The Subject Association of the Department of Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia organized a lecture on the topic: “The Place of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar in Modern Indian Political Thought” by Dr. Ananya Vajpeyi in the seminar room of the department on Thursday, March 6, 2014. [Link to Lecture Audio.]
Dr. Vajpeyi is an Associate Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi and the author of “Righteous Republic: The Political Foundations of Modern India” (Harvard University Press, 2013), in which she looks into how Rabindranath Tagore, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mohandas Gandhi, Abanindranath Tagore, and B. R. Ambedkar, referred to ancient Indian texts for creating a political thought that was true to India. [Buy the book on Flipkart (aff. link)]
Dr. Ananya Vajpeyi began by analyzing what was so Indian, so political and so thought-like about Modern Indian Political Thought. “The most basic answer about what is Indian about the Indian Political Thought is that a lot of the important figures who are producing this kind of thought and these ideas are Indians. This includes everybody from Bankim to Tilak to Savarkar to Gandhi to Tagore to Nehru to Ambedkar to Azad to Iqbal to even somebody like Jinnah. The issues that they are addressing have to do with the political life of this part of the world”, Dr. Vajpeyi stated. She also added that there were elements that weren’t modern or Indian or political or thought-like, yet are a part of Indian Political Thought.
She went on to speak of how political ideas of Indian political thinkers weren’t closed off from political ideas available in other parts of the world, rather many ideas such as nation, empire, colony, power, justice and so on came to them from their encounter with major European traditions of political thinking in which they were immersed and located at that time. “Although they are Indian, the kinds of things they are thinking about are actually coming from outside India, and that is a function of their education, class, the historical moment and the context in which they are located. This is why Partha Chatterjee has described nationalist thought in India during the anti-colonial period as being ‘derivative’,” Dr. Ananya Vajpeyi said, adding that enfolded within that label of ‘Indian’ is a huge set of influences which are not Indian and it’s important to remember this hybrid nature of Indian Political Thought.
Analyzing the unsystematic nature of Indian Political Thought, she said that it was full of contradictions and inconsistencies because these thinkers were also active in political life. “These people are not philosophers. They are not into the business of thought as their main task in life. Most of them are active political leaders, leading mass movements and taking up a role in public life. Somewhere in between they give speeches, write letters or books and we combine them together, calling it their political thought. So, it is important to treat Indian Political Thought with care because you will find inconsistencies in it”, Dr. Ananya Vajpeyi explained.
Moving on to talk about Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, she spoke of him as an interesting and a complex thinker, a leader of the lowest of the low (called the untouchables) in the caste system and the chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly, as the popular understanding goes. “He wrote about a wide range of things including minority rights, federalism, partition, political economy etc. Out of all political leaders, he was the most educated. He was the first person from his community to earn a double doctorate. He was also actively involved in labour movements in parts of Bombay and even thinking systematically of how to build alliances between a working class movement and a caste based movement”, she said of him. She went on to speak of Ambedkar’s rejection of Hinduism and acceptance of Buddhism as his key political innovations.
Towards the conclusion, she stressed on the need for widening the scope of our understanding of Ambedkar beyond his just being a leader of the Dalits or Chairman of the drafting committee.“It is important to try and engage the different aspects of his thought. Then you see the richness of his contributions to modern Indian Political Thought and also realize for the first time that we do have a systematic thinker none of the others are like. It is high time he was recognized for his many different contributions”, Dr. Vajpeyi emphasized.
Download and listen to Dr. Ananya Vajpeyi’s complete lecture here: