An old cartoon of 1949 vintage by Shankar Pillai on the slow pace of making the Indian constitution reproduced in the textbook of NCERT rocked the Indian parliament on May 11. The politician followers of Ambedkar decry the cartoon as an insult to the leader and his contribution. The intelligentsia on the other side terms it as an attack on the freedom of speech and liberty. Given the sensibilities of the issue, particularly the vote bank aspect, the Government is cautious. HRD Minister Kapil Sibal apologized and Leader of the House and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee intervened to pacify the Members of Parliament. It is both unfortunate and heartening, to my mind.
It is unfortunate that we are becoming excessively intolerant which is not good for the society at large. Only the Dalit politicians taking up the issue tends to confine Ambedkar as a Dalit icon alone which is not correct. Ambedkar was a national leader of India. Ambedkar himself was a liberal democrat. He was against the blind following of charismatic leaders. Obviously any attempt to belittle Ambedkar and his service to the nation will be countered and rightly so.. It is heartening that the relevance and potency of Ambedkar is as good today as it was before and will remain so in the years to come. The uproar in the parliament on the cartoon is demonstrative of the reality on ground.
The NCERT textbook for the students of Higher Secondary under the chapter “ Indian Constitution at Work” says that the cartoon notes the ‘snail’s pace’ at which the constitution was made and asks the students what they think were the reasons the making of it taking so long. It is not difficult to find the answers. In fact Dr. Ambedkar himself had provided those answers in his historic speech, one of the best speeches of modern India, delivered on November 29, 1949 in the Constituent Assembly before the constitution was finally passed. Ambedkar provided details of the sittings and work done. He gave comparative information in this regard on the constitutions of other countries and asked “Is there any justification for this complaint?” and asserted “Having regard to these facts the charge of dialatoriness seems to me quite unfounded and this Assembly may well congratulate itself for having accomplished so formidable a task in so short a time.” The redeeming factor which is also a tribute to Ambedkar is that the Constitution is working and working well. In his intervention , Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee tried to assuage the sentiments of leaders by saying the cartoon was totally wrong and Ambedkar was “Ved Vyas of Indian Constitution without whose tireless efforts the biggest Magna Carta of socio economic transformation would not have been possible to achieve in a record time of three years.” The matter may rest there.