On 26 November 1949, the Constituent Assembly unanimously adopted the Constitution of India. In the debate leading up to that event, Dr. B.R Ambedkar, as Chairman of the Drafting Committee, spoke at length about the way the committee went about preparing the draft for the document that was to be the Constitution of India. But he also, in the latter part of his remarkable speech, made a few incredible observations that ring truer today than at any time in the past. Dr. Ambedkar, quite apart from being an extremely erudite man, also had great foresight.
For example, he wondered if India would lose its independence again, and said: “What perturbs me greatly is the fact that not only has India once before lost her independence, but she lost it by the infidelity and treachery of her own people”. He cited quite a few instances in our glorious history to underline this point.
And then he went on to say: “….in addition to our old enemies in the form of castes and creeds we are going to have many political parties with diverse and opposing political creeds. Will Indians place their country above creed or will they place creed above country? I do not know, but this much is certain that if the parties place creed above country, our independence will be put in jeopardy a second time and probably be lost for ever.”
He listed three things that he felt were essential for the preservation of our constitutional democracy:
“The first thing in my judgment we must do is hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives…..it means we must abandon the methods of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha……these methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy….”
“The second thing we must do is observe the caution which John Stuart Mill has given to all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, not to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with powers which enable him to subvert their institutions…..This caution is far more necessary in the case of India than in the case of any other country. For in India, Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. 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 third point he made in this connection was how critical it was to integrate and incorporate the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity in our democracy. And not just by mouthing platitudes.
Dr. Rajendra Prasad, as President of the Constituent Assembly, said in his speech that followed Dr. Ambedkar’s: “…..I would have liked to have some qualifications for members of the legislatures. It is anomalous that we should insist upon high qualifications for those who administer or help in administering the law but none for those who make it except that they are elected. A law giver requires intellectual equipment but even more than that capacity to take a balanced view of things, to act independently and above all to be true to those fundamental things of life – in one word – to have character. It is not possible to devise any yardstick for measuring the moral qualities of a man, and so long as that is not possible, our Constitution will remain defective”.
The rising trend of politicians and parties to relegate the larger interest to the garbage bin and focus on self-aggrandisement instead, the increasing prevalence and acceptance of unconstitutional and usually violent means of protest and of making your voice heard, the growing cult of nepotism, dynastic succession & absolute power as well as our apathetic surrender of the reins of the country to those whose place is actually in prison – all in the name of the will of the people – this was foreseen, more than sixty years ago, by those who gave us our freedom and our constitution.
Eerily prophetic, both of them. Our country truly misses leaders of this calibre.
If eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, we sure as hell haven’t paid for ours.