B.R Ambedkar on Democracy
Visual by Anjali for The Philosophy Project
On November 25, 1949, Dr. BR Ambedkar gave a speech to the constituent assembly, which addresses his concerns about India’s liberty even post-independence, and digs deep into what a democracy is and how it still does not ensure equality and liberty for all people in the country. He goes on to say that there was a moment in India when the country was littered with republics,
and even kings were either elected or limited. It's not as though India was unfamiliar with parliaments or parliamentary procedure going forward in independence, this wasn’t the concern.
He talks about a study of the Buddhist Bhikshu Sanghas which disclosed that Sanghas followed Parliamentary Procedures known to modern times. They had rules regarding seating
arrangements, rules regarding Motions, Resolutions, Quorum, Whip, Counting of Votes, Voting by Ballot, Censure Motion, Regularisation, Res Judicata, etc.
This was a form of democracy India lost, and BR Ambedkar’s main concern was whether India would lose it a second time.
In a country like India, where democracy must be seen as something entirely new due to its long absence, the threat of democracy giving way to dictatorship exists. It's possible that this newly born democracy would keep its shape but fall victim to authoritarianism in practice.
How can a democracy lead to authoritarianism? When the majority is fuelled by bias and hatred for a certain caste or creed that lives among them, it is possible for them to vote someone into power who echoes and validates their biases and fears, however irrational or unjust they may be. In India, Bhakti, also known as the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a role in politics that no other country in the world can match. In religion, Bhakti may be a path to salvation for the soul. In politics, however, Bhakti, or hero-worship, is a guaranteed path to degradation and despotism.
As a solution to this, Ambedkar asks people to not be satisfied with the mere structure and political nature of democracy. We must demand social democracy- a way of life that recognizes
liberty, equality, and fraternity as the principles of life, not to be seen as separate elements of a trinity, but rather a union. To divorce one from the other would contradict democracy's core aim. Liberty without equality would result in the dominance of the few over the many. The individual initiative would be suffocated by equality without liberty. Liberty without fraternity would result in the dominance of the few over the many. Liberty and equality would not be a natural run of events without fraternity.
It is no secret that there is a complete absence of equality in India. BR Ambedkar has served as an inspiration for the anti-caste movement, which brings to clear light the inequality faced by people who do not belong to the oppressor caste. And so, he says “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.” He says that this issue must be resolved as soon as possible; otherwise, those who suffer from inequity will destabilize the political democracy structure that the Assembly has worked so hard to establish. After all- how long can one live a life of contradictions?
In a society where there is still caste, there cannot be fraternity or brotherhood. Caste generates social division. Caste fosters jealousy and animosity between castes.
Fraternity can only be a truth if there is a nation, and if we are to be a real nation, we must conquer these challenges. Equality and liberty will be only a few coats of paint without fraternity.
He points out, as an observation about government in India, that political power has been monopolized by a few for very long, and the many are not only beasts of burden, but also beasts of prey. This monopoly has robbed people of not just their opportunity for advancement,
but also of what might be considered the meaning of life. These oppressed groups are fed up with being ruled. They are eager to be self-governing. As a result, the sooner room is given for them to realize their dream, the better for the few, the better for the country, the better for the country's independence, and the better for the country's democratic system.
Only through establishing equality and fraternity in all aspects of life can this be possible.
Political democracy and the mere structure of it is not enough; our ideals of democracy must permeate every aspect of our lives. Only then can the true essence of a nation and its democracy be realised.