Ambedkar’s Three Warnings

Author: Harshita Gupta

Institution: National Law University, Jodhpur

Abstract

At various points in history India had lost its sovereignty. Ambedkar as one of the founding fathers was fearful of India losing it all over again. In his last speech to the Constituent Assembly, he pointed out the myriad threats faced by our nascent democracy.

This piece aims to show how those threats have been exacerbated in the present and the need to address this constitutional crisis. In doing so it takes the help of Ambedkar’s writings and speeches and tries to establish that the solution to these issues is located in the Ambedkarite thought itself.

Keywords

Three Warnings, Rule of Law, Constitutional Morality, Constitutional Methods

Introduction

The herculean task of drafting a democratic constitution began with the adoption of the Objectives Resolution. While Nehru wanted that each brick of this edifice is to be used after mature deliberation, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar as the chief architect of the constitutional schema, was also concerned about how this historic document is to be saved from agents of disunity. These agents jeopardize the existence of a democratic nation through means of communalism, localism, and casteism. In the present time, these challenges have manifested themselves in the form of a raging wave of majoritarianism, communal disharmony, and atrocities against the marginalized such as the Bahujans and the Tribal community.

Therefore, Dr. Ambedkar on the penultimate day of the Constituent Assembly, fervently warned against three major threats to our democracy.

Firstly, he stated that the success of the constitution depended primarily on the people, who ought to abide by the constitutional methods.

Secondly, he asked Indians to refrain from raising their leaders to Demi-God status. Not doing so in his opinion would pave the way to dictatorship.

Finally, he emphasized the need to have a social democracy along with political democracy. According to him both were deeply intertwined and to separate one from the other would spell doomsday for the Indian democracy.

This essay focuses on the works of Ambedkar and how they correspond to the aforementioned warnings, paving a way for the present generation to save India from any constitutional crisis.

Discarding Anarchism and Embracing Buddha’s Dhamma: the first step towards perpetuating constitutionalism

Being a staunch supporter of a casteless society, Ambedkar could have adapted the communist model to suit Indian needs. However, Ambedkar rejected the Marxist doctrine on the account of its use of violence as means to achieve its end. In his view, ends could not justify the means and therefore he implored Indians to adopt Buddha’s Dhamma.

In a detailed write-up, he drew out how Marx’s methods were flawed and detrimental to society in the long run. He espoused the view that though violence may create temporary fear in the minds of the people, a long-lasting impact can only be brought about through the cultivation of the mind. This can be well illustrated through the example of Vietnam. The country follows the communist ideology however, it did not achieve the goal of a prosperous society until 1986 when adopted new policies aiming at enhancing social security and spread of education.

It is pertinent to note that Ambedkar did not advocate absolute non-violence. He wanted its use to be limited to exceptional circumstances. The incorporation of article 19(1)(b) is a fine example of this fact. This article promotes peaceful assembly but prohibits the use of arms in protest. This stand of Ambedkar can partly be attributed to Buddha’s teachings which he has also pointed out in his book, The Buddha and His Dhamma.

The idea of an evolving and peace-loving society seems to be in peril in India. The Freedom House Report on the State of Society has downgraded India’s status from free to partly free. This degradation was on the account of the surge in political and communal violence in the country. Violence disrupts societies and hampers their productivity. As per the data released by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), in 2017 violence resulted in a loss of 1190.51$ billion to India. This is equivalent to 9% of our country’s GDP.

Such a situation if not checked can lead to a disastrous impact on the economy and place a hurdle in achieving development goals. Following are some suggestive methods that can be used to curtail violence in the country:

  • Incentivizing peace studies in schools and colleges: Engaging in such studies will help the youth in understanding deeply the need to have violence-free societies. This is also important because we live in an age where false narratives can be built quickly leaving a long-lasting impression on young minds. Peace studies can play a pivotal role in bridging differences and instilling a more welcoming attitude towards dissent.
  • Redesigning the legal framework: this needs to be undertaken so that political parties can be held accountable for the loss of lives and property owing to the action of their members.
  • Introducing reforms in the police and taking steps to increase public trust in law officers. Community Policing Schemes like Janamaithri Suraksha Project need to be replicated in other states as well. These schemes help to sensitize police officials towards the issues faced by the people and re-instill people’s faith in the system.

Supremacy of the Law: The Shield Against Majoratainism

The Dacian concept of rule of law and not the rule of men is very crucial to the functioning of a democracy. Unquestioned authority wielded by a leader quickly transforms into a dictatorship. This can be well illustrated through the rise of nazism and fascism in the post-World War I era. Under the titles of El Duce and Fuhrer, Mussolini and Hitler fanned hatred against the Jewish community.

