Ambedkar’s Speech on “Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah”: A Critical Overview

Priyanka Das

Date of Publication: 25 May 2020

“Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah” is an address delivered by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar on the 101st birthday celebration of Mahadev Govind Ranade held on 18 January 1943 in Gokhale Memorial Hall, Poona. It was first published by Thacker & Company, Bombay in 1943 and was included in Volume 1 of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches published by Dr. Ambedkar Foundation in 2014. The address comprises ten sections and calls for building a progressive and inclusive post-colonial nation by way of prioritizing social reformation over political revolution.

Ambedkar admits that he never had the good fortune of meeting Ranade in person. Furthermore, he had been oblivious to Ranade’s existence when he died and like any other nine-year old, in the first standard, rejoiced over the holiday the government had declared nationwide on that occasion. He emphasizes, however, that his encounter with Ranade had occurred through his words, buried in old papers, belonging to his father. Among these papers, he had found a petition drafted by Ranade and sent by the Commissioned and non-Commissioned officers of the Mahar Community against reclassification of the Mahars as a non-martial race, in response to the orders issues by the Government of India in 1892 banning their recruitment in the Army. Ambedkar clarifies that his observations relate to the importance of Ranade in modern Indian politics.

Ambedkar attempts a detailed analysis of the idea of “great men” and what yardstick should be used to measure the said greatness. He goes on to refer to three theories of history in this regard, namely, the Augustinian theory (men acting according to divine plan), Buckle’s theory (history related to laws of nature), and Marxian theory (history is a result of economic forces), and points out that however history maybe defined none of these thinkers would admit that history is the biography of great men. It is possible to argue that men are sole actors of their actions but the historical context does condition their actions in certain ways as well. It is, however, possible to theorize greatness as Ambedkar does by formulating a threefold metric which he calls a “test” to measure the greatness of these supposedly great men. In this regard, he takes recourse to Carlyle’s essay titled On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History and argues that true greatness consists of unconscious sincerity, intellect and the drive for social regeneration. In this sense, he argues, Napoleon and Clemenceau were eminent men, not great men for they never manifested these three principles of greatness.

Against this backdrop, Ambedkar invokes the question, “Was Ranade a Great Man?” He argues that Ranade was indeed a great man because he possessed all the qualities Ambedkar deemed ideally necessary in a great man. He was unconsciously sincere, intellectually endowed and had a drive for social regeneration. Although he had never been a politician, he was a dedicated student of politics and a social reformer. He had developed a “vision of the Prophet”, in the Jewish sense, and understood the needs of his time. Ranade was born at a vulnerable time in 1842, not more than twenty-five years after the battle of Kirkee in course of which the Brahmin Peshwa rule under Baji Rao II had to bow down before the armed forces of British East India Company. However, Ranade had had faith in the two articles of his creed. He believed that the undivided country was “the true land of promise” and our race was “the chosen race”. While his words might have fallen upon the ears of a stranded crowd like the “new Mosaic Gospel of hope and confidence” he worked arduously to analyse and actualize his vision of a free nation. Firstly, he had realized the shortcomings in the Hindu social system and the impracticality of perpetuating the outmoded and orthodox social dogma. He carefully assessed the needs of his time, and social reform became the purpose of his life. He called all men to perform their duty towards society with the same sense of purpose. Secondly, he devised methods including meetings, lectures, sermons, articles, interviews and letters to serve the society with unrelenting zeal. However, Ranade’s objective was to attain something more permanent and systematic with an aim at promoting social reform. He saw "discourse" as a tool of reformation; therefore, he founded the Social Conference, an all-India organization which ran as an adjunct to Indian National Congress. Ranade was not an orthodox pilgrim but the man who sought his pilgrimage in the annual sessions of the Conference fostering the cause of social reform. Thirdly, Ambedkar asks whether political prisoners or social reformers have the kind of courage that great men possess. While the Tilaks in the society had the support of the masses to resist and agitate against the authority of an oppressive government, the social reformers like the Ranades resisted and agitated against the repressive society at the cost of risking their own alienation and excommunication. We are left to decide whom to call martyr - a political prisoner or a social reformer.

