Ambedkar, Constitutional Morality and the Question of Minority Rights in Today’s Indian politics

ambedkar consitution

  If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country. No matter what the Hindus say. Hinduism is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity. On that account it is incompatible with democracy. Hindu Raj must be prevented at any cost.”  (Dr.  BR Ambedkar)

 “Until 1990, Ambedkar was untouchable to all mainstream political parties’ (An author of well-known texts why I am not Hindu Prof. Kancha Ilaiah, sadly expressed).

 The mainstream political parties, civil society and public intellectuals belonging to the Left-liberal forces often make a claim to carry forward, Dr. Ambedkar’s legacy and his contributions in the process of nation- building which is based on values such as secularism, socialism, social justice and diversity.

Besides progressive forces, recent times the RSS-BJP combine have also started to appropriate Ambedkar’s legacy and claim to champion his ideas in the public sphere. In this respect, PM Modi has made a claim publically that our party has done a lot to fulfill the dreams of Babasaheb. However, for Dalit-bahujan intellectuals and social justice parties mainly the BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party), have often stated that the only true Ambedkarites (Dalits and the lower caste) can genuinely represent his radical legacy. However, for radical Ambedkarites, the mainstream political parties such as the BJP, the Congress and even parliamentary Left etc., are using Ambedkar’s ideology selectively in order to get political and electoral benefits.  It is fascinating to note that civil rights activist like Anand Teltumble in his works have shown that even the so-called Ambedkarites and social justice parties like Smajawadi Party (SP) and the BSP have also not sincerely followed and implemented Dr. Ambedkar’s radical political vision.

For instance, whenever they got political power (State like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) through the method of the social engineering, it is not wrong to say that the radical project of the ‘Annihilating the caste system’ have been relegated into background. In a similar vein, a noted public intellectual and the current editor of academically well-known journal Economic and Political Weekly, Prof. Gopal Guru has constantly argued that Ambedkar was committed and stood for complete ‘Annihilation of caste’. And in doing so, he wanted to end long-standing feudal, patriarchichal and brahminical hegemony in the civil society which perpetuates social oppressions, exploitations, humiliations and sufferings with respect to subaltern masses. To end these inhuman and non-egalitarian values, Babasaheb had envisioned an egalitarian society based on liberality, equality and fraternity.

While extending the tribute on the occasion of his 63rd death anniversary (Mahapariniwar Diwas), it is an academically essential task to revisit Ambedkar’s views in the today’s political context at the time when the Hindutva’s hyper-nationalism has occupied the centre stage of Indian politics. In this given context, it is a vital to conserve his radical legacy from misappropriation and distortions often made by the current ruling dispensation. Unlike the mainstream parties, long back Dr. Ambedkar himself had correctly put-forward the idea that we have to fight the twin enemies namely Brahaminism (which relies on the ‘graded inequality’ based on horrendous caste system) and Capitalism (an extreme form of neo-liberalism based on crony capitalism) at the same time.

It is ironical to note that the current ruling dispensation led by PM Modi has often talked about the economic and social problems of Dalits. For him, it could be overcome through the adoption of Dalit entrepreneurship and market based economic activities like a start-up India, make in India, digital India and the New India etc. In doing so, the present ruling dispensation has also seen Dr. Ambedkar as the votary of the neo-liberal economic policy and free market. Even some section of middle class Dalits who also often interpreted that Dr. Ambedkar was for the free market and not against the neo-liberal economic policy per se. For the middle class Dalits, who support the Dalit capitalism, they believed that the capitalist system will destroy gradually the untouchability and caste-based discriminations in the larger public sphere as argued by Chandra Bhan Prasad elsewhere. However, scholars like Prof.  Sukhadeo Throat and Teltumbde have shown in their writings that it is a fundamentally wrong to say that Ambedkar was a proponent of the free market policy and capitalism. As he writes, “if caste atrocities are taken as the indicator of casteism (and I would take it as the best indicator), one will have to infer that catseism is on definite rise during the period of globalization”. While further debunking myth created by the ruling dispensation and some section of Dalits about Dr. Ambedkar( he was for the free market economic policy),Teltumbde writes, “the sole source of Ambedkar’s characterization as monetarist or free market or neoliberal economist is the mis or, shall we say, mischievous reading of his D.Sc. thesis-The Problem of Rupee”.(Teltumbde, “Babasaheb Ambedkar And the Neoliberal Economic Reforms”, September 2011,, accessed on 12/1/ 2018). For Teltumbde, Ambedkar was influenced by the ‘Fabian socialism’ like Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru and sided with the idea of ‘state socialism’ (like socialism of Marxian variety, Ambedkar was also convinced that Indian State must have commanding height to deal with the material questions) to fight against the economic and social inequalities. The agenda of ‘state socialism’ is clearly expressed by the Dr. Ambedkar and his writing like ‘State and Minorities’.

