Santosh Gedam – Constitutional Idealism and the Ground Reality

Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar chairman of the Drafting Committee presenting the final draft of the Indian Constitution to Dr. Rajendra Prasad on 25 November 1949
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, chairman of the Drafting Committee, presenting the final draft of the Indian Constitution to Dr. Rajendra Prasad on 25 November, 1949

As India (read part of Indian society) actively celebrated along with symbolic governmental formal gestures the Birth anniversary of India’s chief architect of the Constitution, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, it was time to review where our society as a whole stands compared to the Constitutional idealism adopted around 70 years ago. Constitutional idealism is a supreme policy goal for us as a society to achieve. This analysis is a look at “we the people of India” in their achievement in the post-colonial India and where we have reached in achieving the social, economic and political equality enshrined in the Constitution.

In his last speech as a Chief of the Constitution drafting committee, Dr. Ambedkar cautioned the Constitutional assembly about the stark contradictions that Indian society as a whole was entering into. Talking about social democracy, he says

“On the 26th of 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. In politics, we will recognize the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, because of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which is Assembly has to laboriously built up.”

This three-pronged equality is a significant part of Constitutional idealism. To answer Dr. Ambedkar’s question, at least in the last 70 years we have failed to achieve equality in economic and social life. To argue the conjecture, I rest my argument on the economic and social analysis of our society. Economic inequality is aggravating in post-colonial India. Income distribution gap is increasing. As per the latest report of Oxfam, India’s 1% population holds 73% of the national wealth. Such stark economic inequality violates Constitutional idealism. It is well known that in economic spheres, historically certain caste groups have gained and sustained great control. The dominance of business families and certain communities in the colonial era is well known. There has been evidence showing that castes are still substantial factors which influence economic decisions even at the cost of profits. A recent study by the scholars from IIM Bangalore showed that merger and acquisition decisions in India have correlations with commonality with caste factors. Therefore, I could argue that when it comes to economic development caste plays an important role. As long as caste-based discrimination is practiced by Indian business houses, at the cost of profits vacating meritocracy argument, economic inequality is bound to increase. Under the dark shadow of the caste system, we as an independent society have failed to deliver on the promise that we have made to the people of India in the form of economic equality as a Constitutional goal. Indian electorate needs to actively think about this affluent 1% and demand policies to annihilate caste phenomenon to achieve economic equality truly.

In the election year, it has become commonplace that the leaders of National Political parties are openly patronizing caste-based politics. The Indian electorate has been appealed by invoking their caste identities to support political candidates. I don’t think there can be any brazen display of social inequality than this. We know in India social life is restricted within the boundaries of invisible caste structure. One argument, though quite weak, is not to touch an individual social system. But can we afford to be spectators to the division that is being caused for political gains? What is surprising and unfortunate is the silence of Constitutional institutions to eradicate the role of caste from actively playing in the Indian political scene. Caste lens makes even a hardcore criminal to appear as a saint worth entering the sanctum sanctorum of democracy, the Parliament. This is a test of the Indian electorate. The salience of castes and religions in the 21st century is a barrier for social equality.

In the last 70 years, though on the paper, we have proposed to achieve equality in all the three spheres of life, it is apparent that we have done very less in terms of effective policies and regulations to dismantle the apparatus of caste system to change the scene at the ground level as envisioned by the Constitutional idealism.

Santosh Gedam, Doctoral Student, Public Systems Group, Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad



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