India - International Relations
Dr. Ambedkar, Indian Prime Minister?
Author of the Draft Constitution of India, Dr. Ambedkar epitomised the spirit of a man dedicated to the upliftment of the backward classes. Lynus Misquitta argues that some changes intended by him can only be observed nowadays. From Mumbai.
Leaders are born not made. But leaders are also a product of the times they live. Then only they shine. If the British were not ruling India, Mahatma Gandhi would not have been so revered as a leader. Gandhi with his doctrine of non-violence and satyagraha (passive resistance) left an indelible imprint on the sands of time. So also Winston Churchill would not have been so famous if not for Adolf Hitler’s decimation of London and other English cities. Churchill instilled in his countrymen the courage to face the ruthless German dictator. So also Dr. Ambedkar would not have lasted long even if he was chosen Prime Minister of India because of the times he lived.
There is no doubt that Dr. Bhima Rao Ambedkar was a great leader and a learned man and very much eligible to be the Prime Minister of India, but he lived at a time that was not ripe for a man, who belonged to a backward class, to rule over caste Hindus. Independent India reeked of casteeism and the society was feudal. We have a living example in the present American President-elect, Senator Barack Obama, who could not even manage a pass to enter the Democratic Convention a few years back. But times have changed and the election of Obama as the President of the mightiest Nation on Earth is a tribute to American democratic institutions and the American people.
Dr. Ambedkar epitomised the spirit of a man dedicated to the upliftment of the backward classes. He even renounced Hinduism as he was against the caste Hindus, who looked down on Dalits (backward class) with contempt. Since caste system was very much prevalent in India, a man of Dr. Ambedkar’s inclinations would not hold a candle to the intrigues of the political forces existing in post independent India.
Basically, Dr. Ambedkar would not have opted to take the mantle of the country’s leadership as he would have sacrificed his main purpose of the upliftment of the backward classes, as he would have been pressurized with the varied problems facing independent India. But, even if he was elected, he would have to face the representatives of the people, who would mostly be from upper classes, and would put demands that would benefit them.
Dr. Ambedkar did not have a track record in India’s political circles like many other contemporary leaders had. Jawaharlal Nehru was the undisputed incumbent, to be the Prime Minister of India, due to his track record of civil disobedience, incarceration by the British, and his international status as a great statesman.
Nehru was the undisputed incumbent to be the Prime Minister of India, due to his track record of civil disobedience and his international status.
Dr. Ambedkar was born on 14th April, 1891, in a low caste family and had a harsh childhood. He and his caste brothers were not even allowed to draw water from the village well to drink. He persevered with studies and earned a doctorate at the Columbia University in New York in 1916 and another doctorate from the London School of Economics. He studied Law and took up the cause of Dalits. He started a fortnightly called Mook Nayak (Leader of the Dumb) in 1920. He fought the cause of the ‘untouchables’ in court and was a father figure to the poor. He even made an attempt to have a separate electorate for the backward classes under Ramsay McDonald ‘Communal Award’. Mahatma Gandhi opposed the move and went on fast. Finally he signed a pact with Gandhi called the Poona Pact that gave special concessions to the oppressed classes, like reserved seats on the elected bodies at regional and national level. Independent Labour Party founded by Dr. Ambedkar won in the Provincial elections in Bombay.
In 1929, Dr. Ambedkar made a controversial decision to cooperate with the all-British Simon Commission to set up responsible Indian Government. The Congress boycotted the Commission and took out their own version to get freedom for India. Under these circumstances he lacked popularity on all-India basis to weld the various castes and creeds on this sub-continent. So, he could not have been elected as the Prime Minister of India.
In 1948, Ambedkar presented the Draft Constitution of India, before the people, and the Constituent Assembly adopted it, in its entirety with 356 Articles and 8 Schedules as the Constitution of India on 26th of November, 1949. Article 11 put an end to ‘untouchability’. He also made an attempt to codify the Hindu Law in 1948. He was also the Law Minister in the first Cabinet but he was so disappointed with the system, that he resigned from government in 1951. He was so much against Hinduism that he converted to Buddhism along with 2 lakhs fellow untouchables in October 1956 and exhorted the backward classes to convert to a religion that guaranteed equality. No doubt, he was very popular with the masses but if he was made the Prime Minister he had no chance to consolidate his position and keep his job even for a week as his approach to Hinduism was an anathema for him to remain in power.
He had no chance to consolidate his position and keep his job, as his approach to Hinduism was an anathema for him to remain in power.
The situation in India remains unaltered even after 50 years of Ambedkar’s death. The right-wing fanatics in India still call him a false God. But the recent victory of Barack Obama who graduated from the same Columbia University as Ambedkar 70 years later, brings joy and hope for the Dalits in India. Maybe, if Ambedkar lived today things may have been different. The Dalits are looking for that messiah now with hope to fulfil the dream of their leader. They seem to take recourse to the wise words of Abade Faria who said “Live, and be happy, beloved children of my heart, and never forget the day till God deigns to reveal his secret to man, all human wisdom is contained in these two words ‘wait and hope’.”
Once again let us relive the decade post Indian Independence and there is not even an iota of hope for Dr. Ambedkar to assume the Prime Ministership of India. A small example. Soon after he returned after completing his studies abroad the Maharaja of Baroda appointed him as his political secretary. But no one took orders from him as he belonged to the ‘mahar’ community. This shows that Dr. Ambedkar, though he was a very capable man, was not in a position to eradicate overnight the caste system ingrained in the feudal society. But before he died in December 1956 he had the satisfaction to seeing a lot of reservations being created for the backward classes and this trend is now extended to them even to gain seats in the colleges and universities and in corporate offices. He was awarded the Bharat Ratna (highest civilian presentation) posthumously in 1990.