To commemorate the birthday month of Dr B.R Ambedkar, Centre for Human Dignity and Development, IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute and Counterview organized a talk titled “The Constitution as Revolution: The Vision of B.R Ambedkar’s Preamble” as a part of the Special Lecture series #InclusiveDevelopment on 19th April 2021.
The session was kickstarted by Prof. Vivek Kumar, Professor of Sociology & Chairperson, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi who discussed the importance of enquiring into the contribution made by Dr B.R Ambedkar to the Indian Constitution, as the chief architect of the Indian Constitution is regarded as a mere exaggeration.
The speaker, Mr Aakash Singh Rathore, Philosopher, Author, Ironman triathlete discussed the conflict about the revolutionary character of Dr Ambedkar’s ideas that are captured in the constitution.
Further, there are remarkable differences between the orthodox group, which thinks that the pioneer wanted the citizens to maintain the constitutional methods commitment at all times, such as moving to courts, mobilization of electoral candidates, filing FIRs, etc. and the radicals who support street protests, marches, sit-ins, etc. after or even before exhausting all the constitutional remedies as the ground reality has long established the futility of the electoral process.
The origin of the more orthodox position lies in one of Dr Ambedkar’s famous political speeches in the 1940s, which talked about the importance of dissent in the parliamentary process, people’s role in upholding the values embedded in the constitution, not placing greed over the country, the divisiveness of caste which precludes our nation’s unity, demand for social democracy, and most importantly the need to abandon the bloody methods of revolution, civil disobedience, and so on, now that India is a democratic republic.
Dr Ambedkar also cited Thomas Jefferson in this speech, where Jefferson says, “What country can preserve its liberties if their leaders are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance. The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”
Many people believe that Jefferson meant that every generation needs a new revolution. While Mr Aakash did not attribute this much radicality to Dr Ambedkar’s view, but he did acknowledge that Dr Ambedkar placed some emphasis on this revolutionary doctrine by citing Jefferson.
Mr Aakash evidenced that Dr Ambedkar’s understanding of the constitution as embodying the revolutionary spirit might be the solution to this dilemma between the orthodox understanding of using only constitutional means and the radical understanding of direct action, civil disobedience, and so forth.
The justice clause in the Constitution mentions a footnote pointing to the Russian Revolution with its important foregrounding of egalitarianism as well as the French Revolution with its compensatory foregrounding of liberty but with the obvious defence.
Moreover, Dr Ambedkar articulated several times that the source of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity for him was not the French Revolution but was found in the teachings of Buddha. Hence, the third important revolution mentioned in the constitution is the Buddhist revolution.
He further summarized a monumental work where Dr Ambedkar sought to rewrite the entire history of India in a way that showed the birth, the life and struggle, and the ultimate achievement of equality in a book titled “Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Ancient India”.
On a concluding note, Mr Aakash took the audience through Indian history to underline the fact that ancient India was plagued with inequalities and the ideologies in support of caste that further perpetuated the same, supplemented by patriarchy as well.
This was true for the Aryan world but when Buddha emerged, his teachings focused on 3 tenets- Egalitarianism, Metta (or later fraternity), and anti-patriarchal trend. It is these ideas that were politically institutionalized with the emergence of the Mauryan empire.
However, one of Dr Ambedkar’s interesting hypotheses is that the Mauryan empire was betrayed by Pushyamitra Shunga, who immediately reintroduced in a counter-revolution each of these three points- animal sacrifice, gradient inequality, and patriarchy both in politics as well as in law by commissioning of the manuscript.
These revolutions and counterrevolutions did not just take political and religious but also ideological forms by entering various kinds of artistic writings and practices. This ideology is what is called Brahminism, which has 2 evils- practising and preaching inequality and patriarchy. Hence, Dr Ambedkar’s idea was that the Constitution is the legal counter to the long counter-revolution of Brahminism in India.
What we see in the preamble are footnotes to revolution after the revolution but also the revolution that has not been achieved yet, which is found in the fraternity clause. According to Dr Ambedkar, this means nothing but Metta and commands us to persuade rather than force the fellow citizens that we treat them with compassion rather than egocentrism, but it also establishes the necessary conditions for achieving a democratic republic.