In short, the so-called ‘developmental politics’ and slogans like ‘Sabka Sath, sabka Vikas and sabaka vishwas( this last phrase has been added by Modi when he got a huge mandate in 2019 Lok sabha elections, mainly with respect to minorities), on whose plank PM Modi is voted to power in 2014 and 2019 general election. It is not empirically wrong to say that ever since they captured political power, the socio-economic exclusions and caste atrocities against the India’s Dalits, minorities and violence against women and pauperization of toiling masses have in-fact tremendously increased. In spite of addressing the genuine material deprivations of subaltern masses, the ruling dispensation is giving more primacy to the NRC (National Register of Citizens), Article-370, reducing the tax of corporate and foregrounding the discourse around who are ‘nationals’ and ‘anti-nationals’ with the help of the upper caste corporate dominated Indian media. To note that the present government is so frantic to pass Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in the parliament even the wider Indian citizens like civil society and public intellectuals are opposing the said Bill. The Bill in current forms is being currently criticized by the secular and progressive academics on the grounds of making citizenship discourse ‘communal’ by excluding minorities especially refugee Muslims. Even legal and Constitutional experts have also made the point that the current CAB provisions  wittingly violates the ‘constitutional morality’ and various article of the fundamental rights such as Right to equality(Art-14) and no- discriminations on basis of caste, creed and religion etc. ( Art-19)

To put it simply, the current discourse around the Citizenship Bill (2019) apparently seems to be obliterating inclusive vision of Dr. Ambedkar and other founding fathers like Nehru, Maulana Azad. Besides, it also contradicts the legacy of the freedom struggle (to note the anti-colonial struggle was fought by both the Hindus and the Muslims shoulder to shoulder against the colonial masters) which envisioned a society based on plural, secular and inclusive in character rather than the Hindu majoritarian in nature which current government is trying to put forward by passing the current Citizenship Bill.

Before highlighting the current discourse around politics of appropriating Ambedkar, let us revisit what Ambedkar had said and struggled for articulating the rights of the depressed classes during the colonial times. Unlike the present RSS ideologues who falsely projected that Ambedkar was the supporter of the Sangh Privar. It has to be noted that Ambedkar was strongly opposed by the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS ideologues such as Guru Golwalkar and Savarkar on the several issues like Annihilation of caste, social justice and preserving the sanctity of the Hindu religious scriptures.

In short, for historians of modern India, the agenda of the Hindu Mahasabha was to establish the ‘Hindu nation’ based on the Hindu Dhramshastras. However, Ambedkar’s idea of social justice and the nationhood were in-fact based on secular, democratic and egalitarians values. To put it differently, it is not theoretically wrong to say that Ambedkar’s views about the nation-building was a quite different from ideologues of the Hindu nationalist forces. The politics behind appropriating the Ambedkar symbolically must be seen in the light of political motives by the BJP-RSS combined (to woo the Dalits votes) rather than adopting his radical legacy in a substantive manner. To note that Dr. Ambedkar had resigned from the post of the Law ministry under first Nehru Cabinet when the Hindu code Bill was not passed because the then government succumbed to the pressure of the Hindu Mahasabha

It is ironical to undeline that the mouth-piece of the RSS like The Organiser has published a special issue on Ambedkar.  The editorial has mistakenly interpreted the real legacy of Ambedkar. The editor has deliberately equated Dr. Babasaheb with Hedgewar. As the editorial writes,

“it is unfortunate that the people who thrive on a foreign, divisive and violent ideology conveniently trying to appropriate the legacy of Dr. Ambedkar, forgetting the fact that it was Babasaheb who revived the reformist zeal of our ancient civilization in the modern era, along with Dr. Hedgewar’’ (The Organiser, April 17, 2016,p-5).

