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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Has the Constitution failed in fostering nationalism?

Happy Constitution Day to all the citizens of the country! Sounds incredible and yes, we, as, citizens, are proud of our constitution that governs our nation. Tributes to Ambedkar who is the architect of this masterpiece. He had said that constitution is only as good as the people who run it but then certain provisions of the constitution have led to resentment among a substantial segment of the population. 26th November is an occasion not only for celebration but also of serious introspection. Caste based reservation has not only strengthened caste but has also inadvertently institutionalised it, something, which Ambedkar wanted to annihilate as it had created a class of untouchable human beings.

The state deals with the people not as individuals but as collective identities. Individuals do not convert into citizens but become a member of a group that has an identity. Individuals virtually become prisoners of their identity. When you talk about identity, it opens a Pandora’s Box for the simple reason that an individual can have multiple identities. Simultaneously he or she is part of a caste group, a religious group, a linguistic group or a regional group.

Which identity will prevail up on him at a particular point of time is difficult to conjecture? People are more moved by other identities compared to national identity. National identity becomes secondary while other identities like caste or language take over. The Bhartiya constitution engaged with caste identities which resulted in not only concentration of collective identities but also fragmentation of society both at the micro and macro levels. Constitutional institutionalisation of caste through caste-based reservation in jobs and education, caste-based representation like seats reserved in legislatures and even in local bodies, caste-based commissions like National SC/ST/OBC commission and welfare policies based on caste have given fillip to identity politics. Identity politics has fuelled the rapid expansion of collective identities.

A diverse and plural electoral democracy like ours will always be prone to intense and fierce contestations among multiple collective identities. Nationalism will always be a difficult proposition keeping in view the way our constitution has been designed. This act of Ambedkar was not surprising because time and again, he had made it crystal clear that the cause of the untouchables mattered more to him than the national cause. For him, Bharat was never a nation but an amalgamation of different castes and communities that constituted distinct nationalities onto themselves.

Ambedkar was unconvinced as to how a nation with so many languages, cultures & traditions, ethnicities, castes and religions could qualify as a nation. He had desired Separate Electorates for the untouchables. Had he succeeded in his design, there would have been an unprecedented mobilisation of lower castes and a possible balkanisation of the country on the lines of Jinnah’s Pakistan that the national movement would have ill afforded.

However, the Poona Pact between Ambedkar and Gandhi in 1932 ingrained caste reservation/ caste representation forever in Bharatiya polity. So, when Ambedkar got the opportunity to draft the constitution, apart from governance and matters of law, he also ensured the incorporation of a social contract that the state must have with the depressed classes. Intense collective identities could never foster nationalism. Sharpening and intensification of identities only results in destruction of nations and creation of more conflict zones. It never strikes at the roots of systematic and genuine problems.

Collective identities have halted the Nationalism project, proved a hindrance to making citizens out of people and have virtually created various social conflict zones. It would have been much wiser if people would have got freedoms and rights as individuals and not as members of some community. When slavery was attacked in USA or the Black Civil movement gained momentum in USA, the focus was not on collective identities of blacks or whites but on individuality. Apartheid or racial segregation was abolished in South Africa by an appeal to human individuality and not collective identities of blacks. As a human being, everyone is entitled to a life of dignity and honour.

Equality, liberty and fraternity are the cornerstones of our constitutional republic. Every individual has got fundamental rights which are enforceable by law. But just look at the SC/ST act. Just a mere complaint under the sections of this act can land you in jail without an investigation. If you are a non-dalit, your Right to life under Article 21 does not matter. The community rights of the SCs/STs triumph over your individual rights.

Bharat’s constitution may talk about equality but the thrust is on equity and perhaps it is this underlying motive that validates preferential state treatment of some collective identities. As a matter of fact, different communities are ruled by different set of laws right from birth, education, employment, marriage, divorces and death. Collective identity as legitimised by constitution and as distorted by politicians will always pose problems as can now be witnessed in the country with several communities out on the streets demanding caste reservations and fighting against each other. This is the Indian method of creating fraternity.

What the nation needs are citizens and this can only happen when group identities are blurred, with individuals becoming the fulcrum around which state policies revolve sanctified by the constitution. Post Independent Bharat has produced mostly community leaders who have only fought for their caste constituencies. It’s time to stem the rot, and for this to happen the country needs statesmen and not petty politicians. A slight change in the constitution would do no harm and don’t forget – there have already been more than 120 odd constitutional amendments.

By Jai Prakash Ojha

(The author works with IGNOU as Assistant Registrar. He frequently blogs/writes articles on social and political subjects. A post graduate in Personnel Management and Industrial Relations, he also holds a post graduate diploma in Journalism and Mass Communication. He may be contacted on [email protected].)

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