Ambedkar And Parliamentary Democracy
By Dr KS Sharma
14 April, 2016
‘Parliamentary Democracy is…in reality a government of a hereditary subject class by a hereditary ruling class’ : Ambedkar
Various State Govts and ruling parties are busy preparing to celebrate 125th birthday of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar on April 14. The Sangh Parivar of course had launched efforts last year itself to “appropriate” him, as many have commented. Why only they, everyone sees a vote-getter in Ambedkar. But it is much more than votes and vote-banks. There is statecraft--cratfiness too--in what they do. They have larger goals.
Even as the farce of electoral democracy has become a juggernaut on the four-wheels of moneybags, liquor crates, communal and caste mafias, manipulation and muscle power, all well-greased with state funds that are intended to buy votes in the name of freebies and welfare schemes, and getting increasingly exposed as a commercialized ritual, the ruling classes and their parties are out to sustain, though in vain, the dubious democratic credentials of the system. Quite often they seek to invoke Ambedkar to embellish and laud to the skies the so-called biggest democracy India has. The academic and media pundits would be waiting in the wings--covering up and ignoring the juggernaut mentioned above--to praise the ‘great wisdom’ of the Indian voters, whatever the results, if only to serve the respective winning sections of the ruling class parties, by rendering them legitimacy they do not have. They claim people’s mandate, shoving under the carpet all undemocratic practices, and ascribe to themselves a democratic sanction they do not have in the real sense. In this context certain views of Ambedkar on political democracy, in particular parliamentary democracy, need to be noted, analysed and understood deeply.
Then there has been an attempt in the recent past by the State agencies and a section of the polity and the media to brand and suppress the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) as an “extremist” organization. They are out to invoke and justify use of sedition laws to victimize them. We do not know much about the views of ASA and whether they indeed have “extremist” views as alleged. To the extent known, at least a section of ASA leaders, see and show Ambedkar as an architect of the Indian Constitution. Then there are “leftists” and so-called communists out to embellish and even to defend the parliamentary democracy, particularly as it is practised in India. In view of the above and more reasons, it is instructive to examine some of the views Ambedkar elaborated on parliamentary democracy.
Ambedkar was a great scholar, perhaps the topmost among India’s political class. He was also a politician whose role was sought to be ignored and relegated by the Gandhians, Nehruites, among others. It was not until 1990 that they decided to confer Bharat Ratna on him. And that happened as a non-Congress (VP Singh Govt). was taking root at the centre, after a long gap after 1977 Janata regime. It was only around that time and later that Ambedkar’s writings were more promoted, translated into some other languages and published with initiatives from non-Congress (and non-BJP ) Govts. It was only since then that his statues and Ambedkar Bhavans began to be built in every state, in thousands of villages, as never before. One can not forget that there were agitations at various places – some violent and some subtle – opposing to name a University after Ambedkar. Now there are so many Colleges and Universities in so many states named after him. It was only in the year 1998 that a feature film was made on Ambedkar, by Jabbar Patel, first in English, then dubbed into a few other languages. Despite it being a sincere attempt and a good example of a biographical film, it was never released and promoted in a big way, in the commercial cinema circuit. The cable TV channels show it only very rarely , definitely not in their prime-time slots. It was left to the DD to show it now and then, with least publicity, and often at odd hours. Now everyone is vying to use Ambedkar, even the Sangh Parivar is not lagging behind, having failed in all their earlier dirty tricks. Arun Shourie on Ambedkar was a thing of the past. Now the Parivar is seeking to reinvent and reinterpret their own Ambedkar.
It is in this background that one has to see the motives of the State and ruling class agencies in promoting Ambedkar as THE Architect of Indian Constitution. They have their own reasons for that. The gullible are made to believe as if he was the sole maker of laws and sole architect of a Constitution that are increasingly used to suppress people, stifle freedom of expression, enforce censorship, justify black laws including sections related to sedition, dismiss elected govts and invoke President’s Rule, impose Emergency etc. This is not speak of encounters and disappearances of thousands of people all over India in a very secular manner.
