‘Spirituality united Gandhi and Ambedkar’: U R Ananthmurthy’s last interview

Earlier this year, Udipi Rajago­pa­la­charya Ananthamurthy (URA), the Jnanpith award-winning Kannada novelist, educationist and public intellectual, had declared that he would not live in an India run by Narendra Modi. This had provoked lacerating responses from right-wing Hindutva supporters. URA breathed his last on August 22, 2014, before the Modi government completed 100 days in office. Chandan Gowda of the Azim Premji University had interviewed the litterateur for an eight-part Doordarshan series, telecast in June and July. It is possibly URA’s last major interview. Excerpts:

UR AnanthamurthyWhat parts of the Gandhian legacy are important for you?

His suspicion of the modern world system is one. The modern world system will destroy the earth, will destroy the sky, will destroy the balance bet­ween nature and man because it is very greedy. Gandhi’s rejection was sometimes extreme. But extremes can open the gate of heaven, that’s what they have said. So Gandhi exaggerated at times, but in the main you know that. He used trains all the time. But he said we could live without trains. He rightly feared centralisation. Gandhi was also friendly towards nature. There are many valuable Gandhian ideas. The whole idea that small is beautiful comes from Gandhi. So he wanted such ideas to govern the whole country. He didn’t like big buildings.

How do you view Nehru’s legacy?

I can still say primary education should  be nationalised and that the healthcare system should also be nationalised. Where do I get these ideas from? I get them from Nehru and, later, Indira Gandhi. We get something very wholesome from the Nehruvian tradition.

What has Ambedkar meant for India’s politics in the 20th century?

I think nobody can help the Dalits reg­ain their self-respect as much as Ambedkar can. Gandhi makes them regain their self-respect, but when they regain it, you know, they will be softer than what they are. But with Ambedkar, they can be themselves and still get self-respect. Ambedkar was a socialist and had a legal mind. His becoming a Buddhist is very important for me. It’s not merely a political act. It’s a deep act of self-purification. So Gandhi and Ambedkar began with two different directions but they meet at one point, wanting spiritually enhanced visions.

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