- Q: Do you think democracy will survive in India?
- A: No. It will remain only in a formal sense. Five-yearly elections, prime minister, etc.
- Q: What do you mean when you say democracy will remain only in a formal sense?
- A: Democracy will not work in India because its social system is totally incompatible with parliamentary democracy.
- Q: Your prime minister (Jawaharlal Nehru) has been making many speeches against the caste system.
- A: These endless speeches! You know when Carlyle was presented with a set of volumes by Spencer, he said, “Oh, this endless speaking Ass in Christiandom…”. I am sick of speeches. We have to have action.
- Q: What can be an alternative to democracy in India?
- A: Some form of communism can be an alternative.
- Q: Do you think the system of parliamentary democracy will collapse?
- A: Yes, parliamentary democracy will collapse in India.
History has Disproved the Prediction that Parliamentary Democracy Would Collapse in India
The above is a small excerpt from a rare, and recently discovered, five-minute footage of an interview BBC TV had conducted, in June 1953, with a prominent Indian leader. BBC Marathi showed the full interview for the first time on 13 April.
(Watch the interview in English here.)
Who is that leader who predicted parliamentary democracy would not survive, remain only in name, and ultimately collapse? Before we come to the name, here are some pertinent questions.
Has parliamentary democracy in India collapsed? Are there even the haziest of signs that it will collapse in the near or far future? Has not parliamentary democracy, with all its shortcomings, sunk its deep and strong roots in India? Has India witnessed military coups or instances of violent power-grab? Has India’s social system, which is supposedly incompatible with parliamentary democracy, rejected or embraced it? Have the people of India accepted the leader’s claim that some form of communism can be a superior alternative to parliamentary democracy? Has not parliamentary democracy socially, economically and politically empowered at least a section of those who were previously disempowered, though not all of them, thus creating a strong stake in them for its continuance and further reform? Moreover, isn’t our stable and vibrant democracy one of the main reasons for the admiration India enjoys in the international community?
‘I Shall Be the First Person to Burn the Constitution’
The truth of any prediction can be found only in the facts of history. Moreover, 65 years (since the interview was conducted) is a long time to establish the truth or falsity of such a prediction. Therefore, looking at the above dire forecast, can we arrive at any conclusion other than the obvious one: namely, that history has proved that leader wrong?
Secondly, the system of governance in any country rests on, and is indeed a creation of, that country’s constitution. In India, parliamentary democracy and India’s Constitution are inseparable.
Therefore, doesn’t this prediction lead us to the other inevitable conclusion, namely, to show one’s lack of faith in parliamentary democracy is also to show one’s lack of faith in the Constitution itself?
As a matter of fact, the same leader, within three months of that BBC interview, had minced no words – in fact, he had used literally incendiary words – in showing his total lack of faith in the Indian Constitution. He had told the Rajya Sabha on 2 September 1953:
Sir, my friends tell me that I have made the Constitution. But I am quite prepared to say that I shall be the first person to burn it out. I do not want it. It does not suit anybody.
Some disturbing questions follow from this candid assertion. Can a leader – who showed such undeniable lack of faith in the Indian Constitution, who categorically stated “I do not want it” and further adjudged that “it does not suit anybody”, who emphatically rejected others’ claim that he had made the Constitution, and who went to the extent of angrily affirming that he would be “the first person to burn it out” in the same way that he had burnt Manusmruti in 1927 – be hailed as the ‘Father of the Indian Constitution’?
Who was that leader? Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar.
Howsoever great a leader may be – and Ambedkar was without the slightest doubt a great leader, a towering scholar and a fearless social reformer – she or he cannot be immune to objective scrutiny based on verifiable historical facts. Sadly, India in the past few decades has built such a pervasive personality cult around Ambedkar that critical evaluation of his thoughts and deeds is not just discouraged, but also not tolerated. It is not that indefensible facts about his ideology and politics are unknown to today’s academicians, mediapersons and politicians. The internet has made them easily and widely accessible. Nevertheless, there is an atmosphere of fear, intolerance and coercion created by a vocal section of his followers among some of the “lower castes”, who have elevated Ambedkar to the status of a deity.
In this climate of hero-worship, to make even the mildest criticism of Ambedkar is to invite the abuse of being “anti-Dalit” and “Manuvadi”.
As a result, there is a kind of unwritten societal censorship coupled with self-censorship in our universities, media organisations and, above all, in our political parties, which bars them from a balanced debate on Ambedkar.
