Democracy, government and society: Vision of Dr. B.R Ambedkar

Dr. H. Abdul Azeez1.

Abstract

Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, one of the greatest founding fathers of modern Indian Constitution and an eminent scholar was a great leader and humanist India had ever produced. He fought for minimizing not only the grievances of the untouchables, but to give improvements in every aspect of human life may it be social, political, cultural, anthropological, or religious.  It will be wrong to call him merely a humanist; instead he was a social humanist. Democracy is a form of Government to maintain a better society wherein maximum amount of liberty is ensured for individuals consistent with the attainment of order and security within the State. Truly speaking, democracy takes the form of government wherein the sovereignty vests with the people in general. The vision of Dr. Ambedkar is more significant in countries which witness many deviations from the above basic principle of democracy. With a noble intention to make participation of major citizenry Dr. Ambedkar put forth a broader perspective than the generally perceived idea of political liberty, equality and fraternity. His emphasis was on social and economic dimensions of democracy.

Key Words: Ambedkar, democracy, liberty, society.

Preferred Citation: Dr. H. Abdul Azeez, Democracy, government and society: vision of Dr. B.R Ambedkar, The Lex-Warrier: Online Law Journal (2017) 11, ISSN (O): 2319-8338 OR LW (2017) November 8

Introduction

Dr. Ambedkar, after obtaining a doctorate and barristership from England, returned to India dedicating himself to the task of upliftment of the untouchable community. Standing as a champion of democracy and reformer of society, he is considered as unique in his mission. If he can be described in one word, it would be he as a “humanist” and if in two words, he, then, definitely must be known as social humanist[1].

The word democracy is derived  from the Greek words ‘demos’  and ‘kartos’, the former meaning the people and the later power.[2] Democracy is a form of government in which a substantial proportion of citizenry directly or indirectly participates in ruling the state. There can be direct and indirect democracy. In the first one, citizens vote on laws in an assembly, as they did ancient Greek city states whereas in an indirect democracy citizens elect officials to represent them in Government.

Today, the essential features of democracy as understood in the western world are that the citizens be sufficiently free in speech and assembly, as for example, to form competing political parties in regularly held elections.[3]

History of democracy

It can be traced back to the Greek city states as the first democratic form of Government during the sixth century B.C. These Greek democratic institutions were collapsed during the imperial march of Macedonia and Rome. The democratic ideas were surrendered on a significant scale until the 17th century. The Barbarian invasions and the fall of Rome in the 5th century A.D. resulted in a European society that was primarily concerned with security rather than democratic institutions. In ancient India too, the earliest organization within Indian monasteries was of democratic in nature. One of the reasons for this was the teachings of Budha that there could be no absolute authority vested in one person and the Sangha too developed a certain diversion of labour and hierarchical administration.

Precisely, democracy must be understood ‘as a form of Government, but a form which exists to supply and maintain a better society and to provide the maximum amount of liberty for individuals consistent with the attainment of order and security within the State’. It is admitted that in democracy, sovereignty vests with the people in general. But the world today witnesses many deviations from this very basic principle of democracy. In this scenario, the relevance of the thoughts of a great revolutionary like Dr. Ambedkar is more significant. This paper analyses the vision, concept and ideologies of this visionary regarding democracy in the present day politics of polluted democratic principles.

Ambedkar and Democracy

Dr. Ambedkar was a great political leader, a legal luminary, and a social reformer. He was the champion of human rights and democratic form of government. The idea of democracy he put forth had much broader perspective than the generally perceived idea of political liberty.[4] His concern always was on people, especially the down trodden, in terms of equality and freedom. In order to make ‘democracy’ meaningful at least a substantial proportion of citizenry must be able to participate in ruling the state.

Realizing this fact, Dr. Ambedkar strongly argued for democracy as a mode of administering the country. He walked away from the conventional concepts of democracy and viewed democracy as an instrument of bringing about change peacefully. To him, democracy does not merely mean rule by the majority or government by the representatives of the people. Without accepting the formalistic and limited notion of democracy, he defined it in a better fashion understanding drastic changes in the social and economic spheres of society. He stood for an all-round democracy, not a government in vacuum and a way of life.

