Ambedkar is a man of our times. From RSS to communists all are busy including Ambedkar in their programs. It is a fact that Ambedkar is more popular among Indian people now, than during his life times. Starting from Indian ruling class at the top to the working masses below, attention has been drawn towards Ambedkar. This is an anachronism. Why so? In todays question to be probed is, can the ideology of Ambedkar become the emancipatory deliberations I am going to deal with Ambedkar’s political philosophy and how it can be expanded. Another doctrine for the Indian masses. My observations are not judgmental, but rather analytical. In reality ideological strands will be dealt. It is obvious that Ambedkar is a forward-looking prophet and a liberator. Ambedkar’s ideology will be traced through his important works.
Ambedkar’s style of writing is combative and not a simply narrative barring his memorandums and appeals. The works selected by me are as follows: – i) Revolution and counter revolution. This work was published after Ambedkar’s demise. The work is an angry reaction. ii) In the work, ’Gandhi, Ranade and Jinnah’, he has made profound statements on people, leaders and ideology. iii) His major political philosophy is stated in the works of ‘What Congress and Gandhi has done to untouchables’, Particularly the chapter titled ‘An appeal to the foreigners’. iv) Budha and Karl Marx’. v) ‘State socialism in States and Minorities. vi) The ‘Hindu code bill’ for the women’s emancipation. vii) His manganous work is the ‘Annihilation of caste’.
I am of the opinion that BR Ambedkar was an organic intellectual, in the Gramcian terms. It means he was a colossal intellectual and an activist too. He is a proud symbol of achievements of India’s untouchables.
Part 1- Important works of Ambedkar
i) The book ’Revolution and counter revolution’, though a sociological analytic treatise, it is the basis of all the anti-Hinduism, which cannot be separated from his political ideology. Ambekar analyses the decadence of Brahminical society which was corrupt, brutal and a parasitic in nature. He presents reasons for the rise of Buddha and Buddhism as a parallel ideology. The social norms for Bhikku and society in general which were revolutionary, and it gave a death blow to Brahminism. The ascending glory of Buddhism during Mayura and Ashoka’s times is described in detail. Ambedkar glorifies the impact of Buddhism to that of ‘French revolution’. The following are the roots of the Buddhist revolution; the banning the Yajnas, animal sacrifices and dakshina (alms) to Brahmins. In fact, in 140 years of Mayuran dynasty rule, the Brahmin class was without power and wealth. They were forced to labour. He says that the reasons for the fall of Buddhism is known, but why it got eliminated is not presented by him. Ambedkar presents the rise of Brahminism (the Manuvad), in great detail. We have to keep in mind the hatred of casteism and Hinduism emanates from the ideology of Brahminism. According to him reasons for the Brahminical renaissance is presented in the works of Manusmriti, Bhagavatgita, Vedanta, Mahabharata, Ramayana and Puranas.
Brahmins were with out power and were forced to labour in Buddhist society. This made them to organize a counter revolution which happened under the leadership of a samavedi Pushya Mitra. He restored animal sacrifices and Yajnas and of course dakshina under the leadership of Brahmins. Ambedkar compares him to Md Ghazni who attacked Buddhism. During Pushya Mitra’s times Manu Samhita was written by Sumathi Bhargava and it was implemented. Manusmriti became the fulcrum of Brahminical order, which codified Brahminism wherein, duties of different castes and suppression of women’s rights is elaborated. This is the social basis of Ambedkar’s political ideology and tactics. The defeated Brahminism rose back systematically and could violently destroy Buddhist social order.
According to Ambedkar when Islam entered India, Buddhism vanished, but however, Brahminism survived. Brahminism could adjust with Islam. But the ‘sword of Islam’, is not the reason for elimination of Buddhism in India.
ii) In the book published in 1943 titled,’ Ranade, Gandhi, Jinnah’, Ambedkar clearly stated thus, ‘I don’t like both Gandhi and Jinnah, but I don’t hate them, on the contrary I love this country’. He takes the debate that the political freedom should be preceded by social reforms. Then only the emerging State will protect the rights of people. If political rights are ensured then only the peoples rights can be protected. He argued, if the society in general opposes the people’s rights, no law, no parliament or any judiciary can protect the rights of people . He reminded that the situation of Negros in America., Jews in Germany and untouchables in India are all the same. According to Ambedkar, democracy means respect and equality among the fellow citizens. A society without social restrictions for the oppressed are the hall mark of democracy. This thrust in Ambedkar’s thinking consistently runs through his political thoughts and activities.
