India is celebrating the 126th birth anniversary of Babasaheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar. It was this day 126 years go; in a tiny village of Mhow, in present day Madhya-Pradesh, Bhim Rao was born in the family of erstwhile untouchables.
Indeed a lot of research, reading and writings have gone into the life and works of Babasaheb Ambedkar. To this day, he is considered as one of the greatest leaders of the independence movement not only in terms of his contributions as a revolutionary political activist but also in terms of an intellectual academic. Babasaheb belongs to the legion of leaders who not only did remarkable things to be written about but also wrote extremely worthwhile things to be read by the future generations.
Leading contemporary historian Ramachandra Guha in one of his books, ‘Makers of Modern India’ has acknowledged Dr. B.R. Ambedkar as one of the doyens of modern India whose life is a reflection of an excellent mix of exceptional intelligence and political leadership in an equal proportion. A renowned economist, public intellectual and Member of Rajya Sabha Narendra Jadhav has compiled the speeches and writings of Ambedkar in six volumes and two editions known as Ambedkar speaks and Ambedkar writes respectively. Jadhav has termed Ambedkar as an ‘intellectual colossus’.
Babasaheb was a multi-dimensional man. His multidisciplinary scholarship in economics, sociology, anthropology and politics created an envious body of work and was second to none. The much discussed policy move on demonetization of high currency denomination was conceived by Babasaheb in his days as a student of economics. Restricting his eternal legacy to a particular community, politics, idea or ideology is indeed a grave disservice to his soul.
Maker of Indian Constitution
Men and women who drafted the Constitution of India were persons of great vision and foresight. Babasaheb chaired the drafting committee that produced the lengthiest Constitution for the world’s most diverse nation. The constitution was set to impact the present and future of over 1/6th of the humanity.
One can only imagine the amount of intellectual simulation that must have gone into evolving a model of development that is inclusive of both economic growth and democracy.
Babasaheb as an ardent Educationist
Babasaheb said, “The backward classes have come to realize that after all education is the greatest material benefit for which they can fight. We may forego material benefits, we may forego material benefits of civilization, but we cannot forego our right and opportunities to reap the benefit of the highest education to the fullest extent. That the importance of this question from the point of view of the backward classes who have just realized that without education their existence is not safe.”
Emphasis on education by Babasaheb is reflective of the lifelong impression that his teacher at Columbia University, Prof. John Dewey had on him. Babasaheb has often credited Prof. John Dewey as someone to whom he owes his intellectual life. Prof. John Dewey was an American philosopher, psychologist, and perhaps best known as a reformer of education. Dewey was also one of the central figures associated with functional psychology, philosophy and progressive education.
Babasaheb was a strong votary of attaining formal education abroad. At the time when heading to UK for legal education was considered rewarding in lucrative terms, Babasaheb moved to Columbia University owing to his eternal affection for humanities. He pursued diverse courses ranging from economics of American railways to American history.
Babasaheb on Religion
Dr. Ambedkar at Manmad Railway Workers Conference in 1938 observed, “Character is more important than education. It pains me to see youths growing indifferent to religion. Religion is not opium as is held by some. What good things I have in me or whatever benefits of my education to the society, I owe them to the religious feelings in me.” We must realize that after introspection stretching from months to years, he decides to choose a religion, which is closest to his parent religion. Religious heads and faith leaders from across the spectrum tried to attract him and even went to the extent of making offers that were difficult to refuse. The cultural and spiritual side of his personality is rarely read and analyzed. His unquestionable faith in unity can be gauged from his following observation, “Ethnically all peoples are heterogeneous. It is the unity of culture that is the basis of homogeneity. Taking this for granted, I venture to say that there is no country that can rival the Indian peninsula with respect to the unity of its culture.”
His contribution in shaping India’s foreign policy is often ignored by the strategic community. 11 years before the Chinese attacked India, Babasaheb forewarned India to choose the West over the Chinese and urged the then leadership to shape India’s future on the pillar of constitutional democracy.
Speaking at a gathering of students of Lucknow University in 1951, Ambedkar forewarned: “The government’s foreign policy failed to make India stronger. Why should not India get a permanent seat in the UN Security Council? Why has the prime minister not tried for it? India must choose between parliamentary democracy and the Communist way of dictatorship and come to a final conclusion”.
On China, Ambedkar strongly disagreed with the Tibet policy. He said: “If Mao had any faith in the Panchsheel, he certainly would treat the Buddhist in his own country in a very different way. There is no room for Panchsheel in politics”.
Ambedkar repeatedly expressed the desirability of a league of democracies. He said: “Do you want parliamentary government? If you want it, then you must be friendly with those who have parliamentary government.”
The present government on the occasion of his 126th birth anniversary has fittingly announced a set of legislative measures for Dalits to be relevant stakeholders in the growth story of India. With schemes such as Stand Up India, MUDRA Yojana and National Hub for SC and ST entrepreneurs, Dalits will be able to strongly register their presence in sectors that has traditionally been inaccessible for various reasons.
*Author is working as a Senior Research Fellow and Project Head at India Foundation, NewDelhi.