Political Democracy was never an ‘end’ for the leaders who carved out the ‘Idea of India’. They firmly believed that, political democracy should become ‘a means’ towards social and economic democracies. But both factual and counterfactual arguments on Indian society generates a common standpoint that – social inequality and injustice persist in contemporary India. Social engineering projects and trajectories related to ‘policies’ and ‘politics’ of it, which gyrates around social justice and equality has reached its dead end. But then, the dead end also provides an opportunity to turn around and look back onto the path treaded so far and do a course correction, and resume the journey with utmost vigour. Optimism should prevail. It was the same optimism which persisted in the womb of ‘colonial darkness’ that gave birth to India. Pillars to that optimism were the thinkers who believed in their capabilities and became torch bearers for dumb millions. Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar or Babasaheb was one among them. Ambedkar is not only the ‘Father of Indian Constitution’, but also perhaps one of the genuine thinkers of last century.
Apart from the political discourse, socio – economic moral visions were brought together in the framing of Indian constitution. This was, as Ramchandra Guha writes coming together of “national and social” revolutions or precisely all the great heterogeneous struggles and voices, that went along with homogenous idea of political freedom. The national revolution focussed upon liberty and democracy, whereas the social revolution focussed on emancipation and equality to the oppressed people. Although Ambedkar with his team provided one of finest document to this country, he was very critical about India’s political democracy. For him political democracy is not an ‘end’ in itself; but the most powerful ‘means’ to achieve the social and economic democracies. In his writings he promptly defined that – “democracy is just another name for equality and justice”. The absence of these modules in parliamentary democracy, itself represents an “undemocratic phenomenon”.
Ambedkar’s view on Social Democracy –
Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar did not belonged to the league of armchair philosophers, but was a man of action. He was a teacher, activist, lawyer, economist, anthropologist, philosopher and most importantly leader of minorities and supressed. He, in his entire lifetime fought for human dignity and self-respect of every individual. He was a leader who carried the legacy of positive change for the rights and dues of most marginalized people.
Bharat Ratna Babasaheb was a staunch supporter of Democracy. But for him the mere political democracy does not defined the contours related to the same. And the same spirit is reflected in our Constitution. For him democracy meant an all-round development of human soul. In his last speech to Constituent Assembly (On November 25, 1949) – Ambedkar spoke to work towards a social and not just a political democracy. His apprehensions were clearly visible in his own words – “Political Democracy cannot last unless their lies at the base Social Democracy”.
Thus, Social democracy occupies a prominent place in the philosophy of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. It makes his struggle unique against the historic social ailment of graded inequalities in India. This is what distinguished Dr. Ambedkar from the rest of the mainstream Indian freedom thinkers and fighters who were struggling primarily for the liberation of the country (political freedom) from the yoke of British Empire. What does then this Social Democracy actually meant for Ambedkar? For Babasaheb, it meant a way of life which recognises liberty, equality and fraternity as the core principles. They form a union of trinity and should not be divorced from each other and ought not to be treated as separate entity. Democracy sans this trinity is an otiose. The roots of democracy lay not in the form of government, parliament or otherwise; Democracy in itself is a form of “associated living”. Associated life is an expression, sans coercion, a phenomenon related to shared experience, aspirations and values. If a small section of the society is allowed to exploit the cultured symbols of the society, then the whole trajectory becomes undemocratic and destructive. Hence, the roots of democracy are to be searched in social relationship, in terms of the associated life between the people who forms the society. State socialism should exist under the domain of parliamentary democracy, which can defeat dictatorship or rule of the few. Ambedkar firmly believed that, ethos of democracy represented an ideal social order – which leads to the growth of socialized individual. For Babasaheb, the divisions in Indian society have blocked the whole idea of social democracy. His criticisms to political democracy flowed from this regressive idea of schisms, which persisted since ages.
Dr. Ambedkar made a clear distinction between freedom and power. His ideology has lot more takers today. Political mandarins have represented him like a ‘god’ to the masses; without deciphering the fact that he was against “hero – worship”. Iconisation of Ambedkar has not only betrayed the whole idea of social justice and equality, but also created stagnation, subversion and fragmentation. Although, social engineering projects after independence presented bold experiments in Indian history; politics and policies of social justice in India have reached an impasse. Flash points of obnoxious crimes and social exclusion still persists in India with impunity.
Democracy in political sense is also related to the government with numbers. Competitive politics and the greed to hold power or political representation have side-lined the whole idea of social democracy into dump. The whole logic of politics related to downtrodden, is only limited to the season of elections. By, clock wise precision leaders never fail to fill up their election manifesto with social emancipatory projects. Democratisation of Indian politics as Ramanhoar Lohia points out – has shown the phenomenon of ‘sectional elevation’. Politicisation of social issues (minorities issues, caste, religious identity et al.) to gain power, have somewhere betrayed the soul of social democracy. And Social democracy as mooted by Ambedkar still remains a distant vision.
Post – independent dichotomy of India in the context of political and social democracy -presents a disconsolate journey. The communities who held power and knowledge have silently marginalized the ideas of Babasaheb. Yet, his presence is felt whenever the idea of democracy (equality, liberty and fraternity) is withheld. The Struggles and ideas of past and its heritage attain great significance when it enters into present. Ambedkar once wrote: “Beware of Parliamentary Democracy, it is not the best product as it appears to be”. The whole logic of Ambedkar’s social democracy questions the very sorry state of modern India. It sets the whole agenda for social justice and equality. It shows where we have failed and it also shows where we have to try to get to.
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Dr. Biplove Kumar, Assistant Professor, History, Vivekananda Satavarshiki Mahavidyalaya (VSM College), Vidyasagar University.