Aspirations of Free India for its Socio-Economic Transformation
3.1 The Dominant Divide
The abysmal socio-economic conditions to which India survived to and inherited at independence have been described in the previous chapter. Historically, India, it would seem, collaborated in its own defeat by the intrinsic weaknesses of its own divisive, hierarchical social institutions and its incapacity to manage the forces of change. Caste system had been one of India’s greatest social vulnerabilities throttling initiative, instilling ritual and impairing its nation-hood. The sheer rigidity of Hindu religious taboos militated against modernization of the society. Indian society was a obscurantist, fractured, fragmented and heterogeneous assemblage of groups which were and had many provocations to be, in perpetual conflict with each other. This divided house could not stand against foreign invasion. Over the centuries, despite India’s magnificent achievements in and contributions to Art, Literature, Architecture, Astronomy, Sculpture, Aesthetics, etc. and to the profound issues of man’s spiritual quest towards which the whole world looked with wide eyed wonder, it remained a fractured society. The communal carnage of the partition days left it prostrate and demoralized.
3.1.2 An ancient society, emerging out of a long period of foreign domination and social conflicts, developed visible and patent faultlines which were deep and strewn across the social fabric. The dominant divide covered a whole range of ethnic, linguistic, religious, class and caste differences so pronounced that it provided a nearly intractable ground for formulating an agenda for visualizing a democratic society with its legal, social and economic benefits accruing to all the participants. Enveloping entire social spheres was a huge cultural haze manifesting in superstition, social mal-practices, dogmas and impenetrable curtain of segregation occurred in different segments of social strata.
3.1.3 The independence movement driven by an overwhelming desire to free India from foreign rule contained in it myriad hopes and aspirations for political, social and economic transformation. The biggest divides – religion-based and caste based - provided the sub-text for regional and other social divides. Increasingly, religion became an issue in the independence movement and the separate electorate more or less, sealed the issue in favour of communal divide resulting in the partition. The fight on this front was lost early. There were other divides fostered by the rulers; the classification of peoples into the traders and the peasantry each blown into a separate class. The other India overseen by the British, but ruled by the princes and their overlords was perpetuated as an independent autonomous chunk of political India. There were other social road blocks. Under the caste regime access to social facilities, social institutions and educational and economic opportunities were not freely available universally. Within the independence movement, strenuous efforts were made to address some of these issues by symbolism, action and dialogue. The result was a social compromise that lasted through to the time when independence was finally declared. The other fires lit within the freedom movement on swadeshi, self-reliance, rural re-construction, basic education were available as pointers to address the issues in future.
3.2 Framing The Constitution : Stupendous Task
The stupendous task of the framers of the Indian Constitution needs to be seen in this context. A people suffering oppression under a feudal system were grimly struggling to be reborn into a life of dignity and hope. The past was heavy on their shoulders, and the future uncertain.
3.2.2 Dr. Ambedkar said “We have prepared a democratic Constitution. But successful working of democratic institutions requires in those who have to work them willingness to respect the view points of others, capacity for compromise and accommodation. Many things which cannot be written in a Constitution are done by conventions. Let me hope that we shall show those capacities and develop those conventions”.
3.2.3 Dr. Ambedkar took note of the democratic traditions in India’s past and said that it was not that India did not know what democracy was and that “there was a time when India was studded with republics and even where there were monarchies, they were either elected or limited”. Prof. Radhakrishnan echoed this when he said, “We cannot say that the republican tradition is foreign to the genius of this country. We have had it from the beginning of our history. When a few merchants from the north went down to the south, one of the Princes of Deccan asked the question, “Who is your King?” The answer was, “Some of us are governed by assemblies, some of us by kings”.
3.2.4 Speaking of the imperatives of social democracy, Dr.Ambedkar said, “it was, indeed, a way of life, which recognizes liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life and which cannot be divorced from each other: He said, liberty cannot be divorced from equality; equality cannot be divorced from liberty. Nor can liberty and equality be divorced from fraternity. Without equality, liberty would produce the supremacy of the few over the many. Equality without liberty would kill individual initiative. Without fraternity, liberty and equality could not become a natural course of things”. He wanted all Indians to acknowledge that there was complete absence of two things in Indian society, which was itself based on the principle of graded inequality, which meant elevation for some and degradation for others. He rightly cautioned that there was a gap between the constitutional pledge of equality on the one hand and the stark reality of social inequalities on the other and that, therefore, India was entering into a life of contradictions. Dr. Ambedkar further indicated as to how social weaknesses inherent in a hierarchical society and the social injustices they produced had weakened the society and resulted in the loss of its precious institutions of liberty in the past.
3.2.5 The framers of the Constitution sought to unite the vast country with its great diversity, many languages and creeds within a common-bond of Constitutional justice on the great ideals of liberty, equality, fraternity and justice. Framers showed an uncompromising respect for human dignity, an unquestioning commitment to equality and non-discrimination, and an abiding concern for the poor and the weak. They made a bold attempt to base the constitutional foundations on the firm faith that all classes of people, followers of all faiths, and particularly the traditionally under-privileged should all join to work for their united constitutional salvation on the shared faith that peoples of the several faiths must sink or swim together, and that in the long run prosperity and salvation are in union and not in division. Union of India was intended to be an indestructible union. The units had no power of secession. The framers endeavoured to ensure that Constitution should never degenerate into ‘a suicide pact. The cherished values of the Constitution are enshrined in the great words of its Preamble. Constitution promised Justice, social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, freedom of faith and worship; Equality of status and opportunity and to promote fraternity, assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation. Despite Sir Ivor Jennings’ sarcasm that “the ghost of Sidney and Beatrice Webb stalk through the pages of the text”, Part IV of the Constitution expresses Fabian Socialism without the Socialism. The Constitution seeks humanism, endurance and higher values.
The Constitution Seeks ……..
q Unity amongst diverse people of India within a common bond of Constitutional Justice on the ideals of liberty, equality, fraternity and justice.
q Respect for human dignity and an unquestioning commitment to equality and non-discrimination.
q Abiding concern for poor and the weak.
q Special focus on the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, the Backward Classes and the Women.
q Humanism, endurance and higher values.