There is Justice in this Book !

On January 1, 2016 by admin


Soumyabrata Choudhury 



Towards the end of its compelling career, Aishwary Kumar’s Radical Equality: Ambedkar, Gandhi and the Risk of Democracy, says that Gandhi’s and Ambedkar’s were two incommensurable ways to the question of justice, that is to say, the thought of equality. The book, then, must be about at least three things—the two incommensurable ways and the thought as such. I intend this statement to be more than just a logical inference. It aims to go to the heart of the author’s profound concern with what will appear in the book as an insistent motif, the motif which is also a fundamental problem of “means and ends”. The problem is the following: Even before posing the moral question whether an end justifies the historical means adopted to reach it, one must ask, can there be historical ways and means adequate to an end insofar as that end is a “thought”? That is to say, the thought of equality, if it means anything, must mean the thought proper to a principle. So the basic problem turns out to be—how can there be an empirical, historico-human path, even if as fabulous, singular and, in Aishwary Kumar’s words, “incommensurable” a path as Gandhi’s or Ambedkar’s, to the perpetual pre-existence of a principle and its true thought? For this true thought or thought of the perpetual anteriority of a principle, the book creates another insistent motif, which is the motif of sovereignty, and the rhythm of the insistence is theological.

Clearly, theology can provide a kind of model for perpetual anteriority of existence in the form of divine sovereignty or God’s sovereign pre-existence. “Religion” would be the common name of the terribly inadequate means and variously traced ways to the divine end and in accordance with the image and model of historico-human subjection to theological sovereignty. Strangely, the first casualty of such a subjection is the very stakes of the thought in question—the thought of equality. The theological model seems to turn the very passion of that thought towards a power so sovereign, so sovereignly other that it becomes radically unthinkable. And therein would lie its transcendental force to which no thinkable form of a principle can correspond, no principle of equality can be equal to this divine condescension.

And yet the author of Radical Equality knows that the subject of his pioneering investigation—I do think he is the first of his kind in a certain field of research, something I will talk about later—is not an affair of mere empirical measurement of a humanist principle in its historical realization. At the same time, the thought of equality is a historical declaration of that thought and opens up an epochal thinking in history that Aishwary Kumar has no hesitation in identifying as revolutionary. He is, indeed, a pioneering archivist of such revolutionary thinking in modern Indian history. The complex formalizing statement to provide overall support for the epochal research is the following: Not only is there a fundamental incommensurability between the ways, means and historical measures of equality; but also there is an incommensurability at the heart of the very thought of equality as such. Which is that the declaration of the principle of equality is an absolute yet utterly immanent interruption of the history of inequalities which is the only history there is. The evaluation and arrangement of the archives of history take place along the axes of differentiation and commensuration. The axis of commensuration institutes historical measures and regimes that articulated with the axis of differention, converts differences into inequality, of which equality is only an empirical and relative variation. The declaration of equality as a principle, on the other hand, to speak like Neitzsche, breaks history in two: the old regime of inequality and a revolutionary epoch for which there isn’t and mustn’t be, measures, indices and proofs of equality; instead there will be post-egalitarian acts and dispositions.

It is at this point that the sceptic might as well speak up and ask, is there nothing in-between? Some sort of transitory dialogue or talks of temporary peace at the barricades? Or, what about the history of power, that runs deeper and at a diagonal with respect to sovereignty, whether theological or revolutionary? And aren’t these aspects the really meaningful parameters by which modern Indian history, since the epoch of Ambedkar and Gandhi, needs to be judged in all its radical hypotheses and rotten realities? Let me withhold any comments of my own and try to be the medium for Aishwary Kumar’s possible response to these very crucial sceptical queries. Kumar, to my mind, will cite at least two key phrases here from his book, “egalitarian sovereignty” and “insurrectionary citizenship”, as idiomatic, even contradictory, constructions for the inconsolable betweenness of our times that we sometimes also call democracy.