Underlining the importance of democracy, Dr. Ambedkar stated that “it seems to me that there lies on us a very important duty to see that democracy does not vanish from the earth as the governing principle of human relationship. If we believe in it, we must both be true and loyal to it. We must not only be staunch in our faith in democracy, but we must resolve to see that whatever we do not help the enemies of democracy to uproot the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity”.[5] He stood for social justice that has got high significance in the context of Indian society which is divided into castes and communities as they create walls and barriers of exclusiveness on the basis of superiority and inferiority that pose serious threat to Indian democracy.[6]

Dr. Ambedkar wanted democracy as an instrument of bringing about change peacefully. For him, democracy does not merely mean rule by the majority or government by the representatives of the people. A better fashion of understanding of democracy is that it must be viewed as a way of realizing drastic changes in the social and economic spheres of society. The formal institutions of democracy like elections, parties and parliaments will not be effective in an undemocratic atmosphere.

Political democracy was explained as the principle of ‘one man one vote’. Democracy means a spirit of fraternity and equality and not merely a political arrangement. Considering the economic aspects, he argued that if economic inequalities are ignored as the western type of parliamentary democracies do cannot bring a holistic development. Democracy, in his opinion should be an attitude of mind, an attitude respect and equality towards their fellows.

Dr. Ambedkar emphasized the social and economic dimensions of democracy and forcefully argued that political democracy cannot succeed where there is no social and economic democracy. To him democracy is “a form and a method of Government whereby revolutionary changes in the economic and social life of the people are brought about without bloodshed”.[7] Here we can see the difference from Marxism that advocates bloodshed against State and he is supporting peaceful means though it is slow but far more enduring, stable and permanent.[8]

He opted peace against violence and bloodshed. The solution of every problem shall be adopted, in his view, through constitutional means of nonviolence. In his opinion “democracy is a mode of associated living”.[9] Political democracy, in his opinion rests on four premises which are absolutely important in Democracy to conclude that main objective of Democratic Government should be the welfare of individuals. They are listed below.[10]

  1. The individual is an end in himself.
  2. The individual has certain inalienable rights which must be guaranteed to him by the Constitution.
  3. The individual shall not be required to relinquish any of his constitutional rights as a price of any privilege.
  4. The state shall not delegate power to private persons to govern others.

He demanded for equality and demanded to take effective steps to drive away glaring inequalities in the society. So that oppressed or suppressed class of people can get over in order to reach perfect democracy. In his opinion ‘caste has killed public spirit, destroyed the sense of public charity and made public opinion impossible.[11] Wide inequalities are the most dangerous aspect of our democracy that when elections come the political parties promise rice, wheat and other essential things on cheaper rates which are the basic needs of people that should have been fulfilled earlier and in fact the political parties are using the poverty of people.

He argued for the existence of strong opposition in order to avoid dictatorship, for which it is necessary in democracy to have two political party systems in order to have the successful working of democracy.[12] He believed that only equality before law cannot bring justice without equality of treatment in administration and the administration must understand that they are men in power who have to show undivided allegiance to the best interest of the country.[13]A veto of long term of five years at the hands of people, a better option will be an immediate veto in the parliament, he opined.

The wisdom in his words is visible today as is witnessed in an ineffective opposition. In spite of a strong constitutional guarantee before law and in administration, political parties are playing religion and caste role everywhere, shifting the destiny of administration in favor of their caste or party fellows. Though democracy is against the hereditary system of ruling, leaders of many political parties have been sticking to the seats and are taking their sons, wives and other relatives. Moreover, the trend of Members of Parliament involved in crimes is increasing continuously. Money becomes the prime player in the politics and it is degrading our democracy.

Dr. Ambedkar was one of the admirers of freedom and self-government of India.[14] He urged for constitutional morality calling Constitution as only a skeleton, the flesh being what we call as constitutional morality.[15] The most relevant observation of Dr. Ambedkar is that the minority must be confident in the hands of the majority.[16] His intellect can be understood in his emphasizing on generating public conscience which can be defined as ‘conscience’ which becomes agitated at every wrong, no matter who is the sufferer; and it means that everybody whether he suffers that particular wrong or not is prepared to join him in order to get him relieved.[17] Public conscience is an essential condition for successful working of democracy because without public conscience democracy cannot be successful.

