By Badre Alam and Sanjay Kumar for TwoCircles.net
Editors: Pr Christophe Jaffrelot and Dr Narender Kumar
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Price (Hardcover): Rs 850
Professor Christophe Jaffrelot (King’s India Institute, London) and Professor Narender Kumar (JNU, New Delhi) have published a new volume on Dr Ambedkar and Democracy: An Anthology (2018). The book highlights the limits of Hindu nationalist politics and its version of Hindu majority democracy vis-Ã -vis minority rights and social justice. While reflecting on “minority issues” Ambedkar argued that if the communal majority rather than the secular majority seized “state power”, then it was imperative that the democratic state develop some mechanism. institutional to protect the rights of religious and social minorities. The very purpose of democratic politics, as Ambedkar believes, is to bridge the gap between majority and minority communities. However, under Prime Minister Modi’s current political regime, the gap has widened and created the irony of democracy and its electoral politics. For example, in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections in 2017, the BJP won an unprecedented majority without fielding a single Muslim candidate. Another notable but unfortunate feature of Indian democracy is the decline in Muslim representation since independence. Currently, there are only 23 Muslim MPs out of 544 in the Indian parliament, which is much lower than the Muslim percentage and therefore challenges Ambedkar’s idea of ââdemocratic inclusion of minorities in the political arena.
It is sad to see many ministers in the current regime who have obtained their seats based on their common views on minorities and against Muslims in particular. No wonder a BJP minister recently openly declared that minority rights provisions should be removed from the Indian constitution. Some politicians in the ruling party have engaged in propaganda that the Indian minority has more rights than the majority, which clearly rings against the principle of equal opportunity and the very spirit of the constitution. However, it should be emphasized here that studies carried out in several states by a number of civil society groups have clearly noted that the socio-economic and educational conditions of Indian Muslims are close to the bottom. The Sachar Committee report (2006), the Rangnath Mishra report (2007) and the Kudu report (2014) have shown that the marginalization of Muslims in all areas of life continues unabated.
It is clear that the BJP is only interested in appropriating Ambedkar symbolically and on the ground, the party betrays its egalitarian approach. Additionally, BJP-RSS combines Ambedkar’s use 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 has always championed social justice, regardless of caste and community. In this regard, this volume is a timely intervention that addresses the municipal issue.
In this regard, a well-known scholar Prof Sukhdeo Throat and the editors of this volume pointed out that the project of “nation building” could only be achieved if Ambedkar’s ideas on social justice, substantial democracy , minority rights, women’s rights, etc. are covered by the current regime. Professor Thorat in his foreword referred to Ambedkar’s views on democracy, social and economic representations, Buddhism, etc. and underlined their relevance in the current context. Introducing the idea of ââdemocracy, as Babasaheb had put forward about the formative stage of nation-building, Professor Thorat quotes: âfor Dr Ambedkar, democracy is above all an associative way of life. with an attitude of respect and reverence towards other men â. Professor Thorat adds: “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”. Quoting Dr. Ambedkar’s observation on Buddhism, Throat mentions that âthe rise of Buddhism in India was as important as theâ French revolution â. In the words of Dr Ambedkar, “Buddhism paved the way for the establishment of democracy and the socialist model of society in India” (p-201) In addition, Professor Throat also discusses the idea of âârepresentation of minorities as conceptualized by Ambedkar. It is relevant to note that Dr Ambedkar reminded us long ago that while the communal majority seizes state power, some form of guarantees for minority groups are extremely crucial for the survival of liberal democracy. Dr Ambedkar’s understanding of minority rights is not based solely on numbers and demographics, but ‘social discrimination’ and the position in the power structure of the wider public sphere must also be taken into account when considering the definition of minorities. For Ambedkar, the Untouchables are a minority in India. It should be noted that the editors of this volume have pointed out that in the current context of municipal politics, Dr Ambedkar’s idea of ââgiving more rights and weight to minority communities against the municipal majority has now become more significant.
Most importantly, while discussing the need for ‘constitutional socialism,’ observes Professor Throat, ‘Dr Ambedkar has brought the provision for social and economic justice through the guiding principles of state policy, which give the state the responsibility to follow the principles to pursue the objective of social and economic equality through laws and policies â. While underlining the intimate link between social democracy and political democracy, he underlines that âAmbedkar considered social democracy to be a necessary condition for the success of political democracy. Dr Ambedkar argued that social democracy primarily involves the idea of ââsocial justice â.
The editors of 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, the principles justifying the representation of minorities, the electoral method for the representation of minorities. minorities and general guarantees against municipal laws. majority. Ambedkar observed in the mid-1940s the implication of the communal majority for the nation and nationalism. In this regard, âState and Minorities,â Ambedkar said: âUnfortunately, for minorities in India, Indian nationalism has developed a new doctrine which can be called the divine right of the majority to rule minorities according to the wishes of the majority. Any demand for the sharing of power by the minority is called communalism while the monopolization of all power by the majority is called nationalism. (p.-172)
It is relevant to stress here that Ambedkar’s idea of ââdemocracy is very relevant in the current socio-political scenario. For, Indian democracy still unable to maintain equality in social and economic life and there is a lack of fraternity in our social relations, undermine efforts to strengthen democracy and the nation. For Ambedkar, the Hindu caste society is against the notion of egalitarianism. This idea of ââa hierarchical Hindu social order has been sanctified by the Hindu scriptures. That is why; Dr. Ambedkar had advocated Buddhism which promotes the idea of ââfreedom, equality and brotherhood in all areas of life. Discussing the preconditions for a successful democracy, he recalled long ago that democracy cannot be achieved if âglaring inequalitiesâ prevail in 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 social life of the people are brought about without bloodshed” (P-219). He went on to say that “we made this constitution because we didn’t want a hereditary monarchy and we didn’t want a hereditary ruler or dictator” (p-225). And finally, he stresses that for the proper functioning of democracy, âconstitutional moralityâ must prevail over so-called public morality.
The danger of Hindutva politics for the idea of ââIndia is well addressed by this volume and therefore a welcome addition to engage. The volume successfully raised fundamental questions such as social justice, democracy, representations, minority rights, etc. It would not be an exaggeration to say that after the rise of Hindu nationalists in Indian politics, the principles and ideas defended by Dr Ambedkar are seriously threatened. The dreams and aspirations of nation building could only be realized if we protect the rights of the disadvantaged.
Badre Alam is a research fellow at the University of Delhi, Department of Political Science, and Sanjay Kumar is a postdoctoral researcher at JNU