Monday, May 14, 2012

Cartoon Row: Insult to Ambedkar and our Constitution

Kannada version here

It’s indeed an irony of sorts that on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the first meeting of our Parliament, the very same hall of the Lok Sabha where our constitution makers met, witnessed disruption of proceedings in protest against a cartoon depicting Nehru and Baba Saheb Ambedkar. To me, this is nothing but a grave insult to our constitution, considered as one of the best in the world that has given us equality, freedom and all the civilian rights, and also to the great wisdom of Ambedkar, who as the Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee played a stellar role in its drafting.

The cartoon that raised the hackles of some of the members of parliament was created by Shankar, in 1949. If the central characters in the cartoon, Nehru and Ambedkar, were Bharat Ratnas, the creator Shankar Pillai, was a Padma Vibhushan, India's second highest civilian honour and was considered as the father of political cartooning in India.

What’s in the controversial cartoon? It has been reproduced in the NCERT text book for political science for class XI, titled Indian Constitution at Work, in the first chapter on page 18.[The book is available for download at]
It appears to be a race, trying to complete the work of constitution drafting, with lots of people around, men, women and children, the people of India, waiting for it to end. While Ambedkar is sitting on the snail, the constitution committee, as its Chairman and Nehru, as Prime Minister, is standing behind. Both Ambedkar and Nehru are trying to whip the snail, prodding it to move faster, to the delight of the crowd around. Is this derogatory to either of them? Instead, I see it as appreciation of their efforts to speed up the process of constitution drafting.

The text book carries the following caption to the cartoon: Cartoonist’s impression of the ‘snail’s pace’ with which the Constitution was made. Making of the Constitution took almost three years. Is the cartoonist commenting on this fact? Why do you think, did the Constituent Assembly take so long to make the Constitution?

The text further elaborates: The Constitution drew its authority from the fact that members of the Constituent Assembly engaged in what one might call public reason. The members of the Assembly placed a great emphasis on discussion and reasoned argument. They did not simply advance their own interests, but gave principled reasons to other members for their positions...The voluminous debates in the Constituent Assembly, where each clause of the Constitution was subjected to scrutiny and debate, is a tribute to public reason at its best. And that took a long time and explained the snail’s pace: The Assembly met for one hundred and sixty six days, spread over two years and eleven months. Its sessions were open to the press and the public alike. 

And does the text insult Ambedkar? The Constituent Assembly had eight major Committees on different subjects. Usually, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad or Ambedkar chaired these Committees. These were not men who agreed with each other on many things. Ambedkar had been a bitter critic of the Congress and Gandhi, accusing them of not doing enough for the upliftment of Scheduled Castes. Patel and Nehru disagreed on many issues. Nevertheless, they all worked together.. in each instance every single argument, query or concern was responded to with great care and in writing. It acknowledges Ambedkar’s great vision in safeguarding the interests of the most backward and poorest of the country.

Where is the insult?

Both Ambedkar and Nehru were alive when this cartoon was published and there is no evidence to show that they objected (nor they had reasons to object). Eminent cartoonist of The Hindu depicted this on May 12th, 2012:[]

Ambedkar lets Shankar’s cartoon to pass, but stops the mob that is objecting.

According to me, objections to Shankar’s cartoon are ill informed, trouble mongering, publicity seeking,    intolerant acts that are an insult to not only our Constitution but also the intellect and far sightedness of Baba Saheb Ambedkar.

On the other, the action of the Central Govt., and the HRD minister in particular, in meekly succumbing to a mere shout of opposition has been a big let down of not only our Constitutional guarantees but also of our education system, of our future generation who need to learn to reason as well as all our learned academics who strive to impart the best education to our students. It is a shame.

The same text book has another cartoon on page 7:
Nehru is trying to balance between the groups demanding Jana Gana Mana or Vande mataram to be the national anthem. It depicts Ambedkar and Maulana Azad blowing into pipes in support of Jana gana mana while the right wing leaders are shown to be straining their vocal cords for Vande mataram.  Is this not objectionable?

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