Intellectuals pay rich tribute to Ambedkar at Columbia University

Nirupama RaoNirupama Rao, Indian Ambassador to the United States, Professor Jagdish Bhagwati and Professor Sudhir Krishnaswamy, the Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Visiting Professor of Indian Constitutional Law at Columbia University. (Photo Courtesy: Columbia Law School)
Some of the finest minds in Indian politics paid tribute to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar at the Low Memorial Library, the same location he spent much of his time as a student at Columbia University in New York. The B.R. Ambedkar Centennial Conference marked 100 years of Columbia's most notable Indian alumnus' arrival at the institution.

Speaking at the event, Asoke Kumar Mukerji, the Permanent Representative of India at the United Nations, pointed out that Ambedkar - the architect of India's Constitution - wrote his first paper on caste politics at Columbia. "It was at Columbia that he began the political study of the effects and characters of the different kinds of political institutions including the Constitution," Mukerji added. Ambedkar received an M.A. in 1915 and a Ph.D. in 1927 from the Ivy League University.

In 2010, the government of India endowed the Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Chair in Indian Constitutional Law and a fellowship program named after Jagdish Bhagwati, noted economist and university professor at the Columbia Law School.

Sudhir Krishnaswamy, who currently holds the Ambedkar Chair at Columbia, addressed criticism towards Ambedkar's role in establishing the Indian Constitution. "In the last two decades, there has been a heated debate in Indian intellectual circles as to whether Ambedkar made a serious contribution to Indian constitution making. No serious reader of the Constituent Assembly Debates will be left with any doubt that Ambedkar played a critical intellectual role in shaping the final Constitution of India 1950," Krishnaswamy said.

He also discussed the influence of US Constitutional Law on Ambedkar's work in India. "The most persuasive argument for the influence of US Constitutional Law on Ambedkar's role as a constitution maker can be through an analysis of Ambedkar's extensive use of comparative constitutional references to the Constitution of the United States," he said.

Nirupama Rao, the outgoing Indian Ambassador to the United States, noted that while Ambedkar was proud to be a Dalit, he was equally proud to be an Indian. "There is really no contradiction between those two terms," Rao emphasized in her address to students.

The conference included discussions with scholars such as Christophe Jaffrelot, Jagdish Bhagwati, Arvind Panagariya and Nirvikar Jassal who discussed and debated Ambedkar's contributions to Indian Constitutional Law, social and political thought and pathways to social transformation in India.

Aakanksha Tangri

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