Sadanand Fulzele : An eyewitness to the historic conversion to Buddhism in 1956
It is astonishing that not much is known about the man who was one of the prominent figures of Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s historical return to the roots of Buddhism along with nearly half a million people at the Deekshabhumi ground in Nagpur on October 14th, 1956. Interestingly, Sadanand Fulzele was not an ordinary man in any senses during that period as he was the Deputy Mayor of Nagpur Municipal Corporation and that too with consensus. He was elected on Scheduled Caste Federation ticket for the Corporation in 1952 and won by just one vote to his nearest rival. A man dedicated to Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s mission for life long, I asked him as how did he get in touch with Dr Ambedkar and what was his involvement with Deekshabhumi function.
‘When I was Deputy Mayor that time the states got reorganized. Nagpur got merged in Bombay i.e. Maharashtra. We people, a deputation of corporation leaders, went to Delhi to meet Govind Ballabh Pant to demand Nagpur as the capital of Maharashtra. In Delhi I stayed with our Member of Parliament Tahir Ali Saheb. That time Baba Saheb had written about Deeksha on 14th October to Mewa Ram Kawade and Godbole to come and meet him. Baba Saheb asked them whether arrangements could be made for the Deeksha. They said, yes it will be done as our own person was Deputy Mayor in the corporation. They told him that I was in Delhi. Then he asked me to come over. Then I went to meet Baba Saheb along with senior person in All India Radio at his residence 26 Alipur Road in the evening. We sat there near the gate. After some time Baba Saheb came with the help of Nanakchand Rattu and sat in front of us on the reclining chair. He said, Mewa Ram Kawade and Godbole came and we have now fixed on October 14th. Will you arrange the programme. I said yes. And that was the time Baba Saheb put the responsibility of the programme on me.
After returning from there, I, Waman Ram Godbole, Kawade and others started looking for a suitable place where deeksha ceremony could be organized and we found this place suitable as there was a big slope and even if the rains come the water would easily flow out. So, finally the selection of Deekshabhumi was done. Baba Saheb’s programme was also fixed. Now, the correspondence and other details were to be done and hence the entire responsibility of the programme fell on my soldiers.’’
It was a huge celebration he says. Photographs of the functions are well placed decorating his drawing room in Nagpur and each event reverberate his mind in passion. ‘’First Baba Saheb took Deeksha through Chandramani ji. He was so overwhelmed that he did not raise his head. Then Chandramani ji gave him panchsheel. Then he got up and said now I have become Buddhist. All those who want to have deeksha should stand up. Then baba sahib gave them trisharan and panchasheel.. and later gave them 22 bows. The people were there for two days. Baba Saheb spoke for nearly two hours. Later in the night Baba Saheb departed for Chandrapur.’’
‘’Was there any opposition to Dhammadeeksha’’ , I ask
‘’What would have they done ? Many people felt that Baba Saheb should not take Dhamma deeksha and newspapers reported such stories, but Baba Saheb responded to all the quarries’’ as the programme went for two full days till October 15th evening and the number of people remained the same.
Sadanand Fulzele is not only witness to historical legacy of Baba Saheb but also part of the political party i.e. Republican Party of India and felt that If Baba Saheb had survived a few more years, perhaps the situation would have been different. Unfortunately within two months he passed away and things that would have happened never happened.
He felt that the fight for power was the real reason for disintegration of Republican Party of India. “It was for power. In 1957, RPI was established. Avade Babu wanted to become the Secretary. Dada Saheb wanted Barrister Khobaragade. But Avade Babu did not know it and hence next year Avade Babu, B C Kamble and other formed a different party.
I ask him that there was an allegation that Dada Saheb never wanted to Dhammadeeksha ceremony as he felt politically it would have been detrimental for the party. The charge was leveled none other than Bhau Lokhande, in a conversation with me.
‘No it is not true’, says Sadanand Fulzele and added that some people who wanted to be in the elections that we should not go for conversion.
But according to Fulzele, Baba Saheb’s decision was ‘absolutely correct’.
