Ambedkar’s Idea of Nationalism: To Envision Progressive Independent India after 1947



Ambedkar's Idea of Nationalism

According to historians and sociologists, the elusive concept of “nationalism” is largely debatable but the most generalized definition provided in Oxford dictionaries for this term states that “Nationalism is an ideology that demands the consolidation of the people of common origin, race, ethnicity, religion, culture, tradition, and language into one sovereign nation” but analyzing Indian nationalism in terms of this definition is not only intrinsically complex but also extrinsically inexplicable because in the multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-cultured, multi-traditional and multi-linguistic country like India that is also socially stratified in terms of caste and socialized in terms of gender, “how can people be consolidated into one nation or how can they be forced to consolidate themselves into one nation?” Since nationalism is premised upon the desire of people for the creation of a nation then this longing for the formation of the nation is also impacted by social divisions persisting amongst the countrymen.

In the Indian context, the Revolt of 1857 is considered to be the first manifestation of upsurging mass nationalism in India that was started by sepoys of the Indian army. Aftermath the mutiny, an unprecedented wave of nationalist organizations swept on Indian land due to the growth of Indian intelligentsia, English medium education in India, and the springing of revivalist and reformist socioreligious movements on Indian land in the 19th century. If with the foundation of Indian National Congress in 1885, Indian Nationalism gained an organized expression then with the failure of Swadeshi and Boycott Movement 1905, Indian Nationalism radicalized that was referred to as Militant Nationalism; if with the rise of Gandhi’s non-violent Non-Cooperation Movement 1921, Indian Nationalism broadened its mass base and restored a constitutional character then with evolution of phase-2 revolutionary outlook, Indian nationalism achieved a communist and socialist perspective; if with Gandhi’s Civil Disobedience Movement 1931, Indian nationalism popularized and mobilized to microscopic sections of India then with Revolutionary Activities on foreign land, Indian nationalism gained international support but despite this remarkable growth,  Indian nationalism remained greatly untouched or ineffective to the lowest strata of Indian society-DALITS OF INDIA…. A man from this lowest hierarchy, from this socially untouchable class, a victim of the social absurdities of the society, played the crucial role of involving this socially downtrodden section in Indian nationalism and his name remains indelible in our hearts today with respect and gratitude- DR. BHEEMRAO RAMJI AMBEDKAR.


“Understanding Nationalism” in Indian Context will make us realize that this concept of nationalism is too dynamic for all national leaders involved in the freedom struggle- for Mr. Gandhi, nationalism stresses on the creation of a sovereign state by eradicating the foreign British power through the moral instrument of satyagraha and ahimsa while for Shaheed Bhagat Singh, nationalism is a fight for freedom and social equality, abolition of caste marginalization, destruction of communalism and religion intolerance and for Netaji Subhas Bose, the objective of nationalism is to emancipate the Mother India for the clutches of colonial rule through violent mass confrontation. Amidst debates, no idea can be said perfect since there are drawbacks to each outlook- Gandhi’s Idea looks utopian, Bhagat’s idea more revolutionary, and Bose’s concept too violent.

Having discussed the concept, context, and nationalist perspective of nationalism, now let’s look at Ambedkar’s idea of nationalism.

Ambedkar demand for Separate Electorates for Dalits (Source: Wikimedia)
Ambedkar demand for Separate Electorates for Dalits (Source: Wikimedia)

According to Ambedkar’s book “PAKISTAN OR PARTITION OF INDIA”, his vision of nationalism sought for a separate national existence for those who are bound by the tie of kinship. Diametrically different from the mainstream nationalism, Ambedkar’s idea of nationalism immensely believed in the evolution of an integrated Indian nation but it is entailed with the social and economic freedom of each individual from the traditionally described caste & exploitative systems and not only political liberation from the fangs of colonizers. He realized how the national movements have always superficially dealt with the idea of eradication of caste and consistently kept the educationally backward & economically depressed classes of society away from the nationalist movements and therefore, with his articles in Mooknayak & with his Mahad Satyagraha, he attempted to teach them to “educate, organize, agitate” to fight against Brahminical injustices. Ambedkar’s idea of nationalism suggested the following features of a nation:

  1. NATION HAS AN AREA: Without territorial area, a nation cannot be envisaged because the fundamental needs of citizens like residence, food, clothes are dependent on the area that have forests, mountains, plateaus, rivers.
  2. NATION CANNOT OR SHOUND NOT BE FORMED ON RELIGIOUS OR LINGUISTIC DISPARITIES: According to Ambedkar, the religious and linguistic differences can not be the root cause or parameter for constructing a nation. He states that in the medieval times, there used to be the mutually harmonious and brotherly relations between Hindus and Muslims but it was with the devastating impacts of communalism that the long-stable relations were worsened and dampened.
  3. FORMATION OF NATION REQUIRES ALMOST EQUAL PARTICIPATION OF ALL SOCIAL CLASSES; According to Ambedkar, the contribution of each social section in the freedom struggle for independence and the formation of democratic nation should be almost equal so that there are no or minimum social or ideological disparities between them. He believed that if any social section is denied or suppressed to remain untouched from nationalist movements then the nation will collapse within some time.
  4. SPIRITUAL UNITY: A PRE-REQUISITE FOR NATIONAL UNITY: According to Ambedkar, the political unity cannot be the only parameter for ensuring a peaceful nation but it is the spiritual unity between all citizens and all social sections that can build the bridge between social and political unity.


