Monday, November 24, 2014

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Economic Development

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar
It is a known and well documented fact that Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was a great authority on constitutional law, a staunch social reformer, an acclaimed scholar and an original thinker and writer. But is not well known that he was also an economist of high caliber, not only by intellect, but also by training.  Dr. Ambedkar was, inter alia, an alumnus of the London School of Economics. In the early years of his life, before dedicating himself fully to the cause of untouchables and social reform beginning in the mid 20s, he wrote three scholarly books on economics viz.:
i)                  The Administration and Finance of East India Company.

ii)               The Evolution of Provincial Finance in British India.

iii)            The Problem of the Rupee: Its origin and Solution.

That is why, a renowned historian, Ramchandra Guha has recognized Dr. Ambedkar as “as a great scholar, institution builder and economic theorist.”

Dr. Ambedkar contributed immensely to the labour welfare policy and legislation as Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council (1942-46) before independence in 1947. The prevailing socio-political scenario confined him to other important tasks and challenges namely the making of the Indian constitution and reform of the Indian society through the Hindu Code Bill etc. and as such he could not engage himself in the issues of economic development, much against his desire and plan. On Dr. Ambedkar’s suggestion, PM Jawaharlal Nehru had agreed to give him the portfolio of Economic Planning after the task of the constitution making was completed. But PM Nehru did not do so, as alleged by Dr. Ambedkar. It was one of the reasons of Dr. Ambedkar’s resignation from the Cabinet of PM Nehru in 1951.

Dr. Ambedkar stood for democratic socialism as a considered policy for India’s economic development.  The basic tenants of his economic policy were – eradication of poverty, elimination of inequalities, ending of exploitation, equitable distribution of national wealth and income. He was a proponent of land reforms and also supported a prominent role of the State in economic development of the country. With a view to achieve these economic goals, he, inter alia, proposed:

I)                  All basic industries should be owned and run by the State.

II)               Insurance and Land should be nationalized and managed by the State.

III)            Introduction of collective farming.

IV)           Propagation of family planning.

V)              Empowerment of Women.

VI)           Abolition of caste system.

A prominent economist Dr. Narender Jadhav has written in one of his essays, “Dr. Ambedkar’s attack on caste system was not merely aimed at challenging the hegemony of upper castes but had a broader connotation of economic growth and development.”  Dr. Ambedkar was of the view that political democracy, as stipulated in the constitution, has no meaning if it is not converted into social and economic democracy in a reasonable span of time. He has a definite and potent economic agenda to take on but his failing health in the last days of his life and political and social engagements at hand did not permit him to do so. One may grasp this sense when Nobel Laureate and renowned economist Amartya Sen says, “Ambedkar is my father in economics. His contribution in the field of economics is marvelous and will be remembered for ever.”


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Reminiscences and Remembrances of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

Dr.B.R. Ambedkar with Nanak Chand Rattu

The other day, October 14, I visited Ambedkar Bhawan in Jalandhar for a function to observe the day Dr. Ambedkar embraced Buddhism in 1956. The function, regrettably, turned out to be a damp squib. The only consolation was that in the process, I could pick up two old books on Dr. B.R. Ambedkar – Reminiscences and Remembrances of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Last Few Years of Dr. Ambedkar, written/compiled/edited by his trusted and dedicated aide Nanak Chand Rattu. I have finished reading the former.

