Tag Archives: BR Ambedkar

The Constitution as the ‘Social Contract’ of Modern India

 

 

The  Constitution of India should be seen as a work-in-progress – not because it has been amended ever so often by different governments but because it has been taken over by ‘we, the people’, repeatedly, especially since the 1990s. The ‘authorized’ interpreters of the Constitution and Law are no longer its sole interpreters. The continuous battles over its interpretation in the courts of law are only one way in which meaning is contested. But from the dalits reclaiming it as “Babasaheb’s Constitution” to the pathalgadi movement  of the Jharkhand adivasis and finally as the banner of citizenship movement today, its meaning has been contested time and again in the streets and in villages.

It is customary, in most secular-nationalist and left-wing circles, to invoke the “great values of the national movement”, which is seen as synonymous with the “freedom struggle”, which in turn is reduced to the “anticolonial struggle”. On 15 August 1947, India attained Independence from colonial rule and on 26 January 1950, “we, the people of India” gave to ourselves the Constitution of India. The anticolonial struggle came to an end in August 1947 but that did not mean that all the currents that  comprised the larger “freedom struggle” – the jang-e-azadi – got their freedom. We perhaps need to make a distinction today between the “freedom struggle” (that is still ongoing) and the “anticolonial nationalist” movement.

We need to state emphatically that the “freedom struggle” of different social groups is not – and never was – reducible to the “anticolonial struggle”. There were many different strands and currents that  either functioned at a distance from mainstream nationalism , or even worked in opposition to it.

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Modi, Barack and a once sovereign nation

The sheer misery, the excruciating embarrassment, of  watching the Prime Minister of a sovereign (but not secular or socialist) nation desperately, inappropriately, capering about to show off his imagined intimacy with an American President who steadfastly kept his distance and his dignity, is now passing. Time does heal all wounds. (And hopefully, as Groucho Marx put it, Time will also wound all heels) [1]

But the burning question remains – is Modi more shameless than he is ignorant? Much has been said about Modi’s suit that exceeds the worst excesses of the late unlamented Marie Antoinette. Vrinda Gopinath points out:

While the last world leader to don such a suit (it costs around 15,000 sterling pounds or Rs 15 lakhs today) was deposed Egyptian tyrant Hosni Mubarak, it certainly out-dazzled Obama’s working dark grey suit (to cut down on non-vital decisions, the US Prez only wears grey and blue ). However, if Modi was thinking hip-hop bling and ice accessories (his fave diamond Movado watch), it certainly got Obama to make a mention at the President’s banquet when he foxily pointed out how a newspaper back home wrote, “Move aside, Michelle Obama. The world has a new fashion icon.” It must have not passed Obama’s notice that Modi had changed his attire thrice that day.

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Un-owning – Archives in General, Ambedkar in Particular: Rajshree Chandra

Guest post by RAJSHREE CHANDRA

The immediate motivation for writing this piece has been the passionate and often partisan debate that surrounded the publication of the new, annotated critical edition of B. R. Ambedkar’s work, Annihilation of Caste (AoC) by Navayana Publishing. Sufficient water has flowed under the bridge to soften the various sharp edged stones and so it is perhaps time for some dispassionate perspective on the matter.

There are two kinds of debate that got triggered off by the publication of AoC. One of course relates to the 124 page provocative introduction to AoC written by Arundhati Roy titled ‘The Doctor and the Saint’ – The “Doctor” being Ambedkar and the “Saint” referring to Gandhi. The other relates to questions of ownership of archival material and questions of its fair dissemination. While the former has been hotly, and often intractably, debated by experts, scholars, followers and fans of Gandhi and Ambedkar, it is the latter that has received less attention than it deserves.

The question is important: It does not merely relate to the question of who owns Ambedkar, but in general relates to a wider question of authorship and representation of intellectual heritage. And as I have argued in my earlier posts on Kafila [1], for me the legal question is preceded by a normative concern and a political question, which is this: Should the answer to the question of who speaks for and about Ambedkar be selective? And relatedly, should ideas, works and publications of our thinkers and philosophers be policed and guarded by caretakers and/or representatives deemed to be “authentic” and/or “legal”? But before I come to these questions let me briefly contextualize the publication of AoC, as only a specific instance of his large body of work. Continue reading Un-owning – Archives in General, Ambedkar in Particular: Rajshree Chandra