Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ambedkar's Three Warnings About The Future Of India

Adapted from Ramchandra Guha's - "India After Gandhi"

Longer essay by Guha here.

On 25th November, 1949, the day before the Constituent Assembly wound up its proceedings, the chairman of the Drafting Committee, B.R. Ambedkar made a speech summing up their work.

He ended his speech with three warnings about the future.

1. We must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation, and satyagraha (popular protest). Under an autocratic regime, there might be some justification for them, but not now, when constitutional methods of redress were available. Satyagraha and the like, were nothing but the grammar of anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.

2. Unthinking submission to charismatic authority. To quote John Stuart Mill, who cautioned citizens not "to lay their liberties at the feet of a great man or, to trust him with powers, which enable him to subvert their institutions."

3. Not be content with 'mere political democracy' but, work towards ridding the country of inequality and hierarchy.
"Country was going to enter a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril."


All three are (unfortunately) as topical today as they were over 60 years ago. 

From the jan-andolan (people's protest) the erstwhile India Against Corruption initiative, led by Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and others, which was symptomatic of the first warning. Holding an elected government to account through not the electorate but a public demonstration confined to a particular geography and hence, representing a narrow strata and class of society.

The second is all around a lauh-purush (iron man) and 'decisive leader' narrative around Narendra Modi, whose social & economic track record at best, can be described as patchy. But unfortunately, these records have not been critically examined by a wider range of the electorate who have cornered themselves into a Hobson's choice.

Finally, the last warning is for the electorate themselves and related to both of the prior warnings. When our own narrow interests and topics for outrage do not converge with the larger society, there is bound to be an eventual conflict for the soul of the nation. The extreme left-wing driven Maoist conflict affecting 40% of the country (by land area) is but an outcome of this (continuing) social and economic inequality that finds little mindspace in the case of other otherwise self-proclaimed conscientious citizens mentioned above.

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Blogger Unknown said...

I have to comment on your 1st observation: given the kind of organized corruption gripping the whole of the nation, what else to do than what Anna and group did....would you recommend naxal-way?
We are witnessing a situation where even judiciary is corruption-ridden (one case where you would agree would be to give clean-chit to NM). Good-laws alone are not good enough....There are times when agitation, be it an armed struggle, is the only way out.

1:17 PM  
Blogger Saif said...

AAP proved my point didn't they by (eventually) going to the electorate? So, more power to them or, any other party who chooses that route. Good or, bad, a government is elected by the people, you cannot hold a national government to ransom based on the whims (no matter how ideal) of a few leaders with limited (compared to the total electorate of the country) public support.

Indian democracy is vibrant enough and no matter how educated elites lament the voting trends, the poor/rural folks of the country vote smartly.

1:43 AM  

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