Since Ambedkar’s definition of “NATION”, “NATIONALITY” & “NATIONALISM” was way too contrasting to the Congress version of nationalism, the two remained always ideologically distant from each other. Within the timeline of 1920-1930, Ambedkar extremely criticized and resisted Congress because it was consistently denying the fundamental political safeguards to the Scheduled Castes that can help them to rise in the social framework. When in 1928, the Viceroy of India Lord Birkenhead challenged the Indian leaders for framing the Indian Constitution on mutual consensus, Nehru Committee rejected the Ambedkar’s demand for political protection to Dalits on the assertion that- The problem of untouchability was a social or religious problem and not a political problem. Reacting to this blatantly hollow statement, Ambedkar wrote in his editorial- “Bahaskrit Bharat” that-

If the problems of untouchables are a social problem, is not that of Muslims a social problem? The Muslims too suffered from the consequences of distorted vision of upper caste, in the same way as untouchables… It’s our firm conviction that the Nehru Committee’s Brahiminical strategy aims at perpetuating the Hindu social hierarchy in their struggle for political power. [Taken from K.N. Kadam’s “Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and the Significance of His Movement” page no.-26] 

Aftermath this incident, Ambedkar lost interest in the Congress vision of nationalism and rather believed in the colonial generosity to function for the upliftment of the lower class. Therefore, he attended the Round Table Conferences in London to seek political safeguards from the colonial British Parliament:

“We, the Depressed Classes, demand a complete partition between ourselves and the Hindus… We’ve been called Hindus for political purposes, but we’d never been acknowledged socially by the Hindus as their brethren.” [Taken from K.N. Kadam’s “Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar and the Significance of His Movement” page no. 33]

This Conference brought Gandhi & Ambedkar in opposition of each other and the ideological disparities climaxed into Poona Pact. Since Congress was dogmatic about the upliftment of lower caste and less interested in the abolition of caste-stratification or untouchability, Ambedkar and Congress remained the contrasting voices of modern Indian History in large terms. Although under Poona Pact, Congress accepted the reservation for Dalits when the results proved negligible in the Provincial Elections of 1937, he completely lost sense in Congress’s vision of nationalism.


Ambedkar's Achievements (Source: Newsfiction)
Ambedkar’s Achievements (Source: Newsfiction)

Credited as the “Father of Indian Constitution”, Dr. Bheemrao Ambedkar was the Chairman of Drafting Committee of Constituent Assembly. But he had not merely written the lengthiest, federal constitution of India but envisioned India as a nation in this document. The chief features that reflect the Ambedkar’s idea of Nationalism in the Constitution are follows:

  1. ABOLITION OF UNTOUCHABLITY AND FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT OF EQUALITY: Through the Constitution of India, Ambedkar guaranteed the fundamental right of equality to each and every citizen of India irrespective of the social, political and economic background and abolished the malign practice of untouchability under Article 15 so that every Indian citizen is socially, politically and economically equal and therefore, free to contribute for the upliftment of society and nation as whole.
  2. FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF RELIGION: Since Ambedkar believed that nation cannot be created on the religion differences, his incorporation of fundamental right to freedom of religion provided liberty to all citizens to protect, profess and promote the religion of their choice.
  3. FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT AGAINST EXPLOITATION AND RIGHT TO EDUCATION: Having experienced the exploitative systems and obstacles in achieving the education in his childhood, Ambedkar realized the importance of eradicating the practices like Child Labour, Human Trafficking and Labour Bondage etc. through the Constitution of India and therefore, he provided the fundamental right against exploitation & right to education to all citizens.


To conclude, Ambedkar’s idea of NATIONALISM desired for a democratic and integrated India where every citizen of social section can contribute to the development and evolution of a nation as a whole where everyone have an individual socio-economic freedom in addition to political freedom. He believed that spiritual unity, national integrity, fraternity and equality are the crucial ideas and prerequisite qualities of a nation. Being the Chairman of Drafting Committee of Indian Constitution, he made rigorous efforts to incorporate the Fundamental Rights and Abolished Untouchability in India for the construction of ‘A SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC & REPUBLIC INDIA.


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