Ambedkar’s way & Anna Hazare’s coercive methods – Sukhadeo Thorat

Prof. Sukhadeo Thorat“As Dr. Ambedkar observed, due to certain aspects of Indian culture our people are highly vulnerable to hero-worship. How a yoga teacher could convert yoga devotees into religious devotees and finally into political supporters within a few years’ time is a classic example of what hero-worship and bhakti can do. Another religious preacher has threatened that he would use his religious followers for political end which he thinks does not require discussion with them as they follow him in whatever he tells them to do.” – Prof. Sukhadeo Thorat

Dr. B.R. AmbedkarA group of people, with placards showing Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, staged a demonstration in Delhi a few days ago against Anna Hazare’s proposals on the Lokpal and the methods used by his team. More often than not, Dalits look with suspicion on any attempt to tamper with the Constitution. Team Anna has, however, suggested that its Lokpal bill would benefit Dalits more than anyone else. This led me to look at Dr. Ambedkar’s position as compared to the mode of agitation being deployed by Anna Hazare and his team.

In his last, visionary speech after the submission of the drafted Constitution on November 25, 1949, Dr. Ambedkar warned of three possible dangers to the new-born democracy. These related to social and economic inequalities, the use of unconstitutional methods, and hero-worship.

Dr. Ambedkar first pointed to the contradiction between equality in politics in the form of one-person-one-vote and the inequalities in social and economic life. He argued that for political democracy to succeed, it needed to be founded on the tissues and fibres of social and economic equality. He warned that 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. Although we in India are trying hard to reduce the vast inequalities that exist, the working of political democracy is already under heavy stress due to discontent in some parts of country.

Dr. Ambedkar’s second, and more important, warning in the present context related to the methods to achieve social and economic objectives. He urged the people to abandon bloody as well as coercive methods to bring about change. This means abandoning methods of civil disobedience, non-cooperation, coercive forms of satyagraha and fast. Referring to the use of these methods during the British period, Dr. Ambedkar observed: “When there was no way left for the constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods.” But using them since that period, in his view, was “nothing less than the Grammar of Anarchy.” He advocated that “the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us as a nation.”

M.K. GandhiDr. Ambedkar’s third warning related to “hero worship.” He was immensely concerned over the political culture of “laying down the liberties at the feet of great men or to trust them with powers which enable them to subvert their institutions.” He believed that 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. No man can be grateful at the cost of his honour, and no nation can be grateful at the cost of its liberty. This caution is far more necessary in the case of the people 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 politics, unequalled in magnitude to the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world, argued Dr. Ambedkar. He went on to add that bhakti or hero-worship 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.

These views of Dr. Ambedkar also evolved through a much deeper commitment to constitutional methods and their use in the anti-untouchability movement during the 1920s and the 1930s. The 1920s and the 1930s saw a series of agitations led by Dr. Ambedkar to get public wells, tanks and Hindu temples opened to “untouchables.” In the present context, recalling two such incidents is very relevant, namely, the agitation for access to a water tank in Mahad, and for entry into the famous Kalaram temple in Nasik. In both cases, Dr. Ambedkar was up against violent high-caste Hindus, with the British sitting on the fence.

Dr. Ambedkar started the Mahad agitation in 1927, but the “untouchables” got access to the tank only in 1937 through a court order. The people of the high castes had managed a court order to ban the entry of “untouchables” into the tank on the grounds that it was a private tank. Dr. Ambedkar accepted the court order and discontinued a second march to the tank. But he fought through the courts and got justice in 1937, almost after 10 years. He did this using legal instruments and a peaceful mass movement, without the coercive means of fasts and hunger strikes.

Kalaram Temple, Nashik.Similarly, the agitation for entry into the Kalaram temple went on for four years, from 1930 to 1934. He discontinued the agitation in 1934 following opposition by priests, notwithstanding the support extended by Gandhiji. But he fought a legal battle, along with a peaceful agitation, for the next four years, and in 1939 ultimately secured entry to the temple for “untouchables.”

During the 1920s and the 1930s, Dr. Ambedkar combined mass mobilisation with legal methods in the anti-untouchability movement, but never allowed unconstitutional and coercive methods to take hold, despite instances of violent attack on “untouchables.” Once he came face to face with Gandhiji with the latter’s fast-unto-death and he had to compromise on the demand for a separate electorate with what is the present-day political reservation. Coercive means forced him to surrender the demand for a separate electorate, the consequences of which are visible today.

Constitution of IndiaTeam Anna should realise that the Indian Constitution provides ample opportunities for advocacy, through discussion and lobbying with parliamentary Standing Committees, Groups of Ministers, the Ministers concerned, the Prime Minister, courts, and above all through a peaceful agitation. With several political parties on their side, the possibility of reaching a middle ground is high. Experience with constitutional means shows that civil society activists, through their constant struggles, have persuaded the two successive United Progressive Alliance governments to acknowledge several basic rights and convert these into laws. The right to employment through the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), the right to information, rights under the Forest Act, the right to education, and now the right to food, are some of the revolutionary measures that civil society has been able to accomplish through constitutional methods. It is an opportunity for Team Anna to use constitutional methods and enhance the faith of people in these; otherwise Team Anna will convey the message that only coercive and unconstitutional methods work.