So, Dr Ambedkar’s preamble consists of three revolutions, the third demanding us to continue our revolutionary struggle, which should be bloodless. However, Dr Ambedkar is far more revolutionary than the orthodoxy method of sticking to laws come what may.
Dr Scott Stroud, Associate Professor of Communication Studies Moody College of Communication, The University of Texas at Austin then carried the discussion forward by highlighting that the concept of fraternity is often left behind amongst equality and liberty and thus focused on realizing the value of balance between fraternity, equality, and liberty.
He further highlighted how fraternity is important and can be seen as a limit on the means employed even in a bloodless revolution for gaining a kind of social democracy. He also showed that one of the first spots where Ambedkar heard of these three values was in Dewey’s Philosophy 131-132 class.
He also added that fraternity effectively means losing some battles which could be won by force, coercion, or even violence, and fraternity tones down our pursuits of equality and liberty.
Prof. Kumar then posed a question about the reason why Kabir, Phule, and Lord Buddha are not given enough credit for contributing to the real thought of B.R Ambedkar apart from John Dewey. To this, Mr Aakash shared a useful insight on the emerging focus on textualism and while it loses the grassroots audience, it also fights against the other kind of bad-faith appropriative or mal-appropriative audience.
Prof. Kumar also shed some light on how Dr Ambedkar used to think that while Liberty and Equality can exist, but only fraternity can guide. Otherwise, there will be a conflict between the two. He further shared his interpretation that Dr Ambedkar compared French Revolution with the Japanese Revolution and then Indian Revolution, trying to highlight the role of elites in these revolutions. He had rejected the request to write a commentary on the constitution as it would imply that the constitution is complicated.
The floor was then opened for questions from the audience. When asked whether Dr Ambedkar was against capitalism, Dr Scott replied that Dr Ambedkar, according to him, was indeed against capitalism. However, the real challenge was that while achieving the vision of equality and means of socialism, there is a risk of destroying fraternity with some people who don’t believe in it.
Another question came up on Dr Ambedkar being against Hindutva but not a Hindu Rashtra. To this, Mr Aakash said that Dr Ambedkar often wrote dialectically, but it has been a common practice to take one side of the case and attribute it to Dr Ambedkar.
When asked about replacing fraternity with equality, Mr Aakash said that there are many things that are needed to be done first to elevate human consciousness as a fraternity cannot be adjudicated. Fraternity functions as a regulatory principle for the nation.
Dr Simi then posed a question from the audience to Prof. Kumar about the possible response of Dr Ambedkar on the grammar of anarchy when it is inflicted by those in power and Dr Ambedkar’s influence on Myanmar. Prof Kumar responded by highlighting the importance of representation to save democracy from failing as well as to save nations from anarchy.
Kalyani foundation further posed two interesting questions to Mr Aakash. One was about Dr Ambedkar’s inability to penetrate his socialistic ideas into the Constitution and the other was about Mr Aakash’s views on conversion to Buddhism as a solution to the ideological manifestation of the preamble.
Mr Aakash said between states, minorities, and the constitution, several significant events occurred such as the Partition and a demographic shift, especially in the constituent assembly. It was extremely difficult to trust one community to the extent of giving the entire machinery of economic power in their hands.
On conversion, Mr Aakash argued that only legal and political rights are not sufficient, and the ideological element is also needed to assure that liberty and equality are universally recognized and implemented, which was articulated by Dr Ambedkar in his books. He wanted the citizens to follow constitutional morality and challenge the customs and religious practices which perpetuate inequality and violence against certain communities.
On a concluding note, Dr Scott praised Mr Aakash’s book for deeply analyzing the 81 words in the constitution and teaching us all a lesson about how to get along with people who do not like us and so forth. It shows the contemporary relevance of Ambedkar’s thoughts and his resistance to those solutions of force that succeed by destroying the fraternal community.
Prof Kumar added that Dr Ambedkar has always been a victim of reductionism and praised Mr Aakash for deconstructing Dr Ambedkar’s reductionism.
Acknowledgement: Chhavi Jain is a Research Intern at IMPRI
Simi Mehta, Sakshi Sharda, Ishika Chaudhary