Published: 24th January 2019
India for all: How Ambedkar ensured the Constitution is all inclusive and meant for common good
While there would be equality for all, the Constitution also ensures common good. Ambedkar wanted to ensure that democracy as envisaged in the Constitution would not end with votes
As we celebrate the adoption of the Indian Constitution on January 26, 1950, it is helpful to look at the vision that the chief architect of the Constitution, Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, had for the Indian republic. A little glimpse into the person of Ambedkar will be necessary to understand his vision of the Indian republic. The humiliating and discriminatory experiences that Ambedkar went through for most of his life gave him first-hand experience of the longings of an ordinary Indian. When he was entrusted with the task of being the chairman of the drafting committee, these experiences guided him towards a vision of an ‘India for all its citizens’, not just a privileged few. The privileged were placed in that category by means of religion, caste, language and wealth. But the India that Ambedkar dreamt of was an India which every Indian would be proud to own and claim to be his own. In Ambedkar’s own words, “the most vital need of the day is to create among the mass of people, a sense of common nationality, a feeling not that they are Indians first and Hindus, Mohammedans or Sindhis and Canarese afterwards, but that they are Indians first and Indians last.”
His vision for India considered the needs of several categories of Indian citizens who should be protected against discrimination. These included women, dalit communities, religious minorities, linguistic minorities and so on. Though he was very influenced by the concept of equality in communism, he was vehemently opposed to the idea of totalitarianism. He made every effort in the drafting of the constitution to avoid totalitarianism, but the people would have the freedom to choose.
He was very powerfully influenced by the pragmatic philosophy of his mentor and teacher John Dewey of Columbia University, who was a strong advocate for liberty, equality and fraternity, which then became the core philosophy of the Constitution of India. Ambedkar was particular that achieving one at the cost of the others was not acceptable. Having equality of opportunities at the cost of fraternity was not acceptable. Fraternity, for Ambedkar, meant common good.
So while there would be equality for all, the Constitution would also ensure common good. Ambedkar also wanted to ensure that democracy as envisaged in the Constitution would not end with votes. Democracy should be ‘a way of life’ for the Indian citizen. In other words, the citizens of India should be assured that there is a role for each one in the running of the nation even after the elections. Ambedkar believed that the caste system segregated people into categories and thus, a lack of shared interests and goals. Democracy as a way of life would mean shared goals and interests. Several checks were placed in the Constitution that any government, once elected, cannot remain without accountability to the people who elected them.
The provision of positive affirmation which is usually known as ‘reservation’ today was one step at assuring the communities that opportunities are available for them. Along with the steps of reservation, he made sure that all forms of discrimination such as untouchability are abolished in the Constitution of India. One other assurance that Ambedkar wanted to ensure in the Constitution was assurance to the religious minorities that their freedom of religion will not be tampered with in any way. Some steps to ensure this were also incorporated in the Constitution. Ambedkar was a voracious reader and was not influenced by his nationalist ego, but was only concerned with the good and happiness of every citizen of India, the majority and the minority, the powerful and the powerless.
He worked hard to study at least sixty other constitutions of the world to find the best elements from these and incorporate them into the Constitution of India. Given the diversity of India, Ambedkar always feared for the disintegration of India. He wanted to make sure that the Constitution and its provisions will not lead to situations of bargain and disintegration of India in the future. Fraternity was the way out. He cautioned the Constituent Assembly to make sure that no opportunity for disintegration of India be allowed in the Constitution.
It may not be difficult to see today that the fears of Ambedkar were genuine. The only way we can look forward to a great India will be the constitutional assurance of liberty, equality and fraternity with democracy as a way of life, not just electoral exercise. Let’s pledge to make India an India for all its citizens and have democracy as our way of life just like Ambedkar envisaged.
(The author is the Director, Centre for Peace Studies, Madras Christian College)