A Posthumous Sedition Case On Dr. BR Ambedkar?
By MK Adithya
14 April, 2016
These are the days of champions of “nationalism”, whatever it may mean to them, and of votaries of sedition cases on all and sundry. Not only those in government and ruling party, many in the opposition, as also a frenzied section of the media are carrying on a crusade against who they believe are anti-nationals. In this context, a few glimpses of political life of Dr. BR Ambedkar (Born 14-4-1891 and died on 6-12-1956) are worth recalling. They are less known to, and much less told by, many Ambedkarites, more so from the younger generation. These things must be told to one and all as the ruling parties and governments across the country are busy celebrating his 125th Birthday on April 14. The following episode was narrated, among others, by the famous biographer Dhananjay Keer in his classic on BR.Ambedkar(1954,Revised Edition1971.) Incidentally, Keer showed his draft to Ambedkar and got many clarifications before he finalized the text.
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In the course of a debate in Rajya Sabha on September 2, 1953, Ambedkar said : “People always keep saying to me: ‘Oh, you are the maker of the Constitution’. “My answer is I was a hack. What I was asked to do, I did much against my will.” (Oxford Dictionary says ‘hack’ is ‘a person hired to do dull routine work.’)
Then a Member from Rajasthan said: “But you defended it.” Ambedkar shot back: “We lawyers defend many things.”
The then Home Minister Katju said Ambedkar was responsible for drafting the Constitution. And Ambedkar said: “you want to accuse me of your blemishes?” Then he later added: “ Sir, my friends tell me that I have made the Constitution. But I am quite prepared to say that I shall be the first person to burn it out. I do not want it. It does not suit anybody.”
A posthumous Bharat Ratna was conferred on Ambedkar as late as in 1990, 34 years after his death, as his birth centenary was then approaching, by a government led by VP Singh, a non-Congress National Front government that perhaps needed a non-Congress icon. Now, perhaps around his 125th Birthday, a posthumous sedition case is due. He certainly fits the bill, going by the above remarks and the yardsticks and ways of those in power today. But they won’t do it. After all, “Everyone loves Ambedkar” today (as everyone loved drought as P. sainath once said.) They believe his name would rain votes, even in mid-summer.
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Why did he say so? There hangs a story of not only Ambedkar, but also of India’s Constitution. The present Constitution, of which Ambedkar is often referred to as THE architect, was born in bizarre circumstances. It was adopted by a Constituent Assembly that was ‘conceived’ and ‘elected’ much before 1947 August, to be precise in 1946 itself. Who conducted those polls, and under which laws? Obviously, the British colonial masters. They were held under the colonial, Government of India Act 1935. Who were the voters? There was no universal, adult franchise at the time. The 1946 elections were held with a limited franchise. Only a small proportion (around 10 percent ) of the population constituted the voters: Those who paid a certain level of taxes, those highly educated, those deputed by the princely kingdoms were the voters, in the main. That is only the elite classes of the day who represented no more than 7-8 percent of the population of those days. ‘We the people of India … give to ourselves this Constitution’ – such words were merely formal. In fact, not true. It had no democratic credentials. It was elected not by people, but by only elite. Even those elite were not sovereign; they were subjects of a colonial regime.
There was religion-based communal representation in the ‘secular’ Constitution : There were representatives, besides Hindus, of Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, of scheduled castes. Then there were nominated members. Thus 292 were members indirectly elected from various provinces, by the elite. Then there were 93 who were not elected, but deputed by princely kingdoms. Thus this Constituent Assembly that had no people’s mandate, and no sovereignty, discussed a draft, came to some agreement, and that was worded and reworded into a final draft, which was formally adopted on November 26, 1949. It was this day Modi government highlighted in 2015 November and decided the day would be celebrated every year. Ambedkar was the Chairman of a seven-member Drafting Committee, that worked from 1947 August 29 to 1950 January 24, which would do the necessary word-smithy as decided by the Constituent Assembly that was NOT founded on a democratic basis. As if this was not enough, the drafting committee had an Advisor sitting on its head, Benegal N. Rao, ICS, a top expert in (British) Constitutional Law etc. The draft was nothing original. It was overwhelmingly borrowed – often copied verbatim, or slightly modified –from the Government of India Act, 1935, that was described by Nehru as a “charter of bondage”. Nehru had said we would and should have one based on adult franchise, which never happened. The 1935 Act in turn had borrowed from that of 1919. Cooperation with 1935 Act would amount to a “betrayal”, the AICC had said in a Resolution. At least 250 Articles were thus taken from 1935. Then there were clauses borrowed from France (ideas of liberty etc.), from Ireland (Directive Principles etc.), from Japan (Acts related to Supreme Court etc.), from Russia (planning-related), and then May’s Parliamentary practices of UK. There were borrowings from US too. One renowned expert and commentator had said: The Constitution was prepared after “ransacking all the known constitutions of the world”. The end product was a “beautiful patchwork”, said one Member in the course of discussions in the House (Durgadas vol-2, p. 613-616). It was a “slavish imitation of the west” said another Member. Congress Working Committee Member Sarat Chandra Bose had said: The very preamble was conceived in “fraud”. A popular cinema–song of Nehru era (Mera Joota hai Japani … phir bhi Dil hai Hindustani, or something like that) perhaps was a reflection of this admixture. Given the above background, one can understand why Ambedkar had said he was only a “hack”; why he was not owning up the Constitution, and said he was ready to burn it..
