Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar always feared that the Hindus, specifically the caste Hindus, whom he often addressed with the cold appellation—Touchables—would gang up communally, pose as a political majority, and run away with what he called the ‘title deeds’ of democracy. The usage of this heaped category that lumps close to 65 per cent of the subcontinent’s population (52 per cent obcs plus the rest of the privileged dwija/twice-born communities), problematic though it is, indicates a shift from an earlier, more nuanced position Ambedkar held in 1931. That was when he saw the various jatis belonging to the four varnas—Shudra, Vaishya, Kshatriya, Brahmin—as “a gradation of castes forming an ascending scale of reverence and a descending scale of contempt”, a system he believed “gives no scope for the growth of that sentiment of equality and fraternity so essential for a democratic form of government”.
A lot had changed from 1931 to 1945, but Ambedkar was still smarting from the defeat inflicted on him by the blackmail fast his principal adversary, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, undertook in Poona in 1932. Till the success at the Round Table Conference in 1931, Ambedkar was coasting along. With the Mahad Satyagraha (1927) and stellar performances in the Bombay Legislative Council behind him, he had come to be seen as the distinctive voice of the Untouchables. He consistently argued that the Untouchables should not be clubbed with Touchable Hindus. This position—echoed previously by Panditar Iyothee Thass (1845-1914), the radical Tamil Buddhist thinker—was first articulated by Ambedkar during his submission to the Southborough Franchise Commission in 1919, where he submitted that the Untouchables formed “a separate element in India’s social life”, and hence were a social minority. Chandra Bhan Prasad, in one of his 2003 Dalit Diary columns, said: “That was Ambedkar’s first political statement.”
After eight years, when Ambedkar led 3,000 Dalits to drink water from a tank in Mahad maintained with public funds, and thus establish “the norm of equality”, the obduracy of the caste Hindus and Gandhi’s conspicuous silence on the thirst of the Untouchables for equality made him arrive at a conclusion historians of the Left, Right, Congress and Subaltern Studies have refused to acknowledge: “The satyagraha movement started by Gandhi was backed by the people as it was against foreign domination. Our struggle is against the mass of caste Hindus and naturally we have little support from outside.” All his life, Ambedkar identified the Hindus (which translated into the Brahmin-Baniya Congress) as the principal adversaries of Dalits in the social and political field.
After Gandhi stymied this scheme, Ambedkar faced one electoral humiliation after another. He found it impossible to get self-respecting, independent Dalits into legislatures. Several times, his own defeat was inevitable. In fact, his election to the Constituent Assembly required a miracle.
Padma-award-friendly court historians and Films Division-style propaganda by the likes of Shyam Benegal (his Samvidhan series for Doordarshan) would have us believe that it was at Gandhi’s benevolent and large-hearted suggestion that Ambedkar was made chairman of the drafting committee of the Constitution. The truth is every effort was made to ensure that Ambedkar did not even enter the Constituent Assembly. In the 1946 elections to the provincial assemblies, Ambedkar’s Scheduled Caste Federation suffered crushing defeats. The first-past-the-post (FPTP) system led to only pliable Dalits—‘Harijans’—being elected from reserved constituencies. In the July 1946 elections to the Constituent Assembly, then Bombay prime minister B.G. Kherat engineered Ambedkar’s defeat at Vallabhbhai Patel’s behest. Jogendranath Mandal, SCF leader from Bengal, stepped in to get Ambedkar elected to the Constituent Assembly from Bengal where Mandal had forged an alliance with the Muslim League.
Lasting legacy Dalits in Mumbai on his 51st death anniversary
It was at this juncture that, unsure of his place and role in the Constituent Assembly, Ambedkar prepared a memorandum in March 1947: States and Minorities: What are Their Rights and How to Secure them in the Constitution of Free India. This ‘Constitution of the United States of India’ offered a unique solution so that a communal majority did not wear the garb of political majority. The minorities—Muslims, Dalits or Sikhs—if they were not to be “crushed and overwhelmed by the communal majority”—ought to have greater representation in a legislative body than their actual share in the population.
Had Ambedkar’s formula been accepted, we wouldn’t have had the aberration of a party with 31% voteshare winning. States and Minorities echoed Ambedkar’s presidential address to the SCF in 1945, where he said: “In India, the majority is not a political majority. In India, the majority is born; it is not made. That is the difference between a communal majority and a political majority.” He offered a prescient formula to thwart the communal majority from claiming a political majority. In the Central Assembly, the Hindus, who form 54.68 per cent of the population, should get 40 per cent representation; Muslims with 28.5 per cent should get 32 per cent; Scheduled Castes with their 14.3 per cent should get 20 per cent; 1.16 per cent Indian Christians 3 per cent; 1.49 per cent Sikhs 4 per cent; and 0.05 per cent Anglo-Indians 1 per cent. In Bombay, the Hindus, who are 76.42 per cent of the population, should get 40 per cent representation in the legislature; Muslims, 9.98 per cent of the population, 28 per cent; 9.64 per cent Scheduled Castes, 28 per cent, and so on. The minorities must get representation positively disproportionate to their ratio in population while for the majority community it is capped at 40 per cent. That is, less should have more, and more should have less. Where Hindus were outnumbered, like in pre-partition Punjab, Muslims comprising 57.06 per cent would get 40 per cent representation; Hindus at 22.17 per cent, 28 per cent, and so forth. This formula could well have even prevented Partition.
