- Advent of Dr BR Ambedkar into Indian political arena during 1920s. During his time the issue of social reforms achieved new dimension.
- He believed that until downtrodden themselves came forward to fight their battle, no one else could alleviate their grievances. He inspired them to do battle for their human rights.
- According to him, Vedas, Smritis and Shastras were all instruments of torture used by Hinduism against untouchables (Annihilation of Caste).
- Dr BR Ambedkar formed distinct Indian nationalism – in opposition to dominant discourse of Hindu nationalism – His conception of nationalism articulated and synthesized national perceptions and aspirations of downtrodden – It aimed at establishing a casteless and classless society where no one would be discriminated on basis of birth and occupation.
Ideology of Dr BR Ambedkar
- Ideas and ideals of John Dewey, Edwin R.A. Seligman, Fabians and British Idealists had a deep impact on Dr BR Ambedkar
- He described himself as a ‘progressive radical’ and occasionally as a ‘progressive conservative.
- Dr BR Ambedkar saw Directive Principles of State Policy of Indian Constitution as upholding economic democracy.
- Although an advocate of equality before law, a major contribution of British rule in India – he advanced stronger notions such as equality of consideration, equality of respect, and equality of dignity.
- Demand for ‘fraternity’ in French Revolution was seen as a call for ‘community’.
- Recognized critical role of state – defended a developmental and ameliorative, and consequently an interventionist state – as against Gandhian and Liberal conception -State was invested with a pivotal role in economy.
- Qualified majoritarianism with strong grids of rule of law, special privileges to minorities, and existence of a civil society which could nurture democracy as a civic virtue.
- Before Simon Commission: if adult franchise introduced, he favoured joint electorate with reservation for depressed classes and if limited franchise continues – he demanded separate electorate.
- Showed an extraordinary interest in Marxism, particularly in 1950s – All his major writings during this period, viz., Buddha and the Future of his Religion, The Buddha and his Dhamma and Buddha and Karl Marx, refer to Marx as central figure.
- He agrees with Karl Marx – task of philosophy is to transform world; there is conflict between class and class; private ownership of property begets sorrow and exploitation; and good society requires that private property be collectivized -He found that on all these four issues Buddha is in agreement with Marx.
- Rejected inevitability of socialism, economic interpretation of history, thesis on pauperization of proletariat, dictatorship of proletariat, withering away of state and strategy of violence as a means to seize power.
- His understanding of caste and caste system underwent certain significant changes over period.
- Initially, Dr BR Ambedkar argued that characteristic of caste was endogamy, superimposed by exogamy in a shared cultural ambience – evils such as sati, child marriage and prohibition on widow remarriage were outcome of caste.
- Distinguished institution of untouchability from that of caste, though the former is reinforced by latter.
- Colonial administration did little to ameliorate the lot of untouchables.
- Subscribed to financial decentralization – power and responsibility should belong to that level which can make optimum use of it – Such an allocation, while making states strong and viable, would contribute towards strong and effective central government as well, by taking away from it power and responsibility which it cannot exercise effectively.
- Favoured gold standard rather than silver standard that was introduced in India in 1835 (The Problem of Rupee: Its Origin and its Solution).
Colonialism and Nationalism
- His critique of colonialism ranges across a whole spectrum from economy to nature of colonial discourse.
- Colonialism benefited untouchables least, except for rule of law which it inaugurated, allowing some space for them.
- Insisted on a responsible and accountable government based upon adult franchise – first top rung leaders to demand universal adult franchise before Simon Commission.
- Remained wary of nationalism, particularly given the experience of WW II.
- Primarily concerned with a regime of rights, based on justice and upholding democracy.
- Different nationalities had often remained within a single state and have negotiated terms of associated living.
- National self-determination is not something inevitable, but pros and cons of whether nationalities decide to live together in a single state or wish to go their own ways, have to be assessed.
- Under certain conditions it might be better to be separated than to live in a united state.
- A key player in constitutional developments of India from mid-1920s.
- Law was definitely influenced by customs and popular beliefs but stressed that customs may defend parochial interests, but may not uphold fairness, and may be based on their usefulness for dominant classes – they may not be in tune with demands of time or in consonance with morality and reason.
- Looked to a system of law which upheld reason and morality, though he saw reason and morality as far too feeble to ensure social bonds without authoritative dictates expressed in law – Religion, according to him, could play a major role in lightening task of law.
- Governance must reflect sociological reality as closely as possible lest those wielding power to their advantage suppress excluded groups.
- His commitment to democracy as mode of governance was unwavering but he argued that democracy needed to become a way of life.
- Saw civil society as conscience-keeper of political sphere, determining course of governance in long run – Civil society being the domain in which one has to struggle for human values.
- Viewed religion as an important institution of civil society, which included other institutions such as political parties, press, educational institutions and unions and associations – It is a contentious terrain of agreement and disputations resulting in relatively stable zones of agreement.
- His loathing for violence as a mode of constituting governmental authority or to settle issues in civil society was to have far-reaching implications for constitutional democracy in India.
Disadvantaged and Supportive Polity
- First major theoretician in India who argued that consideration for disadvantaged should be constitutive basis of state.
- Disadvantaged and Preferential Treatment
- Disadvantaged need to be extended certain preferences that result in giving a fair opportunity to them.
For him, economic exploitation was a major issue to contend against but there are other sources of exploitation and marginalization besides economic exploitation, which deprive people of those basic goods indispensable for the constitution of a confident self, a life of a mutual recognition and participation in collective affairs.
Reasons, Rights and Identity
Saw freedom, equality and fraternity as essential conditions for a good life and argued that they should be understood and pursued as one entity – only on their foundation that a comprehensive regime of rights could be built.
Pluralism and It’s Limits
A liberal democracy has a natural tilt towards culture and way of life of majority – such a tendency may not provoke deep resentment in a politically homogeneous society, but in societies which are culturally plural, it may spell doom for identity of minorities – so proper safeguards be provided for expression of these identities.
Constitutionalism and the rule of Law
To sustain rights, to let identities thrive as well as make them respect rights, to maintain an order favouring disadvantaged and to facilitate a vibrant civil society, constitutional order expressed in rule of law becomes imperative.
Some Miscellaneous Facts on Dr. B.R. Ambedkar
- First Indian among untouchables to go abroad for higher education.
- Became president of All India Depressed Class Association.
- Formed an Independent Labour Party (1936), which later on turned into All India Scheduled Castes Federation.
- Term ‘Scheduled Caste’ was used first time by British in GoI Act, 1935.
- Prior to this, untouchable castes were known as depressed classes in public discourse.
- Mahatma Gandhi gave them name Harijan – man of God, a term borrowed from Narsimh Mehta, a Bhakti saint of 17th
Some of his literary works :
- The Untouchables, Who are they?
- Who were the Shudra?
- States and Minorities
- Emancipation of the Untouchables
- Annihilation of Caste