(In pic: Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi photographed in 1944. Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons. Photographer: Kulwant Roy.)

The difference between the political and the social is intriguingly theorized by Ambedkar. He moves on to discuss the “political thesis,” as opposed to the idea of social reform, developed by Ranade’s “greatest opponents.” Justice Telang of Bombay High Court had joined the battle to defend the thesis arguing the inevitable precedence of political reform over social reform. However, Ranade could not share their conviction (as neither did Ambedkar). He condemned the diplomatic hooliganism in blocking the social reform movement with the cacophony of cries for political reform. The defenders of the political thesis had offered, in some cases, well-founded arguments on the protection of the rights of the people, conferring fundamental rights on each individual by law and the right to self-government. Nonetheless, Ambedkar, on the lines of Ranade, refutes their stance in course of three condensed arguments. Firstly, he argues that the State policing the rights of people, when none practically exists, is engaged in a futile exercise. In order to put the constitutional rights into practice, the society must be reformed to tolerate the equal rights bestowed upon each individual. Otherwise, the exercise is a democratic facade put on by the government “to protect those who have vested rights and to penalize those who have none” (221-222). Secondly, in order to make the fundamental rights effective, the society must be reformed. One cannot be led by the assumption that, once enacted, the rights remain protected by law hence they are rendered effective. In a hostile society, the law would find the majority of the society bent on violating the rights of the marginalised. Therefore, the precedence of social reform over political reform must be taken into account because, practically, rights are not protected by the law but the moral conscience of the society. Thirdly, while in imagination the democratic form of government for India makes one think of it as a good government, the possibility of such a government without having any fallacies can only be a fantasy. Democratic societies are a pre-requisite for a democratic form of government. Therefore, democracy is not a form of government but essentially a form of society unmistakably involving two things – “First is an attitude of mind, an attitude of respect and equality towards their fellows. Second is a social organization free from rigid social barriers” (222). However, democracy is fatally incompatible and inconsistent with the present form of society. In any case, the impediments caused in the way of India gaining political power were rooted in the communal problems that existed in the flawed social system. Ranade, therefore, advocated for a Communal Settlement to avoid a travesty in the name of political democracy built upon such morally destitute foundations. Furthermore, the social reformers faced the “problems of early marriage, remarriages of widows, and liberty for our countrymen to travel/sojourn in foreign lands, women’s rights of property and education of women” (224-225). Monstrous and mad orthodoxy, defended by the intelligentsia, opposed the Age of Consent Bill “aimed to punish a husband who would have sexual intercourse with his wife if she had not attained the age of 12” (225). Unfortunately, the Social Reform Conference was eventually deserted and men flocked to the Indian National Congress.

Ambedkar highlights that Ranade was an exceptional politician who had founded a school of politics with unique methods and metaphysics. This is not a contradiction to his previously established view that Ranade was not a politician. Indeed, there is truth in it. He never had the doggerel egotism exhibited to dangerous extremes by the two politicians dominating the political horizon in 1940s, namely, Gandhi and Jinnah. While the later would condemn the former calling him a Hindu, the former would abuse him as a leader of Muslims. They made politics personal and showed no signs of agony in sacrificing their country and community to feed on their personal grudges and prejudices against each other. In stark contrast to this, Ranade was a worthy contemporary of the dedicated reformers like Jyotiba Phule and was unparalleled in his political philosophy which made him endearing to the youth. Ranade’s political philosophy, according to Ambedkar, can be summed up in the following three propositions: (a) Our political ideal must not be purely imaginary. It must be something which has some means of being practically followed and realized. (b) In politics, sentiment and temperament of people ought to precede intellect and theory. A heavily appropriated Constitution from the Global West would never fully serve the native societies. A Constitution must have its roots within the fabric of indigenous societies. And (c) Political negotiations ought to occur keeping in mind what is possible. One must understand the inadequacy and shortcomings of one’s own and must concede to the possibility and practicality of a negotiation with the opponent.