This is because Ambedkar believed “majority rule is untenable in theory and unjustifiable in practice. A majority community may be conceded a relative majority of representation but it can never claim an absolute majority”. In Thoughts on Linguistic States (1955), he says, “It would be enough to have plural member constituencies (of two or three) with cumulative voting in place of the system of single-member constituency embodied in the present Constitution.”
Had the FPTP system been modified according to Ambedkar’s formula, we would not have had the gross statistical aberration in the 2014 general election: with just 31 per cent of the total voteshare (not the share of the total population), the BJP won 282 Lok Sabha seats. No party ever has won so many seats with so less a voteshare. The Hindus have ganged up communally. In the 2007 Gujarat election, Muslims at 9 per cent of the population could elect only five MLAs (2.7 per cent) to the 182-member assembly. In 2012, only two got elected. For 25 years now, Gandhi’s Gujarat has not elected a single Muslim to the Lok Sabha. The ‘Gujarat model’ Ambedkar feared is now being experimented with in Uttar Pradesh. Caste has found a perfect fit with parliamentary democracy.
Had Ambedkar had his way, someone like Narendra Modi would have found it difficult to get elected even to a panchayat. And we would not have had Amit Shah’s mug staring at us from every hoarding in the capital.
(Anand is publisher, Navayana.)
S. Anand misconstrues B.R. Ambedkar’s electoral ideas on majoritarianism in his piece, Bhimrao’s Sharp Arrow, in your I-Day special. He says that “had Ambedkar had his way, someone like Narendra Modi would have found it difficult to get elected even to a panchayat”. This is like Pravin Togadia using Ambedkar’s book Partition or Pakistan to say Ambedkar was against Muslims. Anand uses Ambedkar to make a mockery of the 2014 result. Using half-baked, secondary, acquired information about Ambedkar to further his own agenda, Anand quotes Ambedkar in bits and pieces, referring to the FPTP method of election in 1947 but failing to mention the 1937 election where Ambedkar’s Independent Labour Party swept polls, and again using his comments in 1955 while omitting the context in which they were made, namely of reserved seats being discontinued after 10 years. Anand again uses ill-informed secondary sources to say that Jogendranath Mandal got Ambedkar elected to the Constituent Assembly with the support of the Muslim League when in fact Mandal approached every Dalit MLA to support Ambedkar. (The polling took place on July 18, 1946, and Ambedkar was declared elected to the Constituent Assembly from the Bengal Legislative Assembly by a great majority a day later. The seat belonged to East Bengal, now Bangladesh. Besides Mandal, there were five Congress MLAs who played a historic role in voting Ambedkar, defying their party, and all belonged to present-day Bangladesh—Dwarikanath Baruri from Faridpur, Gayanath Biswas from Tangail, Nagendra Narayan Ray and Kshetranath Sinha from Rangpur and Mukunda Behari Mullick from Khulna. After Ambedkar’s election, the SC MLAs who had won on Congress ticket joined the Scheduled Caste Federation.) Again, Anand’s secondary and tertiary sources fail to inform him that Ambedkar’s formulae for blocking majoritarianism were explained during the CA debates and during the meetings of the CA committees. It’s unfortunate that even today, Outlook has to engage non-Dalits and non-Ambedkar scholars like Anand and Kancha Ilaiah to write about what Ambedkar really meant.
Raja Sekhar Vundru, Delhi
S. Anand responds: I reckon Vundru and I must be on the same page. He does not contest the fact that the machinations of the Congress ensured that Ambedkar could not be elected to the Constituent Assembly from his home state of Bombay in 1946. Why did Ambedkar have to take the Bengal route? In the 1946 election, the SCF won just 14 of the 148 seats—not enough to get Ambedkar elected to the 296-member CA. It is no secret that Jogendranath Mandal, an SCF leader in Bengal, played a pivotal role in sneaking Ambedkar into the CA. That Mandal was allied to the Muslim League, and went on to serve Pakistan as the speaker of its CA and later as labour minister, is also known. Given the constraints of space, I did not discuss the ILP’s short-lived success, nor did I mention that Ambedkar was in a quandary after Partition since his election to the CA via Bengal had become null.
That the FPTP system has worked against Dalits and minorities all along is recognised by most activists and scholars. After all, Ambedkar himself lost two parliamentary elections from reserved constituencies owing to the FPTP system, wherein even if all the Dalits voted for Ambedkar, he’d have lost. In 1951, contesting on an SCF ticket from the reserved part of the double-member Bombay North constituency, Ambedkar was defeated by N.S. Kajrolkar of the Congress by 14,374 votes. In the 1954 byelection from Bhandara, Ambedkar lost again to another Congress candidate, Bhaurao Borkar, someone who earlier used to organise workers for the SCF. The Congress just wanted to prove that in the FPTP system, most independent-minded, political Dalits could be felled by pliable ‘Harijan’ candidates. It is the FPTP system that ensures such poor representation of Muslims in legislative bodies, and equally ensures that Dalits almost never win from ‘general’ constituencies.