However, it seems the medium has started lending its partisan tonality to the original voice in question; so let me resume speaking on my account. I think that the book declares “radical equality” as a sort of lightning-flash across the archives of history to re-localise the force of the declaration in the materiality and force-field of historical texts—mainly Ambedkar’s and Gandhi’s texts. In this, the author seems to join a line of distinguished writers, from at least D.R. Nagaraj to Arundhati Roy recently, who as it were, stage the Ambedkar-Gandhi sequence in theatre of history as protagonist-antagonist, as duellists wearing their swords, masks and grimaces. Yet it seems to me, Aishwary Kumar is a pioneering departure in that he perforates the borders of Ambedkar’s and Gandhi’s texts, as well as others, to open their constitutive figurations, the play between them, to a performativity, a vector of force, which surpass the commensuration the imagination of a theatre produces between the protagonist and the antagonist. Indeed, Gandhi and Ambedkar, more than dramatis personae, are scintillating effects of Aishwary Kumar’s own singular text. The immanence of the two historical figures to the text is the same as the utter exteriority of the declaration of the thought of equality each time it is made. Hence this new remote author, this superb hermeneut and archivist who has forsaken the eventual horizon of his own disciplinary consolation which is the consistent historical theatre/text, must take absolute responsibility for his idiomatic declaration: “radical equality”. Not Gandhi, not Ambedkar…


Now for the chapters:


  1. Everything begins in the middle with B.R. Ambedkar’s 1936 text, a speech-which-was-not-delivered, Annihilation of Caste. Everything begins, and doesn’t cease to begin, again and again, with the citation of a passage from the middle of Annihilation of Caste on religion and  responsibility. The passage goes like this: “The difference between rules and principles makes the acts done in pursuit of them different in quality and in content. Doing what is said to be good by virtue of a rule and doing good in the light of a principle are two different things. The principle may be wrong, but the act is conscious and responsible. The rule may be right but the act is mechanical. A religious act may not be a correct act, but must at least be a responsible act. To permit of this responsibility, religion must mainly be a matter of principles only. It cannot be a matter of rules. The moment it degenerates into rules. It ceases to be religion, as it kills the responsibility which is the essence of a truly religious act…” (Cited in Radical Equality, p. 303).


The political stakes of the book are firmly set up by Aishwary Kumar when, in the first chapter itself, he identifies, what he calls “insurrection” with what Ambedkar calls a “a truly religious act” that is “conscious and responsible”, based on “principles”, not mechanically following “rules”. Depending on the correctness of this identification, many of the consequences of the author’s argument will stand or fall. One of the preliminary methodological consequences is that Ambedkar is decisively brought, with the initial citation of the “truly religious act” and its insistent repetition in the book, into a “theological-political” terrain, already occupied by Gandhi as a matter of archival ‘common-sense’.  No doubt it is a contestatory terrain, not a consensual one, but wasn’t Ambedkar, in Annihilation of Caste, attempting to exit the theologico-political inheritance of Hinduism? Which is this type of contestation between an inflexible, if “incommensurable”, Hindu like Gandhi and the logician of the anonymous true religious act called B.R. Ambedkar? This is an extremely serious investigation Aishwary Kumar conducts and whether he is able to sufficiently guard the anonymity of Ambedkar’s insurrectionary, if religious, act in 1936 upto and within his conversion to Buddhism in 1956, the reader has to make careful assessment of. To my mind, it is the anonymity of the act of enunciating a new principle without the support of an inheritance of “rules”—and every rule is the name-of-the-rule, Hindu being the name of names in this context—that makes that act ‘insurrectionary’. In Kumar’s language, this becomes in a later chapter the “mystical” foundation of new laws and norms of the republic—I do not agree with this characterisation but we will come back to that.