They do not often tell that he was only the Chairman of a Drafting Committee that had so many constraints. That the Constituent assembly was NOT elected by adult franchise, but was elected under much-despired, colonial, Govt. of India Act, 1935; that it was a child conceived much before 1947 August ritual of independence, better termed as Transfer of Power.
It is well known that India had adopted the Westminster model of the British. It is made so popular in India that the common man, even among the educated, does not know that it was born and developed as a form of rule that has been inseparable from bourgeois democracy. It is not appreciated that there are, and there could be, other forms beyond the U.K model, of course apart from the US and French (Presidential) models.
The following are only a few extracts from a paper presented at the XXXII Indian Social Science Congress held at New Delhi from 18'" December to 22nd December 2008.The paper by Dr K. S. SHARMA, Senior Professor of Law, was titled as : “ROADLESS REPUBLIC" TO A REPUBLIC OF ENDS":
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, is popularly known as "the architect of Indian Constitution", as he was the Chairman of the Drafting Committee which prepared the Draft Constitution for adoption and approval by the Constituent Assembly. It is also known that the Indian Constitution opted for parliamentary democracy instead of a presidential democracy and to a great extent adopted the Westminster Model of Democracy. India has crossed fifty eight years experimenting and experiencing Parliamentary Democracy and with nearly a hundred amendments to its Constitution, yet finding the system inadequate to realize fully the dreams of the founding fathers. The question that is pestering us is, were we right in choosing parliamentary democracy as the model for our governance after independence? In an effort to answer this question, it is fit and apt to understand and analyse the views of Dr.Ambedkar on parliamentary democracy, which he held, before he became the Chairman of the Drafting Committee. These views are revealing and after a study of these views, there is no surprise if we begin to doubt whether it was Dr.Ambedkar, who drafted it, as Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution? The following views of Dr.Ambedkar are extracted from the speech he delivered at the concluding session of the All India Trade Union Workers Study Camp held in Delhi from 8th to 17lh September 1943 under the auspices of the Indian Federation of Labour. This historic document seems to have been lost sight of by political pundits, who are severe critics of parliamentary democracy. After a perusal of Ambedkar's views presented on the above occasion, anybody would say that it looks as if he was speaking of Parliamentary Democracy as prevalent today.
In his opening remarks Dr.Ambedkar says that "as the autocracy of Despotic Sovereigns was replaced after a long and bloody struggle by a system known as Parliamentary Democracy, it was felt that this was the last word in the frame of Government. It was believed to bring about the millennium in which every human being will have the right to liberty, property and pursuit of happiness. It is therefore a matter of surprise that there has been a revolt against Parliamentary Democracy although not even a century has elapsed since its universal acceptance and inauguration".
It is already past Sixty Five years since this remark was made and it is true even to this day. At that time there were revolts against Parliamentary Democracy not only in Italy, Germany, Russia and Spain but in most other countries and so Ambedkar poses the question, "why should there be discontent and dissatisfaction against Parliamentary Democracy?" and adds "There is no country in which the urgency of considering this question is greater than it is in India. India is negotiating to have Parliamentary Democracy". The remark that follows is very interesting, He said "There is a great need of someone with sufficient courage to tell Indians - beware of Parliamentary Democracy, it is not the best product, as it appeared to be".
What is surprising and perplexing is that, even though Dr.Ambedkar had the courage to tell Indians that it is "not the best product" and to be "beware of Parliamentary Democracy", the question that arises is, why did he subscribe to this form of governance, as the architect of the Indian Constitution? It looks paradoxical, but the only plausible explanation that can be given is that, after all he was the Chairman of the Drafting Committee, and he had no personal option, but to honestly reflect the wisdom of the Constituent Assembly, which after nearly three years of debates, by the best of elite brains who constituted the said body, had decided on this form of governance. Whatever that be, Dr.Ambedkar's incisive analysis of "why has Parliamentary Democracy failed?" is invaluable and needs a second look after nearly six decades of experimentation in Parliamentary Democracy in India.
