Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Ambedkar's warnings

The main reason for my reading Makers of Modern India by Ramachandra Guha was that there were many people in the book I knew nothing about - Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, Jyotirao Phule, Tarabhai Shinde, Hamid Dalwai, Syed Ahmed Khan and Verrier Elwin. Many people in the book raised issues that are relevant for current times and I will write about some of them in the next few posts. (You can watch a discussion about the book here.)

Ambedkar is the only person who figures in two sections in the book. The first set of writings by him are on caste where his undelivered speech 'The  Annihilation of Caste' is well worth reading as also his criticism of Gandhi. The second selection of his thoughts are about the Constitution. In his final speech to the Constituent Assembly, he issues three warnings:
If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do? The first thing in my judgement we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.

The second thing we must do is to observe the caution which John Stuart Mill has given to all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, not "to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with power which enable him to subvert their institutions". There is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country. But there are limits to gratefulness. As has been well said by the Irish Patriot Daniel O'Connel, no man can be grateful at the cost of his honour, no woman can be grateful at the cost of her chastity and no nation can be grateful at the cost of its liberty. This caution is far more necessary in the case of India than in the case of any other country. For in India, Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.
In a country like India, where there is a significant level of poverty and illiteracy, leaders who give something to those people will inevitably acquire demi-god status among them. It is more surprising to see educated people treat their favorites as beyond criticism. These leaders seem to have a mindset similar to that of Ferdinand Marcos as described in this talk by Ashis Nandy. Marcos told a friend of his at a party:
You know, everybody thinks I am a despot but  actually I am a democrat in my heart. But these Phillippinos, they are totally ungovernable and undemocratic in the spirit, so I have to guide them like a strict schoolmaster towards a strict democratic Philippines and that  is held against me.
Ambedkar's third warning had to do with equity:
The third thing we must do is not to be content with mere political democracy. We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well. Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy. What does social democracy mean? It means a way of life which recognizes liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life. 
For discussions about various forms of inequality, the different meanings of equality, the distinction between rights and policies, and the relationship between distributive justice and institutional well-being, you can check Anti-Utopia: Essential Writings of Andre Beteille.

14/01/2015 - One link added.

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