Date of Publication: 25 May 2020
“Communal Deadlock and A Way to Solve It” is an address delivered by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar at a talk session of the All India Scheduled Castes Federation held in Bombay on 6 May 1945. The address is included in Volume 1 of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches which was first published in 1979.
Standing at a crucial point in history, Ambedkar strove to combat all the problems that arose in constructing a beneficial Constitution for the soon-to-be independent India. In the twenty-three pages of “Communal Deadlock and a Way to Solve It,” he takes up the issue of the difference between India as an independent dominion and India as a British colony with autonomous powers, the problems of having a constituent assembly and the major challenges pertaining to the issue of representation in the constitutional government of the nation.
At the outset, Ambedkar upholds the importance of an organizational front for achieving political objectives. He congratulates the All India Scheduled Castes Federation for growing into considerable size, after battling the odds of having almost no press or coverage for the issues that they had faced, of having no money or resources to have the cruel and tyrannical behaviour of their oppressors reported. He points out that, at a gathering like the one he was speaking at, he would be expected to speak “on any one of the social and political problems of the Scheduled Castes. But I do not propose to engage myself in a discourse on so sectarian a subject. Instead, I propose to speak on a topic, which is general and has a wider appeal, namely the shape and form of the future constitution of India.” He chooses this subject of general interest for two reasons. Firstly, he feels that his office takes away the responsibility of “leading the Schedule Castes and facing its day-to-day problems.” Secondly, he thinks it is wrong to say that it is only the Untouchables who cannot provide constructive suggestions in the political sphere; instead, he believes that the entire country is not prepared to provide constructive suggestions or accept anything “unless it emanates from the Congress.” All the thoughts of the Indians are “bottled up” because they have been the victims of inculcation of continuous propaganda of this Party (Ambedkar 358).
Moving on, Ambedkar highlights two fundamental questions to establish the “responsibility for framing the constitution.” The first question he asks rhetorically is if the British should frame the constitution of India. This brings out a fundamental difference between the constitution of India under the British and the constitution of free India – the breakdown clause. Ambedkar argues that since there is no difference between the constitutional government and a maintaining government, in case the former fails, carrying over the breakdown clause from the old constitution would only leave unfair power to the British. “The past Constitutions of India,” he notes, “did not treat India as a Dominion. The future Constitution will proceed on the assumption that India will be a Dominion. The breakdown clause or the possibility of Government stepping in, when Constitutional Government has failed, can be reconciled in the case of a country, which has no Dominion Status. But the two are irreconcilable in the case of a Dominion. In the case of a Dominion or for the matter of that in the case of any free country, there is either a Constitutional Government or a Rebellion” (Ambedkar 359). This leaves no scope for the British to frame the Indian constitution; Ambedkar is of the view that the Indian Constitution will command obedience and respect only when it is framed by Indians. If the British framed our constitution, there would remain the room for a civil war between factions who accepted or did not accept the constitution.
(In pic: Meeting of a Constituent Assembly of India held in 1950. Ambedkar can be seen sitting at top right corner. Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons. Photographer: Unknown.)
This preceding debate leads us to the argument of utmost importance: the question of representation. Although he would go on to be the chairman of the Constituent Assembly, Ambedkar was “wholly opposed” to the idea of one when he had written this. A Constituent Assembly had almost no necessity to be in existence to form a constitution for India because of multiple reasons. The makers of the Indian constitution would be in no position like the fathers of the American constitution. The Americans were framing a constitution for newly independent people and had no pattern to draw inspiration from. The Indians already had a constitution and therefore had very little room to choose from different kinds of patterns. “It is agreed,” Ambedkar observes, “that the future Indian Constitution should be Federal. It is also more or less settled what subjects should go to the Centre and what to the Provinces. There is no quarrel over the division of Revenues between the Centre and the Provinces, none on Franchise and none on the relation of the Judiciary to the Legislature and the Executive. The only point of dispute, which is outstanding, centres around the question of the residuary powers – whether they should be with the Centre or with the Provinces. But that is hardly a matter worth bothering about. Indeed, the provision contained in the present Government of India Act could be adopted as the best compromise” (Ambedkar 360-361). Since most of the problems were already solved, Ambedkar saw no need to have a Constituent Assembly and considered the existence of one as highly dangerous.
