Dr Ambedkar and Democracy: An Anthology

Eds. Christophe Jaffrelot and Narender Kumar, pp. xxiii + 253. New Delhi: Oxford University Press and Indian Institute of Dalit Studies. 2018. Rs. 950/-

B.R. Ambedkar is one of the founding fathers of modern India. He, along with Jawaharlal Nehru and MK Gandhi, laid the foundation of India. He is famous for drafting the Constitution of India. He is considered an icon for social justice. This book Dr Ambedkar and Democracy: An Anthology (2018) is a collection of the writings and speeches of B.R. Ambedkar which are most relevant for understanding his ideas on democracy.

In the Introduction chapter, the editors Narender Kumar and Christophe Jaffrelot give us a detailed summary of the changing notions of democracy as conceptualised by B.R. Ambedkar. They inform us that Ambedkar kept on evolving his views over time. The Foreword by Sukhadeo Thorat is lucid and takes us to the heart of matter. For Thorat, Dr Ambedkar wanted a discrimination free society; a society full of love, compassion and understanding. There would not be any oppressor and oppressed, high and low, rich and poor, majority and minorities. All will be one; just like a drop in the ocean and the ocean in the drop.

Dr Ambedkar And Democracy

B.R. Ambedkar had lived a life of an Untouchable and knew Indian society bottom-up. This gave him an edge over another cosmopolitan contemporary, JN Nehru. Both had extremely modern and multicultural outlook. But BR Ambedkar had seen the evil side of the human nature. He knew that talking about human values is easy but practicing it is difficult. His ideas on Indian polity, society and economy reflected this depth. He could easily sense that Indian society is too immature to accept equality as a value. From here emanated his critique of the Hindu society. Today, we know well that labelling Dalits and Adivasis as Hindus is to inflate the number of Hindus and deprive them of their human rights, proper political representation and due share in material resources.

For Dr Ambedkar, democracy was not only about the free and fair elections and conduct of Parliamentary affairs. Nor was this limited to the enforcement of human rights and maintaining law and order. Indeed he found these to be the bare minimum for the functioning of democracy. In Ambedkar’s view, a democracy is more than a system of political governance- it is primarily a mode of associated living with an attitude of respect and

reverence towards fellow men. He called the former as political democracy and the latter as social democracy. Both overlap with one another. To these, he added another concept called economic democracy. He argued that only when people are equal in material terms can they truly respect each other.

The editors Narender Kumar and Christophe Jaffrelot remark, “Economic and social equality were, for him, the pre-conditions of the democratic functioning of parliamentary institutions. Poverty and hierarchy- including the caste system- would undermine democracy, since the political mechanisms were over-determined by social realities. This assumption persuaded him that social and economic reforms should go on a par with political democratisation.” This remark highlights the idea that democracy must be firmly grounded in equality across all the three realms of life- social, political and economic.

Dr Ambedkar’s text States and Minorities (1947) was something that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I got to know how serious Ambedkar was about the question of religious minorities, be they Muslims, Christians or Sikhs. He proposed that Dalits must also be considered as a minority so that they could have all the rights and safeguards as those given to these religious minorities. But MK Gandhi refused this step and pushed Ambedkar to sign the Poona Pact in 1932. Gandhi ji alleged that Dalits should not get representation as they are Hindus. Ambedkar finally resolved this conflict by becoming a Buddhist, a religious minority in India. Till today, common Hindus argue the same thing: Hindu OBCs should not get reservation as it would divide Hindus.

Another major learning that I gained from the anthology was Ambedkar’s views on religion and democracy. He argued, albeit indirectly, that religion of the majority has oppressive tendencies while religions of the oppressed have emancipatory potential. This way, he was very clear about Hindu communalism in India. For him, it was the inability of Hindus to accept rights and safeguards of the non-Hindus like Dalits, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs. The anthology has the text Communal Deadlock and a way to Solve it (1945) which tells us in great detail about Hindu communalism in India.

This anthology is easy to read and can be picked up by any non-specialist reader like me. It has enough material on BR Ambedkar’s ideas on freedom struggle, print media, capitalism, Hinduism, economic equality and minority rights. I have been lucky to have picked up this book. Now is your chance.

Dr. Syed Mohammad Raghib completed his Post-Doctorate in International Relations on “India-Iran Relations and the Significance of Chabahar” in 2022 from JNU. He also did his PhD on “Iran and the Palestine Question, 1979-2013” in 2017 at JNU. His M.Phil was on “Iranian Presidential Election, 2009”. He has published many articles in reputed national and international journals. He is currently teaching political science at Jesus and Mary College, NCWEB of Delhi University.

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