The Constitution Of India
As A Tool Of Resistance
By Bobby Kunhu
27 January, 2010
In June 2001, when my good friend and activist, John Abraham from Punthamba, Maharastra was arrested by the police under the draconian legislation Maharashtra Control of Organised Crimes Act, 1999 for the offense of having mobilized Adivasis for demanding their right to land and livelihood, the evidence that the police gathered from his residence (before the charges under MCOCA were dropped) were copies of the Das Kapital and a land rights Advocacy Update published by the National Centre of Advocacy Studies. In my opinion, the police missed a more important subversive document that was in his library – a document that lent more credibility and substance to the struggle that he was involved in – the Constitution of India!
At the threshold of the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the birthing of the Republic of India, the Government of India seems to be guilty of either being blissfully unaware or willfully subverting that document, purportedly sanctioned by, “we, the people”, from which it draws its own legitimacy – the Constitution of India! On the one hand, the government, while admitting its own failure in ensuring development is engaged in an extra-judicial and unconstitutional war against a section of the group constituting “we, the people”, on the behest of non-people in the guise of Operation Greenhunt. While on the other the, colossal injustices against large sections of peoples remain unaddressed. The quarter year to the run-up to the 60th anniversary of the Republic alone has seen a number of anniversaries of unaddressed injustices – just to list a couple of those that hit silver jubilees last year – the Bhopal Gas Leak and the anti-Sikh riots – apart from the unmentioned violence and deprivation faced by a large majority of the peoples particularly from the marginalized sections and the newer injustices that were unleashed in 2009 and might see anniversaries of State apathy in the future.
For me, the politics of anniversaries of injustice holds special significance, especially in an increasingly neo-liberal paradigm. It is precisely these anniversaries that would tend to appropriate the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the Republic of India and re-appropriate the Constitution of India as a document that was artfully negotiated to represent the aspirations of the marginalized – assert a narrative conspicuously missing from Constitutional History courses and Civics syllabus! A time to relocate the roots of the Constitution of India from the Government of India Act, 1935 to the 1932 Poona Pact in mainstream national historical discourses.
The Poona Pact is often relegated to a negotiation on separate electorates for Dalits. The truth is more complex and needs to be seen through a prism where the Ambedkar persona represents the aspirations of the communities with ascriptive disabilities and the Gandhi persona as representative of the Savarna interests in all its manifestations. There can be no better evidence for this than the fact that the backdrop for the negotiations for the Poona Pact was the All India Depressed Classes Conference convened under the leadership of none other than Shyama Prasad Mookerjee – a congressman then, and one of the chief architects and pioneers of the Hindutva ideology, a patron of the RSS and founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the predecessor of BJP. Interestingly, neither Ambedkar nor Gandhi participated in this conference. While a range of Congressmen including Mookerjee were seen as representing Gandhi at the Conference, Ambedkar was represented by a lone Rajah, a Dalit leader from Tamil Nadu, who acted as the go-between.
Multiple mainstream sources including wikipedia tend to suggest that the Ramsay MacDonald’s communal award or separate electorates for Dalits was wrested in the backdrop of Gandhi’s boycott of the 1930-32 Round Table conference. I would believe it was the intellectual force and rootedness of Ambedkar’s arguments that the British government gave in to. This necessitated that the negotiations had to be carried out with Ambedkar and not the MacDonald government – though in hindsight, one could speculate that Gandhi might have preferred negotiating with the latter. These negotiations and the Poona Pact thereafter, that was wrested after considerably arm-twisting Ambedkar had a definitive role in the evolution of the Constitutional History of India.
This also ensured that Ambedkar’s position with regard to the future round table conferences and more importantly, along with his intellectual clarity and Constitutional expertise, I believe that it earned him the Chair of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution of India rather than any imagined Nehruvian largesse or benevolence. Mainstream historical prejudice in this regard can be seen from the way Gandhian non-violence is privileged over the more difficult non-violent struggle that Ambedkar waged overcoming ascriptive disabilities and finally embracing the most non-violent of religions – Buddhism!
Regardless of what Arun Shourie and his ilk have to shout from rooftops, Chritophe Jaffrelot, demonstrates clearly and succinctly the role that Ambedkar played in defining the architecture of the Constitution of India. He postulates this as the “revenge on Gandhi by a westernised democrat”, where he is referring to the role played by Ambedkar in defining the contents of the Fundamental Rights chapter of the Constitution within his own ideological framework – largely influenced by his caste experience and an utilitarian liberalism and the relegation of Gandhian principles, to a non-enforceable Directive Principles of State Policy.
Interestingly the Judiciary has asserted the centrality of Ambedkar’s vision of the architecture of the Constitution of India in evolving the Basic Structure Doctrine and predominance of place given to the fundamental rights chapter. It is precisely this vision that also came to the rescue of the Indian democracy in the aftermath of the dark days of the Emergency. It is also fascinating to note how this vision has been progressively used by the Judiciary, particularly in the days of evolution of Judicial Activism in trying to secure socio-economic justice within the paradigm of Constitutional Rights particularly vis-à-vis marginalized communities.
It is in this context that it becomes important to read the history of the Constitution of India as being rooted in the Poona Pact, re-appropriate the Constitution of India as a document representing the aspirations of marginalized communities, be it Dalits, Adivasis, religious or sexuality minorities, women or whomsoever and use it as a tool of resistance against subversions by State and non- State actors!