The vision of Babasaheb
How would one feel if he/she was made to sit separately at school on the basis of social identity? How would one feel if he/she was served water from a height so as to avoid any physical contact?
All this and much more is a glimpse of the discrimination which a 6-year-old child from Mhow was put through. But none would have ever realised that this 6-year-old will one day bounce back to establish himself as one of the founding fathers of Independent India – Babasaheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.
Today, the nation celebrates the 125th birth anniversary of Babasaheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar in full vigor. It was on this day 125 years ago that the tiny military village of Mhow witnessed the birth of a child who was destined to bring out a section of humanity from centuries of distress to a promising future of dignity. Ambedkar came from a financially stable family which enabled him to have the facility of primary education. However, the thought of untouchability often crisscrossed Ambedkar's mind whenever he was denied key services of a barber or a driver on the basis of his social origin.
Many sources have testified to Ambedkar’s academic excellence. In his historical treatise called “Makers of Modern India”, Ramachandra Guha 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. The problem with the contemporary discourse on Ambedkar is that his ideas and philosophy are less used and more abused. A bird’s eye view of his writings, speeches, and works clearly present a multi-dimensional personality. Restricting his vision to a particular community or ideology is indeed a grave disservice to the noble soul.
Stalwarts who drafted the Constitution of India were persons of great vision and foresight. As Chairperson of the Drafting Committee and a lone voice for historically deprived segments of society, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, popularly known as Babasaheb, forthrightly steered the wheels of the committee and produced the lengthiest Constitution for the world’s most diverse nation. Somehow the civilisational consciousness of our great nation has never failed to acknowledge the role played by our subaltern heroes in the field of documenting events and thereby guiding the cultural trajectory. The farsighted contribution of Sage Ved Vyasa and Maharishi Valmiki in the making of Mahabharata and Ramayana respectively is evident of the aforementioned hypothesis. Babasaheb’s intellectual personality, armed with a comprehensive understanding of the plethora of issues faced by the nation at that moment, made him the most appropriate candidate for the job.
His multidisciplinary scholarship in economics, sociology, and politics created an envious body of work that was second to none. The unquestionable popularity of Babasaheb amongst the oppressed classes added a much-needed democratic boost in his quest for building a fair, equitable, and inclusive document that has guided the destiny of over 1/6th of Indians. More than six decades of Independence, and here we are proudly flaunting to the world our unique model of development that is inclusive of both economic growth and democracy.
A noteworthy facet of Babasaheb has been his emphasis on education. In his fight to uplift the oppressed classes, Babasaheb maintained that Dalit-led empowerment is only possible with the help of education. He firmly believed that only when one is armed with education can one fiercely compete and succeed. True to this, Babasaheb rightly said, “The backward classes have come to realise 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 civilisation, 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 realised 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 often credited his professor for being someone he owes his intellectual life to. Prof. John Dewey was an American philosopher, psychologist, and best known as an educational reformer. He was also one of the central figures associated with functional psychology, philosophy, and progressive education.
An important takeaway from Babasaheb’s life is that he was not just widely read but also very well-read. One can discern this from the very fact that he took up the mantle to study amongst the very best minds at Columbia University. When he enrolled, Babasaheb took various courses ranging from the economics of American railways to American history. He was keen to learn from many of the top–ranking professors at Columbia University.
Intellectuals of a particular strand of thought often selectively quote his uncompromising stance on theology. But at a Manmad Railway Workers Conference in 1938, Ambedkar 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 realise 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 analysed. His unquestionable faith in unity can be gauged from his 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."
Apart from his skills in making the Constitution and social reform, another facet is his pragmatic vision for India’s foreign policy. Eleven years before the war against China, Babasaheb forewarned India to choose the West over the Chinese and urged the 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 on 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. “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," he said.
Ambedkar repeatedly expressed the desirability of a league of democracies. “Do you want parliamentary government? If you want it, then you must be friendly with those who have a parliamentary government,” he said.
No words are sufficient to describe the vital contribution of Babasaheb. However, the time is ripe to truly appreciate the values propagated by Babasaheb in his lifetime. The NDA government on the occasion of his 125th 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 have traditionally been inaccessible for various reasons.
(Guru Prakash is a Research Scholar at Delhi University. Sudarshan Ramabadran is a graduate of the Asian College of Journalism. Views expressed are strictly personal.)