An interesting free-for-all in BR Ambedkar's name is going on among political parties in India. The communist reticence in claiming Babasaheb as one of their own does not count. They were not even able to retain the name of Bhagat Singh. And they forgot the name of the Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh, the only one in India, a communist to boot, who created a government of independent India almost three decades before Bose and his Indian National Army (INA) did.
The Congress has left no stone unturned in celebrating Ambedkar since the 1990s, forgetting that it was the Congress that was instrumental in cancelling a chhuti on Ambedkar Jayanti long ago — to instead declare chhuti on Tilak Jayanti. At that time it seemed like massaging Maharashtrian pride was more important to the party than bothering about the feelings of many who revered Ambedkar as a messiah of the dalits. For, by the 1970s, that is what Ambedkar had been reduced to. That particular episode set in motion a series of events that eventually resulted in the emergence of the The All India Backward (SC, ST, OBC) and Minority Communities Employees Federation (BAMCEF) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
Today it is the BJP's turn to discover Ambedkar. This is good. Because just a while ago, during the previous NDA rule, many BJP ideologues went on record to suggest that that it was not Ambedkar who drafted the Constitution of India but, rather, Rau, the ICS secretary of the drafting committee. Veracity of facts, of course, has never been a strong point among the right wingers of India. The secretary sahib was given credit simply because there is a widespread presumption that it is the secretaries who do all the writing, while the elected representatives only put their final mark on the papers.
In Ambedkar's case, nothing could be further from the truth. He had been nominated to the Viceroy's Council in 1942 and appointed the "Labour Member". In contemporary parlance, Ambedkar was the labour minister. In that capacity, he drafted and successfully piloted a number of bills for the protection of the labour force. Later, as the war came to an end in 1945, Ambedkar drafted new laws for resettlement in civilian life of army men returning from war. So when the Constitution was to be drafted, it was not a newbie that was being recommended for heading the drafting committee. He was actually the only member of the Constituent Assembly who had had any experience of drafting and piloting bills.
Not that any of these drafting skills were of any help when it came to playing politics. For in that arena, Ambedkar and his Scheduled Castes Federation came a cropper. When elections were held early in 1946, they could not win a single seat against the Congress. Going by the election results, it was clear that even the dalits were rejecting Ambedkar. Showing the gross misunderstanding of electoral politics that is common among do-gooders and those who lead a life of the mind, Ambedkar, before the elections, had taken it for granted that he and the federation, given their overt espousal of the dalit cause, would win. "I shall join the Congress, if I were to lose," is how he had thrown the challenge in that election. Now, with the election results out in April 1946, the All India Harijan League, a front organisation of the Congress, openly taunted and invited him to join the Congress. At this stage, we do not know what had transpired. All that we know is that when elections were held in Bengal for seats in the Constituent Assembly, Ambedkar stood from Bengal. His candidature was not contested too strongly. And he managed to get elected.
As the chair of the drafting committee, Ambedkar soon discovered that all other members quickly absented themselves. The nitty-gritty of drafting a meta-law for India on the basis of which India would transform itself from a mishmash of medieval archaic thinking to a vibrant modern nation, seemed to have been too much. Seven members were part of the drafting committee. One resigned almost immediately, another died and was not replaced. The third went off to America and his place remained vacant, while yet another member remained busy in "more serious affairs of state". Two others excused themselves from work on the plea that they came from distant lands and, therefore, travelling to Delhi was not possible for them.
A scenario that is quite familiar to people who have been roped in for committee work. In the end, to cut a long story short, it was Ambedkar who single-handedly produced the draft of the most important document of India's history.
We can only be grateful to TT Krishnamachari, the representative from Madras, for putting these details on record before the Constituent Assembly. It matters not that TTK would later have the dishonour of being the first Cabinet minister in India to be thrown out for his involvement in a financial scandal. Had it not been for his speech to the assembled lawmakers, it might have become possible for some latter-day busybody to claim for their own the draft of the Constitution of India too just as many have been busy claiming other things about Ambedkar.