The nation is celebrating the 130th birth anniversary of B R Ambedkar. His role as a social reformer, chairman of the draft committee of the Indian Constitution, and first law minister of the country is well-known. But he wore many hats — a distinguished economist, active politician, eminent lawyer, labour leader, great parliamentarian, fine scholar, anthropologist, orator, etc. The country has marked the beginning of the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav to commemorate 75 years of Independence. It is imperative to reflect on Ambedkar in all his facets to grasp the gravity of his ideas, his role as a nation-builder and actions taken thereupon, to strengthen the social fabric and build a just society and stronger nation.
Ambedkar was a pioneer as an institution builder but he didn’t get the attention he deserved in the pages of history. The Reserve Bank of India was conceptualised from the Hilton Young Commission’s recommendation, which considered Ambedkar’s guidelines laid out in The Problem of the Rupee: Its Origin and Its Solution. As a labour member in Viceroy’s Executive Council from 1942 to 1946, he evolved numerous policies in the water, power and labour welfare sectors. His farsightedness helped in establishing the Central Water Commission in the form of the Central Waterways, Irrigation and Navigation Commission (CWINC), Central Technical Power Board and integrated water resources management through the establishment of the river valley authority, which actively considered projects like the Damodar River Valley Project, the Sone River Valley Project the Mahanadi (Hirakud Project), the Kosi and others on the Chambal and the rivers of the Deccan region. The Inter-State Water Dispute Act, 1956, and the River Board Act, 1956 emanate from his vision.
Ambedkar was the voice of the Depressed Classes on every platform. As their representative at the Round Table Conference, he championed the cause of labour and improving the condition of peasants. During the Bombay Assembly’s Poona session in 1937, he introduced a Bill to abolish the Khoti system of land tenure in Konkan. In Bombay, the historic peasant march to the Council Hall in 1938 made him a popular leader of the peasants, workers, and the landless. He was the first legislator in the country to introduce a Bill for abolishing the serfdom of agricultural tenants. His essay titled ‘Small Holdings in India and their Remedies’ (1918) proposed industrialisation as the answer to India’s agricultural problem and is still relevant to contemporary debates.
As a member of the Bombay Assembly, Ambedkar opposed the introduction of the Industrial Disputes Bill, 1937, as it removed workers’ right to strike. As a labour member, he advocated for “fair condition of life of labour” instead of securing “fair condition of work” and laid out the basic structure of the government’s labour policy. He contributed to the reduction of working hours to 48 hours per week, lifting the ban on the employment of women for underground work in coal mines, introducing the provisions of overtime, paid leave and minimum wage. He also helped to establish the principle of “equal pay for equal work” irrespective of sex and maternity benefits. Ambedkar outrightly opposed the communist labour movements, their extraterritorial loyalties and their Marxian approach of controlling all means of production.
As chairman of the Constitution’s drafting committee, he took meticulous measures to build a just society through liberty, equality and fraternity. His advocacy for universal adult franchise ensured that women had the right to vote immediately after Independence. His advocacy of the Hindu Code Bill was a revolutionary measure towards ameliorating women’s plight by conferring on them the right to adopt and inherit. He contributed to developing federal finance.
Ambedkar’s thinking and legacy are reflected in the pro-people, pro-poor welfare policies and programmes of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government. The central government is leaving no stone unturned to improve the lives of citizens through their social, economic and political empowerment. The development of Panchteerth — Janam Bhumi (Mhow), Shiksha Bhumi (London), Chaitya Bhumi (Mumbai), Diksha Bhumi (Nagpur), Mahaparinirvan Bhumi (Delhi) — are steps towards ensuring an appropriate legacy for Ambedkar, the nationalist reformer. The successful implementation of the Mudra Scheme for availing loans, Stand-up India for promoting entrepreneurship in the SC and ST community, the expansion of the merit-cum-means scholarship, the Ayushman Bharat scheme, PM Awas Yojana, Ujjwala Yojana, Deen Dayal Upadhyay Gram Jyoti Yojna, Saubhagya Yojana, the simplification of labour laws are among the several measures that display the government’s unwavering commitment to fulfil the dreams of B R Ambedkar.
On his birth anniversary, let’s pay him a fitting tribute by visualising the broader canvas of his ideas and take a pledge to immerse ourselves in the nation-building exercise.
The writer is Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs and Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises and Member of Parliament, Bikaner