The book is basically a compilation of reminiscences and remembrances of a few colleagues and associates of Dr. Ambedkar. In fact, I am somewhat disappointed as the book could not fill the gap of information on the personal likes and dislikes and also the day to day living of the greatest son of India in the contemporary times. Some interesting aspects of Dr. Ambedkar’s personality have come to light in the reminiscences under the chapter ‘Lofty Ideas and Integrity of Character’. The written exchanges between Dr. Sharda Kabir and Babasaheb Ambedkar before their marriage are not only interesting and informative but also dwell on the fact that Ambedkar was as human as any simple and ordinary man could be. Dr. Ambedkar was a man of morals and integrity. He did not accept the proposal that Dr. Sharda Kabir who was looking after his health may accompany and stay with him in Delhi. Dr. Ambedkar wrote to her and said, “You were perhaps disappointed when I declined to accept your services as a nurse to accompany me to Delhi and stay there for a month. But my          whole position in public life is built upon my reputation as a man of character and unsullied morals. If my enemies are afraid of me and respect me it is because of this. I can never be a party to damage it in any way.” Later, they got married and Dr. Sharda Kabir became Dr. Savita Ambedkar. Dr. Ambedkar informed much about himself in one of his letters to Dr. Sharda Kabir. It makes an interesting reading. He said, “I am a difficult man. Ordinarily, I am quiet as water and humble as grass. But when I get into temper, I am ungovernable and unmanageable. I am a man of silence. There is charge against me that I don’t speak to women i.e. other women. But I don’t even speak to men unless they are my intimates. I am a man of moods. At times I am very serious. At times I am full of humour. I am no gay person; pleasures of life do not attract me. My companions have to bear the burden of my austerity and asceticism. My books have been my companions; they are dearer to me than my wife and children. Morally, I am intractable and do not tolerate any lapses from strict rules of morals.” The letter further reveals how simple but straight a person Dr. Ambedkar was in his personal approach to family life. He wrote, “I have recounted these facts about myself to give you some idea of what a difficult customer you have to deal with. Evidently you are not worried about all this. You perhaps think that as any scratching and biting cats and dogs come together so in the same way we too by scratching and biting shall come together. I wish you all success. While asking for some details of her personal history, at the same time Dr. Ambedkar informed her, “I like art and have a great sense of aesthetics. I do not like ugly things. Dr. Ambedkar believed in youth of the country. While speaking at D.A.V. College in Jalandhar in October, 1951, he said, “I am really very glad to talk to students. A great lot of the future of this country must necessarily depend on students of this country. Students are the intelligent part of the community and they can shape the public opinion.”

In the second part of the book i.e. the remembrances, U.R. Rao of  Thacker & Company, the publishers of Dr. Ambedkar’s books, has made candid observations under the heading ‘Dr. Ambedkar I knew’ about the great man and his love for books. He wrote about the ‘genial humour and urbanity of the man.’ and Dr. Ambedkar’s liking for good fountain pens, particularly of outsize shapes.  Polonius (a senior IAS Kartar Singh) wrote about some of the likes and dislikes of Babasaheb.  Books (reading, writing and collecting) was an ‘all-absorbing passion’ for Dr. Ambedkar. He liked gardening and dogs. As regards dislikes, Dr. Ambedkar disliked ‘political vagabonds’ of the community and treachery of his own followers and associates. Polonius quoted Dr. Ambedkar, “one can fight ones adversaries in a straight battle but it is difficult to deal with the traitors in one’s own camp.” Polonius further wrote that Dr. Ambedkar had a mind and transparent actions as “in public life I will not do a thing which I cannot defend publically.” Yet another trusted aide of Dr. Ambedkar, Sohan Lal Shastri, in his remembrances informed that Dr. Ambedkar did not like intoxicants and was a frugal eater of ordinary meal of bajra roti, rice and some fish. Another interesting entry in the remembrances is that of M.O. Mathai, PS to PM Jawaharlal Nehru and is titled ‘A victim of obscurantism and barbarous intolerance’.  Mathai informed that Dr. Ambedkar was not happy that Shankaracharya, ‘a desecrated expert at logic’ drove away Buddhism from India. He was of the view that Buddha was the greatest soul India ever produced. He also said that the greatest man India produced in recent centuries was not Gandhi but Swami Vivekananda.  It is a known fact that Mahatma Gandhi was Dr. Ambedkar’s adversary but it is surprising to know that he recognized and appreciated Swami Vivekananda. Many people may not know of this. Some of the remembrances of Nanak Chand Rattu, the author of the book, reveal the state of mind of Dr. Ambedkar in the twilight years of his life. His health was failing. His eye sight was diminishing.  He was a lonely man in the hanging political and social scenario in the country. He was up-set and angry with his own followers and associates. Rattu confirmed that Dr. Ambedkar was worried and perturbed in the last years of his life. He used to weep alone. There was no one who could give him solace. Rattu saw him weeping many a times and with courage asked him the reason. Babasaheb did not answer. But one day (July, 1956) he broke down and confessed everything to his trusted aide, as recorded by Nanak Chand Rattu himself, “You people do not know what is troubling me and what makes me so sad. The first worry to my mind is that I have not been able to fulfill my life’s mission. I wanted to see my people as a governing class, sharing the political power in terms of equality with other communities……Whatever I have been able to achieve is being enjoyed by the educated few, who with their deceitful performance, have proved to be a worthless lot, with no sympathy with their downtrodden brethren. They have surpassed my imagination. They live for themselves for their personal gains. Rattu recorded that Dr. Ambedkar was worried about the books he was writing and was very much eager to complete them with his dwindling physical conditions. He was concerned and worried about the line of leadership of his movement after him. Dr. Ambedkar lamented and told Rattu, “My lieutenants, in whom I had full faith and confidence to run the movement, are fighting among themselves for leadership and power. Both, Rattu and Babasaheb were weeping. Babasaheb consoled Rattu and said, “Take courage, don’t get up-set, life is to come to an end one day or the other.” The climax was yet to come as probably the last message to his followers. Rattu recorded that after a little pause and wiping his tears, Dr. Ambedkar said,” Tell my people, Nanak Chand, that whatever I have been able to achieve for them, I have done it single handedly, passing through crushing miseries and endless troubles in the midst of abuses hurled at me from all sides, fighting with my opponents all my life as also with a handful of my own people who deceived me for their selfish ends. But I will continue to serve my country and any down trodden people till my end. With great difficulty, I have brought the caravan where it is seen today. Let the caravan march on and further on, despite the hurdles, pitfalls and difficulties that may come its way. They must rise to the occasion, if they want to live an honourable and respectful life. If my people are not able to take the caravan ahead, they should leave it and must not, under any circumstances allow the caravan to go back.” Dr. Ambedkar further said, ‘This is my message probably the last message in all my seriousness which I am sure will not go unheeded. Go and tell them, go and tell them, go and tell them.” He repeated thrice.