Ranade was a liberal and propagated libertarianism. He did not have to subsidize the press like Gandhi and Jinnah who had made a destitute of such political philosophy. Ambedkar goes on to highlight the flaws of Gandhi and Jinnah in the following manner. Firstly, they practiced colossal egotism devoid of any remorse, being complacent about their heinous intentions and actions. Secondly, both had developed wonderful stagecraft to be in the limelight all the time, and supremacy was their only claim. The worst was to see the press being swayed by their deception and the press’s failure to critique them strengthened their power. The Indian journalism, Ambedkar argues, was no different from the Northcliffe brand of journalism, and continued the same intellectual blockade. Thirdly, money came to be recognised as a form of organised power in politics; the cultured men refused to take part in the cesspool of this mad politics while Hinduism lost its character as a spiritual philosophy as it was commercialised to gain support. Fourthly, in the maddening race triggered by the fear of being out-bidden by the other, the two men had turned their communities into abstract forces opposed to each other, fighting a battle which was exclusively personal to them, and while doing so they left the institution of statesmanship bankrupt.

In view of the fact that some of the political figures have been worshiped as heroes, Ambedkar offers his strong criticism against idolatry. According to him, two prevalent forms of idolatry are to be found in India; one is a hero-worship that demoralizes the devotee and is dangerous for the country, another is the act of heaping unbounded admiration on somebody. The celebration of Ranade’s birthday was in no way the former form of idolatry. Ambedkar argues that he encourages criticism of idolatry because it cautions the public to be aware of the so-called great men because they might not always deserve the admiration they receive from the masses. He gives three reasons for this. Firstly, blind-idolatry inhibits the intelligence to think and independence to act. Secondly, it is essential to critique the politician’s ineptitude, hidden in the garb of intellect, which disregards the true temperament and character of a society. Thirdly, the public must hold them culpable for their complacency in advocating small reforms and foregoing the greater reforms, “a formula of social ruin.”

Regarding the British Raj in India, Ranade’s observations are crucial and Ambedkar refers to those in the subsequent section. According to Ambedkar, Ranade had thought that the British conquest of India was “Providential.” The two primary reasons he provides are that it had given India a “shelter” and a “dry dock”; explicitly put, it gave the necessary respite from the barbaric invaders. The British invasion made it clear why parliamentary institutions could not be practiced in India. The parliamentary institutions could be well-founded, practised and could flourish in England and America because these countries, unlike India, had had the stability and the geographic advantage of not being continually invaded. Ranade also expressed fear at an untimely political independence for India. The premature severing of the colonial knot between the coloniser and the colonised, unaware of the internal condition of the nation and the intrinsic fractures within it, could cause the disintegration of the nation. The independent India must be whole, not fragmented. There is a parallel here with the premature Chinese Revolution and with Yuan Shih-kai who even doubted whether China was “ripe for a Republic.” Ranade had the foresight to see the evils of a premature revolution and warned the countrymen against it.

If Ranade ever had any regrets, it was the following. Ambedkar acknowledges that Ranade had lived for service and not glory but his flaw lies in the fact that he had served the classes and not the masses. His legacy, the Liberal Party, was a “casualty” because it had imbibed the principles of Ranade without intervention and inquiry. At the foremost, he argues the importance of a two-party government. Firstly, in any democratic form of government, the principle of “political combinations,” in the plural, is essential but this was somewhat lacking in India. India had had a one-party government in the guise of democracy. The cogent devastating evidence from Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Fascist Italy could not deter the Congress from steadily turning India into a Congress India. In this respect, Indians had learned nothing. Secondly, the Popular Government had started to justify its despotism claiming that it had been democratically elected, albeit in the absence of a powerful opposition. Thirdly, a democratic government can truly function only when a powerful opposition, a rival party, relentlessly critiques its mistakes and threatens dethronement when deemed necessary. Fourthly, the then political scenario was reduced to “the fatalism of the multitude”, and the men believed that they were reduced to abstractions, swayed by large political forces, which cannot be overturned with individual effort. Resuscitation of the Liberal Party was necessary to cure this fatalism and prevent despotism. However, policing instrumentalities like the C.I.D. had kept them from dissenting to the Popular Government.

