It is astonishing that not much is known about the man who was a prominent figure in Babasaheb Ambedkar’s historical return to the roots of Buddhism along with nearly half a million people at the Deekshabhumi ground in Nagpur on October 14, 1956. Interestingly,
Sadanand Fulzele was not an ordinary man, in any sense, during that period. He was the deputy mayor of Nagpur municipal corporation. Fulzele was elected on a scheduled caste federation ticket in 1952, winning by just one vote. Having dedicated his life to Ambedkar’s mission for life, I asked him to describe his association with Ambedkar and his involvement in the Deekshabhumi function.
“When I was deputy mayor that time the states got reorganised. Nagpur got merged in Bombay, that is, 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 Babasaheb had written about deeksha on October 14 to Mewa Ram Kawade and [Waman Ram] Godbole to come and meet him. Babasaheb 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 Babasaheb 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 Babasaheb 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 14. Will you arrange the programme. I said yes. And that was the time Babasaheb 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 organised 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. Babasaheb’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 shoulders.’’
It was a huge celebration, Fulzele recalls. Photographs of the function decorate his drawing room in Nagpur, each event reverberating his mind. “First Babasaheb 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 Babasaheb gave them trisharan and panchsheel, and later gave them 22 bows. The people were there for two days. Babasaheb spoke for nearly two hours. Later in the night Babasaheb departed for Chandrapur.’’
“Was there any opposition to the dhammadeeksha,” I asked.
“What would they have done? Many people felt that Babasaheb should not take dhammadeeksha and newspapers reported such stories, but Babasaheb responded to all the queries.’’
The Deekshabhumi went on for two days, without any dip in the number of attendees.
Fulzele is not only a witness to Ambedkar’s historical legacy but was also part of the Republican Party of India (RPI). He believes that if Ambedkar had lived for a few more years, perhaps the situation would have been different. Unfortunately, Ambedkar passed away in December 1956, two months after the Deekshabhumi event, and things that should have happened never did.
Fulzele believes that the fight for power was the real reason why the RPI disintegrated. “It was for power. In 1957, RPI was established. Avade Babu wanted to become the secretary. Dadasaheb [B.K. Gaikwad] wanted B.D. Khobaragade. But Avade Babu did not know it and, hence, the next year he, B.C. Kamble and others formed a different party.”