Equality as a key to national development
Professor Mohammed Arif was a guest speaker
at the 120th birth anniversary celebrations of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar at
India House, London. The following is an edited version of his speech:
Babasaheb belongs to a group of great people who changed the course
of history. He was an outstanding intellectual, moral and political
leader. His life was full of hardship as he portrayed in his writings
and speeches but he was resilient, courageous and had faith in the
ultimate success of his mission.
* Born: April 14, 1891
* Died: December 6, 1956 (aged 65)
* Nationality: Indian
* Organization: Samata Sainik Dal, Independent Labour Party,
Scheduled Castes Federation, Buddhist Society Of India
* Title: First Law Minister of India, Chairman of the
* Political party: Republican Party of India
* Political movement: Ambedkar(ite) Buddhism
* Religion: Buddhism
Dr. B. R.
He had faith in the invincible power of the human spirit in the
pursuit of justice and human dignity as he pointed out in one of his
speeches. He said ‘educate, agitate and organize: have faith in
yourself. With justice on our side I do not see how we can lose our
battle.’ Although his message was revolutionary, he believed in
non-violence and felt that the struggle for equality should be waged at
the political, moral and constitutional levels. He believed in the
orderly removal of inequality.
Babasaheb’s invaluable gift to India was the Indian constitution. The
constitution he gave was democratic, secular and had universal adult
suffrage without any discrimination. In fact, if we look at Britain in
1776, at the time of the American Revolution, Britain was not a
democracy. The House of Commons was composed of MPs elected by two
percent of the population and they were all men. It is only after 1928,
after considerable struggle, that the franchise was extended to every
man and woman at 21. Yet 20 years later, Babasaheb Ambedkar gave adult
franchise to all Indians and guaranteed fundamental rights. The
constitution has been the foundation of India’s unity and progress.
His social philosophy as he put it was enshrined in three words:
liberty, equality and fraternity. Many people, perhaps, do not know that
these concepts were Indian concepts and were embodied in the teaching of
the Buddha, these words of wisdom were uttered around 500BC, and
therefore not borrowed from the French Revolution.
Many people felt deep resentment at being viewed as part of a
minority when they were all Indian and belonged to the same land.
Babasaheb’s view was that the issues of majority and minorities would
disappear with the passage of time through changing attitudes. I
remember a remarkable speech made by the former Indian High
Commissioner, Kamlesh Sharma, who argued that India was a country of
minorities. Every religion, every sub-religion, every sect, every
regional culture is a minority culture - people have started to
recognise this fact and therefore the issues of majority and minorities
are slowly disappearing. In fact, he was endorsing what Babasaheb had
said many years previously.
Babasaheb said ‘Men are mortal. So are ideas. An idea needs
propagation as much as plants need watering, otherwise both will wither
and die’. I think there is a need for propagating his ideas universally
as they have universal applicability in terms of democracy, justice and
Economic and social progress
India has a long tradition of standing up to injustice and
discrimination. People may recall that immediately after Independence,
Krishna Menon condemned apartheid in South Africa at the United Nations.
India was the first country to do so.
It has become a lot easier to propagate Ambedkar’s ideas of the
capability of moral force to challenge the powers of vested interests.
Today, information cannot be controlled. Information has been
democratised. The internet has changed everything. Technology has
changed the parameters of political and social debate. Today we
communicate via email, Face book and Twitter which are available to
everyone worldwide. Babasaheb said ‘If the depressed classes gained
their self-respect and freedom, they would contribute not only to their
own progress and prosperity but by their industry, intellect and courage
would contribute also to the strength and prosperity of the nation’.
Babasaheb felt that greater social and economic equality was a good
thing - it leads to efficiency, competitiveness, social harmony and
economic progress. This has been borne out by the example of the
Scandinavian countries - these countries are more egalitarian than any
other countries in the world. e.g. in Norway, the usual gap in a company
between the lowest and highest paid employees is one to four plus
healthcare and social benefits. These countries at the same time,
barring Singapore and Hong Kong, are at the top of the competitiveness
league table. It is clear, empirical proof that a more egalitarian
spirit and social welfare do not necessarily endanger competitiveness.
Another study carried out by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett of
unequal societies such as the US, Britain and Portugal as well as more
equal societies such as Sweden and Japan: they found unequal societies
scored noticeably higher on all social problems at every level of
society. This proves Babasaheb’s argument that egalitarianism does lead
to efficiency, competitiveness, social solidarity, fewer social problems
as well as economic and social progress.
Perhaps it is difficult to remove economic and social inequalities
when countries are poor and lack resources. This is not the case with
India now. Between 2007 and the present day, the world has faced the
worst recession since the 1930s. In an environment of increasing
unemployment, falling national incomes, rising debt and negative growth
worldwide, India has managed to stem the trend, doing extremely well
with national income rising seven-eight percent. Its foreign reserves
have reached Sterling Pounds 400 bn and its economy is roaring ahead. It
has emerged as a major economic and political power in the world. It is
knocking at the door of the UN Security Council for membership.
In view of the above, it should be easier for India to reduce social
and economic inequalities in the country over the next few years and
realise Babasaheb’s dream of social and economic egalitarianism.
In conclusion, I would say that the best way of paying tribute to
Babasaheb is to recognise that we cannot be complacent in the pursuit of
justice and human dignity and we must also recognise that there
continues to be a lot of work to be done.