As I said above that the book disappointed me as I expected more from Nanak Chand Rattu who worked with Dr. Ambedkar not only as his office aide but also as a dedicated follower for a long time from 1940 to 1956, a crucial period in the life and mission of his master. It seems that the publishers have also not paid much attention to the project. Nonetheless, some of the real aspects of the life of the greatest son of India which were hitherto unknown have come to light through the pages of the book of Nanak Chand Rattu. As regards the message, it has gone unheeded, unfortunately.  The educated segments of the community and its leaders certainly owe an answer not only to Dr. Ambedkar but also to the suffering masses of the country.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Wonders of Democracy

When Mayawati became the Chief Minister of UP for the first time in 1995, PM Narasimha Rao termed the development as a “wonder of democracy”. It was an appropriate comment with reference to hitherto unknown and non-entities coming to occupy coveted positions or the other way round that powerful politicians and personalities are unable to make it at the hastings in a democratic set-up. People like Kamraj and Giani Zail Singh, and may be many more, with popular support but no formal education, could rise to great heights at the national level. On the other hand, people like Giani Gurmukh Singh Musafir and Comrade Ram Kishan, in Punjab, could become Chief Ministers. It is an irony of democracy that people like Mahatma Gandhi and Jayaprakash Narayan did not contest elections and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Chief Architect of the Indian constitution, could not win any direct election. Jagjivan Ram, an able politician, in spite of his ambitions, could not become PM but unknown leaders like H.D. Deve Gowda became PM by fluke. These are the wonders of democracy. I think in politics and public life, apart from ability and opportunity, a bit of luck is needed otherwise there is no answer for unaccepted failures and undesirable successes.
Vijay Sampla at the Swearing in ceremony
The immediate provocation to write this piece is the appointment of Vijay Sampla as the MoS in the Council of Ministers at the recent reshuffle by PM Narendra Modi. The appointment of Vijay Sampla is yet another wonder of democracy. No political pundit could have thought of Vijay Sampla reaching the honors at this juncture of his career. It is certain that Vijay Sampla himself did not nurture such an ambition at the national level. But it was destined to be a different story. Vijay Sampla, 53, is a shy and low-profile leader. He is a first time MP from Hoshiarpur constituency of Punjab with no record of contesting assembly or parliamentary elections.  Vijay Sampla, a dalit face of the BJP in Punjab, is a self made man. With odd jobs both at home and Saudi Arabia, he became a successful business man while doing his work with the society as a politician. Vijay Sampla became the Sarpanch of his village Sofi in the vicinity of Jalandhar in 1998. His political fore-sight made him join BJP and become an activist of RSS, the dividends of which he is reaping now. Vijay Sampla is a dedicated cadre of the BJP and RSS with proven track record of good work from district level to state level. He is currently the Senior Vice President of Punjab chapter of BJP. He worked as Chairman of Punjab Khadi and Village Industry Board with elan. Vijay Sampla also runs an NGO called Bharat Gaurav for community services and awakening. The compulsions of electoral politics in Punjab, with more than 30% dalit population, have worked in favour of Vijay Sampla. Notwithstanding his humble educational background, Vijay Sampla showed considerable political maturity and acumen and created space for himself in the competitive political set-up.

Let us wish Vijay Sampla all success and let the wonders of democracy continue happening.