as “psepho-cracy or caste-o-cracy”, but I would like to describe it as a wise decision of the government, because respect, regard and stature of Dr. Ambedkar in the eyes of his followers is certainly not below anyone in India, not even Mahatma Gandhi, whom Pandit Nehru has fondly called the Father of the Nation. It should also be kept in mind that if Mahatma Gandhi is the father of the nation, Dr. Ambedkar is the Father of India’s Constitution. Moreover, Dr. Ambedkar is a great socio-economic and political thinker and reformer of Indian society and his contribution in this field cannot be denied or minimised. People belonging to the SCs and STs and many other weaker sections of society just love and regard him the same way as people bestow respect and regards on their God and Goddess, and it was due to his tireless efforts throughout his life that India could witness a sea-change in the fortunes and status of the entire Dalit community of India.