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Touchstone of the Republic

“Ambedkar had warned that even without altering the Constitution, administrators could use their powers to subvert it.” The President of the Constituent Assembly, Rajendra Prasad, signing the full text of the Constitution in New Delhi in 1949.   | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

The adoption of the Constitution on November 26, 1949 by the Constituent Assembly was a historic moment that laid the foundation for a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic. The Constitution provides a framework for good governance based on law and jurisprudence.

Finding a place

From its first meeting on December 9, 1946 till the completion of its work and adoption of the Constitution, the Constituent Assembly had to work in a politically turbulent environment. Some may not know that B.R. Ambedkar did not find a place among the 296 members initially sent to the Constituent Assembly. Only the withdrawal of Jogendra Nath Mandal, who was nominated from East Bengal, paved the way for Ambedkar to enter the Constituent Assembly. On June 3, 1947, Lord Mountbatten, the Viceroy of India, announced the Partition of India. Bengal and Punjab were to be divided. Ambedkar ceased to be a member of the Constituent Assembly when India was partitioned.

Given the dependence of the Assembly on Ambedkar, who had done extraordinary work, Rajendra Prasad and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel took efforts to get him elected from Bombay Presidency. It was only then that Ambedkar was immediately re-inducted as a member of the Constituent Assembly. By that time he was already Law Minister in the Cabinet headed by Jawaharlal Nehru, who had moved the Objectives Resolution that defined the aims of the Constituent Assembly. Historians point out that Mahatma Gandhi, who knew about Ambedkar’s excellent work in the Constituent Assembly and in various other committees, was keen that Ambedkar head the Drafting Committee. On August 30, 1947, the Drafting Committee formally met and unanimously elected Ambedkar as the Chairman of the Drafting Committee. Thereby he became the prime architect of the Constitution.

Partition witnessed huge tragedies: Hindu-Muslim clashes and killings, migration of large numbers of people, and the assassination of Gandhi. Ambedkar remained firm that “the destiny of the country ought to count for everything”. He did not compromise with divisive communal forces. He stoutly rejected the idea of a Hindu Rashtra. He warned that if at all Hindu Rashtra became a reality, it would be a calamity for the nation. He rejected the idea of a theocratic state and a presidential form of government. He believed in the idea of a republic and wanted India to be a secular state.

Challenge to the Constitution

Today there is an open challenge to the Constitution. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Vishva Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal, Bharatiya Janata Party and Shiv Sena are all competing and coordinating with one another to achieve their agenda of converting the Indian secular state into a Hindu Rashtra. They have become desperate and aggressive in their pursuit to subvert the Constitution.

Ambedkar defined the Indian state as a welfare state in a society that is stratified by caste and deeply mired in structural forms of inequalities. The state, he said, should strive “to secure to all its citizens, Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.”

The way the Constitution was drafted and the way Ambedkar explained the provisions enshrined in it brought out its secular and socialist contents. They are of abiding significance in our time when communal and fascist forces have created a counter culture that endangers the Constitution itself. The way the Indian state is emerging as a neoliberal state goes against the socialist feature of our Constitution. When Professor K.T. Shah moved an amendment on November 15, 1948 to insert the words “secular, federal, socialist” into the Constitution, his proposal was vetoed. Ambedkar said that the Directive Principles of State Policy were declared to be fundamental in the governance of our country. In other words, the socialist contents enshrined in the Directive Principles must be the guiding force for governance. He said, “If these directive principles... are not socialistic in their direction and in their content, I fail to understand what more socialism can be.” The Directive Principles must be followed in letter and spirit when rising levels of income inequality perpetuate other inequalities. Liberalisation, globalisation and privatisation have further exacerbated the problem of unequal access to basic opportunities. As President K.R. Narayanan said in his speech on the eve of Republic Day in 2000, “Our three-way fast lane of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation must provide safe pedestrian crossings for the unempowered India also, so that it too can move towards ‘equality of status and opportunity’.”

The manner in which constitutional objectives are being deliberately ignored by the present government in pursuit of the goals set by various corporates reminds me of Ambedkar’s warning in his last speech in the Constituent Assembly. He said that if political parties put creed ahead of the interests of the country, then we would stand to lose our independence forever.

Protecting the idea of India

Ambedkar had warned that even without altering the Constitution, administrators could subvert it using their powers, causing it to collapse. We need to address such problems, which have assumed the proportion of a crisis today. We need to defend the Constitution and cultivate constitutional morality. In Kerala, for instance, we are seeing people being mobilised to prevent the implementation of the Supreme Court judgment that allows women to enter the Sabarimala temple. This is a violation of the law and the Constitution. The leaders of the ruling party are openly making statements which are inconsistent with the constitutional scheme of governance. Let us be mindful of the fact that the unity and integrity of India are sustained by the Constitution and not by any particular faith. Constitutional values combined with the civilisational values of acceptance and tolerance are the need of the hour to defend the idea of India. In undermining the Constitution, we are undermining and diminishing the very idea of India.

D. Raja is National Secretary, Communist Party of India, and Member of Parliament


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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 7:05:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/touchstone-of-the-republic/article25592069.ece

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