  1. The second chapter on Gandhi’s “Satyagrahic” spirit and the historical genealogy of this spiritual “force”, is, in my view, the finest of the lot. The disassembly of “satyagraha” as “truth-force” within the flickering career of Gandhian names from the time of Hind Swaraj before 1910 to later idiomatic inventions beyond the famous “passive resistance”, forces on us something like a speculative philology. This is often a far more interesting venture than the competent philology of textual masters, more interesting to the very degree of its possible delegitimation by pious (Indic?) institutions of competence. Within such a speculative philological constellation, the “agraha” in “satyagraha” or “truth-force” joins the German macht and the French puissance, which denote the force of a kind of  ‘self-mastery’ and ‘self-overcoming’ in contrast to the words kraft (in German) and puvoir (in French) that refer to something like physical strength or brute violent force. In this speculative milieu I have inserted, satyagraha can be read as the ethical pursuit of the Gandhian subject towards a paradoxical end of the force of a measure. Strangely, Gandhi, in Aishwary Kumar’s own speculative reading, could well appear perilously close to Machiavelli with respect to the latter’s stress on popular virtu; yet it is clear that Gandhi is repulsed by the acts of a so-called multitude as evidenced in his reaction to the Chauri-Chaura violence. This is a delicate and contentious point because if the author of Radical Equality does affirm a political force in his own name, it is the force of the “multitude” or alternatively, “constituent power”. In his name but explicitly allied to Ambedkar’s name—what is Gandhi’s position vis-à-vis this affirmation? It seems to me, Kumar has a peculiarly retreating thesis on Gandhian satyagrahic conduct towards the shared egalitarian horizon with Ambedkar, introducing, in effect, some equivocation and some irony. At the same time the retreating thesis is genealogically fascinating in that it emerges on the larger global historical site of modern spiritual conduct, of which Gandhi was an exclusionary exemplar (as Kumar goes on to analyse superbly).


Genealogically speaking, Gandhi’s “equivocations” and his “radical empiricism” of conduct are part of a history of the force of measure and the measure of force, an economic history of force as it were which comprises the “punitive humanism” (p. 71) of our epoch. One can draw at least two lineages here: First, this punitive humanism and nationalism are 19th century transformations of the medieval bhakti ‘forces’, potentially immeasurable, actually exhilarating in their original poetic measures, once the great geometers of religious reform arrive such as the Arya Samaj and Vivekananda. That is the punitive aspect of the genealogy of Gandhian spiritual conduct. The second aspect of the historical analysis articulates this conduct with the inexorably productive “small” spirit of the colonised Indian bourgeoisie and the European-to-global bourgeoisie of the 19th century. Gandhi’s satyagrahic conduct is also, indeed, excruciatingly calibrated between the forces of passion and reasons of interest, between the imperial Reason of the State and the small sovereignty of the individual. In this, he is the exemplary representative of ‘western’ (which can also be shown to be ‘Christian’) bourgeois rationality in this part of the world.

  1. And yet… we must remember Aishwary Kumar has written a book about Gandhi’s and Ambedkar’s contestatory, nay, incommensurable, ways to “radical equality”. Though not quite. As Kumar will point out that equality was Gandhi’s pre-supposition, it was not part of his ethics, economics or strategics of “means and ends”. Moreover, we can see clearly that Gandhi doesn’t declare the presupposition of equality unconditionally as a pure force of the event of that declaration. He works—or should one say, restrains—his presuppositions silently, craftily and measuredly into the ‘works’ of his life, which include religious and political works. Liturgist, ethicist and strategist embodied in one person, Gandhi’s declarations remain predominantly punitive, not affirmative. Examples cited in the book include the 1930 incident when the Royal Garhwal Rifles refused to fire at unarmed civil protestors and Gandhi said, “A soldier who disobeys an order to fire breaks the oath which he has taken and renders himself guilty of civil disobedience.” (p. 73) He will argue further that the soldiers usurped the right of decision not to fire, which they didn’t possess. Thus speaks Gandhi, the rigorous liturgist of duty, debt and office and not radical egalitarian who affirms the existential right of anybody to decide on the insurrectionary act of making their freedom come together with the declaration of radical equality.


And yet… in this chapter, Aishwary Kumar only intensifies the shared incommensurable world of Ambedkar and Gandhi when he says, they share the foundational “mysticism” of force that makes their conflicting utterances more than a conflict of mere points-of-view. Theirs is an incommensurability of singular forces, which they share in the very modes of the existence of their enunciations. That mode is individualised in Gandhi’s case as the sacrificial satyagrahic gesture which is equally an experiment with “self-mastery”; with Ambedkar the mode is collective and constitutive of a “general mobilisation” (a phrase of Annihilation of Caste Kumar cites repeatedly) that Hindu constitution of caste-society blocks with its structural fissiparity. But both are “mystical” to the extent they bespeak a force which exceeds the mere forms of brute strength or violence.