Dr.Ambedkar notes that while there was no surprise that Parliamentary Democracy was opposed in Italy, Spain and Germany, where there were dictatorships, what surprised him was that it was also unfortunately opposed in countries where Dictatorships were opposed and in spite of Parliamentary democracy progressing in three directions, ie. expanding the notion of Equality of Political Rights, recognizing the principle of equality of social and economic opportunity and also recognizing that the State cannot be held at bay by Corporations which are anti-social in their purpose. Dr.Ambedkar diagnosing the causes for the failure says: "The causes for this failure may be found either in wrong ideology or wrong organization or in both".
Dr.Ambedkar instances two dominant factors in the category of wrong ideologies. Of them, one is freedom of contract and the other, lack of social and economic democracy. His remarks on these factors are absorbing.
Dr.Ambedkar says, "I have no doubt that what has ruined Parliamentary democracy is the idea of freedom of Contract. Parliamentary Democracy took no notice of economic inequalities and did not care to examine the result of freedom of contract on the parties to the contract should they happen to be unequal. It did not mind if the freedom of contract gave the strong the opportunity to defraud the weak. The result is that Parliamentary Democracy in standing out as protoganist of liberty has continuously added to the economic wrongs of the poor, the downtrodden and the disinherited classes". In retrospect we find how true and prophetic this analysis is. Especially with the ushering in of Globalization, Liberalisation and Privatisation, the demonish dance of free markets and the credit system which embody neo-liberalism, the rich-poor divide has widened, leaving the working class and the poor in great despondency and desperation. Presently we are witnessing a bleeding of Dalai Street and an unprecedented global financial crisis also invading India, and these are the consequences of "freedom of contract", the laissez faire system. Indeed to-day the world is awakening to the failures of the capitalistic system.
Dr.Ambedkar analyses the second cause in the following terms: "The second wrong ideology which has vitiated Parliamentary Democracy is the failure to realize that political democracy cannot succeed where there is no social and economic democracy". He elaborates this phenomenon in the following terms: "Social and economic democracy are the tissues and the fibre of a Political Democracy. The tougher the tissue and the fibre, the greater the strength of the body. Democracy is another name for equality. Parliamentary Democracy developed a passion for liberty. It never made even a nodding acquaintance with equality. It failed to realize the significance of equality, and did not even endeavour to strike a balance between liberty and equality, with the result that liberty swallowed equality and has left a progeny of inequities ". Indian experience with Parliamentary Democracy in the last six decades has established beyond an iota of doubt that despite laudable declaration of "Equality of status and of opportunity", in the Preamble to the Constitution and the various provisions relating to Equality in the Fundamental Rights Chapter of the Constitution, liberty of the Bourgeoisie and the Multi-National Corporations to exploit the people, has been the reigning phenomenon. Sixty years of Parliamentary Democracy and Twenty Years of the Policies of Globalisation, Liberalisation and Privatisation, have resulted in the widening of the gap between the rich and the poor. Social inequality has also widened, witnessing the exploitation of and violence on the Dalits by the Upper Castes. There has also been gender inequality and sexual exploitation of women. These establish beyond doubt that "liberty has swallowed equality and has left a. progeny of inequities" as described by Dr.Ambedkar.
In this background, it would be most appropriate to recall the prophetic statement made by Dr.Ambedkar on 25th November 1949, while addressing the Constituent Assembly on the occasion of moving the Draft Constitution. He said - "On 26lh January 1950, we are going to enter a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life, we will have inequality we must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure and political Democracy which this Assembly has so laboriously built up".
These averments of Dr.Ambedkar evidence his great concern for social and economic equality and that mere political democracy will not suffice. This view strengthens the warning held out by him in 1943 itself, "Beware of Parliamentary Democracy, it is not the best product, as it appeared to be".
During this historic speech, Dr.Ambedkar also diagnosed that wrong organization is also equally responsible for failure of Parliamentary Democracy, as wrong ideologies. Let us take this up for analysis.
