Dr Ambedkar’s idea of India and his legacy

– By Mangesh Dahiwale

Babasaheb loved India. His love is expressed in his service to India. Babasaheb quoted Leo Tolstoy to make the same point: those who love can only serve. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, people follow him and look at him as their source of inspiration. On his 124th birth anniversary, two major political parties are competing to co-opt him. The Indian National Congress declared an yearlong celebration. The RSS, which is the mother of BJP, is publishing “Collector’s issue” on Babasaheb. Ironically, Babasaheb was opposed to their brands of nationalism and their idea of India. The emergence of Babasaheb in the current situation is natural in the way polity of India is conceived in the constitution as democratic republic. In India, “We, the people” are supreme. Who are we in this “we, the people”? The answer to this question is all of us born in this country. We constitute the Indian republic. Well, at least, constitutionally, if not in practice. But this abstract idea that we constitute India is liberating for citizens of this country. The people of India elect their representatives by casting votes every five years. This is a big achievement for Indians to be able to chose who will govern them.

Dr. Ambedkar

Dr. Ambedkar

Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War in United State remarked that constitution will rule whatever is below it and destroy whatever is above it. The constitution gives that power to us. On to this question, Babasaheb directed his entire energy as to who is the ruler of India. He opposed the British Raj. His scathing remarks on exploitation of natives, his analytical criticism of Raj’s social policies, and his objective analysis of British policy are testimonies to his criticism of the British Raj. He didn’t want India to be ruled by the British. To him, it was exploitative and undermining natives of India. He was also opposed to Congress’s brand of India. Since 1937, Indian National Congress came to power in the Central Assembly and majority of the provinces of British India, their rule was similarly exploitative and it was not for “We, the people of India”. Indian National Congress was supported by the capitalists and media even during this period. They won the elections since 1937. The Indians that made Indian National Congress and larger population of Indians they ruled reflected the clear social fact of India. The Indian National Congress was elitist and led by the upper castes, mainly the Brahmans and Banias. This is the reason why Jotiba Phule was opposed to the Indian National Congress. Here lies the importance of Jotiba Phule, who created a platform for the politics of Bahujans. He was the progenitor of the idea of India ruled by the Non-Brahmans and by the current implications not by the axis of Brahmans and Banias.

He discovered that the Black British are more exploitative than the British British. Shahu Maharaj experienced similar anomaly in his administration that it is dominated by the Brahmans. He started reservation policy to correct this anomaly and skewed representation in 1904. Since 1915, the idea of Hindutva (Hindu Nationalism) began to arise. During the same period, the idea of separate Islamic state began to take shape. It is a dialectical process. It is difficult to blame one party and absolve another party as one interest group influences the other influence group in the competitive politics. Indian politics became competitive in 1909 and became fierce when the British declared the gradual transfer of power to Indians in 1917. The non Brahman movement started by Jotiba Phule reached its zenith in Tamil Nadu. Such was the force of non Brahman movement in India till it was co-opted fully and completely by the elite-led Indian National Congress.

With this competitive politics, emerged the competition to define India. Indian republic unlike American republic was not constituted after revolution. Indian republic progressively evolved through the process of transfer of power completed in 1947 (and beyond as Indian Government sought the help of the British after the partition and transfer of power). The evolution into separate species as Indian republic was completed in 1950 when the constitution was born. In 1947, Babasaheb gave a remarkable speech in the Constituent Assembly pleading for United India. This speech is a turning point in the Indian history. He reiterated idea of India as united India which could be negotiated with peace and pragmatism, in place of civil war and violence. His idea of India triumphed. He won the battle of ideas. He was much a superior brain in India equipped with learning and understanding that was unmatched by any political leader in India of that time. He had proven credentials as an expert since 1920s. His ideas helped to found Reserve Bank of India and Finance Commission. His deliberations were useful in making India’s first constitution in 1935.His analysis of Pakistan was used by all the political negotiators like Gandhi, Jinnah, and the British. He was known as a formidable leader. Subhash Chandra Bose went to see him to seek his blessings in disguise. But, Babasaheb was always in favor of winning a complete transfer of power through the political process and negotiations than waging war against one’s own country.

He is remembered and will continue to be remembered by “We, the people”, because he was the true representative of “We, the people”. A little arithmetic will bring forth this fact in open. Indian society is a segregated society. Among the Savarnas, the majority of them are the Shudras, who are officially called, the Other Backward Classes. They constitute 54 percent of India’s population. In a remarkable book written by Babasaheb, Who were the Shudras, he proved that the present day Shudras were not the Shudras in the Brahmanical scheme of Varna. They were the original inhabitants of India and have ruled various parts of India. This was continued till the modern times and some of the Princely States (Over 500 Princely States) like Maharaja of Baroda, Maharaja of Gwalior, Maharaja of Kolhapur were all Shudra Princes according to Brahmanical Varna scheme. No doubt, the great Maharajas supported Babasaheb Ambedkar in his education and his movement for liberation of the Shudras and the Untouchables. The untouchables and the tribes constitute 38 percent of India’s population according to NSSO survey of 2012. We, the people, are majorly from these communities. It is this India that Babasaheb Ambedkar represented. Therefore, he will continue to shine and battles will be fought to claim his legacy.

