It is appropriate that the nation should celebrate the 125th birth anniversary of Dr Ambedkar, the principal architect of our Constitution. Dr Ambedkar was passionate about incorporating guarantees of fundamental rights in the Constitution and their expeditious judicial enforcement. With that object in view, draft Article 25 provided that a person can move the Supreme Court directly for enforcement of his or her fundamental rights, instead of going to the high court before a single judge and thereafter in appeal before a division bench. Dr Ambedkar considered this article as the very heart and soul of the Constitution without which the Constitution would be a nullity. This was Dr Ambedkar’s signal contribution to the people of India.
Dr Ambedkar attached great importance to constitutional morality in the working of the Constitution. This aspect was stressed by him while moving the draft Constitution on November 4, 1948. He quoted with approval Grote, the Greek historian, according to whom, “The diffusion of constitutional morality, not merely among the majority of any community but throughout the whole, is an indispensable condition of government.” Dr Ambedkar then posed the question, whether we can presume such a diffusion of constitutional morality? His frank answer was, “constitutional morality is not a natural sentiment. It had to be cultivated. We must realise that our people have yet to learn it”.
Hero worship is endemic in our country and the personality cult flourishes. Dr Ambedkar was aware of these lurking dangers. In the Constituent Assembly, he stressed the caution which John Stuart Mill had expressed 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’. Dr Ambedkar emphasised that this caution is very necessary in the case of India because “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 in 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 in a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship”.
These words of Dr Ambedkar have a prophetic ring. We did not heed them and had to suffer imposition of the spurious June 1975 emergency which was foisted on the country by a powerful charismatic leader. We paid the price. Democracy suffered a temporary demise in our country from June 1975 till March 1977 when the emergency was revoked.
Social justice was Babasaheb’s passion. He firmly believed that political democracy cannot last unless social democracy lies at its base. He pointed out in the Constituent Assembly the perils of ‘a life of contradictions’ in these memorable words: “On the 26th January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality, and in social and economic life, we will have inequality…. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of democracy which this Constituent Assembly has so laboriously built up.”
Regrettably social justice still eludes us. Unfortunately, we have got used to this life of contradictions. The struggle for social justice must continue with determination. Its achievement would be the best tribute we can pay to one of the greatest sons of India, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar.
Brevity in Judgments: Some of our Supreme Court judgments can rank with the best in other democracies like the UK and US. One problem, however, is that judgments are too long, replete with citations from previous judgments and copious references to academic articles, all of which does not at times lead to clarity. The Court of Appeals of Michigan Division No.2 in the US disposed of an appeal in these terms: “The appellant has attempted to distinguish the factual situation in this case from that in Renfroe. He didn’t. We couldn’t.” And consequently the appeal was dismissed. I do not recommend the bizarre brevity of the Michigan court, but do hope that judgments of our apex court become short and crisp.
Sorabjee is a former Attorney General of India