He added the relevance of changing political democracy to social democracy for developing State socialism. It is to be noted that he was greatly influenced by liberal thought, but at the same time aware of the limitations of liberalism. He greatly appreciated parliamentary democracy. At the same time critically examined it and argued that parliamentary democracy was based on liberalism. It emphasized only liberty whereas true democracy implies both liberty and equality. This analysis becomes very important in the Indian context.

Dr. Ambedkar understood the need for the existence of an open democratic form of society. Isolation and exclusiveness will not go hand in hand with democracy. He opines that, “It may not be necessary for a democratic society to be marked by unity, by community of purpose, by loyalty to public ends and by mutuality of sympathy. But it does mean unmistakably two things. The first is an attitude of mind, an attitude, respect and equality towards their fellows. The second is a social organization free from rigid social barriers.”[18] Democracy is incompatible and inconsistent with anything that result in the distinction between the privileged and the unprivileged. He identified the economic structure adopted in India responsible for widening the gap between the haves and have-nots and observed that because of this form of democracy India cannot function with merits. He further stated that, “Democracy is not a form of government, but a form of social organization.”[19] The coexistence of all three democracies is imperative to achieve the goals of equality and fraternity as enshrined in our Constitution in the Preamble.[20]

Democracy in Indian Constitution

Indian Constitution, says Granville Austin, is first and foremost a social document.[21] The preamble of Indian Constitution recognizes India as a democratic nation endeavoring to secure to the citizens of India Justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. The Constitution of India with long parliamentary debates drafted by the committee of wise people headed by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar borrowed from various Constitutions of the world over and Government of India Act, 1935. Rule of law is one of the important parts of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution.[22] In Kihoto Hollohan v. Zachillhu[23] it was held by the Supreme Court of India that the democracy is a part of the basic structure of our Constitution; and rule of law and free and fair elections are basic features of democracy.

Democratic State

The word ‘State’ has been defined in the same manner in Parts III and IV of the Indian Constitution which indicates that the founding fathers of the Constitution wanted the nation’s ideals of national unity and integrity, and a democratic and equitable society, to be achieved through a socio-economic revolution pursued with a democratic spirit using constitutional, democratic institutions.[24] In Union of India v. Major S.P. Sharma[25] it was observed by the Supreme Court that in a democracy governed by rule of law, no Government or authority has the right to do what it pleases.

Conclusion

B.R. Ambedkar’s idea on democracy and to show that the roots of democracy lie not in the form of Government but in the social relationships. The intellectual contribution of Dr. Ambedkar to the growth of democracy as a means of emancipation is noteworthy. Successful functioning of democracy necessitates an ideal society for conveying a change taking place from one part to other parts. It is even after the six decade of independence, the Indian society as well as political democracy has been unable to generate the ideal conditions essential for the smooth functioning of democracy as per Dr. Ambedkar’s perspective.

He envisioned that the society must be based on the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. But the journey of Indian democracy has not been smooth and easy and larger part of Indian population has not enjoyed the fruits of democracy. Proper implementation and observance of rule of law and constitutional principles is the only solution to address this challenge. The future of Indian democracy depends a great deal on a revival of Dr. Ambedkar’s visionary conception of democracy.

Dr. Ambedkar’s vision of democracy was closely related to his ideal of a “good society”.[26] For him, democracy was both the means and the end of this ideal. Democracy meant much more to him than democratic government, instead essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards fellowmen and an instrument for social transformation and human progress. He urged for inclusion of social ethics to acquire a central role in democratic politics so that a new world may come into view.

His warning on 26th January 1950 when Indian Constitution was adopted that we are going to enter into a life of contradictions of equality in politics and inequality in social and economic life and if we continue to deny it for long our political democracy will be in peril seems to be true in the current social scenario. The future of Indian democracy needs vision of Dr. Ambedkar about democracy and socialism. The political democracy though survived is not in a good condition.

Indian democracy is confronting new challenges, like Terrorist groups, economic inequality, the rise of militarism, etc. At the same time new areas boosting democratic spirit is also developing like the right to information, the panchayati raj amendments, modern communication technology, transnational cooperation, representation of women in politics, etc.