iii) Ambedkar’s on caste, class and democracy are clearly enunciated in the works of ‘What congress and Gandhi has done to untouchables (1946)’. One has to turn to the chapter,’ A plea to the foreigners’. His arguments are as follows; it is said the congress is fighting for India’s’ freedom, it obviously doesn’t mean that it is fighting for India’s people, that too the untouchables. If a constitutional government is brought up, it does not mean that ‘constitutional morality’ comes to existence. It also does not mean that it is people’s, ‘Self-government’. In India the ruling class, that is, the Brahmins rule is maintained by controlling the people’s feelings and the bureaucracy. Earlier the rule was that of Brahmins and Kshatriyas. Now the alliance is that of the Brahmins and the Baniyas. Gandhi is a Baniya. Nehru, Tilak, Vallabhai Patel have significant condescend feelings towards lower castes. He asks what would be the state of the oppressed communities under this rule? If at all swaraj is established under the sovereign independent India what would be the situation .
He asserts that if Brahminism is not completely destroyed it will remain as a social system and an ideology. In that system, the democracy, social discrimination, exclusiveness are not compatible with the new order . In a democratic system, the division between have and have not is not acceptable. In fact, Ranade had the proposal to improve the Hindu society. He states that as Gandhi’s postures there is nothing like Gandhism. Some think that Gandhism is alternate to Marxism. As per Gandhism, return to village and make it a ‘self reliant system’. There is an economic and social ideology behind Gandhism. What is the social ideology of Gandhism? In 1921,in ‘NavJeevan’ a Gujarathi magazine Gandhi supported ‘Varna system’. Then coming to the economic ideology of Gandhism, Ambedkar made very pertinent observation. They are as follows Gandhi opposes machinery, it was an ideological opposition. He glorifies ‘charkas’. In Gandhi’s’ magnum opus ‘Hind swaraj’, rejection of modern civilization is obvious. Western civilization is a creation of the ‘Satan’s’.
He was against class war and wanted to end it. He was against any conflict between the capitalists and workers, land lords and tenants. Gandhi stated that workers with their class struggle hamper the industries, and called for no strikes. He called for dialogue between landlords and tenants. Gandhi never opposed the propertied class and even said that the owner’s of property should become the ‘Trustees of the poor’. Ambedkar argues that there is nothing new in the arguments of Gandhism and this an enunciation of Rousseau and Tolstoy. Their arguments, in essence were to go to nature and live like animals. Simple life and living great. Further, Ambedkar states’ Yes! Modern civilization and machinery have done many harmful things, it is because of ‘ wrong social organization’. And it must be corrected. From Gandhi’s ideology there is no benefit for the common man. Ambedkar feels that man requires leisure & cultural developments. For these activities’ machinery is required. Gandhi has no concept of development. Gandhi was for class society. Further Ambedkar states that Gandhism leads one to back to nature, back to nudity and return to squalor, return to poverty and ignorance. In his attack on Gandhi, Ambedkar is vitriolic!
Gandhism, as earlier said was for varna and jati system. Gandhism was against inter dinning and inter caste marriage. For Gandhi work of ‘Bhangi’ is an honorable great work. Gandhi used religion as opium against the people. Gandhi wanted untouchable to be made shudras (touchable). But by calling them as ‘Harijans” he made that also impossible. Untouchables must continue their traditional occupation. Anti-untouchability programme of Gandhi is an illusion. Ambedkar continues to argue that Gandhism is another form of Sanathana vada. Gandhism believes in Karma siddhanta, the authority of shastras, avatars of gods and idiotry. Gandhism has justified the dogmas of Hinduism, in fact Radhakrishnan calls Gandhi as the ‘God’ on this earth. In fact, Hinduism is the ‘horror chamber’ for the untouchables. This is because the main arguments of Ambedkar on Gandhi and his ‘isms’ is that he is for Hinduism and is anti modernism.
iv) The writings on ‘Budha and Karl Marx’, is essentially a comparative debate carried on by Ambedkar. He never opposed Marxism. He had kept a constant dialogue alive. In this booklet Ambedkar discusses in detail Buddha’s creed. He also discusses the basic concepts of Karl Marx and appreciates the anti capitalist position of Karl Marx. He also appreciates the analysis of utopian socialists by Karl Marx. However, Ambedkar says many principles of Marxism has proved to be false. The remaining fire in Marxism is insufficient. Ambedkar argues the purpose of philosophy of emancipation is to reconstruct the world. In reality he notes the conflict between the interest of the classes. Private property brings happiness for the few and sorrow for the majority. To eradicate sorrow private property has to be abolished. This strongest argument in his work is, when he elaborates, on difference between Budha and Karl Marx, the path to be taken for social change. The objective is same, ‘the social change’. He says equality without fraternity has no meaning. He believed hat Buddhism is the path. Buddhism is communism without violence. The point to be noted is that the socio economic emancipation is possible with Buddhism. Ambedkar’s ideology is based totally on non violence and he was more non violent than Gandhi. An important point to be noted is that, during Ambekar’s times anti communism and McCarthyism waves in the world were strong. He seems to have stood by McCarthyism of the times.
