Father of Indian Constitution Dr Babasaheb Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar converted to Buddhism in Nagpur on October 14, 1956. Along with Ambedkar, lakhs of his followers also converted to Buddhism. The choice of the city, Nagpur, was, however, questioned as it was also home to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Ambedkar himself clarified this saying the choice of the city had nothing to do with it being the headquarter of the RSS– the largest Hindu organization operating in the country.
In a historic speech on October 15, 1956, Babasaheb made a clarification, saying, “Many people ask me why Nagpur was decided upon for this work. Why didn’t the conversion take place in some other city? Some people say that because the great battalion of the R.S.S. was here in Nagpur, we took the meeting to this city in order to lay them flat. This is completely untrue. This program was not brought here to Nagpur because of that. Our work is so great that even one minute in a lifetime cannot be wasted. I don’t have enough time to make an ill omen for others by scratching my nose!”
Ambedkar said that Nagpur was chosen because the “Nag” people were at the forefront of expanding Buddhism. They took on the Aryan people and fought against them as “fearful enemies”.
“The reason for choosing this city is different. Those who read Buddhist history will come to know that in India, if anyone spread Buddhism, it was the Nag people. The Nag people were fearful enemies of the Aryans. A Fierce and fighting war went on between the Aryans and non-Aryans,” he said.
Ambedkar further explained: “Examples of the harassment of the Nags by the Aryan people are found in the Puranas. Agasti Muni helped only one Nag man to escape from that. We spring from that man. Those Nag people who endured so much suffering wanted some great man to raise them up. They met that great man in Gautam Buddha. The Nag people spread the teaching of Buagwan Buddha all over India. Thus we are like Nag people. It seems that the Nag people lived chiefly in Nagpur and the surrounding country. So they call this city Nagpur, meaning city of Nags. About 27 miles from here the Nag Nadi river flows. Of course the name of the river comes from the people living here.
“In the middle of the Nag habitation runs the Nag Nadi. This is the main reason for choosing this place. Nagpur was chosen because of this. In this matter, there is no question of a lie to provoke someone. This is not such a mental twist. The reason of the R.S.S. did not even come into my mind, and no one should take that explanation as true.”
Ambedkar also attacked the then opposition leaders who blamed him of choosing Nagpur for taking on the RSS. There were also critics who opposed Ambedkar’s decision to convert and they blamed him for leading the poor, untouchable people “astray”. Ambedkar termed such claims as “useless cry”.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) April 14, 2017
Ambedkar said, “Perhaps one could oppose (this choice) for other reasons. I have not chosen this place just out of opposition, I tell you. This work that I began was criticized by various people and newspapers. The criticism of some people is hard. In their opinion, I was leading my poor helpless Untouchable people astray. They say, ‘Today those who are Untouchables will remain Untouchables, and those rights gained for the Untouchables will be destroyed,’ and some people among us are bewildered. To the unlearned people among us, they say, “Go by the traditional path” [pagdandi (Hindi), “footpath,” suggests that the Mahars should use an inferior path]. On some of the old and young among us, they may be influential. If doubt has been created in the minds of people because of this, it is our duty to remove that doubt; and to turn back that doubt is to strengthen the foundation of our movement.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in Nagpur today to inaugurate a number of projects, including an Aadhaar-based Payment App that would empower the BHIM App, which was launched on December 30, 2016.