Point Of View

Constitution Day and Ambedkar

I Mallikarjuna Sharma

The Constitution of India was fully formulated and finalised after prolonged debates in the Constituent Assembly for years, and much preparatory work preceding that, by the end of November 1949 and ultimately adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 26 November 1949 and came into force two months later–from 26 January 1950, which date is celebrated as the Republic Day by all Indians. However, the actual date of adoption–26 November 1949–seems to have gone without official recognition till recently; however, it was being celebrated as Law Day by the legal fraternity.

It is notable that in one such celebration of Law Day at the Supreme Court lawns on 26 November 2011 Hon’ble Shri S H Kapadia, [the then] Chief Justice of India, had briefly stated:

“We have assembled today to celebrate the anniversary of a momentous event, the anniversary of the adoption of our Constitution, the day on which our founding fathers subscribed to this document by signing the same and thereby unfolding the philosophy–social, economic and political, for the governance of free India. We have every reason to be proud of and to celebrate that unique occasion. We take this opportunity to thank the founding fathers, for this document, who spent a good deal of their time and energy in giving shape to this supremalex which was to guide the future destination of the country. We are ever grateful to them.” [He concluded…]–“India is an aspirational democracy. It is the shared idea of India to emerge from Society which has individuals of diverse ideologies, cultures and religious denominations. We must, therefore, identify common strands that will bind us, as one nation and one people. Unless this is done, we cannot build a modern and strong India. // In the hierarchy of values, judicial integrity is above judicial independence. Judicial accountability needs to be balanced with judicial independence. I would request the Bar as well as eminent jurists to deliberate upon constitutional concepts such as Judicial Independence and Judicial Accountability. We, the Judges, do not mind a studied fair criticism. However, as an advice to the Bar please do not dismantle an Institution without showing how to build a better one. // Please remember ‘When an Institution No Longer matters, we no longer matter’.”

However, the much awaited or much needed official recognition came only after the installation of a new non-Congress Government under NarendraModi at the Centre in 2014. On 19 November 2015 a gazette notification declaring the decision of the Government of India to celebrate 26 November of every year as “the CONSTITUTION DAY to promote constitutional values among citizens” has been issued by the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment of the Ministry Of Social Justice And Empowerment. The notification also mentioned about the invaluable services of the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly, under the chairmanship of Dr B R Ambedkar, in drafting the Constitution of India and that the current year was also witnessing the 125th birth anniversary of Dr BR Ambedkar who had chaired the Constituent Assembly and played a pivotal role in the drafting of the Constitution of India.

For the benefit of the readers, the said Gazette notification is being reproduced here in full:
(Department of Social Justice and Empowerment)

New Delhi, the 19th November, 2015 F. No. 19022/11/2015-VI (E).— Whereas the people of India, having solemnly resolved to secure to all its citizens Justice, Liberty, Equality and to promote Fraternity among all, adopted, enacted and gave to themselves the Constitution of India in the Constituent Assembly on the 26th day of November, 1949;

And whereas the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly, under the Chairmanship of Dr B R Ambedkar, provided its invaluable services in drafting the Constitution of India and the nation is celebrating the One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Birth Anniversary of Dr B R Ambedkar in recognition of his contribution to building modern India;

Now, therefore, the Government of India has decided to celebrate the 26th day of the November of every year as the “CONSTITUTION DAY” to promote constitutional values among citizens.
B L MEENA, Jt. Secy.

Ever since, Indians are celebrating this day of 26 NOVEMBER as the Constitution Day. But there is a lacunae in the above notification and the present portrayal of the history/facts of the Constitution framing, with the adulation of Dr Ambedkar as the “Father of the Constitution”, in the press and other media, as well as by almost all political parties including the various communist parties/groups in the country (mainly as vote bank politics).

First of all, this writer does not agree at all to the characterisation or terming of Dr Ambedkar as the “Father of the Indian Constitution” though his sterling services and struggles for the depressed classes and his achievement in drafting the second draft of the constitution and steering it through the prolonged debates in the Constituent Assembly must be recognised. It’s difficult for this writer to assign to any person the status of ‘Father of Indian Constitution’ however eminent he may be. In the case of Ambedkar he was all along his life intensely pro-British, a loyalist to the core, never participated in the freedom struggle, and was always sparring with the Congress and Gandhi who were, in the main, leading the non-violent national movement in India then and had no affinity at all to the violent nationalist movement by several revolutionary groups. Moreover, he was a member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council under the British Rule during 1942-46 as a Labour Member, and that in a period when intense final agitations like the Quit India movement and then the Royal Indian Navy revolt etc were being waged /sponsored by Congress and other nationalist parties/groups. Earlier too in 1931 when he displayed some soft corner towards revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh in an editorial note written in his edited JANATA  he merely termed them “victims”, consciously refraining from calling them “martyrs”. Also, he seems to have mis-portrayed the Bheema-Koregaon battle with the British by the Maharashtra Peshwa army as a victory of Mahars (a scheduled caste community in Maharashtra) against a casteist (Brahman-vadi) Peshwa regime whereas in fact that battle was indecisive in its result and also several Rajputs, Marathas etc too participated in it on the British side. Wikipedia informs that:

