Dalit History Month Special: Dr. Ambedkar's Democratic Vision- How Did He Shape India's Democracy?

Ambedkar believed that Buddhism is more compatible with democracy. In Buddhism, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar found that the Dhamma is ethics and Ethics is Dhamma. Thus enabling ethical rule in a country.
Dalit History Month Special: Dr. Ambedkar's Democratic Vision- How Did He Shape India's Democracy?

Lucknow: Democracy is a form of government in which power is vested in the hands of the people, either directly or through elected representatives. It is characterized by principles such as political equality, freedom of expression, regular, free, and fair elections.

Democracy in India has proved to be an enabler of the upward mobility of Dalits. If the constitution bestowed the Dalits of the country with some rights like reservation in jobs and education, the right to vote, etc., democracy, with its reins in the hands of people, ensures that there remains an accountability, and each vote counts, irrespective of caste, stature, etc.

Today, as part of Dalit History Month in the run-up to Ambedkar Jayanti, we delve into Ambedkar’s perspective on Democracy as he presented his opinion on the subject through his writings between 1917 and 1956 i.e. till his death.

Dr Ambedkar’s espousal of the democratic system can be traced back to 1917. While presenting his evidence before the Southborough committee, or the Franchise Committee, which was collecting evidence on the quantum and qualifications to be fixed for the Indian voters.

During his testimony before the committee, Ambedkar passionately argued for the political representation and empowerment of Dalits, challenging the prevailing caste-based discrimination and advocating for their social and political upliftment. Highlighting the systemic discrimination against, he called for reserved seats in legislative bodies and other affirmative action measures to ensure political representation for Dalits and other oppressed communities.

Ambedkar set forth his idea of democracy by supporting three essential pillars- Democratic form of governance, the right to vote for all, adequate (if not proportional) representation for all sections of society.

In 1935, he described democracy as a mode of associated living in his bestselling book “The Annihilation of Caste.”

"(In an ideal society) there should be varied and free points of contact with other modes of association. In other words, there should be social endosmosis. This is fraternity, which is only another name for democracy. Democracy is not merely a form of Government. It is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards fellowmen."

Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar was grounded in the notion of Indian first and an Indian last but he considered nationalist sentiments because they helped move the "Wheels of the Democracy" - for him, the notion of Democracy was superior to Indianization or nationalization.

Ambedkar believed that Buddhism is more compatible with democracy.

"Religion has been a source of morality or ethics for the majority of people. He propounded that no new prophet will emerge and therefore we must look into existing religions to find ethics that accord with democracy. While undertaking a comparative study of religions, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar came to the conclusion that Hinduism, by its very nature and essence, is not democratic. In a short survey of religions in the Buddha and the Future of His Religions, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar made this point. While it might be possible to create secular ethics (and we do not know how), the reconstruction in religions if they are open to examination might be one important way."

In Buddhism, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar found that the Dhamma is ethics and Ethics is Dhamma. Thus enabling ethical rule in a country.

He provided a cultural shape to Buddhism by embracing the Buddha's Dhamma on 14th October 1956 as he believed that it was fundamentally and essentially democratic.

Political Democracy and Social democracy

Ambedkar’s quest for Democracy which began in 1917 took a political shape with India becoming a Republic in 1950 and its electoral testing in 1952.

However, he had his share of skepticism with democracy as he writes:

"Democracy in India is only a top dressing of the Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic."

Ambedkar was fully aware of the gross contradiction between constitutional equality and the social equality prevailing in the country.

Dr Ambedkar firmly believed that social democracy was the base of political democracy. In a social democracy, he believed that social democracy is when the society practices liberty, equality, and fraternity.

In his speech in Constituent Assembly on 25th November 1949, he said:

“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 that recognizes liberty, equality, and fraternity as the principles of life. These principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity are not to be treated as separate items in a trinity. They form a union of trinity in the sense that to divorce one from the other is to defeat the very purpose of democracy. Liberty cannot be divorced from equality; equality cannot be divorced from liberty. Nor can liberty and equality be divorced from fraternity. Without equality, liberty would produce the supremacy of the few over the many. Equality without liberty would kill individual initiative. Without fraternity, liberty equality could not become a natural course of things. It would require a constable to enforce them… For fraternity can be a fact only when there is a nation. Without fraternity equality and liberty will be no deeper than coats of paint.”

He added that without social democracy, those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has to laboriously built up”.

The State of Democracy today through Ambedkarite lens

Speaking to The Mooknayak, Mangesh Dahiwale, an Ambedkarite intellectual, says, “Dr Ambedkar spoke about various types of democracies in India - Political democracy, Social Democracy, Intellectual Democracy, Economic Democracy, etc., and he believed that the absence of democracy in these aspects threatened Parliamentary democracy, and he cited the case of Germany and Italy under Hitler and Mussolini, respectively. Given the state in India, where the opposition leaders are being intimidated through misuse of government institutions, Ambedkar would have definitely felt disappointed by the manipulation of democracy."

Dalit History Month Special: Dr. Ambedkar's Democratic Vision- How Did He Shape India's Democracy?
Dalit History Month Special: 'Souten' - A Rare Commercial Gem Confronting Untouchability & Unveiling Societal Realities for 'Harijan' in the 1980s
Dalit History Month Special: Dr. Ambedkar's Democratic Vision- How Did He Shape India's Democracy?
Tata Steel Empowers Transgender Community, Deploys New Batch of 14 as Heavy Earth Moving Machinery Operator Trainees

You can also join our WhatsApp group to get premium and selected news of The Mooknayak on WhatsApp. Click here to join the WhatsApp group.

Related Stories

No stories found.
The Mooknayak English - Voice Of The Voiceless