I disagree with the author’s intensive analysis of force here. It seems to me that while with Gandhi, it is indeed the case that his discourse is theologico-political and speaks mesmerically with a mystical tonality—though mostly within the limits of strategic reason—with Ambedkar the issue is the anonymous collective act (“general mobilisation”) whose foundations are abysmally rational in the sense of possessing the generic power to declare new principles and not merely mystical or transcendental. To keep out all imprecision in this matter, one must refer to Annihilation of Caste and clearly grasp that Ambedkar’s term “annihilation” is the annihilation of the notion of caste. So all force of annihilation must be critical-diagnostic on the one hand, and on the other, must be the creative force of the new notion of equality.

The annihilative force that destroys caste is only the identifiable, measurable cut within the declarative force of the new notion of equality. Annihilation is composed from an affirmative, and I will go to the extent of saying, rational material. However, it has to be understood that it is not as if creating new concepts is an example of reason’s intrinsic power. It is rather that reason is the restricted philosophical designation of a declaration which cannot be finitely measured. Reason is only the name of a fictional faculty standing in for the contingent event or force of the declaration. There is no faculty of force. This creative force I have also called generic anonymous power to distinguish it from the “mystical foundations” Aishwary Kumar talks about.


This disagreement doesn’t however, prevent me from noting the extraordinary wager of discussing Ambedkar’s Thoughts on Pakistan (1940) and Pakistan or Partition of India (1945) along the intensive figure of a post-theatrical force-field of international relations. Pakistan, India are not then simply protagonist-antagonist in the theatre of war and peace but an infinitely risky wager that they are two figures/names of an anonymous—I was going to say, abandoned—“historical sovereignty” (Walter Benjamin’s mystical[!] term from The Origins of German Tragic Drama).


  1. The chapter on Gandhi’s “Harijans” comes closest to rendering such idiomatic phrases as “Gandhi’s egalitarian ontology of life” (p. 184-185) as univocal as possible. But before that what I find curious, from within the cheerfully illegitimate project of a speculative philology, is the syncopation of Hari-Jan with the ancient Roman praetor’s declaration of the Homo Sacer as excluded from the city’s boundaries. While Gandhi anoints the excluded untouchable “Harijan”, the Roman praetor, who is the excluding authority, calls the excluded “Homo Sacer!” (“Sacred Man”). What becomes in Kumar’s reading Gandhi’s radically unequal measure for all social equality, in the case of Giorgio Agamben’s utilisation of the Roman Homo Sacer is oriented to a radically destitute measure of all sovereign constitutions. Gandhi’s unequals are socially excluded yet a constituent ritual measure of what Aishwary Kumar calls “egalitarian sovereignty”; Homo Sacer, in Agamben, is the constitutive ritual and legal destitution of all sovereignty. In this respect, “egalitarian sovereignty” is as destitute and abandoned as any other, and that is the blindspot of modern democratic triumphalism. But interestingly Gandhi’s Harijans and the Roman Homo Sacer are apparently united in the fact that they are both ontological figures of “life”.

Kumar narrates Gandhi’s diagnosis that untouchability is limited and transitory, not a fundamental reality. For Gandhi, the first “untouchable” is the mother when she handles unclean substances; she is the first scavenger. It is not difficult to see how “being-a-mother’ can become, in Gandhi’s logic, the generalised equivalent of a limited, transitory but necessary untouchability in society understood as a conduit of natural substantive life. Aishwary Kumar doesn’t mention it but I am reminded of Ambedkar’s verdict in Annihilation of Caste that primarily caste is “wrong relation”, not bad substance; wrong notion, not mere bad feeling. In another place citing from the Naradasmriti, Ambedkar will say that shudra-being can be ‘measured’ by the generalised equivalent of ‘being-a-wife’, which is totally relational based on social, civil and judicial grounds, unlike ‘being-a-mother’, which, for Gandhi, has substantive vital basis. But even ‘being-a-mother’ is a social, if not juridical, measure of what only appears to be ‘natural service’. On this point, Aishwary Kumar, who wants to save all the theses on equality, however mutually at conflict, must resort to intense aporetic discourse, in search of a little liberatory malice…

While the above itinerary is on, the author writes a nearly enigmatic though thoroughly absorbing section on Gandhi’s  exegesis of maryada dharma in light of the kshatriya’s body invested in dhanurvidya, learning to shoot the arrow, and the shudra’s body attuned to the craft of making the bow, the carder’s craft (pinjanvidya). According to a Gandhian egalitarian ontology of life, the kshatriya’s virtuosity and the shudra’s rhythm of labour are harmonious qualities of a so-called common substance, “life”. It seems possible for Gandhi, in Kumar’s reading, that these qualities are reversible metamorphoses between bodies of unequals. What the reading, quite possessed of an enigmatic beauty, omits to mention are (a) Gandhi’s  inability to diagnose the distribution of bodies as effects of a structure of relations, some of which are also delusional effects of free variation between the bodies of the kshatriya and shudra; and (b) Gandhi’s  general unconcern with a post-egalitarian body-to-come, which promises itself acts and dispositions hitherto unimagined, even in the grips of the most honourable delusion.