After detailing wrong ideologies, which have been responsible for the failure of Parliamentary Democracy, Dr.Ambedkar, proceeded to analyse the wrong organization, which contributed to the failure of Parliamentary Democracy. Indeed he remarked -"I am equally certain that more than bad ideologies, it has had bad organization, which has been responsible for the failure of Democracy".
In this light, let us probe into Ambedkar's views on "bad organization".
Dr.Ambedkar says: "All political societies get divided into two classes - the rulers and the ruled. This is an evil. If the evil stopped here it would not matter much. But the unfortunate part of it is that the division becomes, stereotyped and stratified so much so that the Rulers are always drawn from the Ruling Class and the class of ruled never becomes the Ruling Class. People donot govern themselves; they establish a government and leave it to govern them, forgetting that it is not their government. That being the situation, Parliamentary Democracy has never been a government of the people or by the people and that is why it has never been a government for the people. Parliamentary Democracy, not withstanding the paraphernalia of a popular government, is in reality a government of a hereditary subject class by a hereditary ruling class. It is this vicious organization of political life which has made Parliamentary Democracy such a dismal failure. It is because of this that Parliamentary Democracy has not fulfilled the hope it held out to the common man of ensuring him liberty, property and pursuit of happiness". This critical analysis of Parliamentary Democracy expressed Sixty Five Years ago, and even before India became independent and much before the promulgation of the Constitution of India, holds out a clear evidence that Dr.Ambedkar had envisioned what would transpire under Parliamentary Democracy in India. How true his words are, is established by a perusal into what is happening under the umbrella of Parliamentary Democracy. Ambedkar not only identifies the class -- character of the Society but also acknowledges the Class Rule. He also exposes the exploitation of the Ruled Class by the Ruling Classes. All this reminds one of the Marxian analysis of State, which is characterized by him as an instrument of exploitation and Bourgeois Democracy as Bourgeois Dictatorship. Ambedkar identified a new dimension to the Class Rule, when he says "Parliamentary Democracy .. is in reality a government of a hereditary subject class by a hereditary ruling class". Are these words not prophetic?! We have in India Political Houses like the Business Houses. In Business, we hear of the House of Tatas, the House of Birlas, the House of Ambanis and the like and in politics, we have the Houses of Nehru - Ganndhis, the Abdullas, the Patnaiks, the Goudas, the Scindhias, the Pawars, the Karunanidhi's, and the like ie the hereditary Ruling Class. Parliamentary Democracy in India legitimizes hereditary rule of Political Houses. And with such a State in power, how can it hold out for the common man, liberty, prosperity and pursuit of happiness?
In this remarkable treatise on Parliamentary Democracy, Dr.Ambedkar presents an analysis of "who is responsible for this state of affairs?" and "what is the remedy for this impending evil?"
Dr.Ambedkar poses the question "who is responsible for this?" and answers it without mincing words, thus: "There is no doubt that if Parliamentary Democracy has failed to benefit the poor, the labouring and the down-trodden classes. It is these classes, who are primarily responsible for it". How true! The exploited classes have never been conscious of their exploitation and have not realized that they are the "masters" in a Democracy but have been reduced to "subjects", because of their unconsciousness and ignorance.
( Dr KS Sharma, a Retired Professor of Law based at Hubli, Karnataka, has been a leader of working class for over 45 years now, focused on unorganized labor, and as Founder- President of Karnataka State Govt. Dailywage Employees Federation, successfully organized one lakh dailywagers of Govt of Karnataka who got regularized after 30 years of struggle that included street battles and legal battles going upto Supreme Court. He is a great teacher, poet, writer, dramatist, literary critic, columnist,publisher, orator, and an activist–social scientist who was a Vice-President of ISSA , Indian Social Science Academy, for sometime. He is the Founder President of a group of Institutions including an ITI, Institute of Naturopathy and Yoga, Dr. Da Ra Bendre (Jnana Peeth Awardee) Research Institute, Indian Institute of Marxist Theory and Practice, FMRRC- Fluorosis Mitigation Research and Resource Centre all located in Vishwa Shrama Chetana campus, Hubli. He may be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org)