My article on Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar appeared in Employment News.
Poised between the new and old, redundant and revolutionary, predictable and
unforeseen, a living and dynamic society like India is bound to experience conflict as well
as harmony. It negotiates its way through these polarities to move ahead, gradually leaving
behind and overcoming problems that had been rooted in the society for years. A serious
problem, however, emerges when some of these problems are used by vested interests to
create instability that threatens national security and integrity. The problem of caste today,
seems to be assuming such dimensions.
Gandhi to Ambedkar
The most remarkable development of this decade has been that Ambedkar is now an
inalienable part of our socio-political discourse, sometimes even superseding Mahatma
Gandhi in importance and relevance. One of the reasons for this could be that Gandhi
primarily focused on political freedom and political equality of every Indian from the British
colonial masters. India gained political freedom in 1947 and political equality through the
Constitution that gave equal voting rights to every adult. The tools adopted by Gandhi –
particularly ahimsa and peaceful non-cooperation - to bring freedom were considered
unique and were emulated and adopted in different parts of the world. He guided India to
the gates of freedom following which a stable state machinery was put in place that
worked within the parameters of the best possible procedural democracy. It then became
imperative to achieve the other objectives enshrined in the Constitution and Dr. Bhim Rao
Ambedkar emerged as an important figure with his repeated emphasis on socio-economic
freedom and equality of every citizen. Even during the freedom struggle he said that there
would be no meaning of freedom if the depressed classes continued to be exploited.
Ambedkar envisioned a transformative future which India now needs if it truly wants to
take a quantum jump to a modern, progressive and developed society.
Recognition to Resources
In India, a phase of politics of recognition and identity assertion is almost complete now.
Now more or less everyone in India gets political representation at the local and national
level. We witnessed the emergence of Dalit politics and how it created a significant space
in Indian national politics so much so that all political parties are now vying for Dalit votes.
However, vote-bank politics does not necessarily ensure social and economic justice for
everyone. It is time hence, to usher the politics of resources where resources and values
get distributed among all equitably. This throws up another burning question of our time –
can this process of redistribution of resources be completed simply by ensuring
government jobs for youth of Dalit community? The answer is a clear no because in the
recent decades more and more Dalit youths have emerged as graduates who cannot be
fit into the limited government jobs. At this juncture, entrepreneurship emerges as an
option where educated and trained youth, especially Dalits, end up as job providers and
not job seekers. The Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) is a good
example of an initiative in this direction. That being said, backlog vacancies should also be
filled on an urgent basis in all central and state offices.
The Narendra Modi-led government is making all efforts to bridge the gap between the
Dalits and others. The Central government is trying to create an ecosystem for Dalit
entrepreneurship where Dalits can take funds from banks to start their business. Stand up
India, Dalit venture capitalist fund and MUDRA are few of the schemes that have
benefitted the weaker sections of the society in the recent years. On one side, the
government is making all efforts with futuristic policies for weaker sections while on the
other side are the forces who are trying to create a sense of otherness among
marginalised communities, especially Dalits.
Dr BR Ambedkar becomes all the more relevant in these hard times as his works and
words light the path through the social churning and the resultant clamour.
Ambedkar dreamt of a caste-less society. It requires us to think, with all honesty, about the
pending caste questions and come up with a time-bound framework for a qualitative
transformation of our society as a whole. The quality of our growth depends on the social
cohesiveness which is weak at this point and is being exploited by some to widen the fault
lines. It is time to take Ambekar’s ideas to the front lines to fill up these fault lines.
Ambedkar was a great unifier. He always thought about the unity and integrity of this
country. First as freedom fighter and later as constitution framer he tried to unite the
country in every possible way. He was of the view that caste is the greatest hurdle in the
unity and prosperity of this civilisation.
During the freedom struggle he worked for the downtrodden and depressed classes of the
society. He talked about freedom of India from social inequality and untouchability. Dr.
Ambedkar became the voice of those 60 million who were a part of the deprived sections
known as Scheduled Castes. Without the emancipation of these, Indian freedom struggle
could not be deemed to be complete. The Indian national struggle in the first half of the
century was not merely a struggle to wrest political power from foreign rule but also a
struggle to lay the foundation of a modern India by purging the society of outmoded social
institutions, beliefs and attitudes. Ambedkar's struggle constituted a part of the internal
struggle, one of the divergent and sometimes conflicting currents all of which helped to
secure 'freedom' from external and internal oppression and enslavement. The process of
internal consolidation of the nation strengthened and broadened the social base of Indian
Ambedkar had immense faith in the bright future and evolution of this country. It was
Ambedkar’s political challenge which compelled the Congress to appreciate the national
significance of the problem of castes and to adopt measures which significantly
contributed towards broadening and strengthening the social base of Indian nationalism.
