Why Ambedkar would have wanted a debate on Constitution
Somewhere in the last 70 years, governments all over have become masters and the rule of law has been ignored.
- Total Shares
By naming November 26 "Constitution Day", the government has rightfully put the spotlight on both the Constitution as well the architects of India as a nation built on democratic values.
India's Constitution is one of the finest pieces of democratic guarantors that the world has seen and unlike the US constitution, it is one where the entire debate that went into its creation is well-documented. We, therefore, know everything about the Constituent Assembly debates that capture the rationale and reasoning behind every part of the Constitution.
While we must be proud of the Constitution and thankful to our founding fathers for it, it's also important that we cherish its values and principles and live by it. And that we also review the impact of decades of sometimes politically-motivated amendments of the Constitution.
The debate on the Constitution must move beyond the Preamble. The Constitution envisaged a nation that lived by the rule of law, justice for all, freedom of expression, equal rights and justice with no discrimination, property rights, etc. Let's admit that the government and Parliament have let down the Constitution and country repeatedly.
Take the rule of law, for example - it's inconsistently applied and seems to not apply to those who are powerful or rich or are politically connected. This repeated violation of rule of law destroys the core values of our constitutional democracy and often threatens the constitutional guarantee to life under Article 21.
Take the issue of justice - justice is often so delayed that it is denied - threatening the whole idea of citizenship.
Freedom of expression under Article 19 has been curtailed repeatedly starting from Emergency to the recent IT Act (by the UPA) with its draconian Section 66A, which remained on the books despite widespread protests and misuse and was struck down only by the Supreme Court. Other issues like Right to Privacy as part of Article 21 are also under challenge in the new digital age I welcome all political parties to join this debate (even if it's ironical in many cases) - even those parties that have presided over the chopping and dicing of our constitutional rights through various amendments over the years.
Even those parties that have belatedly woken up to the mistake of "banning books" and deporting those with politically-uncomfortable views.
Parties that have abused constitutional authorities like the CAG when corruption was exposed. Also, those parties that have passed laws like the IT and used power of arrest to attack Fundamental Rights of expression and privacy.
I also welcome those parties that have used violence repeatedly as a political tool for several decades. It's good that all of them are today engaged in a reaffirmation of our constitutional values. Even after 65 years, BR Ambedkar is uniting us around the Constitution.
I welcome this debate as an opportunity for the country to start a conversation about how the Constitution and the vision of our founding fathers continue to be violated and vitiated in states, institutions, and around the country. I think it's necessary for us to do that, instead of only basking in the great work done in the past and selective narration of history.
There is a lot that is wrong with our institutions of administration and law. Ambedkar observed, when asked about his statement about burning the Constitution: "We built a temple for God to come in and reside and before the God could be installed, if the devil had taken possession of it, what else could we do? We didn't intend that it should be occupied by Asuras. We intended it to be occupied by Devas."
The original Constitution wanted the citizens to have rights and follow a rule of law - and Parliament and the government to be agents for citizens. But somewhere in the last 70 years, governments all over have become masters and citizens the slaves and the rule of law has been ignored.
I hope that with increasing debate and scrutiny, we go back to the original vision of our founding fathers. As Ambedkar himself said, "Rights are only real if they are accompanied by remedies." We are struggling to deal with the basic issues of poverty and justice even after almost 70 years of Independence.
Our Constitution and laws must ensure real remedies to ensure development/prosperity/equity/justice for all Indians - and all this must be introspected if we are really doing this. Our debate must go into why it is so easy for political and administrative institutions to violate the Constitution and law with no consequences.
That, in itself, is justification for us to review the Constitution and introspect.
I hope Parliament - and the people it represents - can start this dialogue and do more than make flowery speeches and, instead, stay engaged on the need to transform the country. This is our profound responsibility.