Caste System in India Part 2 | Why did Nehru and Ambedkar clash over caste based reservation | Teh Tak

The debate on the first post-independence census included discussions on whether to include caste as a parameter. Ambedkar was clear on why an updated database is helpful in formulating policy measures and ensuring representation of diverse communities in India. The Congress party supported the idea of ​​collecting caste-based data for affirmative action purposes in the first post-independence census of 1951. However, this would mean that caste enumeration would be restricted to Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs). Following this argument, the state under Nehruvian leadership took a policy decision not to conduct a caste-wise population enumeration, excluding the scheduled categories.

Why the 1951 census data was not made public

Apart from the purposes of affirmative action, the compilation of caste-based data was ironically seen as ‘strengthening the caste system’. Ironically, after Independence, the 1951 census data on caste were never made public. Concerns of secrecy, potential misuse, social unrest and even state capacity to collect such data with accuracy were cited as reasons. Between many of these concerns and the administrative challenges of processing such huge and potentially controversial data, subsequent debates on caste enumeration were delayed, if not avoided altogether. Again, the grand narrative of ‘national unity’ took precedence – Indians had to ‘go beyond caste’ once and for all. In the nearly 30 years of uninterrupted Congress rule since Independence, caste and its enumeration became a feeble cry in parliamentary debates.

Nehru and Ambedkar on caste based reservation

Nehru and Ambedkar came from two different backgrounds, one born into an upper-class, cosmopolitan Brahmin family and while the other into a socially ostracised, Dalit family living in a small village in rural Maharashtra. Nehru can be described more as a secular humanist and intellectual than someone with any inclination towards religion. His approach to life was methodical, preferring efficiency and modernisation over romantic ideals of the past. He and Ambedkar shared many similarities. Having witnessed discrimination as a youth, Ambedkar was also disillusioned with the concept of Hinduism propounded by the RSS at the time and, having studied at Columbia University and the London School of Economics (LSE), was equally committed to the accumulation of knowledge. However, Ambedkar had seen social injustice up close while Nehru, born into a Brahmin family, had not had to face it. So while Nehru wrote about the harmful effects of caste politics, he was not in favour of abolishing the system altogether, as advocated by Ambedkar. In a book Vasant Moon elaborates on Ambedkar’s sharp criticism of the Congress and Nehru’s view on caste. He writes, “According to Dr Ambedkar, a political revolution cannot succeed unless it is preceded by a socio-religious revolution. But the Congress never worked for a social revolution aimed at abolishing caste. According to Ambedkar one way of affording some relief to the backward classes was through separate electorates. Under his proposed system, Dalits would not only receive reserved seats in political representation but would also be able to vote for Dalit candidates in Dalit-reserved constituencies alone. Under the British, this right had been extended to Muslims. Gandhi had vehemently rejected this proposal and in 1932 had resolved to fast unto death unless it was abandoned. The resulting agreement has been named the Poona Pact.

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