However, if there be any function of a future Constituent Assembly, it would be, according to Ambedkar, looking for a solution to the communal deadlock.
Ambedkar was of the opinion that the development of everyone including the oppressed sections of society was needed for India to become a true nation. “Ambedkar’s conception of nation-building,” Kunal Debnath explains, “implied pursuit of a development policy which must be wholly inclusive” (106). According to Ambedkar, nation-building is founded on two primary wings: a political authority and an integrated community of people. He was apprised of the fact that social solidarity on a national level was the key to struggle against colonial rule. In this context, the Communist leader B. T. Ranadive had said, “The anti-imperialist struggle, the growing sense of national unity, the anti-caste agitations and the revolt, were all parts of a single process – the formation of a modern nation, with its different sections demanding equality and common status in the new polity” (Ranavide quoted in Debnath 105-106). During the time of freedom struggle, when Congress leaders put emphasis on political aspects of nationalism, Ambedkar made social justice his point of focus. Ambedkar’s version of nationalism demanded freedom from serfdom, oppression, subjugation, and exploitation that existed among his countrymen.
Although, in a sense, Constituent Assemblies would be redundant, Ambedkar refers to, and evaluates, the two proposals for the formation of the Constituent Assembly, namely, the Cripps proposal and the Sapru proposal. Insofar as the composition of the Constituent Assembly is concerned, there was hardly any difference between the two proposals, Ambedkar contends. The method of election proposed by both the committees was “joint electorate under the system of proportional representation.” It is regarding communal representation that Sapru committee, apparently, departed from the Cripps committee. Sapru committee “reserved seats for particular communities in prescribed proportions.” Sapru plan went to the extent of promoting equal representation of Hindus and Muslims. However, even though Sapru committee thought they were being innovative, they were wrong. Ambedkar states that it is true that, whereas Sapru committee provided a fixed number, i.e., 160, for the formation of Constituent Assembly, the Cripps committee did not fix any such number. However, insofar as both the plans were favouring a joint electorate, even for the Cripps plan, “the scheme of proportional representation would have resulted in such (communal) reservation” (361-362). Ambedkar claims that the approach to the communal problem undertaken by both these committees is “fundamentally wrong” (366). Among other things, the communal reservation of the Sapru committee is of no value and the same committee failed to adopt any safe rule for the Constituent Assembly. Also, the rule of “bare majority” adopted by the Cripps committee was “absurd” according to Ambedkar, because a simple majority cannot and should not resolve questions pertaining to the constitution.
Not really satisfied with the two proposals, Ambedkar goes on to offer his solutions to the communal problems by way of addressing the issue of representation in three spheres: representation in Public Services, in the Executive, and in the Legislature. Representation in Public Services, states Ambedkar, is scarcely a subject of contention. The rule that all communities ought to be represented in the Public Services and no single community should have monopoly has already been accepted by the Government of India in its Resolutions of 1934 and 1943. Any arrangement opposing such Resolutions would be considered null and void, says Ambedkar. What was required was to transform the administrative practice into statutory commitment. According to Ambedkar, this could be done by adding a Schedule to the Legislature of India Act and eventually making it a part of the new Constitution, which would incorporate the said and similar arrangements.
