What was Dr. Ambedkar’s vision for an independent India or how he looked at a future roadmap for India?
Yes, he has been rightly called the Chief architect of the Constitution and it was his because of his determination and intervention – definitely with due support from Nehru and others – that he could include important pro-people or pro-dispriviledged provisions into it but we cannot be under any illusion that it was only ‘his vision’ which triumphed ultimately. The making of constitution itself was marked by pressures and counter pressures – from believers of radical change to the status quoists – and what came out can at best be called a compromise document between various contending forces, ideas. Dr Ambedkar’s separation between beginning of political democracy in India with the advent of one man one vote regime and the long hiatus he viewed for ushering into social democracy- regime of one man one value while dedicating constitution to the nation was in fact a reminder of the fact that the struggle is still not over.
In yet another instance he similarly underlined the limitations of such a constitutional exercise in a backward society like ours –
‘Indians today are governed by two ideologies. Their political ideal set in the preamble of the constitution affirms a life of liberty, equality and fraternity whereas their social ideal embedded in their religion denies it to them’
– Ambedkar : Life and Mission , DhananjayKeer, Page 456, Popular Prakashan, 1990, Mumbai.
And if we are keen to know his ‘vision’ about a future India then it can be discerned in the less discussed monograph ‘States and Minorities: What are Their Rights and How to Secure them in the Constitution of Free India’ which was basically a ‘memorandum on the Safeguards for the Scheduled Castes for being submitted to the Constituent Assembly on behalf of the Scheduled Castes Federation’ he led. The said monograph by the political organisation he led then does not limit itself to ‘safeguards’ but also talks about the dangers of majoritarianism, incompatibility of Hinduism with any change, and also suggests model of economic development which he himself describes as ‘state socialism’.
It would be quite enlightening for many of us to know how in the same monograph he envisaged that ‘state shall not recognise any religion as state religion’ and ‘guarantee to every citizen liberty of conscience’ but coming to the aspect of protection against economic exploitation, the monograph declared that ‘key industries shall be owned and run by the state’ and even basic industries ‘shall be owned and run by the state’. He was of the opinion that ‘agriculture shall be state industry ‘where – state shall divide the land acquired into farms of standard size, and farm shall be cultivated as a collective farm, in accordance with rules and directions by the government and ‘tenants shall share among themselves in the manner prescribed the produce of the farm left after the payment of charges properly leviable on the farm’
Interestingly he does not propose that the idea of state socialism should be left to legislature but by ‘law of the constitution’. The plan has two special features. One is that it proposes State Socialism in important fields of economic life. The second special feature of the plan is that it does not leave the establishment of State Socialism to the will of the Legislature. It establishes State Socialism by the Law of the Constitution and thus makes it unalterable by any act of the ‘Legislature and the Executive.’
In the same monograph he clearly differentiates between ‘Untouchables’ and ‘Hindus’.
Gone were the days when he felt that Hinduism would reform itself from within and also it had been more than a decade that he had declared at Yeola conference that he ‘may be born a Hindu but he will not die a Hindu’.
He is unequivocal about the ‘Hindu population which is hostile to them (untouchables)’ and emphasises that it is ‘not ashamed of committing any inequity or atrocity against them’. He is also not hopeful about their situation under Swaraj.
He was very much aware about the dangers of majoritarianism implicit in the way Indian nationalism has developed which according to him
“has developed a new doctrine which may be called the Divine Right of the Majority to rule the minorities according to the wishes of the majority. Any claim for the sharing of power by the minority is called communalism while the monopolizing of the whole power by the majority is called Nationalism.”
And to protect the rights of the minorities (remember he does not restrict himself with religious minorities here but also includes the ‘scheduled castes’ in his definition) he proposes a form of executive which could serve following purposes:
- To prevent the majority from forming a Government without giving any opportunity to the minorities to have a say in the matter.
- To prevent the majority from having exclusive control over administration and thereby make the tyranny of the minority by the majority possible.
- To prevent the inclusion by the Majority Party in the Executive representatives of the minorities who have no confidence of the minorities.
- To provide a stable Executive necessary for good and efficient administration.
In fact, his fears vis-a-vis the majoritarian impulses were evident in the political manifesto of the Scheduled Castes Federation itself— the political outfit which was set up by him in 1942 which rejected the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha as “reactionary” organizations.
“The Scheduled Castes Federation will not have any alliance with any reactionary party such as the Hindu Mahasabha or the RSS,”
– Vol 10 of Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar’s Charitragranth, a Marathi book by Changdev Bhavanrao Khairmode
And anyone who has looked at the making of Indian constitution would tell us why he considered them ‘reactionary’ parties. History is witness to the fact that they opposed its making and suggested in their organs that instead of a new constitution, the newly independent nation should adopt Manusmriti. A laughable suggestion right now but was seriously raised by its proponents.
“The worst [thing] about the new Constitution of Bharat, is that there is nothing Bharatiya about it… [T]here is no trace of ancient Bharatiya constitutional laws, institutions, nomenclature and phraseology in it”…”no mention of the unique constitutional developments in ancient Bharat. Manu’s laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day his laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity [among Hindus in India]. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing”.
– Excerpts of Editorial on Constitution, Organiser’ November 30, 1949, whose final draft had just been presented to the Constituent Assembly by Ambedkar.
Much on the lines of lack of debate around ‘States and Minorities’ another important intervention during that period led by him has also received little attention. It was related to the struggle for Hindu Code Bill and happened to be the first attempt in independent India to reform Hindu personal laws to give greater rights to Hindu women. Attempt was to put a stamp on monogamy and also ensure separation rights to Women and also grant them rights in property. We know very well that it was a key reason that Ambedkar resigned from the Cabinet led by Nehru because he felt that despite lot of attempts not much headway could be made in granting these rights.
It is now history how the Hindutva Right and the Conservative Sections within the Congress coupled with the Saffron robed Swamis and Sadhus had joined hands to oppose the enactment of Hindu Code Bill. In fact, this motley combination of reactionary, status quoist forces did not limit itself to issuing statements it opposed the bill on the streets and led large scale mobilisation at pan India level against the bill. There were occasions when they even tried to storm Dr Ambedkar’s residence in Delhi.
It is part of history how the efforts by Dr Ambedkar to reform Hindu Personal laws did not succeed when he was law minister and he resigned from Nehru led cabinet to protest this failure. Of course, within next three- four years a diluted version of these laws were passed under another law minister by parcelling the original bill in four parts.
It is a different matter that for a long time the women’s movement in this country failed to recognise Dr Ambedkar’s seminal struggle for granting rights to Hindu women.
The late eighties and early nineties when the polity was abuzz with voices of Dalit assertion also became a period when the mainstream history took steps to correct this absence. Ambedkar, like his guru Mahatama Phule (the other two being Buddha and Kabir) was recognised as a great champion of women’s rights.
The words in his resignation letter wherein he had underlined the importance he attached to the bill still ring in people’s minds
“To leave inequality between class and class, between sex and sex, which is the soul of Hindu Society untouched and to go on passing legislation relating to economic problems is to make a farce of our Constitution and to build a palace on a dung heap. This is the significance I attached to the Hindu Code.”