Baba RamdevAs Dr. Ambedkar observed, due to certain aspects of Indian culture our people are highly vulnerable to hero-worship. How a yoga teacher could convert yoga devotees into religious devotees and finally into political supporters within a few years’ time is a classic example of what hero-worship and bhakti can do. Another religious preacher has threatened that he would use his religious followers for political end which he thinks does not require discussion with them as they follow him in whatever he tells them to do.

Anna and his team should recognise that for a new democracy like ours, which is operating within the framework of undemocratic relations based on the caste system, constitutional methods and social morality need to be cultivated and promoted with a purpose. The Lokpal Bill is too important a piece of legislation to be passed under threat and unreasonable deadlines. All its aspects need to be discussed with extreme care and with consensus among all sections. Dalits have begun to express concern about its implications for them. In a society where the anti-caste spirit and prejudices are present in abundance, they feel that given its proposed wide-ranging powers, it may be misused.

Sri Sri Ravishankar & Anna HazareThe Commissioner for Scheduled Castes reported about 11,469 complaints by Dalit government employees during the period from 2004 to 2010 that were linked to caste prejudice. Several thousand more complaints under the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, such as giving “false or frivolous information to any public servant and thereby cause such public servant to use his lawful power to the injury or annoyance of member of SC/ST” are waiting for justice. Therefore, Dalits have begun to seek safeguards against the complaints emanating from caste prejudices in the Lokpal Bill. I think the government has rightly brought the bill for an open discussion before the Standing Committee that comprises MPs from all parties, so that the Bill is discussed by all sections in a peaceful milieu and not under duress and force.

Ralegan SiddhiAnna Hazare knows that the road to social change is a difficult one. He helped Dalits in a number of ways, including by repaying loans taken by Dalits with contributions from villagers. Yet he could not bring about fraternity between them — Dalits continue to stay in segregated localities in his village. Corruption, like untouchability, is deeply embedded in the social fabric of our society. Therefore, besides legislation its eradication requires changes through education and moral regeneration. – The Hindu, Chennai, 21 August 2011

» Prof. Sukhadeo Thorat is Professor of Economics, Centre for the Study of Regional Development, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
E-mail: thoratsukhadeo@yahoo.co.in

7 Responses

  1. The plain truth is that the only winner in this contest was the Congress UPA-2 government who was able to divert interest away from Sonia-jee’s Swiss bank account towards a future – very far future – Lokpal bill and the Americans who financed the tamasha at the Ramlila Ground (RTI petition shows that the Ford Foundation / CIA paid for the show).

  2. Deccan Chronicle: Nothing substantial for A-Team

    The government, and even the BJP and other Opposition parties, have disagreed with Mr Anna Hazare on various issues raised in his version of the Lokpal Bill, including formation of Lokayuktas in the states. “These are states’ and constitutional issues and nothing can be done in a hurry, merely to satisfy an individual or his team,” a senior Congress functionary said. Sources disclosed that the standing committee would give equal importance to the other bills and take “necessary steps”.

    Of course, the civil society members, including those from the A-team, will also get a chance to present their views before the standing committee.

    The “sense of the House”, however, is not lost on Anna and his team, which realised that they have not got anything substantial. However, sources disclosed that when the A-team saw the mood of Parliament turning against Mr Hazare’s team for relentlessly ridiculing politicians and MPs, chief strategist Arvind Kejriwal decided to retreat. “Also, the A-team felt that it will not be possible to sustain this campaign for an indefinite period and the mob was rapidly getting out of control,” a civil society member close to the A-team revealed.

    By evening, “Hazare and his team decided to call off the fast, but go on projecting it as their victory,” he said.

  3. The movement against corruption is a larger issue, which will help all Indians respective of cast, religion and political affiliation, therefore cheap intellectualism must be avoided. It is request to all please wear out your lenses being used for all issues.

  4. The term “hero-worship” is neutral. It refers to both male and female objects of popular acclaim.

  5. ……..hero-worship.

    What about the heroine worship? Thorat should address that also.

  6. Baba Anna. you are the savour of this down trodden country called India , If it is not for you and the rest along with you corruption, will not be erradicated. Best wishes for your GOOD HEALTH.

  7. Gandhiji’s legacy of fast-unto-death does not bode well for a country ruled by law and democratic processes. Gandhi may have been justified in holding the British to ransom with his fasts as they were an occupying foreign power. But such tactics today employed against a duly elected national government smack of self-righteous bullying and even blackmail. We all suffer from corruption and are against it. But Anna’s protest is not about corruption per se. It is about getting his bill passed by force and setting up an unconstitutional authority that is accountable to nobody.

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