I chanced upon this article by Ramachandra Guha.
I'm very pleased that Indians – both a jury and the general public through net voting – have considered Amebedkar to be the greatest Indian since Gandhi. Maybe Rajaji should have taken that slot, but I'm happy for Ambedkar, a predominantly classical liberal thinker, to get this recognition.
What is heartening is that even though intellectuals (who are generally out of touch with reality) STILL consider Nehru to be the co-recipient of this status, the rest of India thinks that Nehru should come 15th!
I'd rate Nehru higher, but this at least tells us that Indians are no longer enamoured of Nehru's ideas.
In the jury vote, B.R. Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru tied for first place; each had 21 votes. The online poll also placed Ambedkar in first place, but ranked Nehru as low as 15th, lower than Vallabhbhai Patel, Indira Gandhi, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Even Sachin Tendulkar, A.R. Rahman, and Rajnikanth were ranked higher than Nehru by Net voters. [Source]
In the jury vote, the industrialist J.R.D. Tata and the social worker Mother Teresa were ranked immediately below Ambedkar and Nehru.
According to me, JRD's selection is JUST RIGHT.
I would rank thus:
2. Sardar Patel
4. JRD Tata
5. Nehru (for contributions to democracy)
6. Vajpayee (for contributions to democracy)
7. Jayaprakash Narayan
My blog posts on Ambedkar
India has a very poor Constitution, that (a) labours in great detail about subsidiary institutional arrangements that are best left to the relevant parliament to make (as example, I cite the protections for the all-India services), and (b) imposes the policy opinions of the Constituent Assembly on all future generations through the Directive Principles of State Policy.
The idea that someone, in 1948 or 1949 could tell us in 2012 what kind of policies we ought to have is obnoxious and impertinent in the extreme.
Fortunately, Somnath Bharti, a Supreme Court lawyer who is also a prominent FTI member, has pointed out the following speech by Ambedkar in the Constituent Assembly. If nothing else, it absolves Ambedkar from this 'crime' against modern India:
The Honourable Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (Bombay: General): Mr. Vice-President, Sir, I regret that I cannot accept the amendment of Prof. K. T. Shah. My objections, stated briefly are two.In the first place the Constitution, as I stated in my opening speech in support of the motion I made before the House, is merely a mechanism for the purpose of regulating the work of the various organs of the State. It is not a mechanism where by particular members or particular parties are installed in office.What should be the policy of the State, how the Society should be organised in its social and economic side are matters which must be decided by the people themselves according to time and circumstances. It cannot be laid down in the Constitution itself, because that is destroying democracy altogether. If you state in the Constitution that the social organisation of the State shall take a particular form, you are, in my judgment, taking away the liberty of the people to decide what should be the social organisation in which they wish to live.It is perfectly possible today, for the majority people to hold that the socialist organisation of society is better than the capitalist organisation of society. But it would be perfectly possible for thinking people to devise some other form of social organisation which might be better than the socialist organisation of today or of tomorrow. I do not see therefore why the Constitution should tie down the people to live in a particular form and not leave it to the people themselves to decide it for themselves.
India's Constitution has served the nation for 62 years. It is time to look back and think about its origin and future prospects.
Despite my many criticisms (particularly in BFN) of its shortcomings (most shortcomings created by socialsits like Nehru, Indira Gandhi, and the menagerie that was known as Janata Party), it is basically a robust document with considerable merit. With a few key improvements (including a total reorganisation of the Constitution's structure), the Westminster system with the first-past-the-post electoral process can serve India well for another thousand years.
All said and done, the Constitution has proven its worth.
Today it is important to remember Ambedkar's contributions to India, including as Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee.
Ambedkar is a difficult man to understand, presumably because he had to overcome the many (to most of us unimaginable) social strictures of having been born a Dalit, but from what I've been reading about him, he had a strong faith in liberty. While I'm by no means an Ambedkar expert, the following four blog posts provide hints to his greatness as a thinker and leader.
I'd like to see the Republic Day of India associated much more strongly with the memory of Ambedkar's work and message. India desperately needs his message of liberty.
While Ambedkar came from a classical liberal mould (e.g. see my blog post here), his sympathies for the concept of "equality" derive from a particular interpretation of Buddhism (a view that Dalai Lama might not necessarily agree with). Nevertheless Ambedkar did not let his preference for equality over-ride liberty, a perspective rooted in his interpretation of Buddha's message.
The Buddha was not just a democrat but wanted people to think for themselves. That significantly influenced Amebedkar's worldview which was therefore largely classical liberal although he might have preferred some level of redistribution.
