Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ambedkar's Speech, November 25, 1949

Sukhdeo Thorat's piece in the Hindu today made me go looking for this speech that others have referred to before (offhand, Ram Guha comes to mind).
It's worth reading in entirety, so please go here (where you will have to scroll to nearly the end if you want only the speech, but I would recommend that the whole thing be read - it's fascinating). For the moment, in the context of Anna Hazare and the Jan Lokpal Bill, this excerpt:

On the 26th of January 1950, India would be a democratic country in the sense that India from that day would have a government of the people, by the people and for the people. The same thought comes to my mind. What would happen to her democratic Constitution ? Will she be able to maintain it or will she lose it again. This is the second thought that comes to my mind and makes me as anxious as the first.

It is not that India did not know what is Democracy. There was a time when India was studded with republics, and even where there were monarchies, they were either elected or limited. They were never absolute. It is not that India did not know Parliaments or Parliamentary Procedure. A study of the Buddhist Bhikshu Sanghas discloses that not only there were Parliaments—for the Sanghas were nothing but Parliaments—but the Sanghas knew and observed all the rules of Parliamentary Procedure known to modem times. They had rules regarding seating arrangements, rules regarding Motions, Resolutions, Quorum, Whip, Counting of Votes, Voting by Ballot, Censure Motion, Regularization, Res JudicaUl, etc. Although these rules of Parliamentary Procedure were applied by the Buddha to the meetings of the Sanghas, he must have borrowed them from the rules of the Political Assemblies functioning in the country in his time.

This democratic system India lost. Will she lose it a second time ? I do not know, but it is quite possible in a country like India—where democracy from its long disuse must be regarded as something quite new—there is danger of democracy giving place to dictatorship. It is quite possible for this new born democracy to retain its form but give place to dictatorship in fact. If there is a landslide, the danger of the second possibility becoming actuality is much greater.

If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do? The first thing in my judgement 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-cooperation 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.

The second thing we must do is to observe the caution which John Stuart Mill has given to all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, not " to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with powers which enable him to subvert their institutions. " There is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country. But there are limits to gratefulness. As has been well said by the Irish Patriot Daniel O'Connel, ' no man can be grateful at the cost of his honour, no woman can be grateful at the cost of her chastity and no nation can be grateful at the-cost of its liberty.' 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.

The third thing we must do is not to be content with mere political democracy. We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well. Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy. What does social democracy mean ? It means a way of life which recognizes liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life. These principles of liberty, equality and fraternity are not to be treated as separate items in a trinity. They form a union of trinity in the sense that to divorce one from the other is to defeat the very purpose of democracy. Liberty cannot be divorced from equality, equality cannot be divorced from liberty. Nor can liberty and equality be divorced from fraternity. Without equality, liberty would produce the supremacy of the few over the many. Equality without liberty would kill individual initiative. Without fraternity, liberty and equality could not become a natural course of things. It would require a constable to enforce them. We must begin by acknowledging the fact that there is complete absence of two things in Indian Society. One of these is equality. On the social plane, we have in India a society based on the principle of graded inequality which means elevation for some and degradation for others. On the economic plane, we have a society in which there are some who have immense wealth as against many who live in abject poverty. 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.

There's also a huge number of must-read articles and responses on Kafila.

Yesterday, Aruna Roy said something that made immense sense but I can only paraphrase. She said, of course everyone has the right to dissent but it is also incumbent on those who dissent to listen. Not sure how much listening (the annoyingly named) Team Anna is doing.


S. said...

This is a fabulous speech. Thanks a lot for sharing.

Anonymous said...

But listening has to be from both sides, no?. This lokpal bill has been in drafting for 40+ years. Now this government, that tolerated the Rajas and TR Balus and Dayanidhi Marans (shameful pattern for a Tamilian) and others till the supreme court had to intervene, submitted a weak ass bill to the parliament. With their majority in LS and support from "friends" in RS, they can pass this weak bill. How are we going to change their minds about it?

We don't in India have a culture like America does of Congressmen holding town halls in their constituencies. Nor do we have a culture of calling up our MP/MLA and pressuring them to vote a certain way on an issue. Also parties would most certainly issue a whip when this issue comes up.

How are we supposed to get this passed?. They were saying it took 15 years to get a draft of the RTI bill and then pass it. How long do we need to wait for even a weak ass lokpal bill to pass?

I am sure I can trawl through Ambedkar's speeches and writings and come up with something that talks about the responsibilities of the elected representatives. Something that the current lot (and those before them) have failed to discharge. Would it then break the contract that Ambedkar talks about, of not resorting to Satyagraha and civil disobediance?. Isn't there responsibility on both sides - the elected and electing?. Haven't the elected failed to hold up their end of the bargain for decades now? If you think they have held up their end, then there is nothing to talk about I am afraid.


Space Bar said...

S: It is, isn't it?

Rajagopal: Listening has to happen from all sides - the govt. must listen when people say the bill they have tabled is weak; but so also must Anna et al. listen when people say their version of the lok pal has huge problems. More than ever, their responsibility to take on board opinions of those who dissent, when they have first invoked it in the first place, is crucial.

I will shortly post (after checking for permissions etc.) Aruna Roy and the NCPRI's proposals for the Lokpal Bill. There is an email to which people can send their suggestions/ideas/objections. I have yet to see the people around Anna who are doing the drafting take on board anybody else's opinion than their own.

Let there be no mistake about Ambedkar's speech: he asks that all three arms of govt take their responisbilities seriously and says that the constitution is only as good as those who uphold it.

And yes, they have failed.

But I am not convinced that the only solution is to completely distrust the entire constitutional process. Even those who have drafted the Jan Lokpal Bill are products of the same process they now vilify.

Why must this become the one thing or the other? Why, especially when there is such a groundswell of popular feeling and all things are possible, can the core group of Anna's team, not take on board serious objections to their framing of the bill?

km said...

I was surprised to see the Bhakti reference in the speech. I had naively assumed the whole religion bullcrap entered Indian politics only in the 1960s.

(BTW, many of your links are going to your blog URL.)

Space Bar said...

km: oh yikes! i didn't actually put any other links except those in my introductory remarks. how did so many appear?!