By Sabzar Ahmad Bhat
Today the Indian nation celebrates the 128th birth anniversary of one of her greatest sons, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. At the same time, Indian democracy is facing new challenges and threats, which include extreme economic inequality, agrarian distresses, violence against marginal groups like Dalits and Muslims, discrimination against religious minorities particularly Muslims, violation of women, growing militarism, rampant corruption, the expansion of corporate power, the resurgence of Hindu majoritarianism, attack on rationality and scientific spirit, and the destruction of institutions of governance, including Judiciary and Parliament. In this context, Indian society must revisit Ambedkar’s visionary conception of democracy.
Ambedkar took a comprehensive and rational view of democracy. This is abundantly clear in his speech at Poona on 22 December, 1952. In one of the most inspiring definitions of the term, he defines democracy as “a form and method of government whereby revolutionary changes in the economic and social life of the people are brought about without bloodshed.” His vision of a democratic society is one in which there will be neither an oppressor class nor an oppressed class; that society will embody equality before law and in administration and a functioning moral order in society. Ambedkar states that political democracy will not succeed without there being social and economic democracy; for him “social and economic democracy are the tissue and the fiber of political democracy.”
Ambedkar attached the highest importance to the principle of ‘one man one value’ along with the principle of ‘one man one vote’ and ‘one vote one value’ which alone can make democracy real and complete. In other words, political power, economic strength, and social position should be shared equally by all sections of society in a democracy. In his speech to the Constituent Assembly, he stated: “On the 26th January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril.” However, Ambedkar did not abandon the idea of constitutional safeguards for economic democracy and socialist ideals. Eventually, these are embodied in the ‘Directive Principles of State Policy’ (DPSP) of the constitution of India, which mainly deal with a wide range of social and economic issues through a welfare state. Though DPSP are non-justiciable rights of the people, they are fundamental in the governance of the nation.
In his article, “Dr. Ambedkar and the Future of Indian Democracy”, Jean Dreze, the renowned economist and activist, writes that Ambedkar’s vision of democracy was closely related to his ideal of good society. He envisaged a good society as one based on liberty, equality, and fraternity. Democracy, as he saw it, was both the end and the means of this ideal. It was the end because he ultimately considered democracy as conterminous with the realization of liberty, equality and fraternity. At the same time, democracy was also the means through which this ideal was to be achieved.
Ambedkar’s notion of democratic government went back to the fundamental idea of government of the people, by the people, and for the people. However, democracy meant much more to him than democratic government. In Annihilation of Caste, Ambedkar writes: “Democracy is not merely a form of government. It is primary a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards fellowmen.” It can be argued that the most interesting features of Ambedkar’s political philosophy was its stress on the ethical aspect of democracy, which means ‘constitutional morality’. His notion of morality was quite close to what might be called social rationality. To Ambedkar, political power is the key to all social progress. In this context, Dhammendu R. Jatava writes in his book, Political Philosophy of BR Ambedkar: “His idea of democracy is thus, tinged with social realism, human experience and reason. Pragmatic and humanistic outlook on life.”
The rise of Hindutva forces, particularly Gau Rakshak (cow vigilantes), however, is directly proportional to the rising level of violence against Muslims, Dalits and other marginalized and exploited sections in contemporary Indian society. The central tenets of Hindutva go against the very essence of the principles and values of the Indian constitution. The Hindutva worldview, which is based mainly on Hindu religious identity, is parochial and contradicts Ambedkar’s egalitarian vision for Indian society. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janta Party leadership invoke Deendayal Upadhyaya when it talks about the constitutional scheme of governance knowing full well that he wanted a Hindu Rashtra, which is contrary to the principles of Indian constitution.
In the end, we must remember that the growth of neoliberalism and the politics of Hindutva have coincided in today’s India, resulting in an increase of attacks against Dalits and minorities, particularly Muslims. On 8 April 2019, Shaukat Ali, a 45-year-old resident of Biswanath district in Assam, was targeted by a mob for allegedly selling beef. One of the vigilantes asked, “Why did you come to sell beef here?” The next question was: “Are you a Bangladeshi?” Such xenophobia is against Ambedkar’s idea of social justice. In addition, the policy of reservation, conceived as an affirmative action to ensure social justice for Adivasis, Dalits and Other Backward Classes (OBCs), is being made redundant. This is totally contrary to the ideas and vision of Ambedkar. It can be argued that the only remedy for curing our social ills lies in following Ambedkar’s vision which is the best summarized in the slogan: “Educate, Organize and Agitate.” This slogan is vital to deepen public reasoning and to understand the dialectics of class-caste connection in India. It can be stated that class struggle in India means a struggle not just against economic exploitation but also against social oppression and persecution. The Ambedkarities, communists, minorities, particularly Muslims, need to work together to fight the communal fascist forces and to defend the idea of Dr. Ambedkar’s vision of democracy, the constitution, and the interests of all socially exploited and discriminated sections in the Indian society.
Sabzar Ahmad Bhat is a Research Scholar at the Centre for Studies and Research in Gandhian Thought and Peace, School of Social Science, Central University of Gujarat, India. He is also a freelancer writer whose work has appeared on Greater Kashmir, Pakistan Horizon, Rising Kashmir, Kashmir Reader, Kashmir Horizon, Kashmir Observer, etc. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City and India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Hatred and Mass Violence: Lessons from History”, edited by Navras J. Aafreedi, Presidency University, Kolkata, India.