Today, 14th April, is the birth-day of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the principal architect of the Indian Constitution. I hadn’t read much of Ambedkar before, and I almost accidentally stumbled upon his work while reading John Dewey as a part of grad-school work. Ambedkar, it turns out, studied under Dewey at Columbia, and considered Dewey as one of his favorite teachers — a paper outlining the influence of Dewey on Ambedkar can be found here.
A couple of weeks back, I was reading the speech that Ambedkar gave towards the end of the constitution drafting process. Even after nearly 65 years, the speech rings largely true, in an almost prophetic manner. The text of the entire speech is available online as a part of the public parliamentary proceedings (volume XI, part 11, pages 55 – 63), and here are some excepts that I thought are extremely relevant even today:
‘If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do? The first thing in my judgment 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 coöperation 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.’
‘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.’
‘On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has so laboriously built up.’