Saturday, November 17, 2012

ORAL HISTORY - Ambedkar's Visit to Jalandhar in 1951

I have come back to my roots in Jalandhar after 35 years long diplomatic service in the Indian Foreign Service.  I would like to share some oral history of the place called Bootan Mandi, my native place. Bootan Mandi, a neglected slum about 40 years before ( now a much better place), remained a hub of dalit social and political awakening as it was the centre of leather business owned by the Dalits (Chamars) of the region even before independence in 1947. The dalits of the Doaba region of Punjab, led by Seth Sunder Dass and Seth Kishan Dass of Bootan Mandi fully supported the Ad-dharam Movement under the stewardship of Babu Mangoo Ram and also the struggle of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar for the emancipation of dalits. Later In terms of political polarization, Seth Sunder Dass developed leanings towards the Congress Party and Seth Kishan dass remained a staunch follower and supporter of the outfits floated by Ambedkar, Scheduled Caste Federation and Republican Party. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar had established himself as an undisputed leader of dalits in the process of his unstinted struggle for the rights of dalits and also in the political landscape of the country in his capacity as the chief framer and architect of the constitution of India. His political and social agenda and mission differed from that of Nehru and the Congress Party.  He parted company and resigned from the Cabinet of Nehru in October 1951, basically on irreconcilable differences on the Hindu Code Bill and inter alia issues of foreign policy and economic development. It was the political scenario, in the dalit constituencies, in the mid 40s and early 50s.

Dr. Ambedkar came to Jalandhar, after his resignation from the Government, in September, 1951. It turned out to be a historical visit. I grew up in Bootan Mandi and heard a lot about the visit of Ambedkar from my father who was personally involved in the bandovast of the visit in a small way. My personal on and off chat with Pritam Ramdasspuri (nephew of Seth Kishan Dass and a poet and activist of standing), who drove Dr. Ambedkar from the Raja Sanshi airport in Amritsar to Jalandhar, gave me the graphic glimpses of the visit. Pritam Ramdasspuri told me that it was unique experience. Right from the airport in Amritsar to Jalandhar, thousands and thousands of people were lined up en route to see and welcome Dr. Ambedkar. The administration was caught unaware of this unprecedented visit. The journey which was to take about two hours generally took seven hours. The private carcade had to stop at various places and long queues of people made to pass by to see Ambedkar. The organizers, including Pritam Ramdasspuri, carried private arms (pistols and revolvers) for providing physical security to their leader particularly in the wake of assassination of Pakistani PM Liaquat Ali Khan. Ambedkar decided to enjoy the homely hospitality of Seth Kishan Dass and stayed with the family in Seth’s appointed place popularly called “Kishan Dass da Chobara” at Bootan Mandi which is still the residence of Seth Kishan Dass’s son Seth Mool Raj and grandson Avinash Chander who is the Chief Parliamentary Secretary in the Punjab Government.. Ambedkar especially asked for the Punjabi delicacy Sarson da Saag and Makki di Roti and relished it in a homely setting. He met leaders of the community and impressed them with his charming and friendly persona.

Ambedkar addressed a huge, 6-7 lakh audience, public meeting in Bootan Mandi on October 27. My father told me that no such assembly of devoted dalits was witnessed in Jalandhar before.  Seth Sundar Dass was invited to join the organizers,  in spite of different political leanings. He presented a bag full of thousands of Rupees, on behalf of the community, in honour of Dr. Ambedkar.  Dr. Ambedkar was over-whelmed by the reception and honour he received and rightly so. He invited Seth Sunder Dass to speak but he humbly refused as he felt that it would not be possible for him to speak in the exalted presence of Dr. Ambedkar.  As a rare gesture of honour, a particular chair was brought from Kartarpur which belonged to the Sikh gurus. Ambedkar was inclined to sit on the chair but was made to sit by the followers as he was the uncrowned king of the community. The community poets like Gurdass Ram Alam enlivened the gathering by his poem “Aj koun ayia savere savere; wada shor hunda gariban de dere”. Pritam Ramdasspuri welcomed the great leader and recited his poem “ Hindostan ko hastie Ambedkar per naaz hai”.  Dr. Ambedkar responded with a spirited speech and said that he did not know our people in Punjab particularly in the Doaba region were so involved and dedicated in the caravan otherwise he would have come here much before and many a times. The informed sources told me that dalit leaders of the Congress Party like Master Gurbanta Singh and Prithvi Singh Azad were opposed to Ambedkar and threatened to hold black flags on his visit to Punjab. The local media covered the event. Mahasha Krishan of the Urdu Pratap wrote an editorial and commented that the dalit leader was made sit on the special chair pertaining to the Gurus.

On October 28, Ambedkar delivered a lecture at the DAV College on the theme “the future of Parliamentary Democracy in India” which was a thought provoking exercise. The intelligentsia headed by Principal Suraj Bhan appreciated the lecture and the impressive style and manner in which it was delivered. I vividly remember that during my college days in DAV College itself in 1968-69, in one of Paper Reading Declamation Contest on the Parliamentary Democracy, I intensively quoted from the same lecture of Dr. Ambedkar which got due notice and was appreciated. The lecture till date remains as valid and prophetic as it was before.

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar has a considerable following in Punjab and rightly so.