Civil Disobedience in a Democratic Regime | Gandhi versus Ambedkar, Part II

In the last post, I discussed the differences in Gandhi’s and Ambedkar’s attitudes towards civil disobedience of law in a democracy, and thus distinction in their visions of democracy itself. In this post, I continue on those differences to illustrate how Ambedkar’s model of democracy has some disturbing implications on freedom and is liable to breed dissatisfaction in every section of the society.

A. Curtailment of freedom, converting it to charity

By dividing the entire population into two groups of the majority and minority, and laying down the essence of the majority as the powerful and the minority as the powerless, Ambedkar’s democratic model manages to be a rule of majority tempered by the consideration of the interests of the minority. However this consideration is purely a consideration of the magnanimity of the majority ( in Ambedkar’s democracy, the State). It’s like the government implicitly saying, “Look, we had the power. Yet we are considering interests different from ours. How cool are we, eh?” This is not freedom to the minority. Because freedom is innate. This is doling out of certain “freedoms”. And I say “freedoms” because “freedom” which is granted as a part of a charity project can never be freedom. And it is this very dichotomic notion which has created the notion in the Indian judiciary that rights are granted, as opposed to being inherent. [K.G. Kannabiran, Progressive Decay of Democratic Institutions in The Wages of Impunity, Page 69]

B. “Freedom” for majority means that no person is free

Another problem is this: There is a very high chance of the existence of  a person who holds the popular view on one point, and differs substantially from the popular view on another. Since the government in Ambedkar’s democracy would always be the charitable guy, with an obligation created under law to dole in charity in form of some “freedom” to the minority act/opinion, almost every person would become a recipient of this charity. Because it is very unlikely to find a person who, when he really thinks about it, holds the popular opinion on all topics. Thus, everyone’s freedom is curtailed, as no person may be defined as completely falling within the majority or within the minority. Because everyone goes through multiple identities and which keep changing. Therefore it would not at all be freedom to define “freedom” in terms of certain set expectations emanating from the construction of only a few sets of identities, i.e. the majority set. For then no individual would be able to call himself free, as the said majority and minority identities may exist in the same individual.

C. State defines freedom with “reasonable restrictions” 

Third, by making “freedom” a matter of charity, the State begins to define what freedom for the minority should mean. This means defining certain acts which would fall under the ambit of freedom while others do not. Thus freedom is not defined as the natural state, but rather in the terms of restrictions. One simply has to look at Article 19 of the Indian Constitution providing for the Right to Freedom, which incorporates reasonable restrictions upon freedom. These reasonable restrictions are justified, in the Ambedkarian sense as essential to protect a “democratic” legal-political structure which enables “freedom”. However it is important to note that the protection of such a system at all cost, even at the cost of the values of freedom that this system is supposed to achieve, ultimately defeats the purpose of such a system altogether. By not allowing for civil disobedience towards the law, law is placed on an absolutist pedestal. Its dynamic nature as emerging from the populace is denied. The ultimate goal which “law” is supposed to serve becomes lost.

D. Utilising one’s reason a.k.a. thinking is no longer the highest duty of a citizen

Gandhi’s democratic model enabled freedom in a wholesome sense, by foremost making thought the highest duty of the citizen. In the Gandhian democratic model, a person acting upon his own conscience cannot be indicted, even if such an action comes into conflict with the law laid down by the State. And such conscience, is to be built upon reason and thought. Not upon a mere habit of obedience and an assumed respect towards Statist institutions, because they proclaim to be representatives of rule of law and democratic values. The Gandhian perspective encourages the citizen to assess for himself, in his own judgment whether a particular legal or political institution, indeed meets the ideas which it proclaims. And if it does not, then civil disobedience towards the same institution is justified. Here, the idea is that the institution has to fulfill the expectations of every individual in the society and not the other way round. Every individual is thus, self-governed, his highest obligation being answerable to himself. The Ambedkarian vision, on the other hand, makes institutions the supreme elements of governance, even over people  themselves, who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of such governance. So that the institutions cannot be disobeyed, even if people feel the obligations imposed by the same are not reasonable in their understanding. Elections are made the final proof of democracy, when in reality the elected members are representatives of the institutions and not the people’s conscience.

The love for the country in the Gandhian model may be contrasted against Ambedkar’s vision of love for institutional bodies. While the former makes one answerable to the self, the latter forces upon people to be answerable to law as pronounced by the “democratic” State which does not even take their individual opinions into account. The ban on civil disobedience by Ambedkar, is thus a serious infliction upon the freedom of an individual in a society and serves some serious and dangerous exclusionary functions.

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4 Responses to “Civil Disobedience in a Democratic Regime | Gandhi versus Ambedkar, Part II”
  1. chethan says:

    hi,nice article…like it very much.I admire gandhi than ambhedhkar..But I am dubious about gandhi’s political positions.Even though he says so much abt freedom,individual liberty, etc his views on caste system in India is very pathetic..am I right?In my view gandhi’s imagination of village is a village dominated by upper caste people where dalits very treated as worms,,,then how can we consider gandhi who supported the evils of caste system a libertarian thinker?did he oppose caste system as strongly as ambhedhkar?

    • loonybird says:

      I am sorry, but you seem misinformed. Gandhi was a big champion of the lower castes. It was he in fact who coined the term “Harijan” or, God’s people for them. Gandhi was a strong opposor of untouchability and a big believer in dignity of work, i.e. no work is better or worse than the other, including the work the lower castes were assigned.

      Additionally Gandhi signed the Poona Pact wref reservation for lower castes in legislature, even though in the beginning he was opposed to the idea of any kind of reservation, but then had to give in to political pressure from nationalist leaders.

      • chethan says:

        thanks for ur reply..but I still have many doubts..mainly abt gandhi’s views on lower caste.,when I have debate with my dalit frnds on gandhi they told me that gandhi is a savarna fascist who don’t have concern abt dalit issues..they asked me if gandhi was in favour of dalits then why did he reject ambhedhkar’s view on ‘special electorates’?could you help me by giving a right answer?

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  1. […] This has various disturbing implications, which are discussed in a subsequent post. […]



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