Dr. Ambedkar’s Resignation Speech
Most of us know Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s ideological fights with Gandhi. Not many, however, would know the kind of issues he had with Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister. The modernist Pt. Nehru had turned so conservative after India’s freedom – or he was a conservative throughout his life that Dr. Ambedkar could no more remain his co-traveller and had to resign from his Cabinet on September 27, 1951. Reproduced [Ambedkar’s Writings, Vol. 14, Part Two, pages.1317-1327] is the full text of his speech on his resignation
Text of the Resignation
The House I am sure knows, unofficially if not officially, that I have ceased to be a member of the Cabinet. I tendered my resignation on Thursday, the 27th September to the Prime Minister and asked him to relieve me immediately. The Prime Minister was good enough to accept the same on the very next day. If I have continued to be a Minister after Friday, the 28th, it is because the Prime Minister had requested me to continue till the end of the Session — a request to which I was, in obedience to constitutional convention, bound to assent.
Our Rules of Procedure permit a Minister who has resigned his office, to make a personal statement in explanation of his resignation. Many members of Cabinet have resigned during my tenure of office. There has been however no uniform practice in the matter of Ministers who have resigned making a statement. Some have gone without making a statement and others have gone after making a statement. For a few days I was hesitant what course to follow. After taking all circumstances into consideration I came to the conclusion that making of a statement was not merely necessary, but it was a duty which a member who has resigned owes to the House.
The House has no opportunity to know how the Cabinet works from within, whether there is harmony or whether there is a conflict, for the simple reason that there is a joint responsibility under which a member who is in a minority is not entitled to disclose his differences. Consequently, the House continues to think that there is no conflict among members of Cabinet even when as a matter of fact a conflict exists. It is, therefore, a duty of a retiring Minister to make a statement informing the House why he wants to go and why he is not able to continue to take further joint responsibility.
Secondly, if a Minister goes without making a statement, people may suspect that there is something wrong with the conduct of the Minister, either in his public capacity or in his private capacity. No Minister should, I think, leave room for such suspicion and the only safe way out is a statement.
Thirdly, we have our newspapers. They have their age-old bias in favour of some and against others. Their judgements are seldom based on merits. Whenever they find an empty space, they are prone to fill the vacuum by supplying grounds for resignation which are not the real grounds but which put those whom they favour in a better light and those not in their favour in a bad light. Some such thing I see has happened even in my case. It is for these reasons that I decided to make a statement before going out.
It is now 4 years, 1 month and 26 days since I was called by the Prime Minister to accept the office of Law Minister in his Cabinet. The offer came as a great surprise to me. I was in the opposite camp and had already been condemned as unworthy of association when the interim Government was formed in August 1946. I was left to speculate as to what could have happened to bring about this change in the attitude of the Prime Minister. I had my doubts. I did not know how I could carry on with those who have never been my friends. I had doubts as to whether I could, as a Law Member, maintain the standard of legal knowledge and acumen which had been maintained by those who had preceded me as Law Ministers of the Government of India. But I kept my doubts at rest and accepted the offer of the Prime Minister on the ground that I should not deny my cooperation when it was asked for in the building up of our nation. The quality of my performance as a Member of the Cabinet and as Law Minister, I must leave it to others to judge.
I will now refer to matters which have led me to sever my connection with my colleagues. The urge to go has been growing from long past due to variety of reasons.
