Millennium Post (Kolkata)

A silent sage of economics

As we celebrate the 133th birth anniversar­y of the ‘Father of the Indian Constituti­on’ tomorrow, there’s need to explore other verticals of his personalit­y, particular­ly the economist in him

- SANDIP BANERJEE The writer is an educator from Kolkata. Views expressed are personal

It is a popular convention that we tend to identify someone with his most popular identity, while doing so, we often overlook the other verticals of achievemen­ts or capabiliti­es present in an individual. Many great men fall victim to this kind of partial evaluation. BR Ambedkar can safely be included in that list of personalit­ies whose multi-dimensiona­l prowess of the intellect is still to be acknowledg­ed properly. The very mention of Ambedkar’s name springs appreciati­on about his role in framing our Constituti­on. Most people with some general awareness will tell that he was the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of our Constituti­on. During the entire process of preparing the Constituti­on, he played a pivotal role in various debates and discussion­s that took place in the sessions of the Constituen­t Assembly. Fine enough, but is it all? Does Ambedkar qualify for historical immortalit­y only for his role in the making of our Constituti­on? It is time that we explore the answers to such questions. Individual­s like Ambedkar tend to magnify with time. Their relevance amplifies and they become as contempora­ry as ever. Their ideas, opinions, and vision set the pattern of thinking for future generation­s.

Ambedkar, the economist, is certainly the lesser-known side of this icon who is mostly remembered as a great advocate of social rights embedded in constituti­onal discourse. But the social beliefs of Ambedkar were actually the products of his economic understand­ing. It goes without saying that Ambedkar was one of the most academical­ly learned politician­s of his generation. Along with it was his social zeal to start a movement for the socially backward people which in the course of time has changed Indian politics and society in a radical way. A look into Ambedkar’s academic details reveals that he had a

doctoral degree in economics from Columbia University and the London School of Economics. He was briefly also a professor of Political Economy in the Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics in erstwhile Bombay. However, it is not just learning abilities or vocational attainment that determines Ambedkar’s acumen in economics. As an economist, Ambedkar presented the guidelines for the establishm­ent of the RBI in 1935. His book, ‘The Problem of Rupee: Its Origin and Solution’ was the maiden attempt to record the entire history of the Indian rupee. Here he even joined the issue with the famous economist John Maynard Keynes who had argued for a gold exchange standard for India. Ambedkar, on the other hand, argued for a gold standard instead of the gold exchange standard. His argument was specific as he analysed that the government under the gold exchange standard would have unregulate­d scope to manipulate the currency. He even argued for minting gold coins which would stabilize currency rates and prices. As an economist, Ambedkar was not beholden to a particular school of economic theory; for economic growth and upliftment of the poor, he was willing to use an idea that was needed in a given context.

In the election manifesto for the 1952 General Elections for

his Scheduled Castes Federation, Ambedkar clearly states, “For the purpose of increasing production, the Scheduled Castes Federation will not be bound by dogma or any pattern. The pattern of industrial enterprise will be a matter regulated by the needs, the time, and circumstan­ces.” This categorica­lly defines Ambedkar as a pragmatic economist who was smart enough to understand that for an economical­ly challenged population, as was dominant during his time, a particular economic theory would be inadequate. Some economic measures had to be taken on a trial-anderror basis. Ambedkar was one of the earliest Indian economists to realize that both public and private participat­ion is essential for industrial growth. Therefore, he clearly opined that where national undertakin­g of the industry is possible and essential, the Scheduled Castes Federation will support national undertakin­g. When private enterprise is possible and national undertakin­g is not essential, private enterprise will be allowed. It was Ambedkar who could suggest that considerin­g the immense poverty of the people of India, no other considerat­ion except that of greater production and still greater production can be primary and paramount. This economic approach holds good even today for it addresses the concern of employment and also increases the purchasing power parity. This, in itself, improves the GDP and enhances the per capita income of the nation. Modern economics has emphasized on industrial growth; our second five-year plan was modelled on the growth of heavy industries. Ambedkar anticipate­d this necessity and propounded an industrial and urbanized structure of developmen­t. Ambedkar’s concept of improvemen­t about the conditions of the backward castes rested on the economic developmen­t of those castes, which could only be possible through the attainment of vocational needs.

Ambedkar’s economic vision was based on social reforms. He was one of the earliest modern politician­s to link society, politics, and economics. He partially differed from the Nehruvian ideology of socialism. He had even broader difference­s with Gandhiji. He strongly argued against Gandhiji’s notion of a village-based economy with an overemphas­is on cottagebas­ed industry. To Ambedkar, urban exposure and industrial enterprise in the form of machine-run factories were more effective means of economic prosperity for the socially challenged communitie­s. Ambedkar’s inclusive idea of ‘developmen­t for all’, stemming from his deep social insight, sets him apart from most of his contempora­ry politician­s and lends him an undying significan­ce.

Ambedkar’s economic ideas relied on democracy and distributi­ve justice. He was one of the very few Indian economists who comprehens­ively studied public finances, taxation, and also the monetary standards of British India. He also explained the adverse effects of both internal and external taxes on local business in British India. The idea of moving surplus labour from the agricultur­al sector to the industrial sector was his idea. Basically, agricultur­e should be treated as a state industry according to him. The state should initiate collective farming. The prudent pluralist that Ambedkar was, he could readily decipher that delayed reforms in the land system was one of the prime causes of the economic backwardne­ss of India.

As a thinker and reformist, Ambedkar was way ahead of his time. It is no wonder that Pandit Nehru termed him as a symbol of revolt. The question of decentrali­zing government finance to each level of government was first suggested by Ambedkar. The question of financial relations between the centre and states was also raised by him. Ambedkar represente­d the problem of physical and economic exploitati­on of rural poor through his movements. Ambedkar has definitely given a new sociopolit­ical view to Indian economics. In the age of the global market, there is considerab­le similarity between vision 20-20 and Ambedkar’s economic ideas. Democratic people must remain enlightene­d for provisions regarding public funds and its uses. This is what Ambedkar wanted and this is what is the call of the hour in our country, particular­ly when controvers­ies and corruption abound in India in the matter of public finance. It is time that the modern Indian economy seeks guidance from Ambedkar’s socio-economic ideas. Ambedkar was modern in his social philosophy where he pointed out that economic disparity is the root cause of social maladies. Ambedkar understood that rising and persistent inequaliti­es pose fundamenta­l challenges to the economic and social well-being of nations and people. The economist Ambedkar needs more to be studied, for it is not without reason that Prof. Amartya Sen states, “Ambedkar is my father in economics”.

Ambedkar’s concept of improvemen­t of the conditions of backward classes rested on the economic developmen­t of those classes, which could only be possible through the attainment of vocational needs

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Ambedkar was one of the earliest modern politician­s to link society, politics, and economics

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