All political parties, mostly for vote bank considerations, have joined the race to glorify Ambedkar, without ever bothering to check the facts ─ indeed, by negating or downplaying the weighty contributions of other social reformers and nation-builders. Indeed, all of them have now placed him above Mahatma Gandhi and other leaders of India’s Freedom Movement by projecting him not only as the chief architect of the Indian Constitution (which he was not) but also as the chief architect of modern India itself (which, too, he is not).
PM Modi Beats All in Memorialising Ambedkar
Worse still, there is an ongoing rivalry between the BJP and the Congress over who has done more to “honour” Ambedkar. This is most clearly seen from the recent speeches and decisions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The BJP-led government, at the Centre and in Maharashtra, has spent, and pledged, incomparably more funds on building memorials for Ambedkar than in honour of other great Indian heroes and martyrs.
Within a span of four months, Modi has inaugurated two swanky centres in the national capital ─ Dr Ambedkar International Centre on Janpath and Dr Ambedkar National Memorial at 26, Alipur Road.
In Mumbai, a massive memorial is being planned at Chaityabhoomi. The Maharashtra government, headed by Devendra Fadnavis, has also spent a large sum on acquiring the house in London in which Ambedkar lived as a student, and converting it into a museum.
All this is happening when the monuments associated with many other great Indians from the pre and post-Independence era have become victims of utter neglect and gross under-funding.
A Badly-Battered Congress has Jumped the Bandwagon
On the other hand, today’s Congress party is showing neither the intellectual capability and courage nor historical knowledge to subject Ambedkar’s legacy to a critical scrutiny.
By hailing him as the architect of the Constitution, today’s Congressmen are whitewashing their own party’s far more substantial and enduring contribution to Constitution-making, to building the robust edifice of parliamentary democracy, and to safeguarding secularism in India. Ambedkar was a bitter critic and foe of the Congress throughout his public life. Like Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, he ridiculed the Congress as a “Hindu party”. Yet, he also shared many of the anti-Congress Hindutva leaders’ prejudices about Islam and Muslims. His role in the struggle for Hindu-Muslim harmony ─ a key cornerstone of the Idea of India and the Indian Constitution ─ pales in comparison with that of Gandhi, Nehru, Abul Kalam Azad, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan and others.
Today’s history-illiterate Congress leaders should read his two book-length writings ‘What Congress and Gandhi have to the Untouchables’ and ‘Mr Gandhi and the Emancipation of the Untouchables’ (Vol 9, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Writings and Speeches) to know how vituperative ─ and wrong in many places ─ he was towards the party that was in the forefront of India’s freedom struggle.
For the Congress, freedom from the British rule, an Indian Constitution by Indians, and developing free India on the foundations of parliamentary democracy and secularism were inter-related projects.
Gandhi, Nehru and many other progressive Congress leaders genuinely believed that India’s iniquitous social system can be gradually reformed by building strong institutions of parliamentary democracy on one hand, and, on the other, by promoting social reform activities of non-political organisations. In this, history has proved them right and Ambedkar wrong.
Sadly, the Congress is today so badly battered on the political and electoral fronts that, instead of defending its own ideology and proud legacy, it has chosen to join the BJP and other parties in Ambedkar’s hero-worship.
I repeat: Ambedkar deserves our respect on many counts, above all for giving a shock treatment to the Hindu society by warning us about the evil of untouchability and the chains of dependence and injustice that had enslaved the depressed castes.
Many of his thoughts on democracy ─ especially the need to align political democracy with social and economic democracy ─ are also highly enlightened, and relevant even today.
However, should we turn a blind eye, as has happened in contemporary India, to the glaring flaws in his thoughts and politics? Should we bury or falsify the true history of the making of the Indian Constitution behind the personality cult around Ambedkar? Is doing so good for India’s democracy and for a healthy intellectual-political discourse in our country?
But I have not yet advanced the facts that demolish the myth that Ambedkar was the Father of the Indian Constitution. For that, read the next part of this article – ‘Was Ambedkar the architect of India’s Constitution? Ten facts, and his own repeated disclaimers, prove otherwise’
(This is the first part of a two-part series. Read Part 2 here.)
The writer, who served as an aide to India’s former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is the author of Music of the Spinning Wheel: Mahatma Gandhi’s Manifesto for the Internet Age. He tweets @SudheenKulkarni. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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