I will first refer to matters purely of a personal character and which are the least of the grounds which have led me to tender my resignation. As a result of my being a Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council, I knew the Law Ministry to be administratively of no importance. It gave no opportunity for shaping the policy of the Government of India. We used to call it an empty soap box only good for old lawyers to play with. When the Prime Minister made me the offer, I told him that besides being a lawyer by my education and experience, I was competent to run any administrative Department and that in the old Viceroy’s Executive Council, I held two administrative portfolios, that of Labour and C.P.W.D., where a great deal of planning projects were dealt with by me and would like to have some administrative portfolio. The Prime Minister agreed and said he would give me in addition to Law the Planning Department which, he said, was intending to create. Unfortunately the Planning Department came very late in the day and when it did come, I was left out. During my time, there have been many transfers of portfolios from one Minister to another. I thought I might be considered for any one of them. But I have always been left out of consideration. Many Ministers have been given two or three portfolios so that they have been overburdened. Others like me have wanted more work. I have not even been considered for holding a portfolio temporarily when a Minister in charge has gone abroad for a few days. It is difficult to understand what the principle is underlying the distribution of Government work among Ministers which the Prime Minister follows. Is it capacity? Is it trust? Is it friendship? Is it pliability? I was not even appointed to be a member of main Committees of the Cabinet such as Foreign Affairs Committee, or the Defence Committee. When the Economics Affairs Committee was formed, I expected, in view of the fact that I was primarily a student of Economics and Finance, to be appointed to this Committee. But I was left out. I was appointed to it by the Cabinet, when the Prime Minister had gone to England. But when he returned, in one of his many essays in the reconstruction of the cabinet, he left me out. In a subsequent reconstruction my name was added to the Committee, but that was as a result of my protest.
The Prime Minister, I am sure, will agree that I have never complained to him in this connection. I have never been a party to the game of power politics inside the cabinet or the game of snatching portfolios which goes on when there is a vacancy. I believe in service, service in the post which the Prime Minister, who as the head of the Cabinet, thought fit to assign to me. It would have, however, been quite unhuman for me not to have felt that a wrong was being done to me.
I will now refer to another matter that had made me dissatisfied with the Government. It relates to the treatment accorded to the Backward Classes and the Scheduled Castes. I was very sorry that the Constitution did not embody any safeguards for the Backward Classes. It was left to be done by the Executive Government on the basis of the recommendations of a Commission to be appointed by the President. More than a year has elapsed since we passed the Constitution. But the Government has not even thought of appointing the Commission. The year 1946 during which I was out of office, was a year of great anxiety to me, and to the leading members of the Scheduled Castes. The British had realised from the commitments they had made in the matter of constitutional safeguards for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Castes had no knowing as to what the Constituent Assembly would do in that behalf. In this period of anxiety, I had prepared a report* on the condition of the Scheduled Castes for submission to the United Nations. But I did not submit it. I felt that it would be better to wait until the Constituent Assembly and the future Parliament was given a chance to deal with the matter. The provisions made in the Constitution for safeguarding the position of the Scheduled Castes were not to my satisfaction. However, I accepted them for what they were worth, hoping that Government will show some determination to make them effective. What is the Scheduled Castes today? So far as I see, it is the same as before. The same old tyranny, the same old oppression, the same old discrimination which existed before, exists now and perhaps in a worst form. I can refer to hundreds of cases where people from the Scheduled Casts round about Delhi and adjoining places have come to me with their tales of woes against the Caste Hindus and against the Police who have refused to register their complaints and render them any help. I have been wondering whether there is any other parallel in the world to the condition of Scheduled Castes in India. I cannot find any. And yet why is no relief granted to the Scheduled Castes? Compare the concern the Government shows over safeguarding the Muslims. The Prime Minister’s whole time and attention is devoted for the protection of the Muslims. I yield to none, not even to the Prime Minister, in my desire to give the Muslims of India the utmost protection wherever and whenever they stand in need of it. But what I want to know is, are the Muslims the only people who need protection? Are the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the Indian Christians not in need of protection? What concern has he shown for these communities? So far as I know, none and yet these are the communities which need far more care and attention than the Muslims.
I could not contain within myself the indignation I have felt over the neglect of the Scheduled Castes by the Government and on one occasion, I gave vent to my feelings at a public meeting of the Scheduled Castes. A question was asked, from the Hon’ble the Home Minister, whether my charge that the Scheduled Castes had not benefited by the rule which guaranteed to them 12 ½ per cent representation was true. In answer to the question the Hon’ble the Home Minister was pleased to say that my charge was baseless. Subsequently for some reason – it may be for satisfying the qualms of his conscience – he, I am informed, sent round a circular to the various Departments of the Government of India asking them to report how many Scheduled Caste candidates had been recently recruited in Government service. I am informed that most Departments in reply said “NIL’ or nearly nil. If my information is correct, I need make no commentary on the answer given by the Hon’ble the Home Minister.