Notwithstanding all of Gandhi’s egalitarian impasses, Aishwary Kumar is able to extract an epochal, even revolutionary, “philosophy of small things” (p. 213), that Gandhi’s genius fabricated within the tiniest aperture opened between self and self. In that elusive space, the mass of Indians existed during the national movement, whether as militants or at the spinning wheel, but always converting every ethical task into a public service, every dutiful service to society into an affair of the minor-most, most excluded and negligible self’s relation with itself, on affair of the ‘last’ Indian’s self-mastery. In this respect, following Aishwary Kumar’s pioneering analysis, I will call Gandhi a liturgical revolutionary, not an egalitarian one.


  1. Here, in this chapter, the theme of religion and responsibility returns, now in conjunction with Ambedkar’s republican philosophy of “civic virtue” (p. 224-225). The central ambiguity of the relationship between religion and politics emerges in the most productive way such that in the chapter the most intricate negotiations between Ambedkar’s thought and Gandhi’s logic take place. During this process, Aishwary Kumar renders more and more inseparate religious conduct/act/responsibility and civic virtue within the ‘incommensurable’ passage between Ambedkar and Gandhi. Yet there can be no ambiguity about the fact that the predicates “religious” and “civic” appear on the ground of an ‘equal-being’, which itself can only be anonymous and ontological.


While the author gives voice to the univocity of equal-being with a sort of stylish hesitation, his historico-philosophical preoccupations lead him to the more ‘Indian’ questions of secularism, secularity and liberal political ontology. In an effectively improvised critique, we see him forge a strange alliance between the ‘little ontology’ of the everyday “crafts” of the unequal, in the image of the shudra as a crafts-subject, militant faith responding to the responsibility of the “true religious act” and what is repeatedly called “egalitarian sovereignty” (pp. 272-274). This alliance is forged from the material of a so-called mortality  of others—evoking other hesitant stylists (I wanted to write stylish hesitants) like for instance, the Jewish French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas—which secures a kind of finite transcendence as opposed to liberal secular “immanence” of the mere individual, the locus of whose freedom is a formal “non-interference”.

I find this otherwise evocative critique an unfortunate retreat from another part of this chapter which produces a complex and crucial reading of Ambedkar’s inflammatory rationalism of Thoughts on Pakistan. Here, we are confronted with the true force of a contingent but actual dualism to be thought historically yet essentially—the dualism of India and Pakistan. Now it is imperative to note that the dualism is contingent, but contingency is the most urgent philosophical question of our times. Hence, the historical dualism of the India-Pakistan partition of force must be confronted with reference to the contingent real of that partition before being subjected to the formal sovereign equalisation of Indian “constituent power” and Pakistani “constituent power”.

This is what I call the necessary contingency of the ‘malice of the real’ to which every sovereign legitimate constitution, every republicanism is extrinsically tied. And yet it is always a malice which is subaltern in its historical destitution and philosophical abandonment. So in the light of the above, I will make so bold as to enjoin the author of Radical Equality: Re-infect your generous ‘little ontology’ with a little subaltern malice!


  1. In this brief chapter, the metaphysics of “ordinary mortal life” gains a further egalitarian depth—and a further liturgical apotheosis. However, the specific subject here is fascinating: It is the status of the Book for Gandhi, his Hind Swaraj, dramatised between the Reader and the Editor, his own readings of the Ramayana and the Gita—and in comparison Ambedkar’s mature masterwork (in Kumar’s characterisation) The Buddha and his Dhamma. The key sentence in this context is a quotation from Gandhi referring to the Ramayana, “Everything is contained here.” (p. 279). So the book is a crypt, a hermetic encyclopaedia and theatrum mundus (Theatre of the World) containing all knowledge, all spaces, all movement, all gesture and inflection, all force and vibration. As a logical inference, the book is a closed world of “everything” to be immersed into. In this respect, the Ramayana is the book of books, the Book to which there is no outside; at the same time, it is entirely localised to a finite architectonic, a dizzying but masterable combinatory, like a crossword puzzle. Hence, Gandhian reading is both technical and ethical conduct—which reaches a precarious political threshold with the question, is reading also a sacrificial conduct at the service of sovereignty? Is reading also, in my jargon, liturgical?


