By Vivek Anand
It is an oft cited fact that Dr. Ambedkar is the chief draftsman of the Constitution of India. Today, on his birth anniversary, let me take you through an oft ignored yet original and enduring contribution of Dr. Ambedkar in the development of the Constitution of India, besides being the chief draftsman of the document.
At its birth India as a country was a doubtful democracy. Not many scholars believed that it could survive – citing many examples of countries which started as democracies but in a few years saw a collapse. India, amidst the democratic backsliding of its contemporary nations, survived. Its democracy proved to be robust. The questions which were posed as major challenges at the time of its formation have withstood the tests of time. Its multicultural and multireligious society itself was cited as a problem. It has, however, been debated, experimented, and endured. While all these can be shown to be achievements in a comparative sense there yet remains several questions raised from within that still eludes a response. None more important than the question Dr. Ambedkar raised.
While being a firm believer in the Constitution that was drafted for free India, he expressed his concern about the absence of constitutional morality among the people of India. He said ‘we must realize that our people have yet to learn it [constitutional morality]’. Democracy in India is only a top dressing on an Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic’. He was correct and still continues to be correct.
We are an electoral democracy with universal adult suffrage, which gives equal voting rights to all those who are citizens. Our professed ideals were inscribed in the Preamble to the Constitution of India in these important words Justice, Liberty, Equality. We have certainly travelled far in our journey to assure each and every citizen these ideals. However, an introspection will certainly raise questions of whether these words of assurance necessarily translate into equality in representation and rights for all in reality. It is one thing to have political democracy that affirms liberty and equality on paper. However, it is quite another thing to call for its practice in a society which is based on graded inequality. It requires social democracy.
What does ‘social democracy’ mean? In Ambedkar’s words, ‘It means a way of life which recognizes liberty, equality, fraternity as the principles of life’. Rather than a state dictated equality, it calls for a social self-realization. It calls for ‘fraternity’ amongst the citizens of a free nation that would result in liberty and equality as a default outcome, eschewing the necessity for state enforcement. For Ambedkar the term fraternity is democracy in itself, carrying both social and political significance. He envisioned that an ‘ideal society should be mobile, should be full of channels for conveying a change taking place in one part to other parts … there should be varied and free points of contact with other modes of association. In other words, there must be social endosmosis. This is fraternity, which is only another name for democracy. Democracy is not merely a form of government. It is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards fellow men’. For Ambedkar mere enactment of the Constitution on paper was not sufficient. For him without fraternity equality and liberty will be no deeper than coats of paint. The draft of the Constitution, as it stood then, lacked this spirit.
He wanted to imbue this spirit within our constitutional life. This came in the form of his original contribution to the Preamble of the Constitution of India with the insertion of fraternity clause. The Preamble drafted by the Constitution Drafting Committee was a complete deviation from the Nehru’s Objectives Resolution that was passed by the Constituent Assembly. Nearly all the clauses that appeared in the Preamble finalized by the Constitution Drafting Committee came under attack in the Assembly when it was submitted by Ambedkar, except for the fraternity clause. This clause was accepted by all the members of the assembly unanimously with effusive praise for its inclusion.
For Dr. Ambedkar mere enactment of the Constitution was not adequate a solution to replace ubiquitous social inequalities that the Indian society was steeped in. He looked towards a solution from within by placing responsibility upon the citizens. Until the fraternity transcends the barriers of oppressive social institutions such as caste etc. are overcome, the principles under the Constitution of India remained aspirational for him. He overcame this by placing a preambular caveat in the form of the fraternity clause. The introduction of this clause at once brought with it a lasting reminder to us all that unless fraternity is established in all spheres of life the continuance of democratic structure itself would be at peril, for liberty without fraternity is facile.
The contribution of Dr. Ambedkar in imbuing the spirit of inclusivity in the forms of freedom that is guaranteed by bringing in the fraternity clause in the Preamble to the Constitution of India is an enduring one and serves as a constant reminder for the distance that we are yet to travel.
(Vivek Anand is an Advocate at Supreme Court of India)
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