By Badre Alam & Sanjay Kumar for TwoCircles.net
Editors: Prof. Christophe Jaffrelot and Dr Narender Kumar
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Price (Hardbound): Rs 850
Professor Christophe Jaffrelot (King’s India Institute, London) and Prof. Narender Kumar (JNU, New Delhi) brought out a new volume on Dr Ambedkar and Democracy: An Anthology (2018). The book underlines the limitations of Hindu nationalist politics and its version of Hindu majoritarian democracy vis-a-vis minority rights and social justice. While reflecting on ‘minority questions’ Ambedkar had argued that if the communal majority rather than secular majority captures the ‘state power’ then it is imperative for the democratic state to develop a certain institutional mechanism to safeguard the rights of religious and social minorities. The very aim of democratic politics, as Ambedkar believes, is to overcome the gap between the majority and minority communities. However, under the current political dispensation of PM Modi, the gap has widened and created the irony of democracy and its electoral politics. For instance, in Uttar Pradesh Assembly election 2017, BJP secured an unprecedented majority without fielding a single Muslim candidate. Another noticeable yet unfortunate feature of Indian democracy is the declining representation of Muslims since independence. Currently, there are only 23 Muslim MPs out of 544 in the Indian parliament, which is far less than the Muslim percentage and hence defies Ambedkar’s idea of democratic inclusion of minorities in the political domain.
It is sad to see many ministers in the current regime who secured their seats riding on their communal views on minorities and against Muslim in particular. No wonder, a BJP minister recently has openly expressed that the provisions of minority rights should be deleted from the Indian Constitution. Some politicians from the ruling party engaged in propaganda that Indian minority has more rights than the majority, which sounds clearly against the principle of equal opportunities and the very spirit of the constitution. However, the point must be underlined here that studies carried out in several states by a number of civil society groups, clearly noted that the socio-economic and educational conditions of Indian Muslims are close to the bottom. Sachar Committee report (2006), Rangnath Mishra Report (2007), and Kudu report (2014) have shown that Muslims marginalization in all walks of life continues unabated.
It is clear that the BJP is interested in only appropriating Ambedkar symbolically and on the ground, the party betrays his egalitarian approach. Moreover, BJP-RSS combine use Ambedkar as anti-Muslim and quotes his selected writings and comments out of context to prove their points. However, from his writings and speeches, one could argue, that Ambedkar had always stood for social justice, irrespective of caste and communities. In this respect, the present volume is a timely intervention that addresses the communal question.
In this regard, well-known scholar, Prof. Sukhdeo Throat and editors of this volume have pointed out that the project of ‘nation- building’ could not be realised unless Ambedkar’s ideas on social justice, substantive democracy, minority rights, women rights etc. are addressed by the current regime. Prof. Thorat in his forward has mentioned the Ambedkar’s views on democracy, social and economic representations, Buddhism, etc. and highlighted their relevance in today’s context. While introducing the idea of democracy, as Babasaheb had put forth about the formative stage of nation-building, Prof Thorat quotes, “for Dr Ambedkar, democracy is primarily a mode of associational living with an attitude of respect and reverence towards fellow men”. Prof. Thorat further says, “Ambedkar proposed an alternative economic framework in the form of a particular type of socialism in which he suggested state ownership in agriculture and basic industries”. While citing Dr Ambedkar observation on Buddhism, Throat mentions- ‘the rise of Buddhism in India was as significant as the ‘French Revolution’. In the words of Dr Ambedkar, “Buddhism paved way for the establishment of democracy and socialistic pattern of society in India” (p-201) Moreover, Prof. Throat also discusses the idea of minority representation as conceptualized by Ambedkar. It is pertinent to note that Dr Ambedkar reminded us long back that if communal majority captures the state power then some forms of safeguards for minority groups is extremely crucial for the survival of liberal democracy. Dr Ambedkar’s understanding of minority rights is not based on numbers and demographics alone but ‘social discrimination’ and position in the power structure of the larger public sphere must be also taken into account while defining minorities. For Ambedkar, the Untouchables are the minority in India. It is be noted that editors of this volume have underlined that in today’s context of communal politics, Dr Ambedkar’s idea of giving more rights and weight to minority communities against the communal majority has now become more significant.
More importantly, while discussing the need for ‘Constitutional socialism’, Prof Throat observes, ‘Dr Ambedkar brought the provision for social and economic justice through directive principles of state policy, which place responsibility on the state to follow the principles to pursue the objective of social and economic equality through laws and policies’. While highlighting the intimate connection between social democracy and political democracy, he points, ‘Ambedkar viewed Social democracy as a necessary condition for the success of political democracy. Dr Ambedkar argued that social democracy primarily involves the idea of social justice’.
The editors in this anthology have explored that Ambedkar’s views on the representation of minorities are very elaborate and insightful on three aspects of minorities– the definition of minority, principles justifying minority representation, the electoral method for minority representation, and general safeguards against the communal legislative majority. Ambedkar observed in the mid-1940s the implication of communal majority for the nation and nationalism. In this regard, ‘State and minorities’, Ambedkar said: “Unfortunately, for the minorities in India, Indian nationalism has developed a new doctrine which may be called the divine right of the majority to rule the minorities 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.” (p.-172)
It is pertinent to underlined here that Ambedkar’s idea of democracy is very relevant in the current socio-political scenario. Because, Indian democracy still not able to maintain equality in social and economic life and there is a lack of fraternity in our social relations, undermine the efforts towards strengthening democracy and the nation. For Ambedkar, Hindu caste society is against the notion of egalitarianism. This idea of hierarchical Hindu Social order has been sanctified by Hindu scripture. That is why; Dr.Ambedkar had advocated the Buddhism which promotes the idea of liberty, equality, and fraternity in all walks of life. While discussing the conditions precedent for the successful democracy, long back he reminded that democracy cannot be achieved if ‘glaring inequalities’ prevailed in the society. In this context, he defined democracy in the following terms. As he writes, “Democracy is a form and method of government whereby revolutionary changes in the economic and the social life of the people are brought without a bloodshed”(P-219). He went on to say that, “we made this constitution because we did not want a hereditary monarchy and we did not want a hereditary ruler or a dictator”.(p-225). And finally, he stresses that for the successful working of democracy, ‘Constitutional morality’ must be prevailed over the so-called public morality.
The danger of Hindutva politics to the idea of India is well addressed by this volume and hence a welcome addition to engaged with. The volume has successfully brought out fundamental questions like social justice, democracy, representations, minority rights, etc. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that after the rise of Hindu Nationalists in the Indian politics, the principles and ideas championed by Dr Ambedkar are critically under threat. The dreams and aspirations of nation-building could not be realized unless we safeguard the rights of the underprivileged.
Badre Alam is a Research Scholar at Delhi University, Department Of Political Science, and Sanjay Kumar is Post- Doctoral Fellow at JNU