From my yearly childhood I have dedicated myself to the upliftment of the Scheduled Castes among whom I was born. It is not that there were no temptations in my way. If I had considered my own interest I could have been anything I wanted to be and if I had joined the Congress would have reached to the highest place in that organization. But as I said, I had dedicated myself to the upliftment of Scheduled Castes and I have followed the adage that it is better to be narrow-minded if you wish to be enthusiastic about a cause which you wish to accomplish. You can therefore, well imagine what pain it has caused me to see that the cause of the Scheduled Castes has been relegated to the limbo of nothing.
The third matter which has given me cause, not merely for dissatisfaction but for actual anxiety and even worry, is the foreign policy of the country. Any one, who has followed the course of our foreign policy and along with it the attitude of other countries towards India, could not fail to realize the sudden change that has taken place in their attitude towards us. On 15th of August, 1947 when we began our life as an independent country, there was no country which wished us ill. Every country in the world was our friend. Today, after four years, all our friends have deserted us. We have no friends left. We have alienated ourselves. We are pursuing a lonely furrow with no one even to second our resolutions in the U.N.O. When I think of our foreign policy, I am reminded of what Bismarck and Bernard Shaw have said. Bismark has said that “politics is not a game of realizing the ideal. Politics is the game of the possible.” Bernard Shaw not very long ago said that good ideals are good but one must not forget that it is often dangerous to be too good. Our foreign policy is in complete opposition to these words of wisdom uttered by two of the world’s greatest men.
How dangerous it has been to us this policy of doing the impossible and of being too good is illustrated by the great drain on our resources made by our military expenditure, by the difficulty of getting food for our starving millions and by difficulty of getting aid for the industrialization of our country.
Out of 350 crores of rupees of revenue we raise annually, we spend about Rs180 crores of rupees on the Army. It is a colossal expenditure which has hardly any parallel. This colossal expenditure is the direct result of our foreign policy. We have to foot the whole of our Bill for our defence ourselves because we have no friends on which we can depend for help in any emergency that may arise. I have been wondering whether this is the right sort of foreign policy.
Our quarrel with Pakistan is a part of our foreign policy about which I feel deeply dissatisfied. There are two grounds which have disturbed our relations with Pakistan – one is Kashmir and the other is the condition of our people in East Bengal. I felt that we should be more deeply concerned with East Bengal where the condition of our people seems from all the newspapers intolerable than with Kashmir. Notwithstanding this we have been staking out all on the Kashmir issue. Even then I feel we have been fighting on an unreal issue. The issue on which we have been fighting most of the time is, who is in the right and who is in the wrong. The real issue to my mind is not who is right but what is right. Taking that to be the main question, my view has always been that the right solution is to partition Kashmir. Give the Hindu and Buddhist part to India and the Muslim part to Pakistan as we did in the case of India. We are really not concerned with the Muslim part of Kashmir. It is a matter between the Muslims of Kashmir and Pakistan. They may decide the issue as they like. Or if you like, divide into three parts; the Cease fire zone, the Valley and the Jammu-Ladhak Region and have a plebiscite only in the Valley. What I am afraid of is that in the proposed plebiscite, which is to be an overall plebiscite, the Hindus and Buddhists of Kashmir are likely to be dragged into Pakistan against their wishes and we may have to face same problems as we are facing today in East Bengal.
I will now refer to the Fourth matter which has a good deal to do with my resignation. The Cabinet has become a merely recording and registration office of decisions already arrived at by Committees. As I have said, the Cabinet now works by Committees. There is a Defence Committee. There is a Foreign Committee. All important matters relating to Defence are disposed of by the Defence Committee. The same members of the Cabinet are appointed by them. I am not a member of either of these Committees. They work behind an iron curtain. Others who are not members have only to take joint responsibility without any opportunity of taking part in the shaping of policy. This is an impossible position.
