Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891 – 1956) was a noted jurist, an exceptional constitutionalist, a profound scholar, a fearless leader of the masses, the hero of the downtrodden and the greatest pioneer of Buddhist revival in India. “His personality combines thought and action. His deeds were rooted in personal experience, so he appealed to the depressed classes to forge ahead on the basis of self-dependence, self-dignity and self-help (Shabbir 1997)1.” His foremost objective was to emancipate the depressed classes and to empower them to lead respectable lives. He passionately fought for the rights of the oppressed classes. It was his conviction and relentless hard work that transformed the depressed classes’ movement into a revolutionary movement. Moreover, he was a nationalist, a democrat and a patriot. Dr. Ambedkar was a pragmatist par excellence and wasn’t swayed by abstract ideologies.
Dr Ambedkar was influenced by Lord Buddha and his teachings. Buddhist outlook of life influenced Dr. Ambedkar to a great extent. Buddhist doctrines of Annicca (transitoriness) and Annatta (egolessness) made Dr. Ambedkar adopt a scientific and humanitarian outlook. He believed in the Buddhist teaching that man was the master of his own destiny. One could overcome suffering and pain by continuous action. Dr. Ambedkar penned down the book “Buddha and his Dhamma” highlighting the Buddhist ideology.
John Dewey, Dr. Ambedkar’s mentor at Columbia University, moulded Ambedkar’s thought processes. It was Dewey who encouraged a pragmatic approach to life. Dewey’s emphasis on activist epistemology and concept of instrumentalism appealed to Dr. Ambedkar. The Deweyian idea of democracy as “associated life2” greatly influenced Ambedkar’s writings on society and caste.
Dr. Ambedkar was also influenced by Karl Marx and his theory of class struggle. However, he differed with Marx on the nature of exploitation to which the struggling classes are subjected. According to Ambedkar, apart from economic exploitation, the struggling classes were also subjected to social exploitation. Moreover, Ambedkar tried to distinguish between class and caste.
Justice Ranade too had an impact on Dr. Ambedkar’s thinking. Ranade’s philosophy taught Dr. Ambedkar to abandon the imaginary. It taught him to pursue those ideals that were pragmatic. In politics, one must give equal importance to sentiments and temperament of people as compared to intellect and theory. Lastly, in political negotiations one must proceed with the thinking of what is possible. One must not compromise on one’s principles.
Apart from these, Dr. Ambedkar was greatly influenced by Jyotiba Phule who propounded that all men were equal by birth. Dr. Ambedkar held Phule in high esteem as he had started the first school for women. Dr. Ambedkar dedicated his book “Who were the Shudras?” to Phule and his extraordinary work in the field of social reform. J.S. Mill’s idea of freedom of thought made Ambedkar realize the vitality of individual initiative and personal responsibility.
Dr. Ambedkar believed in realist school of political thought. Lastly, he was assured about the positive role education could play in empowering the depressed classes by creating awareness about their political rights and by raising their cultural level.
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