(Most of these facts in this section were taken from, among other sources, Indian Constitution Unriddled : Search for Sources (2015), a 500-page volume by SG Nadgir and KS Sharma, published by Purogami Sahitya Prakashana, Hubli-580032. The volume interestingly has juxtaposed the Articles of 1935 Act on the left-side pages and relevant ones from 1950. For more details mail to : firstname.lastname@example.org. Dr KS Sharma is a senior ( aged 82) and renowned expert in Constitution and law, besides being a leader of working class who successfully organized one lakh unorganized dailywagers of Karnataka Govt. who got regularized as a result of 30-year-long struggle).
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The circumstances under which Ambedkar was made the Chairman of the Drafting Committee were themselves bizarre and painful. He was not allowed to be elected as a member of the Constituent Assembly by the ruling classes of the day, represented by the Congress in the main and Hindu Mahasabha , from Maharashtra which was his original and natural constituency. He could enter the House only from the Eastern part of the then undivided Bengal thanks to the support of GS Mondal, of Bengal’s SC Federation, suplemented by some votes of Muslim League. And with 1947 August, partition of Bengal took place and as a result his seat from East Pakistan was lost. By that time, his significant role in the House was noted. And in the wake of partition and related strife, the congress felt it was wise to rope him in so as to impart and retain a semblance of representation to the depressed classes. Thus he was coopted, also into the cabinet, along with Shyama Prasad Mukherjee though both were non-Congressmen. Thus when the new Constitution was heralded on January 26, 1950, he was very much there.
Ambedkar was keen that he should get elected to the Loksabha in the First General Election of 1952. He did not like to be coopted or nominated. But the “architect” as they call him was defeated by them by a considerable margin of 14000 votes through Congress candidate Kajrolkar, obviously in a seat reserved for SCs. It hurt him badly, morally also. His wife and colleagues were worried about his health, and lobbied for him and he was elected to the Rajya Sabha in an indirect election, allowed or supported by the Congress bigwigs. There came a by-election to the Loksabha in 1954 May which he contested again . And again was defeated by Congress. Thus he was not allowed on his own strength. And he was allowed only to be coopted and that he humiliation swallowed. He continued in the Cabinet until he resigned later as a protest when the Hindu Code Bill he had piloted with Nehru’s support, could not be passed in the face of Hindu reactionary forces, most of them from within the Congress, in the House. Nehru developed cold feet, backed out, and Ambedkar was let down. So he resigned.
Ambedkar was very much conscious of the nature of the Constitution as the following celebrated statement made in the House on November 25, 1949, just before the Final Draft was to be adopted, as he reveals and reminds:
On 26th January 1950 we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality, and in economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote, and one vote one value. In our social and economic life we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man and one value. ….we must remove this contradiction at the earliest moment or else those who suffer with inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has so laboriously built up.
It was 66 years ago but the day never arrived. And the contradiction is more acute than ever. Yes, if only possible, a sedition case would have been launched posthumously against Ambedkar today. But perhaps law wont permit it, nor vote-bank politics would allow it.
There are voices opposing attempts of appropriation of Ambedkar by the Sangh Parivar, rightly so. But he was earlier sought to be appropriated by the Congress that never allowed him an honorable place. It was only late in 1990 onwards , the ruling classes felt the need to create an idolatry around him, and his statues are found in most of the villages, almost all of them pointing a direction he had no conviction in, and holding the book of which he was a hack, and which did not and could not basically help resolving the contradictions he warned of , but showing the same way all the same. And many who claim his legacy as Ambedkarites are today wallowing in luxuries and wielding the state power against the oppreesed masses , and they play musical chairs grabbing seats of power from each and every party ranging from Congress , regional parties, upto BJP and Shiv Sena. It is they who celebrate a merry 125th Birthday.
(This is a modified English version of two articles by the writer, a mediaperson, published earlier in Telugu media. He may be reached at : email@example.com. )