I will now deal with a matter which has led me finally to come to the decision that I should resign. It is the treatment which was accorded to the Hindu Code. The Bill was introduced in this House on the 11th April, 1947. After a life of four years, it was killed and died unwept and unsung, after 4 clauses of it were passed. While it was before the House, it lived by fits and starts. For full one year, the Government did not feel it necessary to refer it to a Select Committee. It was referred to the Select Committee on 9th April 1948. The Report was presented to the House on 12th August, 1948. The motion for the consideration of the Report was made by me on 31st August 1948. It was merely for making the motion that the Bill was kept on the Agenda. The discussion of the motion was not allowed to take place until the February Session of the year 1949. Even then it was not allowed to have a continuous discussion. It was distributed over 10 months, 4 days in February, 1 day in March and 2 days in April 1949. After this, one day was given to the Bill in December, 1949, namely the 19th December, on which day the House adopted my motion that the Bill as reported by the Select Committee be taken into consideration. No time was given to the Bill in the year 1950. Next time the Bill came before the House was on 5th February, 1951 when the clause by clause consideration of the Bill was taken. Only three days 5th, 6th and 7th February were given to the Bill and left there to rot.
This being the last sessions of the present Parliament, Cabinet had to consider whether Hindu Code Bill should be got through before this Parliament ended or whether it should be left over to the new Parliament. The Cabinet unanimously decided that it should be put through in this Parliament. So the Bill was put on the Agenda and was taken up on the 17th September 1951 for further clause by clause consideration. As the discussion was going on, the Prime Minister put forth a new proposal, namely, that the Bill as a whole may not be got through within the time available and that it was desirable to get a part of it enacted into law rather than allow the whole of it to go to waste. It was a great wrentch to me. But I agreed, for, as the proverb says “it is better to save a part when the whole is likely to be lost”. The Prime Minister suggested that we should select the Marriage and Divorce part. The Bill in its truncated form went on. After two or three days of the discussion of the Bill the Prime Minister came up with another proposal. This time his proposal was to drop the whole Bill even the Marriage and Divorce portion. This came to me as a great shock – a bolt from the blue. I was stunned and could not say anything. I am not prepared to accept that the dropping of this truncated Bill was due to want of time. I am sure that the truncated bill was dropped because other and more powerful members of the Cabinet wanted precedence for their Bills. I am unable to understand how the Bananas and Aligarh University Bills, how the Press Bill could have been given precedence over the Hindu Code even in its attenuated form? It is not that there was no law on the Statute Book to govern the Aligarh University or the Benares University. It is not that these Universities would have gone to wreck and ruins if the Bills had not been passed in this Session. It is not that the Press Bill was urgent. There is already a law on the Statute Book and the Bill could have waited. I got the impress that the Prime Minister, although sincere, had not the earnestness and determination required to get the Hindi Code Bill through.
In regard to this Bill, I have been made to go through the greatest mental torture. The aid of Party Machinery was denied to me. The Prime Minister gave freedom of Vote, an unusual thing in the history of the Party. I did not mind it. But I expected two things. I expected a party whip as to time limit on speeches and instruction to the Chief whip to move closure when sufficient debate had taken place. A whip on time limit on speeches would have got the Bill through. When freedom of voting was given there could have been no objection to have given a whip for time limit on speeches. But such a whip was never issued. The conduct of the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, who is also the Chief Whip of the Party in connection with the Hindu Code, to say the least, has been most extraordinary. He has been the deadliest opponent of the Code and has never been present to aid me by moving a closure motion. For days and hours filibustering has gone on a single clause. But the Chief Whip, whose duty it is to economise Government time and push on Government business, has been systematically absent when the Hindu Code has been under consideration in the House. I have never seen a case of a Chief Whip so disloyal to the Prime Minister and a Prime Minister so loyal to a disloyal Whip. Notwithstanding this unconstitutional behaviour, the Chief Whip is really a darling of the Prime Minister. For notwithstanding his disloyalty he got a Promotion in the Party organization. It is impossible to carry on in such circumstances.