In fact there is no India besides the legal or constitutional India as most of the people in India have their allegiance with either their caste, or their religion, or their language, or region. India is not constituted by waging war with the several principalities and princely states. Indian landmass was conquered by invaders from time to time, starting with Aryan invasion of India to English invasion. Indians likewise influenced the world by wars and peaceful diplomacy through Buddhism. In the kaleidoscope of time, it is very difficult to get the clear essence of what constituted India. Definition of India eludes people like the mirage in the hot summer. Over this question of idea of India or to define India, lots of ideological fights and battles are waged. It led to violence. Whose India? It is still an important question. This was however the case till India got its constitution in 1950, the idea of India was settled and foundational values of India were clearly defined as Justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity. These values are the essence of India. They make what India is and shall be.

There is a contradiction, however. As far as constitution is concerned, the question is theoretically settled. But in practice, caste violence, communal violence, and degradation of women continues. The Shudras and the Untouchables do not have their fair share in the power. The question of Muslims is beginning to become acute as their social and economic conditions are becoming worse day by day. These questions were important to Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. It is his quest to solve these questions makes him the true founding father of Modern India. He formulated these questions very clearly and provided solutions since the beginning of his public life. His ideas went on to influence Gandhi and Congress. His His ideas went on to influence Hindu Nationalists. But they were selective in their acceptance of his ideas. The beautiful solution that he suggested of “relative majority” of the “Hindus” would have averted the ugly partition of India. The framework in which he was eager to solve these difficult problems did not change much as is reflected clearly through his important writings and speeches as early as 1919. India is still a nation in making as there lies a huge gap between the ideals that are laid in the constitution of India and that of the realities of political, social and economic situations. There is a long way to go. However to choose the goal for a nation is itself a big step forward, and clears lot of ground and opens up practical ways to realize what is envisioned in the constitution of India.

A brief overview of settled idea of India and ideas opposed to the settled idea of India will be important here. Let us look at India as an idea. Right wing elements want to make India into a Hindu India. There is still a strong movement especially led by the upper caste Hindus to overthrow the present constitution of India, and make it subservient to Dharma Shastras, which necessarily means India based on the Caste hierarchy with Bramhins at the top. This project of hierarchical India has given rise to extremism which can sometimes lead to gross violence supported by the intricate network of people involved in various state agencies, defense, and government. The strategy of the Hindu Militia is to create a fear amongst the masses of the growing Islamic terrorism, and to forge a pseudo Hindu identity to subsume sub-nationalities like Shudras and the untouchables. They are largely successful in some of the major states of India, and the state sponsored terrorism, which is a blot on the constitution of India and Democracy, killed hundreds of individuals in the riots following Godhara. The idea of Hindu India is anti-constitutional, and hence anti-national. The proponents of this idea come in various colors starting from Tilak, whose idea of Hindu Nationalism was based on the supremacy of the Bramhins, and that of Gandhi, whose concept of India was based on Hinduism with Varna system strongly and firmly in place. Religious nationalism has done more harm to India than any good. Some people argue that it was necessary for the national movement for independence. To the objective mind, the process of transfer of power to Indians started in 1919 and it was really a question of how the power will be shared by the different stakeholders and groups in India.

There was a growing discussion in India about the future India since 1920s. In this period, various Hindu nationalistic organizations were formed. The Hindu Mahasabha was formed in 1915, and RSS in 1925. At the same time, Muslim League was formed, which was later taken over by Jinnah, initiating political wing of the Muslims in the Indian subcontinent. Indian Muslims benefitted from the western education and it is a mild force compared to radical Islam all over the world.

Similarly, Indians also started taking interest in Socialism, and its core ideology of Marxism. They even participated in the International conventions, and Nehru participated in one of such conventions. The socialists in India were in touch with the international organizations for revolution of proletariat throughout the world. They have an idea of India as a communist India.

The idea of Islamic India led to formation of two nation states exclusively based on religion, later divided by linguistic identity. (Pakistan is a Islamic republic and while Bagla Desh is based on both Bagla and Islamic Nationalism). Even today Indian Muslims constitute over 13 percent of Indian population, and in modern India, they have been degenerated into second class citizens of India as demonstrated by the Sacchar Committee report.