The secular and professionals historians of modern India have demonstrated that Dr. Ambedkar’s agenda of social justice and minority rights and the Annihilation of caste were vehemently opposed by the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha.  It is incorrect to say that Dr. Ambedkar was a Hindu reformist like Hedgewar, as pointed out by the editor of the Organizer.

Contrary to the Hindu Right, Dr. Ambedkar himself commented that Hindiusm as a religion and its scriptures contradicts with egalitarian values like liberality, equality and fraternity. As he says,

“Inequality is the soul of Hinduism. And that is why he finally came to conclusion that, I was born a Hindu, but will not die as a Hindu”.

Ever since the BJP led PM Modi has captured political power; Modi said that in comparison to previous regime, the present government is committed to spread Ambedkar’s ideology and erected statues and buildings in his name. However, it is essential to remind that Dr. Babasaheb himself pointed to the dark side of hero-worship in politics. As he rightly observes, ‘in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation to eventual dictatorship’.

Having outlined the manner in which mainstream political parties belonging to the Right-wing, secular and social justice parties have not done justice to Ambedkar thoughts and political vision. Let me briefly discuss the relevance of the Constitution and its core values like the ‘Constitutional morality’ in today’s socio-political context.  During the Constituent Assembly debates, Dr. Ambedkar while quoting, the English British historian like George Grote who was an expert on the Constitutional morality and history of the Greece. While explaining the relevance of constitutional morality Ambedkar says,

By constitutional morality, Grote meant… a paramount reverence for the forms of the constitution, enforcing obedience to authority and acting under and within these forms, yet combined with the habit of open speech, of action subject only to definite legal control, and unrestrained censure of those very authorities as to all their public acts combined, too with a perfect confidence in the bosom of every citizen amidst the bitterness of party contest that the forms of constitution will not be less sacred in the eyes of his opponents than his own.”  (Cited by Pratab Bhanu Mehta, “What is constitutional morality”? Seminar URL, (accessed on 27th November 2019).

To round up discussion so far, Dr. Ambedkar argued that the Constitutional morality as a public virtue is not a ‘natural sentiments’. It has to be cultivated in the minds and hearts of the people against the feudal and caste based morality or Hinduvta morality as has been widely permeated by the present ruling regime.

Now let me come to the Ayodhya’s recent judgment, delivered by the Supreme Court of India. It is not wrong to say that the demolition of Babri masjid had shaken the conscience of liberal, secular, democratic and pluralistic India, which are enshrined in our constitution for which Bababsheb was deeply committed. The demolition of the Babri masjid should not be seen as a mere destruction of the mosque, but it has deeply shattered the secular and democratic foundations of our Constitution and dreams of the Babasaheb to achieve an egalitarian society by promoting the liberty, equality and fraternity among the Indian masses.

To conclude, it is a high time to revisit the real Ambedkar’s legacy as said earlier and to fight against the ‘hero-worship’ including the symbolic misappropriation by the RSS-BJP combine on the special occasion of his 63rd death anniversary and Mahaprinirvan Diwas. Put it bluntly, the real tribute to the philosophy of Ambedkar to fight against the authoritarianism and safeguards the genuine minority rights and subaltern masses as vividly mentioned in our democratic constitution. Dr. Ambedkar was against both the minoritarianism and the majortarianism. He wanted the rule of genuine secular political majority rather than ‘communal majority’ which is presently enjoying the hegemony in our country.

In short, for putting forward the radical legacy of Ambedkar, and fighting against the onslaught of the Hindutva forces, it is a high time for young Ambedkarites, left-progressive forces and oppressed minorities to develop a larger social solidarity among themselves. That shall be also a litmus test for a secular, democratic and socialist country like India in times to come.

  The author is a research scholar University of Delhi. 




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