The recent controversy over the cartoon of Babasaheb Ambedkar sitting on a snail and Pandit Nehru whipping it from behind, indicating that Ambedkar had made the process of making the Constitution slow, whereas Nehru was for hastening it, created a massive ruckus in Parliament, cutting across all political parties. The cartoon, drawn by P. Shankar Pillai in 1949, was brought into an NCERT political science school textbook in 2006. The reaction of Dalits to the inclusion of the cartoon in the textbook has been amazingly uniform: they have seen it as a deliberate undermining of Ambedkar’s stature; they have seen it as trivialising their prophet. For them, he is not just a Constitution-maker, as he is to Hindu intellectuals.
A bit of context here is useful. In the recent past, any attempt, howsoever small, to desecrate Ambedkar’s statues in any part of the country—there are thousands across India—has led to a riot-like situation. This has not been witnessed even in the case of statues of leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru because they are seen just as great leaders—and nothing more—by their ardent followers. Being mostly Hindus, their gods are elsewhere. However, for a large number of Dalits, Gautam Buddha is God and Ambedkar is a prophet who established a spiritual relationship between the Buddha and them (Two other comparable, but more established, prophets are Jesus and Mohammed). For many insensitive, upper-caste intellectuals, he is just a leader or an intellectual, a lesser mortal than Gandhi. For consultants to the National Council for Educational Research & Training (NCERT) like Yogendra Yadav and Suhas Palshikar, he is a lesser mortal than even Lohia (they are Lohiaites).