  1. The last chapter is mainly about Buddha and his Dhamma. Aishwary Kumar writes it with an unconcealed post-political passion. More exactly, there are two post-political passions Kumar declares, apparently on Ambedkar’s behalf—the religious and the literary passions. The first was always present in Kumar’s archaeology, from the initial interpretation of Annihilation of Caste. It is the literary love of writing, writing as love, literature and justice that makes some of the passages of this chapter the most beautiful in this book. Referring to an earlier work of Ambedkar, What Congress and Gandhi have done to the Untouchables (1945), particularly Ambedkar’s dedication to a certain “F” in which he admits his preference for literary pursuits for which he finds no time being drawn into the “vortex of politics”, the author of Radical Equality writes:


An exceptional Ambedkar comes out of the cloud in this dedication to “F”. Yes, he admits, the vortex of politics does not leave time for literary pursuits; yes, death awaits us all as a “throe” that must be crossed; yes, in the shadows of war, life (one’s own and the other’s) is but a mere “casualty”, another number, another haunting, another corner of emptiness; yes, one does not know when one might come out of the web of politics to finish writing. For there is justice only in relentless, frantic writing. (p. 310)

Yes, there is justice, rare justice in Aishwary Kumar’s own book… It seems to me, in the last chapter, the author is most unequivocal in restoring to Ambedkar his irreducible repudiation of sacrificial ethics and politics. Gandhian mobilisation of collective rituals of death and mourning is not the sense of Ambedkar’s “general mobilisation” (so brilliantly compared with George Sorel’s general strike in an earlier chapter). Instead the idea of maitri in The Buddha  and his Dhamma is a ‘being-with’  in the element of an avowed finitude, a dissident fraternity. For this metaphysical reason and for the reason of a shared attraction to direct democracy against the corruption of parliamentary representation, Ambedkar and Rousseau are seen to partake in the same “risk of democracy”. One might even summarise this as an anarchist risk.


But the main interest of The Buddha and his Dhamma is not thematic; it is the very status of that book as a historical intervention. The religious and existential name of that intervention is “conversion”. The shattering Ambedkarite declaration is that the converts—the hundreds of thousands who do so in 1956—convert to a religion which is not contained in the Book of religions, in the methods of comparative religion. The Buddha and his Dhamma, instead, is a book which forces open the format of the great religious book—in that sense, its relationship with the history of Buddhism (in relation to other so-called Indic religions) is reminiscent of Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise with the history of the reading of the Bible. If I may be allowed a further speculation, I would say, The Buddha and his Dhamma is the simultaneous declaration of a new name of the anonymous principle of equality declared in 1936 and the materialization of the Book as a new people, a people-to-come. The other name for this event is “dalit”, whose tremendous aristocracy I oppose to Aishwary Kumar’s praise of “ordinary life of mortals”.


  1. As I read this valuable epilogue I ask myself: First, if as the author so eloquently says, insurrection is the fearless pursuit of freedom with autonomy, how does it work? Isn’t the very intrigue of finite freedom to unravel the fabric of a heteronomy, an inexorable law(lessness) of the Other? Second, to the originary question, why Ambedkar and Gandhi together, when the author replies, theirs were two incommensurable ways to the same thing, I wonder—in the circumstances, how can we count even upto two?

