Social Scientist. v 22, no. 254-55 (July-Aug 1994) p. 28.


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28 SOCIAL SCIENTIST

political object was very clear—to establish the distinct identity and interests of the untouchable communities. This led him first to repudiate the leadership of Vitthalrao Shinde, a Maratha, and Narayan Chandavarkar, a Brahmin. As Gore has recently observed in a perceptive study, Ambedkar felt that leaving the reins of leadership in the hands of these leaders would only lead to another variety of enslavement for the untouchables.67

As a political activist, Ambedkar marked his debut with the founding of a Marathi fortnightly, the Mooknayak. Without thoroughgoing social reform and the removal of the debilities of caste, Ambedkar noted in one of his editorials, 'self-government' would only mean government over the oppressed. More than self-government, the emphasis needed to be on good government, which would open up the routes of access to all sections of the population, irrespective of caste and creed. Nobody could object to the principle of self-government, he commented in a Mooknayak editorial. But it was important to know 'whose self-government it would be', and what its objectives would be, since 'practice is more important than principle'.^

The principle of elective representation was enhanced in great measure with the Montague-Chelmsford reforms of 1919. The Franchise Committee of 1919 under Lord Southborough laid down the principles of the new elected order. Since Hindus and Muslims had agreed under the Lucknow pact on separate electorates, the Southborough Commission felt 'no hesitation in recommending that effect... be given to this common desire'.69 The franchise remained limited—women were excluded, and only men of property as evidenced by the payment of land revenue, rent, municipal rates and income tax were deemed eligible to vote.

There is no way of knowing how many of the untouchable—or for that matter, of the intermediate and lower caste—populations, gained the privilege of the franchise under these reforms. But it is reasonable to assume that the number must have been paltry. As for the Muslims, the number of the enfranchised remained well short of their strength within the populace. In Bengal presidency, for instance, Muslims accounted for close to 24 million of a total population of 45 million. But in a total electorate of 1.2 million, their number was only 440,000.70

Both the lower caste and Muslim populations had their difficulties in gaining political articulation, but the problems of the former obviously were of a far greater order. The Muslims were recognised as a separate political entity by the Congress. Ambedkar fought all through the 1920s for the same privilege for the untouchables, but found himself unable to shake off the paternalist embrace of Mahatma Gandhi, who had by then established his moral authority over the Congress, and an irresistible emotional appeal to the masses.

On the question of caste, Gandhi was impelled by ultra-orthodox views. Shortly after a tour of Madras presidency, when he encountered



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