If there is a word capable of capturing the force of Aishwary Kumar’s erudite and counterintuitive wanderings in the global intellectual history of equality, a word that has an ever increasing (immeasurable, as Kumar would have put it) presence or resonance in the parlance of our contemporary political thought, it is “Ambedkarite”. As committed (loyal and disloyal alike) readers of Ambedkar’s oeuvre would know, to be an Ambedkarite, in the specific intellectual sense of the term, is a task that is both daunting and rewarding as one traverses complex labyrinths of thoughts and ideas, counter-intuition and radicalism.

Reading Ambedkar, one is left astounded by the diversity of scholarship he engaged with and drew from.

One finds scholarly connections ranging from the Scottish philosopher Andrew Seth Pringle-Pattison to American pragmatism or from Carvaka materialism and Buddhism to Badarayana’s Brahma Sutra and Nietzsche’s Anti-Christ. Radical Equality, in its contemplative vigour, invites and compels the readers to think counter-intuitively as it attempts to see through the limits (not limitations) of two opposing thinkers of equality – Gandhi and Ambedkar.

Since Kumar is so provocatively concerned with the Gandhian conception of satyagraha as an exercise in agraha or force with/in maryada or limit, and Ambedkar’s explorations in sunnyata and finitude, it is perhaps right to understand “limit” in its Wittgensteinian sense – as both, what lies within a limit and what lies beyond it. Such an investigation of limits leads Kumar to some of the most illuminating passages on Gandhi whose complexity has remained elusive to his admirers and detractors alike. One also wonders if that is any less true in the case of his most persistent of critics and most formidable of political adversaries, Ambedkar.

To juxtapose Gandhi with Ambedkar is an old exercise. Kumar’s fascination with the Shakespearean phantasmagoria of spectrality, of apparitions, ghosts and posthumous lives of thoughts, ideas and philosophers, reminds one of DR Nagraj’s imaginary conversations, in The Flaming Feet, between the spectral presences of Ambedkar and Gandhi as they, rather uncomfortably, muse over the uncertain future of a polity within which they measured the immeasurable worth of equality in their worldly existence.

But Kumar’s appraisal through juxtaposition deserves the epithet of radical (in the sense of being both novel and limit-less) as he moves beyond the usual polemics that have become the signposts of such politico–intellectual assemblages. To that extent, Radical Equality renders such polemics impossible by making Ambedkar’s apparent liberal itinerary surpass the easy boundaries we draw between liberalism and conservatism or violence and non-violence.

Similarly, Kumar’s focus on Gandhian enunciations of agraha and bal (force), both as concerns in moral philosophy and major pivots of modern political thought, subtends and surpasses usual interpretations. On the one hand, Kumar delineates, with utmost ethical care and intellectual rigour, the Gandhian confluence of religion and politics, and on the other, following Ambedkar, the fissures and unavoidable ambiguities in such a Gandhian moral universe where “spiritual tutelage operates as an alibi for the political representations of the oppressed”.

Kumar’s elucidation of Ambedkar’s insights in his Philosophy of Hinduism and Ambedkar’s insistence on a subtle alienation of theology from religion is one of the innumerable examples of inspired illumination in Radical Equality.

As Kumar interacts with Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj or Lectures on Religion in order to push ahead those possible speculative affinities between the Hegelian Spirit and Gandhian theologico–political illustration of bhava (spirit), the reader is forced to think beyond the usual confines of postcolonial and anti-colonial political thought within which Gandhi is often discussed. Kumar explores (or shall I say, explodes) the “fecund extremities of Gandhi’s spiritual politics, in which absolute violence and absolute non-violence have merged in the most punitive way”.

In Radical Equality, Gandhi’s readings of the Bhagavad Gita or Ambedkar’s “Krishna and His Gita”, clarify the complexities of these two thinkers in their incommensurable and limitless ambiguities. While Gandhi’s tactful polyvalence in reading the Gita provokes him to think of Arjuna’s recalcitrance not as an instance of non-violence but as an example of violence against the duties of his office and/or swadharma, Ambedkar’s hammering insistence (reminiscent of Nietzsche’s Twilight of Idols) on characterising the very same textual moment as a violent and counter-revolutionary one hinges upon an ironical twist as he recognises the necessity to have a non-absolutist conception of violence.

Ambedkar’s idea of “force as energy”, an idea partly culled out of his mentor John Dewey’s post-War philosophical vocabulary, together with his references to Buddhism as a religion that does not completely denounce unavoidable circumstances of natural violence, provoke us to conceptualise a Nietzschean Ambedkar.

Spectrality, immeasurable equality, incommensurability, ambiguity, and finitude are the guiding metaphors in Radical Equality. In the last sections of the book, Kumar traces a strange and philosophically illuminating moment in the career of the German philosopher Nietzsche as Nietzsche identifies himself as a posthumous man, whose relevance becomes clear only to the generations to come.

Although Kumar identifies Ambedkar as one such man, Kumar himself seems to me that posthumous writer in whose company Ambedkar’s spectres (as much as that of the philosopher of the ubermensch) make forceful utterances. It is in this sense that Kumar’s Radical Equality is immeasurably Ambedkarite. To not engage ourselves with such radical equalities of Gandhi and Ambedkar or to not discern the radical potentials of a “democracy to come”, in other words, to not see what lies beyond the usual liberal underpinnings of the notion of equality is to be indifferent to the essential “risks of democracy” that keep it vibrant and alive.

Radical Equality first came out in 2015, and was published exclusively for the Western market. It remained largely inaccessible here in India as a commodity, and yet it found its way into the hands of discerning readers through the secret tunnels of the internet. This underground popularity of a book that was structurally forbidden is perhaps what begs this belated publication, even after it has left a profound influence among readers of Ambedkar. Now, perhaps, we can say, Radical Equality has posthumously arrived.

Radical Equality

Excerpted with permission from the Foreward, by Kalyan Kumar Das, to Radical Equality: Ambedkar, Gandhi and the Risk of Demoracy, Aishwary Kumar, Navayana.