In conclusion, let me lay out a few assertions, some of which are axiomatic, and some interpretative. These assertions are entirely indebted to, even if partly in disagreement with the work of a brilliant master (though in search of a little malice, I insist!):

  1. In my reading of Annihilation of Caste, the proposition on a “true religious act” pertains to the specific class of actions qualified as “religious”, not to all actions. Among religious actions, the true act is the one which is conscious and principled unlike the ones which mechanically follow rules of religion. Whether this meaning changed for Ambedkar, whether there is a “mature” Ambedkar will depend on whether he came to believe that the true religious act is the privileged site, the paradigm of the true act as such.
  2. In my view, the moment of Annihilation of Caste, remains decisive for the intellectual and militant understanding of Ambedkar. Also, it is in this period (1935-1936) that he, along with the Mahar and other untouchable populations, brings to culmination a collective declaration of equality that was already heard in 1927 at Mahad. The 1956 conversion invents a new body and disposition for this collective declaration to be incorporated in. Whether this can be called a maturation is moot.
  3. So which is the subject of the egalitarian declaration, whence comes its force? For Aishwary Kumar, it is a subject of life in question whose force comes from an ontology of finitude that, as Jean Paul Sartre once said, was given to us, an ontology we didn’t create. There are Gandhi’s and Ambedkar’s perspectives on the force of finitude, its ethical and political forms. However, my standpoint is, if we want to avoid the vertiginous impasses of such constructions as “sovereignty without mastery” or “sovereignty otherwise”, etc., we need a new theory of force which is simultaneously not vitalist and virtuous. In Kumar’s own account, hopes for such a theory are raised. For instance, he recounts Ambedkar’s statement from the essay “Karl Marx or Buddha?” that didn’t Asoka set an example in ancient India by renouncing sovereign violence and declaring a new principle. Here force comes from an event outside the constitution of either vital life or moral society. Ambedkar wagered that something happened in Indian history that was egalitarian and conversional. So the lineaments of a theory of force are to be found here not predicated on either a substance called “life” (Kumar’s reading of Gandhi) or subject called “constituent power” (his reading of Ambedkar).
  4. Finally, according to me, it is inequality that is radical and everywhere. Equality, on the other hand, is normal and rare.___________________________



Details of the Book:


Name of Author: Aishwary Kumar

Title: Radical Equality: Ambedkar, Gandhi and the Risk of Democracy

Publication: Stanford, California, Stanford University Press, 2015

No. of pages: 393

ISBN: 978-8047-9195-3




One Response to “There is Justice in this Book !”

  • Manash

    I read Shomo’s critical review of Aishwary’s book with deep interest and delight. Since I haven’t read the book yet, I cannot engage in any substantive way here. But I will nevertheless make a small point of difference, or disagreement, with the way Shomo explains Ambedkar’s position about caste in the undelivered lecture, ‘Annihilation of Caste’. To begin with, Ambedkar finds “equality” an important “guiding principle” rather than an end of his project. My hunch is, Ambedkar is more anxious about establishing ‘fraternity’ than ‘equality’, in the sense that ‘equality’ lacks a certain spirit that Ambedkar desires from the hierarchical world, a spirit that should not only overcome hierarchy but add to the way people live and relate to each other. Equality for Ambedkar does not erase what he is fundamentally aware and wary of — naming. It is the world of naming that Hindu society thrives by, and which needs to be eliminated. Ambedkar of course speaks about caste in notional terms and how change would mean a change in this “fixed notion” that determines caste. But between what Shomo calls the “critical-diagnostic” to “the creative force of the new notion of equality”, Ambedkar’s force of annihilation includes, in my understanding a third, and crucial point: the annihilation of the fixed notion of caste by introducing a new form of naming. As he says: “If new notions are to be inculcated in the minds of people it is necessary to give them new names.” So ultimately, for Ambedkar, the ‘critical-diagnostic’ and the ‘new notion of equality’ must produce something — new. Which is to say, equality, as the guiding principle and not the end, need to produce a new world of naming, or a world of new names, for it to successfully claim a new historical moment, which for Ambedkar is always imbued with an ethical charge, or force. For one notion to replace another isn’t enough, but it is the naming which makes newness possible. Shomo writes: “Aishwary Kumar doesn’t mention it but I am reminded of Ambedkar’s verdict in Annihilation of Caste that primarily caste is “wrong relation”, not bad substance; wrong notion, not mere bad feeling.” Wrong relation, yes, and wrong notion, but it is precisely the newness in that very relation that Ambedkar is seeking, a newness that requires a change (and annihilation) of names. Which is not to say, Ambedkar is giving us a corrective, for the fixed notion or relation of caste cannot be corrected, only eliminated. But from this ‘ground zero’ if you will, a new relation of names can be established. Such an idea tilts more towards a new idea and possibility of fraternity rather than mere equality.

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