Ambedkar took up the caste question from social below and elevated it to a political high
by linking social question of caste with the political question of democracy and nationalism.
Such an effort to prioritise society over polity and then linking them together was
unprecedented in India before Ambedkar. Gandhi can be said to have made such an effort
but his approach was obscure and primitive. According to Ambedkar,’Without social union,
political unity is difficult to be achieved. If achieved, it would be as precarious as a summer
sapling, liable to be uprooted by the gust of a hostile wind. With mere political unity, India
may be a State. But to be a State is not to be a nation and a State, which is not a nation,
has small prospects of survival in the struggle for existence.’
Ambedkar’s Faith in ‘Bharat’
Ambedkar had faith in ancient Indian institutions and texts except caste. He was
convinced with the spiritual aspect of Indian texts and codes but not with its ritualistic
aspects which had developed in last 1200 years. He talked about Annihilation of Caste not
Dharma. He understood the importance of Dharma in India and when the time of
conversion came as he had declared earlier, he chose Buddhism and not any other
Abrahamic religion. He also had the option of declaring him as an Atheist but his
rootedness in Indian ethos compelled him to choose Buddhism.
Dr Ambedkar pointed out that historic roots of democracy in India go back to pre-Buddhist
India. A study of the Buddhist Bhikshu Sanghas discloses that the Sanghas were nothing
but Parliaments and knew all the rules of Parliamentary procedure known to modern times.
Although these rules of Parliamentary procedure were applied by the Buddha to the
meetings of the Sanghas, he must have borrowed them from the rules of the political
assemblies functioning in the country in his time.
Dr Ambedkar emphasized that Hindus need not ‘borrow from foreign sources’ concepts to
build a society on the principles of equality, fraternity and liberty. They ‘could draw for such
principles on the Upanishads.’ Even in Riddles in Hinduism, he points out that Hinduism
has the potential to become the spiritual basis of social democracy.
Uniting State through Constitution
Ambedkar opposed insertion of Article 370 which gives special status to the state of
Jammu & Kashmir but Nehru still went ahead with it to appease Sheikh Abdullah.
Ambedkar wrote to Sheikh Abdullah on Article 370, ‘You wish India should protect your
borders, she should build roads in your area, she should supply you food grains, and
Kashmir should get equal status as India. But Government of India should have only
limited powers and Indian people should have no rights in Kashmir. To give consent to this
proposal would be a treacherous thing against the Interest of India and I, as the Law
Minister of India, will never do it.’
Ambedkar was the author and principal actor to make the ‘Directive Principles’ as part of
the constitutional scheme. When it was criticized that the directive principles could not be
enforced in a court of law, Ambedkar answered that though they were not enforceable, the
succeeding majority political party in Parliament or Legislative Assembly would be bound
by them as an inbuilt part of their economic program in the governance, despite their policy
in its manifesto and are bound by the Constitution.
Rising above the regional, linguistic and communal barriers in a true republican spirit,
Ambedkar invented a democratic nationalism consisting of Uniform Civil Code for India.
His views of Uniform Civil Code were radically different from his contemporaries including
Nehru who in principles accepted Hindu Code Bill and Uniform Civil Code but in practice,
failed to get the Bill passed in one go, in spite of being in Government with majority.
Ambedkar on the other hand made it a point to add the word 'fraternity' in the Preamble to
the Constitution in order to inculcate the sense of common brotherhood of all Indians, of
Indians being one people; it is the principle which gives unity and solidarity to social life.
Dr. Ambedkar in his very first speech in the Constituent Assembly on 17 December 1946
had emphasised the need to create a strong Centre in order to ensure that India's freedom
was not jeopardised as had happened in the past on account of a weak central
administration. His view was hailed by the Assembly and came later to be reflected in the
Emergency Provisions of the Constitution. Undoubtedly the states are sovereign in normal
times but by virtue of these provisions, the Centre becomes all-powerful and assumes
control over all affairs of the nation whenever a situation arises which poses a danger to
the security of the state.
There is no doubt that Ambedkar was vehemently opposed to the unjust social
stratification in India, but to say that he was against the nation is wholly wrong. Ambedkar
writes,‘I know my position has not been understood properly in the country. I say that
whenever there has been a conflict between my personal interests of the country as a
whole, I have always placed the claims of the country above my personal claims. I have
never pursued the path of private gain… so far as the demands of the country are
concerned, I have never lagged behind’.
Ambedkar was a great unifier who always stood up for unity and integrity of the Indian
state. He was a national leader who understood the problems of the most exploited
communities and tried to bring them into the main stream. He expanded the social base of
Indian nationalism which helped first to attain freedom and later to put the country on path
of progress. Today, when all thought converges around inclusive politics, Ambedkar has
become more relevant than ever.