Ambedkar organized and built up few political formations. They are the Scheduled Class Federation, Independent Labor Party and Republican Party of India. Among these the most radical posture of Ambedkar regarding class struggle and the coordination with the left were during times of Independent Labor Party(ILP). The ILP though of short duration has an interesting history. It had red flag as party symbol, it did coordinate with communist party of India in the elections and also joined hands with the communists during ‘Kothi’ land question, and the agitation was anti zamindari in nature. When Stalin died Ambedkar wrote an obituary mentioning that a cobbler’s son could become a working class leader in Soviet Union. Even the Republican party of India had secular and democratic aims and objectives.
v) Now coming to the much talked about writing of Ambedkar the memorandum for ‘State socialism’, which is a part of his writing on ‘States and minorities’. He argued by constitution amendments the State can bring about nationalization of the industries and agriculture land. He also suggested cultivation of land on cooperative basis. Ambedkar believed that the States can bring about social change by peaceful methods. This perception originates from the concept that the State is above the Class. Ambedkar’s appeal is only a pious wish. This kind of ideas are not new. Karl Kautsky of Germany propounded this concept as ‘‘Cathedral socialism’. Ambedkar did not lead any movement or agitation for this objective.
vi) Ambedkar’s greatest contribution can be comprehended in his consistent and firm stand through out his life for the emancipation of women of India. He argued that women were subservient and oppressed by manuvada of Brahminism. As the law minister in the Congress Government he proposed the famous ‘Hindu code bill’, which got defeated. On this issue he later resigned. In this respect all the writings of Ambedkar against Brahminism is brimmed with feminist arguments. This task of Ambedkar is a reality even to this day.
vii) Lastly speaking of Ambedkar’s magnum opus speech titled, ’Annihilation of caste’, which is relevant in analysis of Brahmanism and also the path to be taken in rejecting it. This classic work had its own ideological limitations. Brahminism is not only an ideology as believed by Ambedkar. In the lecture Ambedkar fails to note the economic base of the caste system. That is casteism is not only an ideology but it is also a relation production . This aspect must be critically applied in understanding Ambedkar thought.
Part 2 The roots of Ambedkar’s thoughts & ideology
To summarize the basis of the ideology of Ambedkar, it is in the western liberalism and also in Indian traditions of anti-caste and egalitarian movements, such as, the bhakti pantha, Kabir pantha and Jyothiba Phule. Ambedkar always believed that it is the necessity of religion for the common man. In the real sense though he rejected religion as moksha/ heaven after death, yet he chose Buddhism as a way of life and religion. With this I conclude discussion on Ambedkar’s political philosophy
Ambedkar very strongly believed in the parliamentary form of democracy and followed methods for his activities in a gradual constitutional form. Barring the exception of Mahad satyagraha, Kalaram temple entry and ‘Kothi’ abolition movements, he did not organize any campaign or agitations for the emancipation of the untouchables. He was influenced by John Dewey, the eminent educationist of America (He was the chairman of the fact finding commission to investigate the assassination of Leon Trotsky). John Dewey propagated the concept of ‘pragmatism’, a practical constitutional pragmatism. This burden of pragmatic politics is sitting heavily on the Daliths of today. The dalith movement in India is highly fragmented today and now and then we see few sparks like Jignesh Mewani and Ravan. After the death of Ambedkar there was an outburst of dalith panther movement which was short lived. Later the politics of BSP with Kahnshiram and Mayavathi have followed the path of pragmatic politics of Ambedkar, at times bordering opportunism. Recent example of this being the complete silence regarding the activists accused in Bhima Koregaon case, wherein Anand Teltumbe is also named as co accused and is arrested.