His [the Buddha's] teaching is to acquire wealth. I give below his Sermon on the subject to Anathapindika one of his disciples.Once Anathapindika came to where the Exalted One was staying. Having come he made obeisance to the Exalted One and took a seat at one side and asked 'Will the Enlightened One tell what things are welcome, pleasant, agreeable, to the householder but which are hard to gain.'The Enlightened One having heard the question put to him said ' Of such things the first is to acquire wealth lawfully.''The second is to see that your relations also get their wealth lawfully.''The third is to live long and reach great age.' 'Of a truth, householder, for the attainment of these four things, which in the world are welcomed, pleasant agreeable but hard to gain, there are also four conditions precedent. They are the blessing of faith, the blessing of virtuous conduct, the blessing of liberality and the blessing of wisdom.The Blessing of virtuous conduct which abstains From taking life, thieving, unchastely, lying and partaking of fermented liquor.The blessing of liberality consists in the householder living with mind freed from the taint of avarice, generous, open-handed, delighting in gifts, a good one to be asked and devoted to the distribution of gifts.Wherein consists the blessing of Wisdom? He know that an householder who dwells with mind overcome by greed, avarice, ill-will, sloth, drowsiness, distraction and flurry, and also about, commits wrongful deeds and neglects that which ought to be done, and by so doing deprived of happiness and honour.Greed, avarice, ill will, sloth and drowsiness, distraction and flurry and doubt are stains of the mind. A householder who gets rid of such stains of the mind acquires great wisdom, abundant wisdom, clear vision and perfect wisdom.Thus to acquire wealth legitimately and justly, earn by great industry, amassed by strength of the arm and gained by sweat of the brow is a great blessing. The householder makes himself happy and cheerful and preserves himself full of happiness; also makes his parents, wife, and children, servants, and labourers, friends and companions happy and cheerful, and preserves them full of happiness.
The Russians are proud of their Communism. But they forget that the wonder of all wonders is that the Buddha established Communism so far as the Sangh was concerned without dictatorship. It may be that it was a communism on a very small scale but it was communism I without dictatorship a miracle which Lenin failed to do.The Buddha's method was different. His method was to change the mind of man: to alter his disposition: so that whatever man does, he does it voluntarily without the use of force or compulsion. His main means to alter the disposition of men was his Dhamma and the constant preaching of his Dhamma. The Buddhas way was not to force people to do what they did not like to do although it was good for them. His way was to alter the disposition of men so that they would do voluntarily what they would not otherwise to do.It has been claimed that the Communist Dictatorship in Russia has wonderful achievements to its credit. There can be no denial of it. That is why I say that a Russian Dictatorship would be good for all backward countries. But this is no argument for permanent Dictatorship. Humanity does not only want economic values, it also wants spiritual values to be retained. Permanent Dictatorship has paid no attention to spiritual values and does not seem to intend to. Carlyle called Political Economy a Pig Philosophy. Carlyle was of course wrong. For man needs material comforts" But the Communist Philosophy seems to be equally wrong for the aim of their philosophy seems to be fatten pigs as though men are no better than pigs. Man must grow materially as well as spiritually. Society has been aiming to lay a new foundation was summarised by the French Revolution in three words, Fraternity, Liberty and Equality. The French Revolution was welcomed because of this slogan. It failed to produce equality. We welcome the Russian Revolution because it aims to produce equality. But it cannot be too much emphasised that in producing equality society cannot afford to sacrifice fraternity or liberty. Equality will be of no value without fraternity or liberty. It seems that the three can coexist only if one follows the way of the Buddha. Communism can give one but not all. [Source]
Harsh Vora has kindly pointed out a very important passage from Ambedkar. I had covered this earlier, here. But it bears reminding. I'm extracting it in two parts. The first two paras are an extract. The full speech is reproduced below.
If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do? The first thing in my judgement we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. When there was no way left for constitutional methods for achieving economic and social objectives, there was a great deal of justification for unconstitutional methods. But where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.The second thing we must do is to observe the caution which John Stuart Mill has given to all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, not "to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with power which enable him to subvert their institutions". 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. As has been well said by the Irish Patriot Daniel O'Connel, no man can be grateful at the cost of his honour, no woman can be grateful at the cost of her chastity and no nation can be grateful at the cost of its liberty. This caution is far more necessary in the case 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 its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world.Bhakti 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.