In this context, Ambedkar refers to Pendelton Herring who, in his volume on Politics of Democracy, spoke how the organization of a political party is spread over three concentric rings. The oligarchy, called the High Command, is at the centre of the party organization. The next is the surrounding Party Machine, i.e., the professional political workers, who are primarily concerned to earn a livelihood. The High Command and the Party Machine constitute the innermost ring, the latter being the large circle of people traditionally and emotionally attached to the party organization. They owe their allegiance to the party ideals and symbols and do not judge the actions of the politicians representing the party. They vote for their own ideology that they identify in the party ideals, not the politicians. Beyond the second circle lies the vast body of floating population who are evidently apathetic towards life; they are like cavities filled with ambitions and their vote swings towards the one party that promises to fulfill their demands to the greatest extent possible. Therefore, through fatalism, the party concerts in action by crystallizing individual opinions into public opinion, thus creating a majority that votes for the party and sanctions its principle.

While these three concentric rings are required for any political party to be successful, the Liberal Party in contrast, according to Ambedkar, comprised only the High Command and virtually had no Machine. It had no mass contact and was under the impression that it had no gospel to preach either. It behaved like a non-proselytising creed similar to the Hindu religion. Ambedkar points out several flaws of the Liberal Party of India. Firstly, they lacked organization which is essential to contend with Congress in politics. Secondly, propaganda and concerted action were anathema to the Liberal Party resulting in the lack of mass support. “The aversion of mass contact is a legacy of Ranade”; therefore, the Party failed to propagate Ranade’s political philosophy to the grassroots. Thirdly, they had “false faith in the driving force of principles and policies” (239). They had not realized that these essentially needed to be driven to and for the masses. Fourthly, they thought great ideas are immortal. Ambedkar argues it is a mistake to agree with Mazzini that great ideas cannot be killed. They do not “take roots pro prio-vigore” (239) but need to be watered like plants to be kept alive. Therefore, you cannot deny great ideas “the resources of strenuous husbandry” they require for fructification. Fifthly, the Liberals in the drive to become devout followers of Ranade had imposed upon themselves his maxims. Ranade’s legacy was misguided, his followers were intimidated to disobey his philosophies and could not, therefore, advance the school of liberal political philosophy in India. Instead, they became the tail of the Congress Party making the public question why they had kept the great merger impending when “Rt. Srinivas Shastri, Leading Light of the Liberal Party, wished the Congress to succeed!” (240). Ambedkar could draw no parallel to this “except in the treacherous and treasonous conduct of Bhishma who lived in the bounty of the Kauravas but wished and worked for success to their enemies the Pandavas” (240). Indeed, Ranade’s great ideas were endangered and his gospels made obsolete. The Liberals left Congress uncontested and the death of the mentor was to be inevitably followed by the death of his Party.

It is possible to consider Ranade as the forerunner of Ambedkar. Decades apart from each other, Ranade’s great ideas had found a worthy successor to live through. In the twenty-first century, India still fails to assert its democracy effectively because the societies have retained their ancient prejudices and barriers, hindering essential political progress. Social reformation, even today, is an afterthought to the powerful Indian politicians. The majority of the citizens have rendered the Indian constitution obsolete and every day in India, individuals fight against the societies they live in. I believe that the purpose of Ranade’s political philosophy was to attempt to revive and resolve the penchant for new thought like one feels the need for the rain after the draught. The individual, being completely reduced to an abstraction due to “the fatalism of the multitude” and manipulated by the Popular Government, is the threat that perpetuates in the parliamentary institution of Indian Politics even today. Therefore, Ranade and Ambedkar propagated tenuous attitude to assertively exercise intelligence and independence in order to defend individual freedom in India.


Ambedkar, B. R. “Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah.” Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, vol. 1, edited by Vasant Moon, Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, 2014, pp. 205-240.

Author Information

Priyanka Das studies English literature at Presidency University, Kolkata. Her areas of interest include modern and postmodern literature. She is an amateur art enthusiast and a volunteer at Kolkata Centre for Creativity. She loves to write, sketch, dance and debate.

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