Insofar as the representation in the Executive is concerned, representation of the Hindus, the Muslims, and the Scheduled Castes ought to be equivalent to the quantum of their representation in the Legislature. With respect to different minorities, for example, the Sikhs, Indian Christians and Anglo-Indians, it is hard to give them representation in the Executive in proportion to their representation in the Legislature. This trouble emerges generally from the smallness of their numbers. On the off chance that they are to get representation in the Executive in proportion to their numbers, the Executive would need to be expanded to a massive degree. All that would be possible, thus, is to hold a seat or two for them in the Cabinet but ensure that they would get a fair “portion of representation in the corps of Parliamentary Secretaries that will have to be raised, when the new Constitution comes into existence” (Ambedkar 368).
Ambedkar puts forward the following proposal for the representation in the Legislature. He argues that the “majority rule” should be scrapped because it is “untenable in theory and unjustifiable in practice.” A majority community, according to him, maybe conceded a relative majority of representation but it can never be an absolute majority. The relative majority of one group should never be so large that they can win the arguments with the slightest support of minorities. The distribution of seats, argues Ambedkar, “should be so made that if all the minorities combine they could, without depending on the majority, form a government of their own.” The representation Ambedkar proposes is supposed to be a “balanced representation.” No single community can dominate some other community, if this proposal is followed, by virtue of numbers. Furthermore, in this proposal, the “Muslim objection to the Hindu majority and the Hindu and Sikh objections to the Muslim majority are completely eliminated, both in the Central as well as in the Provinces” (374).
Ambedkar, who was ruminating over the possibility of a United India, goes on to talk about Pakistan in the light of his proposals. He states that he is not against the idea of Pakistan but he is entitled to propose alternatives to Pakistan. His proposals are made, he claims, “in the hope that the Muslims will accept them in preference to Pakistan as providing better security than Pakistan does.” His proposals are useful for the Muslims for three reasons. Firstly, according to these proposals, “the danger of a communal majority, which is the basis of Pakistan is removed.” Secondly, these proposals do not disturb “the weightage at present enjoyed by the Muslims” (376). And thirdly, his proposals would greatly strengthen the position of the Muslims in the non-Pakistan provinces because, following his proposals, there would be an increase in their representation in such provinces. Opting for Pakistan might not produce such a positive outcome for the Muslims, feels Ambedkar.
For the Hindus, he has one advice, i.e., they have to give up their view that the majority rule is sacrosanct. Ambedkar reminds the Hindus of the operative rule of unanimity which the Hindus are not ready to accept. “The abandonment of the principle of majority rule in politics,” argues Ambedkar, “cannot affect the Hindus very much in other walks of life. As an element in social life they will remain a majority. They will have the monopoly of trade and business which they enjoy. They will have the monopoly of the property which they have. My proposals do not ask the Hindus to accept the principle of unanimity. My proposals do not ask the Hindus to abandon the principle of majority rule. All I am asking them is to be satisfied with a relative majority” (377-378). He suggests that the minorities are ready to accept the freedom and danger that comes with their guaranteed safeguards if the Hindus can stop spreading their propaganda against the minorities.
These are some of the arguments put forward by Ambedkar in finding a solution to the communal deadlock in the pre-Independent India. Ambedkar puts in a lot of statistical data and uses numbers to present a precise account of how his policies could be implemented. In my personal opinion, Ambedkar’s policies and plans would have gone a long way to resolve inter-religion and inter-caste issues. Although not perfect in every way, “Communal Deadlock and A Way to Solve It” is an excellent text that highlights the bulk of the problems posed by the various communities in India, at that point of time, in the context of political representation and provides innovative solutions to most of them.
Ambedkar, B. R. “Communal Deadlock and A Way to Solve It.” Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, vol.1, edited by Vasant Moon, Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, 2014, pp. 355-379.
Debnath, Kunal. “Ambedkar’s Ideas of Nation-Building in India.” Studies in People’s History, vol. 5, no. 1 (June 2018), 104–110, https://doi.org/10.1177%2F2348448918759875.
Debosmita Dutta studies English literature at Presidency University, Kolkata. She is interested in the Beat movement, especially the work and influences of Allen Ginsberg. The homoerotic subtexts in classics and the contribution of queer writers to literary history has also been her point of interest.