Ambedkar had studied the Buddhist Sangha and wanted the democracy to follow its tradition. In the Sangha, all were equal irrespective of their position, they were as Buddha himself has said like drops of water in an ocean. Such idealism was sown into the Indian democracy through provisions such as the no-confidence motion, and censure motion which were too followed in the Sangha. Civil liberties could be curbed only when there is an imminent requirement to do so, following the due procedure. However, chapels would be churches, if all that was written in our constitution was abided by our leaders. With time, people who have a vested interest have twisted the system and used it for personal benefit. The abuse of the political machinery during the Emergency is known to all. Similarly, the pitfalls of supermajority governments and the opaque political funding process are coming to light at the present time. Such pitfalls are inclusive of but are not limited to the following:

  • The office of the governor of a state is often being used to sabotage the state governments. 
  • The tool of horse-trading has reached new heights to topple state governments with thin-majority. 
  • Inter-party defections have become a common phenomenon and politicians have seemed to imbibe the template of ‘aya Ram Gaya Ram’.
  • The new Electoral Bond scheme gives complete freedom to political parties to receive funds from any entity without declaring from whom they have received what sum. This encourages a lobbying culture where corporate houses can request ‘favours’ in return for such funding.
  • Even the other aspects of the working of political parties are shrouded with opaqueness as they do not fall in the ambit of the Right to Information.

The degradation of India from elected democracy to elected autocracy in the report released by the V-Dem Institute points out the concentration of authority in a particular entity in the country. The use of draconian laws to silence dissent is crippling our vibrant democracy day by day. The 33% increase in the filling of UAPA cases against an abysmal conviction rate of 2.2% from 2016 to 2019 points out the sheer misuse of the law. 

The question, therefore, arises what can the citizens do to avoid rule by men? The answer to this can be Ambedkar’s much-used slogan, “inform, educate, and agitate”. Without being aware of their rights people become like a thin blades of grass blown away by the political winds. Not only should people know about their rights they must also seek redressal in case they are violated. The citizenry must use both rights to education and information to bring accountability in governance.

Achieving Socio-Political Democracy Through The Golden Triangle of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity

While the Oxford English Dictionary defines democracy as a system of government in which the people of a country can vote to elect their representatives, Ambedkar called for a more profound understanding of the same. Such an understanding, envisioned a democratic institution built on the foundation of an egalitarian, liberal, and closely-knit society. The constitution is a transformative document. ‘We the People’ together have given it to ourselves and therefore it belongs to all of us with an equal promise of inclusion in this country.

Liberty and fraternity cannot be achieved without having equality. Being treated equally is a constitutional right, flowing directly from article 14 of the constitution. Article 14 further talks about treating unequal, unequally on the account of their ‘lived reality’ as Justice D.Y. Chandrachud has argued in a recent judgment. As a society that is committed to social justice, we must discard all ‘artificial differences’ between men and women. These ‘artificial differences’ as Bankim Chandra Chatterjee has argued in his work, ‘Samya’, are those which are formed due to society’s preconceived notions and have nothing to do with the individual’s capabilities. Moreover, instead of consolidating people, fragmentize them. Thus, narrow compartments are created and we drift away from the constitutional promise of securing a liberal and familial society. At the threshold of the 21st Century, the golden bird called India cannot soar high as Swami Vivekananda put it, with a broken wing.

Locating the Final Solution: Inculcating Constitutional Morality

The Constituent Assembly in general and Dr. Ambedkar, in particular, recognized the fact that the transformation of a society into a democracy can only take place when the masses are awakened and willing to inculcate the basic constitutional principles in their lives. Ambedkar was a proponent of Grote’s Constitutional Morality, which called for acceptance and abidance for all forms of the constitution. 

To make this point clear an analogy can be drawn between a student who is being sent to the best school but has no will to learn and a layman who has been asked to follow a constitution in whose ideals he does not believe. The outcome in both the above cases will be unsurprisingly poor.

Alternatively, a comparison can be made between the countries of India and Japan based on a few parameters:

JAPANINDIA
Year of Independence19471947
Year of the Adoption of the Constitution19471950
Form of GovernmentParliamentary government with a constitutional monarchyParliamentary government with the President as the head of the Executive
Literacy Rate99% (2018)74.04% (2011)
Press Freedom67 (2021)142 (2021)
Corruption Index19 (2020)86 (2020)
Democracy IndexFree67Partly free96

These rankings show how various factors that affect the functioning of a democracy. These factors indicate whether a nation is a thriving or a surviving democracy. Unfortunately, India seems to be falling in the latter category. The reasons for such a state of affairs are not far to seek and thus, instead of blaming the political machinery, Indians must introspect and ask themselves the question that where they have collectively failed.It’s the citizens who work the constitution as Granville Austin said and to make sure that the Constitution does not remain a mere ‘Top-Dressing’ on the Indian soil we must imbibe the text of the constitution into our daily lives. Constitutionalism must be a way of our lives, guiding us throughout and helping us transcend ‘narrow walls’.

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