The Indian Tragedy

Earlier this year, the Republic of India turned seventy. On January 26, 1950, the country adopted a new Constitution, which severed all ties with the British Empire, mandated multi-party democracy based on universal adult franchise, abolished caste and gender distinctions, awarded equal rights of citizen-ship to religious minorities, and in myriad other ways broke with the feudal, hierarchical, and sectarian past. The chairman of the Drafting Committee was the great scholar B. R. Ambedkar, himself a “Dalit,” born into the lowest and most oppressed strata of Indian society, and representative in his person and his beliefs of the sweeping social and political transformations that the document promised to bring about. The drafting of the Constitution took three whole years. Between December 1946 and December 1949, its provisions were discussed threadbare in an Assembly whose members included the country’s most influential politicians (spanning the ideological spectrum, from atheistic Communists to orthodox Hindus and all shades in between) as well as leading economists, lawyers, and women’s rights activists. When these deliberations concluded, and it fell to Ambedkar to introduce the final document — with 395 Articles and 12 Schedules, the longest of its kind in the history of the democratic world — to the Assembly, he issued some warnings, of which at least one was strikingly prophetic. He invoked John Stuart Mill in asking Indians 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.” There was “nothing wrong,” said Ambedkar, “in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country. But there are limits to gratefulness.” His worry was that “for India, bhakti, or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled

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