Some dates are intractably linked with our life as a nation. Along with Independence Day and Republic Day, the day our Constitution was adopted by the Constituent Assembly is one of those solemn occasions which have impacted our lives deeply. On November 26, 1949, the Constituent Assembly of India, under the stewardship of B R Ambedkar, passed and adopted the Constitution of India. Our life as a democratic republic may have begun on January 26, 1950, but the role of Constitution Day in clearing our path to become the polity we resolved to give ourselves remains indelible. In this light, Constitution Day is both a conclusion and a beginning. On November 26, 1949, the great freedom struggle’s legacy and the aspirations of our people were united in a single document and thus began our national life towards the fulfilment of the ideals enshrined in the Constitution.
It is an irony of our times that a government moved by the ideology of the RSS, which is antithetical to the spirit of the Constitution, has started observing Constitution Day from the year 2015. In January of the same year, the Planning Commission, a noble vehicle to further the values enshrined in the Constitution, was dissolved. Subversion of the Constitution and trampling of the ideals of justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity enshrined in it have been consistent features of theNarendra Modi years. The situation reminds me of an observation made by Ambedkar when he moved the resolution to pass the draft Constitution. He said: “If things go wrong under the new Constitution, the reason will not be that we had a bad Constitution. What we will have to say is that, Man was vile.” It is this “vileness” in the garb of the majority that we are to fight.
The Constitution is not just a legal document nor a collection of passive, sage maxims. It is the outcome of the freedom struggle and imbibes the values that brought millions together, first to fight the British and later, to build an egalitarian India. Protecting the Constitution becomes really important to us in these testing times because it effectively weaponises our struggles against majoritarianism.
The executive’s responsibility to the legislature and the judiciary’s oversight under the constitutional framework forms the core of our parliamentary system. Makers of the Constitution voted in favour of the parliamentary form of democracy for they valued responsibility. In this so-called “post-truth” world, a slurry of misinformation, myths, and lies is making the objective truth blurry. Laws are being passed without debate, opposition even inside Parliament is being dubbed anti-national, and the judiciary’s independence is being encroached upon. This systematic slaughter of the institutions of parliamentary democracy is going on under the cult of personality, where one individual’s interests are taken as national interests. Let’s remember Ambedkar’s words of caution: “Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.”
The RSS and its political arm, the BJP, are aggressively trying to dismantle the vision of the Constitution in their march towards communal authoritarianism. Secularism is one of the foundational tenets of our Constitution and its makers were acutely aware of the imperative of heralding the nation into a secular republic. Temptations around religion were high but rejected emphatically by Ambedkar as he warned the assembly of the dangers of a theocratic state. He made enabling provisions for people coming from historically discriminated backgrounds like SCs, STs, women, and children. Considering the sheer regional and linguistic diversity of the country, the Constituent Assembly opted for a federal state and Ambedkar clarified that “the States under our Constitution are in no way dependent upon the Centre for their legislative or executive authority. The Centre and the States are co-equal in this matter.” All of these values run counter to the illiberal, monolithic, and divisive agenda of the RSS and make protecting the Constitution an integral part of our struggle for a better future.
Along with equality and secularism, Constitution makers placed equal emphasis on the emerging state being a welfare state, committed to the needs of its citizens and dedicated to their uplift. All three are inseparably linked and provide us with a blueprint for development of the society. Our times are crucial for defending the very nature of Indian polity and all secular, democratic and progressive forces will have to join hands for this. Many critics argue that the opposition is without any agenda to take on the RSS-BJP. Let us boldly declare that the Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in our Constitution are our agenda and come together for their fulfilment. The vision that was expressed in the Constitution was diametrically opposite of the RSS-BJP’s nefarious designs for society, and we must embrace the vision of the founders of the Constitution. When some members questioned Ambedkar about the need for having directive principles, he elaborated on their centrality in deciding the destiny of the nation. He was at his prophetic best when he said, “what great value these directive principles possess will be realised better when the forces of right contrive to capture power.” Now when the forces of right have captured power and are abusing it, we must make the vision of the Constitution our sword and shield and come together to save our nation from the calamity of Hindu Rashtra.
The writer is general secretary, CPI