It has been said that the Bill had to be dropped because the Opposition was strong. How strong was the Opposition? This Bill has been discussed several times in the Party and was carried to division by the opponents. Every time the opponents were routed. The last time when the Bill was taken up in the Party Meeting out of 120 only 20 were found to be against it. When the Bill was taken in the Party for discussion, 44 clauses were passed in about 3 ½ hours’ time. This shows how much opposition there was to the Bill within the Party. In the House itself, there have been divisions on three clauses of the Bill – 2, 3 and 5. Every time there has been an overwhelming majority in favour even on clause 4 which is the soul of the Hindu Code.
I was, therefore, quite unable to accept the Prime Minister’s decision to abandon the Bill on the ground of time. I have been obliged to give this elaborate explanation for my resignation because some people have suggested that I am going because of my illness. I wish to repudiate any such suggestion. I am the last man to abandon my duty because of illness.
It may be said that my resignation is out of time and that if I was dissatisfied with the Foreign Policy of the Government and the treatment accorded to Backward Classes and the Scheduled Castes I should have gone earlier. The charge may sound as true. But I had reasons which held me back. In the first place, most of the time I have been a Member of the Cabinet; I have been busy with the framing of the Constitution. It absorbed all my attention till 26th January 1950 and thereafter I was concerned with the People’s Representation Bill and the Delimitation Orders. I had hardly any time to attend to our Foreign Affairs. I did not think it right to go away leaving this work unfinished.
In the second place, I thought it necessary to stay on, for the sake of the Hindu Code. In the opinion of some, it may be wrong for me to have held on for the sake of the Hindu Code. I took a different view. The Hindu Code was the greatest social reform measure ever undertaken by the legislature in this country. No law passed by the Indian Legislature in the past or likely to be passed in the future can be compared to it in point of its significance.
To leave inequality between class and class, between sex and sex, which is the soul of Hindu Society untouched and to go on passing legislation relating to economic problems is to make a farce of our Constitution and to build a palace on a dung heap. This is the significance I attached to the Hindu Code. It is for its sake that I stayed on notwithstanding my differences. So if I have committed a wrong, it is in the hope of doing some good. Had I no ground for such a hope, for overcoming the obstructionist tactics of the opponents? I would like in this connection to refer only to three of the statements made by the Prime Minister on the floor of the House.
On 28th November, 1949, the Prime Minister gave the following assurance. He said:
“What is more, the Government is committed to this thing (Hindu Code). It is going through with it.”
“Government would proceed with that. It is for this House to accept a measure, but if a Government takes an important measure, and the House rejects it, the House rejects that Government and the Government goes and another Government comes in its place. It should be clearly understood that this is one of the important measures to which the Government attaches importance and on which it will stand or fall.”
Again on 19th December, 1949, the Prime Minister said:
“I do not wish the House to think in the slightest degree that we consider that this Hindu Code Bill is not of importance, because we do attach the greatest important to it, as I said, not because of any particular clause or anything, but because of the basic approach to this vast problem in problems, economic and social. We have achieved political freedom in this country, political independence. That is a stage in the journey, and there are other stages, economic, social and other and if society is to advance, there must be this integrated advance on all fronts.”
On the 26th September, 1951, the Prime Minister said:
“It is not necessary for me to assure the House of the desire of Government to proceed with this measure in so far as we can proceed with it within possibilities, and so far as we are concerned we consider this matter as adjourned till such time as the next opportunity – I hope it will be in this Parliament – offers itself.”
This was after the Prime Minister had announced the dropping of the Bill. Who could not have believed in these pronouncements of the Prime Minister? If I did not think that there could be a difference between the promises and performances of the Prime Minister the fault is certainly not mine. My exit from the Cabinet may not be a matter of much concern to anybody in this Country. But I must be true to myself and that can be only by going out. Before I do so, I wish to thank my colleagues for the kindness and courtesy they have shown to me during my membership of the Cabinet. While I am not resigning from my membership of Parliament, I also wish to express my gratitude to Members of Parliament for having shown great tolerance towards me.
10th October 1951
New Delhi B.R. Ambedkar