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B.R Ambedkar Remembrance 2024: Why Ambedkar's ideologies are relevant today

Updated on: 31 March,2024 07:47 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Aastha Atray Banan |

Legal scholar Anurag Bhaskar’s new book is an ode to Dr BR Ambedkar’s relentless endeavour to ensure the Constitution looked after every Indian, and that nobody was voiceless

B.R Ambedkar Remembrance 2024: Why Ambedkar's ideologies are relevant today

A woman naps amidst frames of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and Gautam Buddha in this file picture on Dr Ambedkar’s 56th death anniversary near the Chaitya Bhoomi memorial in Mumbai. Pic/Getty Images

If you have wondered what was going through Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar’s mind when he was drafting the Constitution, what influenced him, his primary concerns and what he wanted to achieve, Anurag Bhaskar’s The Foresighted Ambedkar is the book to turn to. 

In it, Bhaskar argues that India’s Constitution was drafted not just between 1946 and 1950, but over the course of four decades, and that the jurist, economist, and social reformer was the only person to have been involved at all stages since 1919. 

Bhaskar is a legal scholar who pursued law from Harvard Law School, and seeks to focus on Dr Ambedkar’s influence on the constitutional discourse, from when he entered public life until the actual writing of the Constitution, and even beyond. Ahead of B.R Ambedkar Remembrance 2024, we spoke to Bhaskar about why Dr Ambedkar and his ideologies are relevant today. 

Excerpts from an interview:

Why did you choose to write about Dr Ambedkar?
He stands out as a formidable figure of the 20th century, shaping history profoundly. Not only did he play a pivotal role in determining India’s trajectory as the world’s largest democracy, but he also imparted profound insights into notions of humanity, fraternity, and justice, resonating deeply in global dialogue. It is imperative for the world to turn towards Dr Ambedkar not just for his groundbreaking contributions, but also to garner a more nuanced understanding of contemporary challenges, many of which he predicted. 

Moreover, Dr Ambedkar laid the groundwork for numerous theoretical frameworks that have since emerged. For instance, his analysis of ancient Indian history, highlighting the cyclical nature of revolutions and counter-revolutions, finds resonance in contemporary critical race theory, which underscores the non-linear progression of the civil rights movements. His justifications for affirmative action are relevant even today.

Anurag BhaksarAnurag Bhaksar

You ask: How did Dr Ambedkar become Dr Ambedkar? What was the turning point in his life?
There were several influences or turning points. In the book, I rely on the previous works of a couple of scholars, as well as on new material. These can be summarised as follows: The backdrop of social reform movements in Maharashtra, particularly those led by Jyotiba Phule; His family’s association with the military, which led to his initial education; His lived experience as a Dalit, and the discrimination he faced; The support from two princely rulers, Maharaja of Baroda, Sayajirao Gaekwad III, and Maharaja of Kolahapur, Chhatrapati Shahuji; The exposure he gained at Columbia University, London School of Economics, and Gray’s Inn; His wide reading of global history; Negotiations with Indian political leaders and British administration; And experiences from social movements he led.

What’s Dr Ambedkar’s most important contribution to the cause of Dalits—politically or socially?
To ensure that their rights were incorporated into the Constitution that India was going to adopt. He argued that Constitutionally-entrenched rights would develop political and social consciousness in the community, and we see it happen after independence. Today, Dalits are politically conscious and socially aware. Their presence and that of Adivasis, in educational institutions and government jobs is a direct result of the affirmative action provisions in the Constitution, for which Dr Ambedkar vehemently fought.

Mooknayak, the Marathi newspaper, was an important step in giving the community a language. How did Ambedkar’s editorials make a dent in the psyche of those reading them?
Dr Ambedkar’s vision behind launching Mooknayak was to give voice to the voiceless, the Untouchables. He used the publication for two main aims: To highlight the injustices perpetrated on them and to raise their demands; and to expose the narrative of Indian political leaders who were silent on issues of 
social equality. 

Mooknayak became a platform for the disenfranchised class to share concerns and experiences directly, as it generated social consciousness among them. The newspaper included a regular section of open letters drawing attention to cases of caste oppression and violence. It was probably the first time that common Untouchables could even share and complain about their grievances. The editorials written by Dr Ambedkar raised questions of social justice as a facet of the demand for independence.

What did Dr Ambedkar take most from the Constitutions of other nations?
He read the Constitutions of the world to identify which provisions can be adopted and adapted in the Indian context, and which provisions to not keep at all. After all, Constitutions work on certain well-accepted principles. 

At the same time, if any provision had proved ineffective in history, Dr Ambedkar was not keen on adopting it. For instance, he read American history, and concluded that affirmative action and provisions of equality need to be incorporated into our Constitution at any cost. He said Dalits could not forget the fate of the African-American, whose rights were not included when the American Constitution was drafted.

What are Dr Ambedkar’s most important contributions to the Constitution?
The most important contribution is that he was involved in all stages of the drafting process—which I argue, began in 1919. For instance, he normalized the discourse of equality and justice in colonial India so much that it became easier for it to be adopted in the Constitution. Dr Ambedkar’s role in drafting the Government of India Act, 1935 was significant, which eventually led to the establishment of several institutions, including the Supreme Court of India (earlier called the Federal Court). His emphasis on the written rights of citizens was accompanied by his demand for constitutional remedies. He called Article 32, which provides a citizen the right to approach the Supreme Court in case of violation of rights, as the soul and the heart of the Constitution. Furthermore, he ensured that provisions relating to administration are written in as much detail as possible to leave very little room for misuse of power. Equal voting rights for everyone—a demand he made since 1919. Lastly, the crucial pursuit of fraternity which was especially incorporated into the Preamble of the Constitution. 

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