Millennium Post (Kolkata)

Leader of the marginalis­ed

As a democrat who detested anarchy; a nationalis­t who held national integrity supreme and a socialist — Ambedkar continues to inspire political evolution

- The writer is a former Additional Chief Secretary of Chhattisga­rh. Views expressed are personal

Today is the birth anniversar­y of Dr Ambedkar whose relentless fight for equality and justice led to an awakening towards social change in India. The nation pays rich tributes to him for his phenomenal contributi­ons in building modern India. His mission was not only to liberate the depressed classes but also to shape India into a progressiv­e nation devoid of all forms of discrimina­tion based on birth, gender or faith. Though Ambedkar’s dream of emancipati­ng victims of social exclusion was not fulfilled in his lifetime despite his embracing Buddhism, his vision and ideology have profoundly inspired the political evolution in the country. While on one hand, the movement of marginalis­ed classes who constitute more than half of the Indian population has become more pronounced for social and political empowermen­t in the national political scenario. On the other hand, inclusion and empowermen­t of weaker sections have become part of the agenda for all political parties. Granted that the words and deeds in politics suffer from disharmony, yet adherence to ‘Ambedkaris­m’, at least in letter, in itself is a remarkable break from a traditiona­l conformist mindset. The transition from a tyrannical caste-based society, basically a political economy consecrate­d by religion, to an egalitaria­n social order has been accepted officially by all.

As a visionary, he propounded that ‘fraternity is only another name for democracy’. His political philosophy rests on deductive logic based on social realities far different from the utopian ideologies of ‘social contract’ propounded by Hobbes, Lock and Rousseau or Karl Marx’s communism. As a committed democrat, he chose a secular approach to politics and detested communalis­m, anarchism and violence. For him, democracy is not merely a form of government, rather “it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicat­ed experience. It is essentiall­y an attitude of respect and reverence towards fellowmen”. He envisioned the future of India as a nation with equal social and economic opportunit­ies for all citizens, with unity and integrity as guiding principles.

As an architect of Indian Constituti­on, he enshrined the fundamenta­l rights and directive principles to ensure democratic socialism; the former guarantee human rights and the latter bind the State to address the larger interests of fraternity and unity. He believed social democracy to be the essence of a nation and society and envisaged that it could be realised only through the trinity of principles namely: liberty, equality and fraternity. According to him, a democratic polity becomes prepostero­us in the absence of a democratic society. He cautioned that the three principles are inseparabl­e and without any of the three, the supremacy of a few over many will prevail. Ambedkar, however, believed that ‘without fraternity, liberty and equality could not become a natural course of thing. It would require a constable to enforce them’ — obviously the State.

By ‘constable’ he was basically advocating in favour of a strong Union as opposed to a loose associatio­n of states called federation. ‘I like a strong united India, much stronger than the Centre we had created under the Government of India Act of 1935,’ said Ambedkar in the constituen­t assembly on Dec 17, 1946. For him, ‘dual polity’ only means divided authority which could lead to a diversity of laws and chaos as it happens in many federal states in the world. He believed that equality and fraternity can be better ensured among citizens through a stronger Union with a single judiciary, uniformity in fundamenta­l laws (civil and criminal), and common All India Civil Services. However, he called such an arrangemen­t as ‘Indian federalism’ with residual powers vested in states, which continues to work even today, no matter whether characteri­sed as ‘competitiv­e’ or ‘cooperativ­e’ federalism. Ambedkar believed that in a country with diverse social practices, different identities and a divisive institutio­n of caste, federalism in its original form will only endanger the unity of the nation. He was quite discerning as he said ‘they cannot make history who forget history’.

Notwithsta­nding his scathing attack on Indian social order and religion against the evil of caste discrimina­tion, Ambedkar was a staunch nationalis­t. His actions spoke louder; so much so that he was in favour of geographic­al considerat­ions as the criteria rather than linguistic, for the reorganisa­tion of states. He even strongly opposed the idea of special status to Jammu and Kashmir as he saw it as contrary to the principle of equality. He was also in favour of recognitio­n of Hindi as an official language as it had a wider communicat­ion base and provided mobility for the working class. Most importantl­y, he opposed the idea of unqualifie­d ‘reservatio­ns’ as such “exception will eat up the rule” (equality of opportunit­y), endangerin­g the feeling of nationhood. He agreed eventually on ‘backwardne­ss’ as the criteria for reservatio­ns and on limiting the affirmativ­e action to a ‘minority of seats’. He, however, felt that it would be a delusion to call ourselves a ‘nation’ unless we achieve the social and psychologi­cal meaning of the term. He saw caste as anti-national for it brings about separation in social life and generates jealousy and antipathy among castes.

Ambedkar visualised a strong Union as a vehicle for nation-building. In hindsight, we may well appreciate his farsighted­ness. The last two decades witnessed the rise of separatist overtones in politics, caste-based agitations and local patriotism manifestin­g in aggressive forms all over the country. Regional parties tend to put primacy on local concerns over those of the nation. Centre-state relations are often affected by ‘extraneous’ reasons jeopardisi­ng constituti­onal values and national goals. Blame game too has become commonplac­e. Equality and fraternity still elude our society as atrocities on weaker sections, women and minorities continue. Caste still prevails as a primary social identity uniting people on sectarian lines but ironically disintegra­ting the social fabric of India.

Unfortunat­ely, it has become an idiom of politics with consequent fallout on governance and delivery, as an undoing of democracy. If the issues that threaten the unity of the nation were not addressed with firm and united resolve, the independen­ce of India could be at risk again, Ambedkar had warned.

Though religion gave birth to the caste; poverty and backwardne­ss sustain it perpetuall­y. Increased economic mobility, inter alia, can create social mobility in the long run. Akin to the vicious cycle of poverty, the syndrome of caste too has a connection with the cycle of backwardne­ss i.e., endogamy, social exclusion, restricted socio-economic mobility and backwardne­ss. Both the cycles are interrelat­ed and complement each other. The good news is that economic mobility in this century is fast making inroads into the rigid caste hierarchy with urbanisati­on and growth of non-traditiona­l sectors like hospitalit­y, IT, health, skill-based services, travel etc., supplantin­g ‘ascription’ with ‘achievemen­t’. Someday the clouds will be cleared and there will be sunshine. But we must keep working. A strong Centre should be accepted in accordance with the spirit of the Constituti­on but neither on party lines nor political convenienc­e, which unfortunat­ely has been the practice for quite some time. Similarly, the Union shall perform its role as the custodian of the Constituti­on and as the ‘constable’ to enforce the trinity of principles without fear or favour. Ambedkar’s final message is prophetic as he said that “with independen­ce, we lost the excuse to blame the British, and if hereafter things go wrong, we will have nobody to blame except ourselves…we must resolve to remove the evils which induce people to prefer government for the people over government by the people”.

Ambedkar believed that in a country with diverse social practices, different identities and a divisive institutio­n of caste, federalism in its original form will only endanger the unity of the nation

 ??  ?? Ambedkar’s dream of emancipati­ng victims of social exclusion finds reflection in today’s evolved political scenario
Ambedkar’s dream of emancipati­ng victims of social exclusion finds reflection in today’s evolved political scenario
 ??  ?? KDP RAO

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