Let us look at the profiles of the leaders who led various movements in defining India. All of them were elite upper caste and educated in England. Most of them were lawyers and hailed from established families. Gandhi came from Bania family and his family was established and had a network of Banias to support him in his political action. Nehru’s father was already rich and famous man. Jinnah also came from a rich family. In contrast, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar came from Dalit family, a self made man, but he was educated more than any Indian of his times, including the national leaders, thanks to support from Shudra princes and non Brahman movement started by Phule. He not only studied in England in the London School of Economics, but also studied in the famous Columbia University in USA. He was a lawyer, an economist, and a statesman. While rest of the leaders built on already existing political and social structures, he had to found his own political structures and create a social organization to dismantle the very structures that supported politics of other elite Indian leaders. He stood intellectually higher than leaders of his time, and therefore he has a higher vision for India. His vision of India was not a narrow view of acquiring political power, but to give an Indian society basis of liberty, equality and fraternity, which he eventually did when he drafted the constitution of India.

As he came from the untouchables caste, he knew the suffering and day to day struggle of a common man. Having lived in the villages and poor urban localities, he was closer to masses than any Indian leader of his times. While others tried to create artificial poverty around them, he had no choice but to live among the poor and the wretched. Besides untouchables, he had to also look at the suffering of other major sections of Indian society, which included 9 percent tribals, and 54 percent other Backward Classes. In short he represented illiterate and unconscious majority of Indians, including the interests of the converted lower castes in India. With the awakening of this mass, no doubt Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar has acquired a centre figure in any discourse of India. His house in Delhi was called “House of Justice”. When the Marathas started butchering the Brahmans after assassination of Gandhi in Maharashtra, he came to support the innocent Brahmans, such was his magnanimity and compassion in his heart.

What was Ambedkar’s idea of India?

He advocated India as a social democracy firmly established on the principles of liberty, equality, fraternity, and humanity (Manuski). For him, state (Government) was a mechanism to bring about radical changes in the society. He wanted a welfare state to fight two evils plaguing Indian society; social exclusion and economic exploitation. Therefore his vision of India is casteless and equal India. This necessarily defines Indian nationalism in a broad sense of the word Nationalism. This is what Indian constitution aimed at, bringing radical changes in the lives of people of India.

Ambedkar’s India is the only hope for India. The Hindu Nationalism can’t work for the majority, because the OBCs, SCs, STs and women will have no place in it. Islamic Fundamentalism will wreck havoc in India with its fundamentalist ideology. The Mao’s India that a Naxalite groups are trying to bring will create an autocratic state. Marxist India cant solve problems as clearly seen in the states of Kerala and West Bengal. Incidentally these ideologies are antithesis to the essence of India as defined in the constitution of India; liberty, equality and fraternity.

Dr. Ambedkar’s India is enlightened, equal, free, just and compassionate India. While he advocated a total revolution in India, his methods are firmly rooted in democracy and use of intellect in the Modern world.

In his very important paper, Reason or Revolution, Karl Popper advocated that method of scientific thinking can lead to changes in the society, thus making human intellect an instrument of social transformation. This idea is not new, but can be located in the philosophy of John Dewey who was a teacher of Babasaheb Ambedkar at Columbia. Similar intellectual challenges were posed by the Buddha in ancient India to make society think more about the realities around them with a view to transform them. According to Popper, the species changed due to evolution based on trial and error, and those species which survived went ahead in the evolution, and rest of the species which couldn’t survive were wiped out. We human beings are biologically the same species, and we make each other suffer due to wrong ideas and opinions. This is what Babasaheb Ambedkar pointed out in the Annihilation of Caste. This is what Popper is referring to, which means that we do not have to kill each other to survive. Darwin was trying to find unity of human species. He was deeply unsettled when he saw how human beings though belong to the same species discriminate on the basis of superficial differences of color, language, and regions. We have to change each other through critical analysis of ideas and opinions in any sphere, including the religious sphere. This is the legacy of Babasaheb Ambedkar.

Babasaheb Ambedkar therefore provided a criticism for various anti-human ideologies. In a sense he criticized the notions that cause immense suffering to fellow human beings. Ambedkar’s idea of India is based on the tradition of criticism, both personal and social, with a view to lift the society to the higher planes of existence. He was not a status quo-ist. He wanted to dismantle the structures that enslave individuals and do not let them realize their human potential fully. From this perspective. he opposed the very idea of the caste system and religious fundamentalism. He brought a tradition of debates and discussion and through it a mechanism to change the minds of the people for better. Alone he stood against the powerful forces of his time, in the end, it was he who laid the strong foundation for this country irrespective of caste, creed and gender. He laid the economic foundation of India. And if he had not brought significant changes in the law, the famous Hindu Code Bill, the women in India would have languished perpetually in the slavery. If he had not made efforts to uplift untouchables, tribals and OBCs, they would have by now undermined India as a country.

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Filed under Caste Discrimination, Constitution of India, Dalit History, Dr B R Ambedkar

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