Dr B R Ambedkar’s prescription for democracies to survive holds true even today

To safeguard freedom, we need to give serious attention to these conditions. The true tribute we can pay to Dr Ambedkar on his 65th death anniversary is by observing his message of ‘Social Endosmosis’

Dr. B R Ambedkar
Dr. B R Ambedkar
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Dr Tushar Jagtap

Democracy is a form and method of Government whereby revolutionary changes in the economic and social life of the people are brought about without bloodshed - B.R. Ambedkar

On the 65th Death Anniversary of Dr B R Ambedkar which falls on 6th December 2021, the world paid tributes to this multi-faceted, multi-dimensional symbol of knowledge and a crusadic champion of human rights, justice, freedom and fraternity.

Today, more than 5000 million people in 113 countries are governed by the democratic polity while the remaining population is governed by the non-democratic polity.

Right now, when the whole world is in the state of flux and democracy is under threat, it would be prudent to visit the prescription given by Dr Ambedkar on the “Conditions precedent for the successful working of modern democracy”. Students of law and political science know that democracy is always changing its form and purpose; neither it remains the same even in the same country.

If we just glance at the Indian scenario, we can very well say that the democratic ideals that were followed between the first decade after independence (1950-60) have undergone a sea change compared to the last decade, unfortunately southwardly.

In this scenario, it is notable to go through Dr. Ambedkar’s address at District law Library, Poona Bar delivered on 22nd December 1952.

The first condition mentioned in this address is that there must be no glaring inequalities in society. His apprehension was that perpetual inequalities of class or caste in social life cannot serve the right purpose for democratic principles. India is a country of extreme inequalities in various walks of life, whether it is inequality bestowed upon by the religion, caste, class, gender, language, color or ethnicity.

Today these inequalities are only growing by leaps and bounds due to the plundering of masses by the government’s economic policies and crony capitalism. Indeed, nepotism has become the hallmark of Indian economic and political life.

The top 10% of Indians (haves) hold 77% of India’s wealth, with 119 billionaires’ worth being more than the entire Union budget for the fiscal year 2018-1019. On the contrary, on the global hunger index, India ranks 101 out of the 116 countries. India has a level of hunger that is clubbed under serious category (GIH score 27.5%). Not surprisingly, these deep social, economic and political fissures lead to weakening of democracy.

A PEW Research Center survey conducted in 27 countries such as Mexico, Greece, Brazil, US, UK, France, Japan etc. found that the majority of people are dissatisfied with democracy.

In 2020, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) UK, the research division of the Economists group, created the Democratic Index map which gives details about democracies across the globe, titled Full Democracies, Flawed Democracies, Hybrid Regimes, Authoritarian regimes. Norway was at number one whereas North Korea was at 167. Sadly, India comes in the category of Flawed Democracy. The fear is that India is moving towards the Hybrid Regime which is next in line to be the worst form of governance.

The second condition is the existence of opposition. In his lucid ways, the erudite doctor asked a functional question to his audience that democracy is veto of power, democracy is a contradiction of hereditary authority or autocratic authority. Democracy means that at some stage somewhere there must be a veto on the authority of those who are ruling the country. There should not be a quinquennial veto but opposition means that the government is always being checked.

I am duty-bound to invoke the above paragraph of his address because of what we are currently witnessing in the proceedings since the Parliament began its winter session. This saw the suspension of 12 opposition MPs of Rajya Sabha and the repeal of the three farm laws without discussion, which amounts to trampling the already feeble voice of the opposition in Parliament presently.

The third condition is equality in law and administration and what is important is equality in treatment in administration. It is said that in India, people cast their votes to caste. Similarly justice is delivered through colored glasses. “Jay Bhim”, a recent blockbuster movie espouses the cause in its naked avatar.

The United States abolished the spoils system due to which its people suffered a lot. Unfortunately, however, it has taken deep roots in the Indian law administrative machinery, be it executive, judiciary or political office, thereby mounting a challenge to the success of democracy.

The fourth condition necessary for the successful working of democracy is observance of constitutional morality. While elaborating on this point, the scholar says that we have a Constitution which contains legal provisions, which is ‘only a skeleton’. The flesh of that skeleton is to be found in what we call the ‘Constitutional Morality’.

The biggest crisis of Indian politics today is the crisis of credibility, the want of morality in the governing class of India. If democracy has not gone into pieces so far it is only because of moral power which is prevalent amongst a majority of the toiling Indian masses of all castes, creeds and culture. Prevalence of moral order in society is an important criteria for the successful working of democracy.

The fifth condition democracy requires is public conscience. In the name of democracy, there must be no tyranny of the majority over the minority. Dr Ambedkar defines ‘Public Conscience’ as a conscience which becomes agitated at every wrong, no matter who is the sufferer.

The massacre at Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar, Mumbai in 1997 to the mowing down of farmers at Lakhimpur Kheri in 2021 shows that public conscience in our country is getting highly polarized, which is a dangerous sign.

Dr. Ambedkar warns that as a nation we have to live up to the true spirit of ‘public conscience’. If a group of people continue to suffer from Injustice and get no help from others for the purpose of getting rid of this injustice, it develops a revolutionary mentality which puts democracy in danger.

We should never take democratic type of government for granted. Look at what happened in Egypt after the fall of Hosni Mubarak and very recently in Myanmar where the democratic form government was replaced by the military junta.

If we want to safeguard our freedom, we need to give serious attention to these conditions. The true tribute we can pay to Dr B R Ambedkar on his 65th death anniversary is by observing his core message of ‘Social Endosmosis’.

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