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Preamble Takes Centrestage

— Dr. Sanjeev Chopra

Akash Singh Rathore’s “Ambedkar’s Preamble: A Secret History of the Constitution of India” offers a very interesting insight into the making of the Preamble to our Constitution. Though in the strictest sense, the Preamble is not part of the Constitution, and is not enforceable, it sets the context of what the Constitution contains. Rathore argues that the key terms and words used in the Preamble have the definitive stamp of Ambedkar, especially when we closely analyse how it is different from the Objectives Resolution of Nehru and the several other drafts for the Preamble which were under consideration.

Rathore also explains that a Preamble has three parts: the Declaratory Part, the Descriptive part and the Objectives part. The Declaratory  part in our Preamble  is  “ WE THE PEOPLE OF INDIA’ … and ‘IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY, this twenty sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY  ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES  THIS CONSTITUTION” . The Objectives part of the original Preamble to the Constitution reads ‘having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC’. Then there is the descriptive part which explains how the aims and objectives are to be achieved, and it says ‘to secure to all its citizens, JUSTICE, social, economic and political, LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship, EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all, FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity of the Nation’

Many Constitutions also have an invocative part which usually invokes the name of God, but even though here were suggestions to invoke the name of Mahatma Gandhi (Shibban Lal Saxena) and the Grace of Parameshwar (Govind Malviya), the final version did not have an invocation.

Now let’s examine each word, and the nuance it conveys. The most significant words are WE THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, and no distinction is made between Indians living in the provinces under British India, or the princely states. Secondly, there was a conscious rejection of the word United States or provinces of India , which made it quite easy for the Parliament to make/ constitute new states, as well as to make changes to the boundaries of the existing states. It is also important to note that the term used is India, not Bharat, or Hindustan. Although the British wanted to define the dominions as Hindustan and Pakistan, better sense prevailed, and we decided to call ourselves India, thereby also become the successor state to British India.

There was a major debate on whether sovereign would suffice, or should Independent be added. It was felt that ‘sovereign’ does not need a qualifier. The Preamble also did not use the term UNION or FEDERATION, thereby giving leeway to the successive parliaments to chart the future course of action for our nascent democracy.

Ambedkar’s focus was on the key words of Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.  For Ambedkar, securing Justice    meant the ‘removing social, political and economic inequalities’. For him, Liberty, was much more than Swaraj and Freedom, for he was quite clear that the concept of Swaraj propounded by Tilak had its limitations in the sense that it was not inclusive. For most Congressmen, Swaraj and Freedom were two sides of the same coin. The Gandhian concept of Swaraj, with all its emphasis and focus on the Panchayati Raj was opposed both by Nehru and Ambedkar.  In his later life, Ambedkar invoked this Liberty to make a conscious decision to convert, and posit Buddhism as the Dalit Swaraj.

We now come to Equality.  Ambedkar felt that caste and gender were the two main institutional roadblocks to equality. This explains the Hindu Code Bill, one of the most progressive legislations of free India which gave rights of inheritance and property to women.  He felt it was ‘a vital step in the introduction of true democracy in India, and would remove the practices and logic that underpinned the caste system’. In fact, this was perhaps the right time for the passage of a Universal Civil Code for all Indians. But India was not yet ready for equality, for when Nehru withdrew his support for the Bill, Ambedkar resigned as the Law Minister. It took another five years for the Hindu Code Bill and the Untouchability Abolition Act to be enacted.

With regard to Fraternity, his concept was more inclusive than the French conception.  Ambedkar  wrote :  what sustains  equality and liberty is fellow feeling , what the French Revolutionists called fraternity .( But ) the word  fraternity is not an adequate expression. The proper term is what the Buddha called Maitree  …’ This was so important  for fraternity was not just an end in itself – it had to ensure  dignity – the dignity that was denied  to him  not  just by caste Hindus, but also by Parsis, Christians and Mohammedans ( Waiting for a  Visa) , and  finally ‘unity’ of the Nation . The reference to unity was so significant in the aftermath of the Partition, and the demand for linguistic states. This also goes on to show that at the time the Preamble was written, the ‘unity of the nation’ had to be reinforced by the Constituent Assembly.

— The author is an IAS and Director, Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie and Honorary Curator, Valley of Words- Literature & Arts Festival, Dehradun