In contrast Ambedkar had total faith in the ideology of modern liberalism, which developed along with the industrial revolution and the rising bourgeoisie. The slogans of French revolution, ’equality, freedom and fraternity’, was the continuous inspiration for Ambedkar. In fact, Western liberalism, as the form of democracy, is practiced in western countries. But when it reached India it is based on colonialism. The liberalism which had the revolutionary potential, the potential to destroy feudalism and capitalism had lost its essence. This western liberalism had under gone change to an ‘Apologetic format’. Even then this impotent bourgeoise liberalism has some positive effect on the feudal casteist India. Ambedkar’s faith is that this liberalism has an emancipatory ideology on untouchables. On the contrary Karl Marx believed and analyzed that the bourgeoisie is incapable of completing the democratic revolution and he visualized and organized the proletariat as the class capable of destroying capitalism and build a new socialist order. The basic point is Karl Marx also believed that before the birth of proletariat, ‘bourgeoisie was the most revolutionary’ class. To understand the key point is that aspiration for democracy for both Ambedkar and Karl Marx originated from the western liberalism. Without understanding the essence of western liberalism, it is impossible to comprehend Karl Marx and Ambedkar.
Now the question of counter posing Ambedkar a ‘prophet looking forward’, with Gandhi, a sanathani, who believes in varnashrama and caste system. One must note that, Gandhi was against untouchability. The direction of thought and ideologies of Ambedkar and Gandhi are poles apart, its like parallels that can never meet.
Here I would like to say a few observations on the contemporary developments before I proceed with my deliberation. In the recent times the neo Gandhians, Lohiyaits and few Dalith writers & intellectuals have been presenting Gandhi & Ambedkar as converging ideologies. The classical example of this trend can be found in the book written by D.R. Nagaraj, entitled ‘The flamming feet’. They all argue that Ambedkar and Gandhi are the ‘two eyes’ of Daliths. Gandhi and his Gandhism is propagated by these groups to attenuate the struggles of the Daliths and uphold the opportunistic & eclectic mishmash (nearer to that of ruling class). This trend needs to be constantly kept under surveillance and challenged by sensitizing Daliths in general against it.
The Dalith movement presently is highly fragmented particularly in Maharashtra, Karnataka and in AP. The reason for fragmentation is not based on any political ideology. On the contrary it is based on reservation politics and also the benefits in the government schemes. The worst impact is made by the sub caste divisions among the untouchables in Dalith unity. This ‘inverted casteism ’, has created a wide gulf between untouchable castes. This issue was alive during the life times of Ambedkar and now it has further widened because of the Dalith middle class intellectuals and the fairly stabilized Dalith politicians.
What would be the historical destiny of the ideology of Ambedkar?
Before that I want to discuss the attitude of the communists regarding caste and Ambedkar. Communists have mechanically believed that class is economic structure and caste is the super structure . After the dissolution of class relations the caste will also get dissolved. This is a very crude interpretation of Marxism. Through out the history Ambedkar was considered a leader of the Mahar and a person hob nobbing with the British . Yes! Ambedkar joined the Viceroy council of ministers, also joined the Nehru’s cabinet and even the constituent assembly as a part of his pragmatic political line.
Today a total introspection is expected with regard to caste and Ambedkar. Communists have to accept that caste is a concrete reality which is not only an ideology but is based on the relation of production. Communists have to humbly accept the above reality.
Today there is an urgent need to respect Ambedkar’s contribution to democracy which is invaluable. Unfortunately, even to this day Ambedkar’s movement have not been properly evaluated by the communist parties. Of late Ambedkar’s name is being taken in various conferences of communist’s parties. Ambedkar’s photo is being exhibited, which is a welcome move. However, I emphasize that the ideological arrows of Ambedkar thoughts will continue to challenge the communists regarding ‘caste -class’ question, from which they cannot escape.
Part 3 The historical destiny of Ambedkar’s thoughts
Historical destiny of Ambedkar lies with the communist party in understanding the deep reactionary ideology that is holding the social milieu in India, the caste (includes gender). The liberalism in India is Apologetic, the contribution of the colonialists . Progressive movements did succeed in getting reliefs in the form of progressive laws over the past decades of struggle. However, the madness of Manu, in the form of the Hindutva forces have started demolishing worker’s rights, women’s right Dalit’s rights, minorities right so on. A strong wave of reform movement, as repeatedly emphasized by Ambedkar, towards scientific socialism, among the oppressed groups and people in general needs to be launched. The necessity of the time is that the communist party should proudly declare that they are the successors of the great democratic struggle of Ambedkar. This is in line with the Lenin’s statement, ’We are the proud successors of all the revolutionary and progressive heritage of Mankind’. In the communist manifesto it was clearly declared that the proletariat cannot liberate itself without liberating all the other exploited classes . On the contrary the emancipation of untouchability and the other socially oppressed society cannot be done in isolation of the democratic revolution lead by the proletariat .
Dr. V. Lakshminarayana is the Secretary of PUCL, Karnataka
This is the expanded and edited English transcript of the Kannada video talk presented at Zoom meet of May Sahitya mela on 23rd May 2020.