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By Qayam Masumi, Edited by Adam Rizvi, Editor-In-Chief, The India Observer, TIO, NJ: B. R. Ambedkar is one of the founding fathers of Independent India. Alongside M. K. Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Azad, he laid the foundation stone of India. Sadly, scholars across the ideological spectrum could not fully understand the acumen of B. R. Ambedkar. Some have even misread and misquoted him. However, scholars of international repute like Eleanor Zelliot and Gail Omvedt have understood his mission and vision.
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The book at hand Dr. Ambedkar and Democracy (2018) is a collection of writings and speeches of B. R. Ambedkar with respect to democracy. The compilers, Narender Kumar and Christophe Jaffrelot, have abridged the original versions from the Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Writings and Speeches of BR Ambedkar. In the Introduction chapter, Kumar and Jaffrelot talk about the evolution of B. R. Ambedkar’s ideas. A small summary of the book can be found in the foreword written by Sukhadeo Thorat. Together, they make it a beautiful compilation on a particular theme, as the writings of B. R. Ambedkar in the collection of his writings and speeches are too bulky and not thematically arranged.
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This volume tells us in great detail how BR Ambedkar conceptualized an ideal democracy and what measures he proposed to actualize it in India. Unlike most thinkers, Ambedkar was not merely trying to understand the workings of democracy but also to solve its various technical issues primarily with respect to India. For example, he was not satisfied with the definition of democracy as given by political scientists and Constitutional experts. He argued that democracy cannot be limited to the functioning of Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. It must extend beyond merely prescribing roles and responsibilities among all the organs of the state. It cannot be just a balance of power among all the institutions of democracy. For Ambedkar, it transcends all of these. He described it as a form of living and as a philosophy of life. “The roots of Democracy are to be searched in the social relationship, in the terms of associated life between the people who form a society.” This small quote hints at how nuanced his understanding of democracy was.
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Perhaps the best piece in the anthology is the one titled, ‘Conditions Precedent for the Successful Working of Democracy’. Here Ambedkar first defines democracy as a form of government whose main purpose is welfare of the people, mainly the poor and the vulnerable. Later, he lays down four conditions which must be fulfilled for a government to be actually termed as democratic. First is the abolition of inequality; second is the existence of oppositional parties; third is equality in terms of form (law) as well as substance (administration), and finally, the stress on constitutional morality. A democratic society can never be unequal; there will not be any oppressed or suppressed class. A democratic polity must have a strong opposition both within and outside the Parliament so that the government never gets to misuse its power against its own people. A poor administration can easily corrode a good law, hence there must be due safeguards for it. Lastly, leaders and experts must know that the Constitution of India is a text whose spirit must be recognized and actualized through sound reading.
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One of the biggest strengths of this anthology is the relevance of B. R. Ambedkar’s writings in today’s time. Nowhere does one feel that this person existed almost a century ago. Take for example, the role of media in actualizing democratic values in a society. “Unfortunately, in our country, all our newspapers … have given far more publicity to the Government than to the opposition, because you cannot get any revenue from the opposition.” These words are prophetic!
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Similarly, Ambedkar found that Congress party’s orientation towards Hindu society is hypocritical. He wanted political freedom and social freedom to be achieved together. He was clear that equality must not only be political but also be social. For social equality to be achieved, one must abolish economic inequality. About Hindu Mahasabha, Dr. Ambedkar had no hesitation in saying that its cause was of a parasite which had been living upon the laboured money and work of the toiling millions of this country. Till today, Hindutva ideologues and organizations oppose economic equality!
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He claimed that Hinduism is against democracy as caste based endogamy, hierarchy and occupation are against the very idea of nation. “Unfortunately for the minorities in India, Indian nationalism has developed a new doctrine which may be called the Divine Right of the Majority to rule the minorities according to the wishes of the majority. Any claim for the sharing of power by the minority is called communalism while the monopolizing of the whole power by the majority is called nationalism.”
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Last and perhaps the most important point the anthology made is the question of minorities. B. R. Ambedkar’s text ‘States and Minorities‘ (1947) delineates the various ways through which effective representation in Parliament should be ensured for all minorities. He wanted minorities to get political representation more than their actual population percentage. Rarely do serious scholars talk about this role of Ambedkar. Nor do we find any reference to his ‘Communal Deadlock and a Way to Solve it’ (1945) among the writings of (Hindu) intellectuals. Truth be told, Dr Ambedkar was a staunch supporter of Muslims, Christians and Sikhs. Moreover, he wanted Dalits to get all the safeguards which any religious minority was getting.
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Dr Ambedkar himself left Hinduism and became a Buddhist in 1956. This anthology is a fitting tribute to a man who is eternal in the pages of history. Almost everything he apprehended about newly born India has now come out to be true. This anthology must be made a compulsory reading in academic institutions and policy think tanks, both nationally and globally. The world needs to know what it actually means to be a democracy.
Curated and Compiled by Humra Kidwai
About the author : Ram Nagina is a Ravidasi and Buddhist from . He has retired as Dy. Chief Mechanical Engineer, Indian Railways. He now reads and writes around Ambedkarism.
Dr. Ambedkar and Democracy: An Anthology, 2018. Edited by Christophe Jaffrelot and Narender Kumar. Oxford University Press and Indian Institute of Dalit Studies. New Delhi. pp. lvi+263. Rs.950/-