By R C Rajamani
It may surprise many to know that Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar, celebrated as the "Father of Indian Constitution," found economics closest to his heart and got his doctorate for a thesis on "The Problem of the Rupee". He was a Professor of Economics in Mumbai’s Sydenham College in the early 1930s.
Ambedkar strongly believed that the fundamental cause of India’s backward economy was the delay in changing the land system. The remedy was democratic collectivism that entailed economic efficiency, productivity and overhauling the village economy, he wrote.
This, he said, would wipe out elements of economic exploitation and social injustice. He did not want landlords, tenants, or landless labour. His idea of economic realism sought both freedom and welfare.
The essential feature of his approach to economic problems was the condemnation of such extreme views as laissez-faire and scientific socialism. Mixed economy was the cornerstone of his economic ideas. He advocated an end to the glaring social and economic inequalities produced by the capitalist system.
Ambedkar was a keen student of economics. He got his MA for his thesis on ‘Ancient Indian Commerce’ and MSc (London) for his thesis on ‘The Evolution of Provincial Finance in British India’ and DSc for his thesis on ‘The Problem of the Rupee’.
His evidence before the Hilton-Young Commission was an important contribution to the discussion of currency problems in India. He gave expression to his thoughts on such issues as small-holdings, collective farming, land revenue and abolition of landlordism. It covered nearly four important decades — 1917 to 1956, and touched on all major political and economic events.
He realised that the solution to the problem of the untouchable landless labourers depended upon the solution to Indian agricultural problems or, more broadly, economic problems. He focussed on the injustice in basing the assessment of land revenue on income and advocated that land revenue be brought under the income-tax.
His work "The Problem of the Rupee" was considered an instructive treatise. He wrote that closing of the Mints would prevent inflation and disturbances in the internal price level.
He advocated that the standard of value should be gold and the elasticity of currency should come from this source. That great scholarship and hard work had gone into this book is evidenced by the rave reviews Ambedkar received from the British Press.
The Times (London) described the book as an, "excellent piece of work. English style is easy; and his knowledge of his subject obviously very full… "
The Economist (London): "It is a clear and ably written book. Certainly, none of the other numerous works on one or the other aspect of the monetary problem have anything like the readability of this tract."
Financier: "Ambedkar deals with the problem in a very lucid and praiseworthy manner and puts forward not merely its origin, but also valuable proposals for a solution, which should be studied by bankers and those merchants whose business depends upon the exchange."
A versatile personality, Ambedkar’s hunger for knowledge, his passion for books and his erudition were unique. He was a voracious reader and knew seven languages. He described his obsession with books thus: "For a man like me, who was socially boycotted, these books took me to their hearts."
His love for the printed word naturally led him to extensive writing on a variety of subjects with depth and vision. Ambedkar’s book ‘Pakistan’ drew the attention of many thinkers and politicians. Historians agree that in that book he first clearly spelt out the difference between the community and the nation. Mohammed Ali Jinnah read the books and recommended for reading to Gandhiji. The Mahatma admitted: "It is ably written" but, remarked, "It carried no conviction to him."
On December 5, 1956, he completed writing his book ‘Buddha’ the next morning his servant found him dead when he went in his room to serve him tea. Like a blessed soul, he truly "slept in God". His death came peacefully in his sleep.
Dr Ambedkar was conferred posthumously the Bharat Ratna, the nation’s highest civilian honour, on his 99th birth anniversary in 1990. It was rightly seen as a fitting, though belated, tribute to one of the builders of Modern India. PTI