Here's a truly useful piece of research on B.R. Ambedkar by Balakrishnan Chandrasekaran, published in Pragati today. I've learnt a lot from this, and so, I'm sure will readers of this blog. I'm copying it entirely on this blog, for my own record. I trust Pragati won't have violent objections.
Well done, Balakrishnan! I'm delighted to learn about Ambedkar's economic ideas, and look forward to further studies on Ambedkar (and others) from you.
By all standards, Ambedkar was a classical liberal, and despite controversies about his life and influence on India, he was rightly honoured as the chairman of the Drafting Committee for India's constitution, a kind of Indian Jefferson. Highly trained in economics, from Columbia University, [Ambedkar received a scholarship to Columbia from the Maharajah of Baroda. He earned his MA in 1915 and then obtained a DSc at the London School of Economics before being awarded his Columbia PhD in 1927]
Through this post, may I also invite the "Dalits" of India (and others!) to study Ambedkar carefully and understand that what he and I are saying was basically the same thing. It is important that we recover the political and economic views that Ambedkar represented, and give everyone in India – including the "Dalits" – a chance to succeed.
The protagonists of globalisation have tried to project him as a proponent of the free-market, indeed, as a neoliberal, and have even gone to the extent of painting him as a monetarist (monetarists are supposed to be the intellectual initiators of neoliberalism) to claim him in support of their propaganda. In any case, how many Dalits, even among the educated ones, know what monetarism is? Ambedkar, who publicly professed his opposition to capitalism throughout his life, was thus wilfully distorted to be the supporter of neoliberal capitalism, which globalisation is!
…one finds the widespread ignorance regarding Ambedkar’s contribution as an economist unfortunate. This lack of awareness, to an extent, could be explained by his phenomenal contributions in other spheres such as law, religion, sociology, and politics, which might have overshadowed his contribution to economics. Yet it is surprising that even the so-called expert studies on the evolution of Indian economic thought…do not seem to take much cognisance of Ambedkar’s contributions.
I do not share Mr Ambedkar’s hostility to the system, nor accept most of his arguments against it and its advocates. But he hits some nails very squarely on the head, and even when I have thought him quite wrong, I have found a stimulating freshness in his views and reasons. An old teacher like myself learns to tolerate the vagaries of originality, even when they resist “severe examination” such as that of which Mr Ambedkar speaks.
Trade is an important apparatus in a society, based on private property and pursuit of individual gain; without it, it would be difficult for its members to distribute the specialised products of their labour…But a trading society is unavoidably a pecuniary society, a society which of necessity carries on its transactions in terms of money.In fact, the distribution is not primarily an exchange of products against products, but products against money. In such a society, money therefore necessarily becomes the pivot on which everything revolves.With money as the focusing-point of all human efforts, interests, desires, and ambitions, a trading society is bound to function in a regime of price, where successes and failures are results of nice calculations of price-outlay as against price-product.
One of the evils of the Exchange Standard is that it is subject to management. Now a convertible system is also a managed system. Therefore by adopting the convertible system we do not get rid of the evil of management which is really the bane of the present system. Besides, a managed currency is to be altogether avoided when the management is to be in the hands of the Government. When the management is by a bank there is less chance of mismanagement. For the penalty for imprudent issue, or mismanagement is visited by disaster directly upon the property of the issuer.But the chance of mismanagement is greater when it is issued by Government because the issue of government money is authorised and conducted by men who are never under any present responsibility for private loss in case of bad judgement or mismanagement.
By centralisation all progress tends to be retarded, all initiative liable to be checked and the sense of responsibility of Local Authorities greatly impaired…centralisation conflicts with what may be regarded as a cardinal principle of good government.Thus, centralisation, unless greatly circumscribed, must lead to inefficiency. This was sure to occur even in homogeneous states, and above all in a country like India where there are to be found more diversities of race, language, religion, customs and economic conditions.In such circumstances there must come a point at which the higher authority must be less competent than the lower, because it cannot by any possibility posses the requisite knowledge of all local conditions. It was therefore obvious that a Central Government for the whole of India could not be said to posses knowledge and experience of all various conditions prevailing in the different Provinces under it. It therefore, necessarily becomes an authority less competent to deal with matters of provincial administration than the Provisional Governments, the members of which could not be said to be markedly inferior, and must generally be equal in ability to those of the Central Government, while necessarily superior as a body in point of knowledge.
…the utility of an object varies according to the varying condition of the organism needing satisfaction. Even an object of our strongest desire like food may please or disgust, according as we are hungry or have over-indulged the appetite. Thus utility diminishes as satisfaction increases.