Babasaheb Ambedkar’s enunciation that real independence was achieved for India with the coming into force of the Constitution on January, 26, 1950 constituted a statement of enormous significance. India, for the first time in its long and chequered history, had chosen to be governed by the due process of law enshrined in the Constitution — a law that guarantees equal rights to all, provides a framework for empowerment of the weaker and exploited sections of society and for the social and economic advancement of the nation.
The grand ideal of independence embodied in our Constitution was, in the words of Ambedkar, to privilege the idea of one person one value. It is an ideal that must be pursued to build a nation, which will provide equal opportunity for all citizens, irrespective of faith, language and other differences.
At a time when majoritarian tendencies are gaining momentum in India and the Hindutva forces are threatening the secular foundation of the republic, we need to defend the Constitution. Ambedkar, in his last speech in the Constituent Assembly, had said, “By independence, we have lost the excuse of blaming the British for anything going wrong. If hereafter things go wrong, we will have nobody to blame. Except ourselves. There is great danger of things going wrong.”
In fact, things have gone wrong in a dangerous manner after May 2014. The signs are evident in the barbarous attacks on Dalits, minorities and other exploited sections of society, a fallout of the deliberately designed flawed policies of the government. Ambedkar’s vision to protect those exploited sections has been completely negated and trampled upon by forces that act against the Constitution. The policies of the present government have unleashed forces which believe in a counter-revolution that negates the values of the Constitution and perpetuates a social and economic order, where there would be a monopoly over power by a few, based on caste privileges. Such an approach, which reinforces upper caste supremacy and facilitates attacks on Dalits and minorities, is clearly anti-national. Ambedkar had described caste as anti-national and, therefore, stressed on the cultivation of constitutional morality, which would mandate respect for the Constitution, adoption of constitutional methods for redress of grievances and articulation of criticism and censure of acts of omission and commission by those authorised to exercise power.
Instead, those who expose the government’s misrule are slapped with charges of sedition and dubbed as anti-nationals. This is a gross violation of the Constitution and the inalienable fundamental rights and principles of natural justice. November 26 is now observed as the Constitution Day, but curtailing the powers of Parliament and showing contempt towards the institution is no way to celebrate the founding document of the republic. The social and economic contents of the Constitution have been lost sight of. It is now well documented and proven by many reports that the neo-liberal economy has resulted in greater inequality, impoverishing those who are socially and economically deprived further. In this context, the neo-liberal policies followed by the government constitutes a threat to the Constitution.
The nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court in the Bommai case affirmed secularism as a part of the basic structure of the Constitution. Any attempt to negate secularism by invoking Hindutva or any other idea opposed to secularism constitutes an assault on the basic structure of the Constitution. Secularism needs to be defended not only for harmonious existence of all faiths but also for greater equality and opportunities for women, who often become victims of patriarchy based on religious values. The struggle for secularism is also the struggle for women’s rights.
Ambedkar had said if the Constitution is put into peril India would lose her independence. Some years ago, when attempts were made to review the Constitution, the then president, K.R. Narayanan, said: “Let us examine whether the Constitution has failed us or we have failed the Constitution.” What is needed is a high standard of constitutional morality and adoption of constitutional methods to counter the fascist forces.