Cheers greet death announcement of Gandhi in Ambedkar film

By Robin David and Rajiv Shah

The Times of India News Service, 13th Jan, 2001

AHMEDABAD; Once every two- and-a-half-hours, Mahatma Gandhi's assassination is announced in a darkened movie theatre in the city. And, every time, it is cheered as if an enemy has just been slain.

At the Roopalee Cinema here, in the city from where Gandhi started the freedom struggle, every move by Ambedkar is cheered and every time the Mahatma comes on screen, the audience responds with abuse and cat-calls For people watching the Jabbar Patel film, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, ,the real Mahatma is not Gandhi -it is Dr Ambedkar, Instances of such role-reversal abound: While studying at the London School of Economics, Ambedkar is told about Gandhi ans burning British-made gar ments in protest against the visit of the Prince of Wales and he retorts, "There is much more in India that Gandhi needs to burn apart from garments."The audience cheers, Or, when Gandhi refuses to ac cept Ambedkar's demands for a separate state for lower castes and Ambedkar counters, "Our chance will also come. After all Gandhi is not immortal." More cheers.

Again, when he decides to meet the Simon Commission and de mands job reservation for the low er castes even as the Congress boy cotts it, the audience is ecstatic, The cheers are at their loudest when Ambedkar's domestic help walks into a dingy room and an nounces that the Mahatma has been shot. "The cheering begins even before the announcement is made.

Insults, too, are buried at the screen each time the Mahatma makes an appearance. Ae taklu or bandh kar be were the only two printable phrases heard from the stalls "Gandhi never really repre sented us," says Nilesh Prajapati as he leaves the theatre after the show. "What is the point of this freedom if our condition has remained the same even today"?

Eminent Gandhian and Gujarat Vidyapeeth's holding trustee Navin chandra Barot believes people are only following a trend wherein it is fashionable to criticize Gandhi with out understanding him. Although Gandhian thinker Prakash Shah has not seen the film, he. believes the audience's re action can he attributed to the lim ited understanding of Gandhi by both the film's director as well as the audience. "In 1954, during a discussion on Scheduled Castes in the Rajya Sabha, Ambedkar had suggested the revival of the Salt Tax and use of the money for their uplift."

"He had suggested that the fund be named after Gandhi as the community was nearest and dear est to him. This is the reaction of a mature and wise Ambedkar who had come to respect Gandhi six years after his death. This view should have come out in the film," he comments.

Last Sunday, when a group of Dalits belonging to the Dalit Ad hikar Sangh went to see the film, a small group of neo-Gandhian so cial workers were also present at Roopalee. The Gandhians were aghast to witness the clapping by a huge section of the audience when the news. of the Mahatma's death was conveyed to Ambedkar.

Officially, the Gujarat govern ment, which has declared the film tax-free, reacted rather indifferent ly. Talking to The Times, of India, social justice and empowerment minister FakirbhaiVaghela feigned ignorance about any such behav iour at the hall. "The issue of clap ping just does not arise," he said.

But Senior Congress leader Madhusudan Mistry admitted, "The clapping shows how a section of the Dalits in Gujarat has got alienated from the Congress' ide ology. Congressmen must ponder why this is happening." He also partially blamed the film for this, Ramesh Shah, who edits the Panchayati Raj journal Sarpanch, believes such an''odd reaction" is because Jabbar Patel's film seeks to present the Mahatma's thoughts as they were when he re turned from South Africa - his strong belief in the caste system. "The latter Gandhi,when he de clared he would not attend a mar riage where a high caste Hindu did not get married to a Harijan, was the real Gandhi. Yet, the film ig nores this," Dalit leaders reacted differently. Valjibhai Patel of the Council for Social Justice said Gandhi and Ambedkar followed "opposing ideologies", and the reaction by the Dalits was "only natural even if not fully justified"'.

On the other hand, Rameshchandra Parmar, founder leader of the Dalit Panthers in Gu jarat, said, "The film is not negative towards the Mahatma. When the news of his death is conveyed to Ambedkar, the latter utters the Ti betan mantra 'Om mani padmehu' and is shown to be sad.

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