“The Battle of Koregaon was fought on 1 January 1818 between the British East India Company and the Peshwa faction of the Maratha Confederacy, at KoregaonBhima. // A 28,000-strong force led by PeshwaBaji Rao II whilst on their way to attack the company-held Pune, were unexpectedly met by an 800-strong Company force that was on its way to reinforce the British troops in Pune. The Peshwa dispatched around 2,000 soldiers to attack the force which sought entrenchment in Koregaon. Led by Captain Francis Staunton, the Company troops defended their position for nearly 12 hours, before the Peshwa's troops ultimately withdrew, fearing the imminent arrival of a larger British force. // The battle was part of the Third Anglo Maratha war, a series of battles that culminated in the defeat of the Peshwa rule and subsequent rule of the British East India Company in nearly all of Western, Central and Southern India. There is a "victory pillar" (obelisk) in Koregaon commemorating the battle.” // “Out of the 834 Company troops, 275 were killed, wounded or missing. The dead included two officers — Assistant-Surgeon Wingate and Lieutenant Chisholm; Lieutenant Pattison later died of his wounds in Shirur. Among the infantrymen, 50 were killed and 105 wounded. Among the artillery, 12 were killed and 8 were wounded. The dead Company soldiers of Indian origin included 22 Mahars, 16 Marathas, 8 Rajputs, 2 Muslims, and 1-2 Jews. // According to the British estimates, around 500 to 600 of Peshwa's soldiers were killed or wounded in the battle.”

“…the Dalit scholar AnandTeltumbde has argued that portraying the Battle of BhimaKoregaon as the battle of Mahars against their caste oppression in Peshwa rule is misleading. Teltumbde mentions that most of those died in the battle (27 out of 49) were not Mahar, and the Peshwa army actually retreated fearing the arrival of a larger British force. Thus, he considers painting of the battle as "Mahars’ against the Peshwas’ Brahmanic rule" to be misleading.”

Further elderly freedom fighters of those days used to say that he showed an attitude of discrimination against Mangs (another scheduled caste community in Maharashtra) with more concern and favour towards Mahars (his own native community) in his activities. Also, Dr Ambedkar was not that popular among the people of Bombay or Maharashtra in those days and was repeatedly registering electoral defeats and could not be elected to the Constituent Assembly even from Maharashtra regions. Ultimately it was from Bengal due to the help (sacrifice?) of Mr JogendranathMondal that he was elected to and found a place in the 389-member Constituent Assembly of India.  Then, one should also note that even after the framing of the Constitution was over and it was proclaimed and published on 26 November 1949, Dr Ambedkar continuously lost elections in Bombay province in the two general elections afterwards.  And it is also said that Ambedkar could become the first Law Minister of India only due to the insistence of Gandhi who prevailed upon the reluctant Nehru to take him to that post.  As for Ambedkar’s own views and expressed opinions on the Constitution and his own role in the framing of the Constitution one can say those are not so charitable to his credit. In regard to the Constitution - “Ambedkar expressed his disapproval for the constitution in 1953 during a parliament session and said "People always keep on 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." Ambedkar added that, "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”.” 

Then, to his credit, he was quite humble in estimating his own role in the framing of the Constitution: “The credit that is given to me does not really belong to me. It belongs partly to Sir B N Rau, the Constitutional Adviser to the Constituent Assembly who prepared a rough draft of the Constitution for the consideration of the Drafting Committee. A part of the credit must go to the members of the Drafting Committee who, as I have said, have sat for 141 days and without whose ingenuity of devise new formulae and capacity to tolerate and to accommodate different points of view, the task of framing the Constitution could not have come to so successful a conclusion. Much greater, share of the credit must go to Mr S N Mukherjee, the Chief Draftsman of the Constitution. His ability to put the most intricate proposals in the simplest and clearest legal form can rarely be equalled, nor his capacity for hard work. He has been as acquisition to the Assembly. Without his help, this Assembly would have taken many more years to finalise the Constitution. I must not omit to mention the members of the staff working under Mr Mukherjee. For, I know how hard they have worked and how long they have toiled sometimes even beyond midnight. I want to thank them all for their effort and their co-operation. (Cheers).” 

For one thing his very popular surname AMBEDKAR (in his name BhimraoRamjiAmbedkar) was bestowed by his affectionate Brahmin teacher Krishnaji Keshav Ambedkar, who changed his surname from 'Ambadawekar' to his own surname 'Ambedkar' in school records.  It’s not known whether this lending of the surname, accepted by himself and become popular among the people of India, has been acknowledged with thanks to his teacher by Dr Ambedkar in any of his voluminous writings.

So, in this writer’s opinion the above Gazette Notification as well as the later virtual ‘deification’ of Dr Ambedkar as the “Father of the Indian Constitution” are quite defective in these respects and the notification should have also mentioned the roles of other stalwarts preceding him in the framing of the Constitution–especially of the eminent scholarly statesman, Dr B N RAU who–if at all any one person can be said to have drafted the Constitution–can be said to be that singular personality. Dr B N Rau’s sterling role in framing the first coherent draft of the Constitution for Independent (united) India must be recognised.

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Vol 56, No. 25, Dec 17 - 23, 2023