After the Mahaparinirwan of Baba Saheb, Mr Sadanand Fulzele devoted his time and energy to strengthen the Republican Party of India. He was the Nagpur city president of it and later became Secretary of the state followed by All India secretary. I ask him that Baba Saheb has become so powerful that even the opponents are chanting Jai Bhim. Many Ámbedkarites’ have joined the Sangh camp. He says, ‘ There is nothing in the party today. It is almost finished. Athawale is there but he has also gone with BJP. Now people do not fear BJP and people have started going to BJP’. ‘Is it not wrong’, I ask. He think and perhaps the state of mind is of exasperation and absolute helplessness in the political front when he says, ‘What can be done. There is nothing now. Baba Saheb wanted that RPI should have people from different communities not exclusive to SCs. Unfortunately it did not succeed. After baba saheb’s passing away.’ In his last days, Baba Saheb was in touch with Samajwadis like Ram Manohar Lohia, S M Joshi, Atreji, I ask. Yes, he says, ‘ Baba Saheb had written a letter to S M Joshi and Atre about Republican Party of India. Since he was not there, things could not move.
He is happy that the movement is spreading everywhere especially in UP. He witnessed the huge gathering of nearly ten thousand persons predominantly the OBCs taking deeksha in Dhamma on December 25th last year under the spiritual guidance of Bhadant Nagarjun Surai Sasai.
‘’There were different communities and not one particular community’’, he says.
There were rumors about Baba Saheb was not from their community among the OBCs. How the annihilation of caste has become caste calculation, I ask. ‘’Jaati never goes. It is in our mind. Merely laws can’t eradicate it. Unless there is a change in heart in our mind, jaati can’t go. We will have to work doubly hard.
Can the Dhamma deeksha remove it, I ask. Yes, with dhamma, jaati would be able to eradicate it. When I ask, ‘What are the challenges before us’, he respond saying that ‘People are fighting. Some are joining others. There are changes. Situations are different. UP has powerful Bahujan Samaj Party today. How come a place where Republican Party of India was a strong political force once upon a time is completely without any cadre or leaders ? ‘UP has a strong RPI organization. Maruya sahib was MP. When Bahuguna was chief minister of UP. He gave allurement, power to all the others and they joined the Congress. The entire Republican Party got decimated. This was the best way of co-option and purchasing leadership through power. Hence, when Kanshiram went with Baba Saheb’s elephant then people supported him. Nobody would have gone to Kanshiram but because of our failure’, he responds.
He acknowledges the hard work done by late Kanshiram though suggest that BAMSCEF initially was not formed to be a political party and hence they separated when Bahujan Samaj Party was formed.
‘Kanshiram was first government servant. He worked very hard then he made BAMSCEF with the help of government servants, mostly Nagpur friends supported him. BAMSCEF leaders were not happy when they formed political party. But he got support in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab’ says Fulzele.
But what about other places particularly Maharashtra where Maharastra’s Dalit Bahujan don’t have their own parties. Is it good to go with communal parties?, I ask.
‘What to do? Athawale’s group is powerful but he is with BJP. Prakash Ambedkar has a group but he has no follower. Right now Athawale, has found people support’. He feel that Dalits are not accepting all those parties as their own parties have failed them. Baba Saheb wanted an inclusive party and not an exclusively scheduled castes outfit but his dream was shattered after his sudden death. The Buddhist movement is helping socially and culturally but not politically. The cultural movement will bring more changes than the political party’ he says.
And finally, one of the things which I always pondered over and asked many Ambedkarites as why do they think Savita Ambedkar, the wife of Baba Saheb, was responsible for the death of Baba Saheb Ambedkar though many said it is wrong to blame the person who devoted her life for Baba Saheb Ambedkar and later for the mission, Fulzele has no straight answer though he does not blame her outrightly but says that, ‘About her Maharastra people had misgivings. They felt that she had given Baba Saheb slow poison. Once Athawale brought her on the dais of his party but people did not accept her’. Unfortunately, he did not feel it that the politicians should have taken it upon themselves to speak about this but at certain point of time the extreme voices look more legitimate while those talk of ‘reasoning’ are considered as betrayer of the cause.
Sadanand Fulzele is approaching 90s of his life. He is still active and aim to develop Deekshabhumi a much loved historical place of destinations for people interested in the Ambedkarite Buddhist movement. Born in 1928 he plunged into politics after completing graduation. He has three sons and a daughter.
Sadanand Fulzele continues to dedicate his time and energy to strengthen the Buddhist movement started by Baba Saheb Ambedkar. His life has been that of dedication and silently working towards his mission without much being in limelight. He says that he is not much into writing but we hope he would do so in the greater interest of the movement.
To listen to the detailed conversation with Mr Sadanand Fulzele please click the following link https://youtu.be/jJQTugOSSO4