This piece, written by Kruthika.R, appeared on ThePrint on 31st August 2018 under the title 'What India of today can learn from constitutional conversations on fraternity'.
The Constitution is seen as a document governing relationship between the State and its citizens. Many consider it to be the department of the legal community – courts, lawyers and law students. While the Constitution deals with legalities of the State and its citizens, it promotes important values – values which are essential to the success of a nation. The constitutional conversations on fraternity, one such value, are insightful and offer valuable lessons for contemporary India.
It is a popular notion that the Preamble is simply the Objectives Resolution, as introduced by Jawaharlal Nehru and accepted by the Constituent Assembly. However, the Objectives Resolution did not include fraternity: it was the Drafting Committee which inserted fraternity to the Preamble of the Draft Constitution.
B.R. Ambedkar while defending the Constitution in the Assembly, few months before its adoption, made key observations on fraternity. He argued that India must not be content with being a political democracy but should strive to be a social democracy. Social democracy is where Indians adopt a way of life which recognizes and practices equality, liberty and fraternity.
“Fraternity means a sense of common brotherhood of all Indians — of Indians being one people. It is the principle which gives unity and solidarity to social life,” Ambedkar pointed out.
Extending the application of the Constitution to personal lives and requiring people to practice a way of life is not easy. Ambedkar recognised the inherent difficulty in realising this. But he insisted that India which is divided on the basis of caste, which he termed as anti-national, must overcome this hurdle to become a nation. “Without fraternity, equality and liberty will be no deeper than coats of paint,” he said.
By making this argument, Ambedkar believed that the success of our nation relied on its citizens and the way of life we choose to adopt — not the elected representatives, the judges or the constitutional institutions.
J.B. Kripalani, a Constituent Assembly member from then United Provinces, saw the Preamble not as an embodiment of mere legal or political principles but moral and spiritual guidelines. He argued that if certain indispensible values are considered only as constitutional or legal mandates, we will fail to achieve them. Instead he characterised these values as morals that every citizen should strive to adopt. In making this argument, he introduced the value of fraternity as a corollary to democracy: He viewed fraternity as:
“It means that we are all sons of the same God, as the religious would say, but as the mystic would say, that there is one life pulsating through us all, or as the Bible says ‘We are one of another’.”
He argued that fraternity must be lived by us all — in private, public, commercial or political life alike. This will ensure the success of our Constitution.
Thakur Das Bhargava, a member from the then East Punjab, thanked Ambedkar for inserting fraternity in the Preamble. However, Bhargava used this occasion to raise an objection to the system of reservation. He noted that reservation on any ground either caste or religious minority will “perpetuate the psychology of separation” and will discourage the majority citizens from working towards removal of social barriers. The value of fraternity is lost when we award reservations.
There are three important views expressed on fraternity: Ambedkar and Kripalani argued for the value of fraternity as a way of life to be lived by us all; while Bhargava seemed to suggest the fraternity conflicts with other constitutional values.
Our Constitution makers discussed about fraternity 72 years ago and their views seem relevant to a present India. In a nation where citizens are lynched for their choice of food or communities argue for cultural/religious practices to precede constitutional guarantees, we need to adopt a way of life wherein we live the value of fraternity – our success as a nation depends on this.