If the Directive Principles of the Constitution[27]are implemented and revived, hopefully the democracy can be regained in its full spirit and in this regard concepts of Dr. Ambedkar will contribute much. It is a time that we must strive hard to save democracy, the most valued political term in the modern world. It is sad to notice that though, all free societies are democratic, and democracies fail to protect individual freedom. We must consider ourselves as architects of democracy to beautify the constitutional structure.

[1] Ashok Kumar, Dr. Ambedkar’s Thoughts On Democracy And Its Relevance in Existing Indian Thoughts Scenario, Indian Streams Research Journal (Oct. ; 2012) .

[2] KSHIRSAGAR RAMCHANDRA KAMAJI, POLITICAL THOUGHT OF DR. BABASAHEB AMBEDKAR, 53 (Intellectual publishing house, New Delhi, 1992).

[3] Ashok Kumar, Supra note 1.

[4] Ibid.

[5] http://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article467.html (accessed on 30th Mar. 2016).

[6] Dr. Ambedkar’s vision- social justice” for the women, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, accessible at http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/10806/10/10_chapter%203.pdf (accessed on 27 Jan. 2016).

[7] KSHIRSAGAR RAMCHANDRA   KAMAJI, Supra note 2 at 54.

[8] Thorat Sukhdeo, Ambedkar in Retrospect; Essays on Economics, Politics and Society 8, Indian Institute of Dalit studies (2007).

[9] JATAVA D.R, POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY OF B.R. AMBEDKAR 77(National publishing House, New Delhi, 2001).

[10] KSHIRSAGAR RAMCHANDRA   KAMAJI, Supra note 2 at 55.

[11] DR.SHASHIS.S, AMBEDKAR AND SOCIAL JUSTICE, VOL.I, Publications Division, Ministry   Of Information and Broadcasting, 162 (Government of India, New India,   1992).

[12] KSHIRSAGAR RAMCHANDRA   KAMAJI, Supra note 2 at 57.

[13] Das Bhagwan (ed.), Thus Spoke Ambedkar, Vol. I, 22 (Buddhist Publishing House, 1969).

[14] Ishita Aditya Ray, B.R.Ambedkar And His Philosophy On Indian Democracy: An Appraisal, Journal of Education and Practice, 2,5 (2011).

[15] KSHIRSAGAR RAMCHANDRA   KAMAJI, Supra note 2 at 59.

[16] Id. at 60, See also https://ambedkarism.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/ambedkar-thoughts/ (accessed on 29th Mar.   2016).

[17] Dr. Sandesh m. wagh, Ambedkar’s Thoughts on Democracy, 1 Indian Streams Research Journal, Issue IX, (2011), srj.org/UploadedData/3318.pdf (accessed on 31st Dec. 2016).

[18] Das Bhagwan, Thus Spoke Ambedkar, Vol.II, 146(Buddhist Publishing House, 1969).

[19] Shyam Chand, DrAmbedkar on Democracy, http://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article467.html (accessed on 14th  Feb. 2016).

[20] Vikrant Sopan Yadav, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s views on Democracy and Indian Constitution: An Analytical Appraisal ,International Journal of Applied Research, 2(4), 308-310, (2016). http://www.allresearchjournal.com/  archives/2016/vol2issue4/PartE/2-3-181.pdf (accessed on 14th Feb. 2017).

[21] GRANVILLE AUSTIN, INDIAN CONSTITUTION- THE CORNERSTONE OF A NATION 50 (New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2007).

[22] Indira Nehru Gandhi v. Raj Narain, 1975 Supp SCC 1.

[23] (1992) Supp (2) SCC.

[24] See Minerva Mills v. Union of India, AIR 1980 SC 1789.

[25] (2014) 6 SCC 351.

[26] Jean Dreze, Dr. Ambedkar and the Future of Indian Democracy, http://econdse.org/wpcontent/uploads/2012/09/ JD-Ambedkar-and-future-of-democracy2005.pdf (accessed on 23rd Feb 2017).

[27] INDIAN CONST, Part IV, Articles 36-51.

  1. Associate Professor, Government Law College, Kozhikode []