It was the day of 25 November 1949 when Dr B.R Ambedkar, being the legendary intellect and future thinkers he was, stood as a speaker in front of our highly esteemed Constituent Assembly.
While everyone was proud of the hard work that had gone into making our Constitution, he stood there worrying about its implementation.
His speech highlighted his doubts and fears. A question that deeply troubled him was whether India would be capable of saving its freedom. He ran back to history where he pointed out examples of how Shivaji Maharaj was betrayed by his own fellow Maratha and Rajput noblemen, which led to his loss to the Mughal ruler Mahommed Gohri.
Such internal betrayal and selfish bribery rising again worried him. He understood that India, being a democracy, would have numerous political parties made of different castes and creeds.
But would future Indians hold creed higher than their country? Would the people destroy their own, leading to the downfall of the country again?
68 years after being warned by him, his three lessons remain the keystones that should guide our nation, though we as a nation have sadly drifted far from his advice. ‘Poverty/corruption free India’ remains only propaganda for numerous votes.
Extremist leaders given a wide hearing and scholars are often silenced. Political unfitness for the elected role is as common popular as weight reduction surgery. Inter-faith marriages, films and disputes over land top the list of political concerns. Patriotism is brought down to a topic of debate, the headlines being, “Is patriotism worth standing up for in theatres?”.
All this takes us back to Dr Ambedkar’s warnings in his speech.
His first warning was against the use of ‘popular protest’ methods to solve problems. According to him, forms of popular protest such as civil disobedience and non-cooperation should have been abandoned in the future as they only lead to anarchy.
In the presence of constitutional methods of reproach and redress, aggressive methods of protest should have been dismantled. Today, this warning stands ignored. Violent, and often murderous, protests are a stain on democracy and a question mark on the justice system.
As Constitutional methods are seen as neither strong nor, the endless protests seem to indicate a lack of faith in the constitution.
Dr Ambedkar’s second threat to India is evident by all but spoken by only a few. This is to have blind faith towards one person, hero-worship or ‘Bhakti’. He said,”In India, ‘Bhakti’ or what is maybe called the path of devotion or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and eventual dictatorship”.
68 years after being warned by him, we are certainly guilty of that as a nation.
It feels like India has always looked up to one man/woman for a change, progress and help. It is also ironic that the man who himself condemned hero worship, today stands as the ‘hero’ of many political parties.
Elections are won by people who vow to follow principles of Dr Ambedkar – filtered for their benefit. Even if you flip the coin to the other side, it is true that the man who wished India to follow a democracy for all, today stands as a sole representative and hero for only a few.
Hero worship is nothing new in Indian democracy – whether it is PM Nehru or PM Modi. A one-man changemaker for a population of billion-plus is practically impossible. But the magic power of the ‘one leader’ is apparently stronger than practicality in India.
In his last warning, Dr Ambedkar urged us to fight for an equal social and economic democracy, and never settle merely for an equal political democracy.
He saw India as beginning an equal political democracy with an unequal social and economic structure. He urged the people of India to endeavour to gain social and economic equality.
He cautioned the people that the imbalance between an equal political democracy and an unequal social and economic democracy would only lead to the doom of India.
Coming to 2017, the situation is such that political democracy stands strong due to an independent election commission and awareness of voting rights created by political parties itself. But the attempt at achieving social and economic stability has mostly faltered.
Placing Dr Ambedkar into today’s political and social scenario seems to be impossible. A foreteller such as him has been let down. We chose to hear only those of his beliefs that profited us, but we made a great mistake by ignoring his warnings.
Let us hope we do better by the time India is 100.