In his 1955 work, Thoughts on Linguistic States, Ambedkar lamented the jettisoning of the pre-Poona Pact arrangement of separate electorates and double vote for Dalits: “Both these safeguards have been given up in the new Constitution. The lambs are shorn of the wool. They are feeling the intensity of the cold. Some tempering of the wool is necessary.” Without restating the demand for separate electorates, and even willing to give up on reservation of seats, he says, “It would be enough to have plural member constituencies (of two or three) with cumulative voting in place of the system of single-member constituency embodied in the present Constitution.”
If it is a crime to try to understand, using Ambedkar’s less regarded framework, why seatshare is grossly disproportional to voteshare, I stand guilty.
I enjoyed the article on Ambedkar (Bhimrao’s Sharp Arrow, Aug 25). However, the caption to the photograph on page 93 mentions that it’s of Ambedkar and his wife Ramabai. Ramabai died on May 27, 1935. In the photo, Ambedkar is seen with Savita Ambedkar.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
" In fact, his election to the Constituent Assembly required a miracle."
It was no miracle. Ambedkar jockeyed for the position-as revealed in the diaries of wife of Jagajivan Ram.
Ambedkar pleaded with Jagajivan Ram to promote his case with Nehru and Patel. Ram spoke to Patel who in turn spoke with Nehru.
Both Nehru and Patel showed large-heartedness by agreeing to forget everything Ambedkar had said about them in the past. And that is how Ambedkar got into the consitutent assembly.
"Jogendranath Mandal, SCF leader from Bengal, stepped in to get Ambedkar elected to the Constituent Assembly from Bengal where Mandal had forged an alliance with the Muslim League." Sicko Anand
Your pal Mandal went to Krapistan after Independence because he was brainwashed into believing Muslims were friends of Dalits. Within three years, he came running back to India, appalled by the horrors Muslims were inflicting on Dalits there. Perhaps Anand can go read Mandal's resignation letter that he sent to Liaquat Ali Khan before running back to India.
These sickos never learn - no matter how many times they get it up the ass from Muslims, they go running back panting for more.
First of all, this fanatical Anand is a Christian masqurading as a Dalit.He should read history before he writes anything about Dalits and Ambedkar.Ambedkar was very vehement that Dalits should not get converted to either Islam or Chrstianity.That is how Ambedkar preferred Buddhism,a religion born in India.Will this fellow ever write on the subject of ill treatment of Dalit Christians in their own soceity?Dalits are made to sit in a separate section of the pew in churches and not along with the Upper Caste Christians.Dalits are not allowed to bury their dead in the common area of a cemetry.No Dalit is accepted as a priest by upper caste Christians.One has only to see the matrimonial columns where it is specific that alliance has to come only from non-dalit Christians.The list is long.As for the Muslims if this fellow Anand had read Indian history at the time of partition,he would know that Dalits were forcibly held back in Pakistan for them to do scavenging work for Muslims.In India Muslims have pushed Dalits to penury by not allowing them to prosper on piggery.Going back,it was the Hindu Maharaja of Kolhapur who financed Ambedkar to go to England to pursue his law degree,while the Nizam demanded that he convert as a Muslim to get financial assistance.This And is a shallow fellow and he writes all this nonsence at the behest of the Church.
What difference do the provisions of Criminal Tribes Act, (CT Act) enacted a decade after IPC make? Some sections and chapters were physically lifted from IPC to create CT Act and no more.
It's wrong to say advasis were criminalized by the British. It was educated Hindus who did the mischief.
In 1932 when the Bihar & Orissa Government issued a gazettee notification declaring about 45 or so persons criminal tribes, there was orchestrated outburst of emotions against it from Lahore to Madras and Gauhati to Karachi, alleging arbitrary action under CT Act. Why? Almost all of the members of the criminal gang bore surnames, e. g. Pandey, Dubey, Sharma, Mishra, Singh, Rai etc. Dr. Sachchhidanand Sinha, Bar-at-Law and first Vice-Cancellor, Patna University (estd. 1917) who rose to become the first protem speaker of Constituent Assembly to be replaced by Dr. Rajendra Prasad, wrote an article in his Kayastha Patrika (renamed Hindustan Review) (published from Allahabad) that the intention of the CT Act was not to prosecute "upper caste" educated youth. He was one of the member of the Governor-General's Central Legislative Council. The upper caste youth committed crime, he contented, under mental "perversivety." So he attacked the government for declaring some of them members of "criminal gang." Tell me which act and law upper castes have not abused for their own gain?
When about two years ago a girl in Delhi bus was raped and murdered the whole administration jumped to provide justice to her family by pushing every thing aside because she bore surnaname "Pandey."
Be ashamed at least for what you say.
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