Human history is full of co-incidences. But the latest coincidence is of historical significance inasmuch as Nelson Mandela passed away on December 6, 2013, and on the same day 57 years ago — December 6, 1956 — Dr Ambedkar breathed his last.
Perhaps no other two towering personalities of the 20th century had such common mission, common hardship, common struggle, and common legacy for future generations as Dr Mandela and Dr Ambedkar. The lives of both symbolised the relentless and fierce battle against injustice and discrimination as these two icons: the former’s struggle was for the abolition of the discrimination originating from colour, i.e. apartheid, and the latter’s was for the annihilation of caste.
Since childhood Mandela personally experienced the horrors of apartheid. In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, he says, “I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, and a thousand un-remembered moments produced in me anger, rebelliousness, and a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people.” This precisely happened in the case of Dr Ambedkar. Born an untouchable, his childhood was full of most bitter incidents that made him a rebellion to fight against the caste system and the horrors of untouchability.
Mandela joined the African National Congress ( ANC) that was fighting against the apartheid, and in the course of time, due to his bright academic qualifications, and more importantly his rebellious nature, he became its natural and the tallest leader. Dr Ambedkar himself formed several social and political organisations with a single aim of abolition of caste and untouchability and establishing the Indian society on the foundation of liberty, equality and fraternity.
Since Mandela challenged the entire system of apartheid with its all infirmities and started the underground activities, in 1964, he was given the life imprisonment, and spent a quarter of century in prison. But his commitment and fearlessness remained unshaken, as he did not deviate from his mission of ending the apartheid even for a fraction of moment. Since Dr Ambedkar did not have such movement or organisation before he arose on the horizon and he had started from the scratch. From 1920, the year in which he established the BahishkritHitakariniSabha (Organisation for the Welfare of the Outcastes) till his Mahaparinirvana in 1956, Dr Ambedkar spent every moment of his life for the annihilation of the caste and the emancipation of the untouchables.
The most significant fact was that after becoming the first ever non-white president of South Africa, not a thought of discrimination, let alone revenge, against the Whites touched his mind. The same was the case with Dr Ambedkar. When he was made the chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Indian Constitution, he thought of nation-building, without allowing discrimination against anyone. An ex-untouchable was thus, destined to become the architect of the Constitution.
Thus, the lives of Nelson Mandela and Dr Ambedkar, the two icons of the 20th century shall be the source of inspirations to all future generations who will want to establish a just and humane social order based on Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.
The writer is a member of the Rajya Sabha and former member of Planning Commission.