Although Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar is universally regarded as the chief architect of the Constitution, the specifics of his role as chairman of the Drafting Committee are not widely discussed. Totally neglected is his almost single-handed authorship of the Constitution's Preamble, which is frequently and mistakenly attributed to B.N. Rau rather than to Ambedkar. Pt Jawaharlal Nehru is also accredited as the author of the Preamble.
Aakash Singh Rathore’s soon to be released book Ambedkar’s Preamble: A Secret History of the Constitution of India established how and why the Preamble to the Constitution of India is essentially an Ambedkarite preamble.
Read this exclusive excerpt to know more:
The Birth of the Preamble: Out of the Blue
On 6 February 1948, the Drafting Committee, with Dr Ambedkar as chairman and only three other members in attendance (Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar, Maulavi Md Saadulla and N. Madhava Rao, who had come in as a replacement for B.L. Mitter). The latter two members were relatively quiet, according to the Constituent Assembly Debate (CAD) records. K.M. Munshi, a stalwart who was absent from these meetings, was of the view that Saadulla and Rao had little to contribute. He, in fact, seemed to have a rather low opinion of them. In his memoirs covering the Drafting Committee, Munshi refused to include them within his descriptions of ‘prominent personalities’, where other members like Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar and Dr Ambedkar featured. T.T. Krishnamachari’s insider assessment concurs with that of Munshi’s. By contrast, Munshi could hardly contain his admiration for B.N. Rau.
Rau, the constitutional adviser, was also in attendance at the meetings, though he was not a member—it was thus at the discretion of the chair, Dr Ambedkar, if Rau was permitted to be heard and whether his vote was counted or not when it came to the decisions of the committee. On the minutes for this day was the consideration of the preamble to the draft constitution. B.N. Rau’s preamble, once again, read:
We, the people of India, seeking to promote the common good, do hereby, through our chosen representatives, enact, adopt and give to ourselves this Constitution.
The minutes of the meeting of the Drafting Committee for 6 February 1948 laconically read: ‘Preamble: It was decided that for the Preamble [cited above], the Preamble as shown in Appendix B to these minutes should be substituted’! And what was the preamble as shown in Appendix B? Was it the ‘declaration’ from 22 July 1946, or was it Nehru’s ‘Objectives Resolution’ sanctified on 22 January 1947, or the ‘proposed preamble’ from Ambedkar’s States and Minorities (15 March 1947), or just another repeat of B.N. Rau’s 30 May 1947 version?
Interestingly, it was none of them, but in a certain sense it was all of them:
We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign independent state, and to secure to, or promote among, all its citizens: Justice, social, economic and political; liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship, vocation, association and action; Equality of status, and of opportunity; and, Fraternity assuring the dignity of every individual without distinction of caste or creed . . . do hereby adopt, enact and give to ourselves this Constitution.
We can easily infer from the minutes of the meeting that the introduction of this completely new text was not contentious at all, even though it seemingly came out of the blue. It was not drafted during the meeting, but brought in, ready-made, from outside. Someone apparently pulled it out from his shirt pocket.
Discussions around it occurred within only one of three items on the minutes, and were listed along with consideration of as many as eight other constitutional clauses. It seemed as though it may have been discussed for just ten minutes out of the three-and-a-half hours of meeting time. Perhaps it was not contentious because it was simply introduced and then quickly assented to by all to function as the new working draft, to be put aside for closer scrutiny and debate in ensuing sessions.
However, only one person on that committee wielded the authority and clout to introduce new, home-spun text like that, and to have it ‘decided’ that his own version of the preamble ‘should be substituted’ for B.N. Rau’s. That person was, of course, the chairman.
Dr Ambedkar’s Fingerprints All Over the Preamble
It was not just the procedure of adoption that singled out the author. The content, too, revealed Dr Ambedkar’s composition. The closing line: ‘Fraternity assuring the dignity of every individual without distinction of caste . . .’ had Dr Ambedkar’s fingerprints all over it. And his pragmatic genius as well. If we dissect this first iteration of the new, Ambedkarian draft preamble, we can see traces of every document mentioned till now. Notably, from the ‘declaration’ we have freedom of thought, belief, vocation, association and action; supplemented by the freedoms introduced by the ‘Objectives Resolution’, and expression, faith, and worship.
Also, from both these predecessors, there was the ‘solemn resolve’, the ‘sovereign independent’, the ‘Justice, social, economic and political’, and the ‘Equality of status, and of opportunity’. From B.N. Rau’s draft, there was ‘We, the people of India’, and the ‘adopt, enact and give to ourselves this Constitution’. Dr Ambedkar thus gave something to all the stakeholders present. In the process, he added terms that could not have been anticipated: fraternity, dignity and caste.
From the ‘proposed preamble’ of States and Minorities, we see how the impulse arose for Dr Ambedkar to add to the Nehruvian phrase ‘to secure to’, the more active supplement of ‘or promote among’. If you recall, where Nehru’s Objectives Resolution spoke of securing justice (social, economic and political), Dr Ambedkar reshaped the role of the state into a more active one—to remove social, political and economic inequalities, which it would do by promoting affirmative action policies and hence, Dr Ambedkar’s introduction of the word ‘caste’.
Footnotes and Further Concessions
The committee met again on 9 February 1948, with the same people present as on the previous meeting. This time, the draft of Dr Ambedkar’s preamble was up for debate. Concessions seem to have been granted by Dr Ambedkar to both the left and the right wings, specifically, to the expression ‘without distinction of caste or creed’ the leftist notion of ‘class’ was inserted, and to the expression ‘dignity of every individual’ the nationalist idea of ‘unity of the nation’ was added.
However, both of these ostensible concessions actually had histories within Dr Ambedkar’s own thought and work. Class had always been his foremost concern, as was clear from his assiduous efforts at leading the Independent Labour Party, his labour law reforms, and a lot more that is outlined in the next chapter. As for the call for the unity of the nation, this was a constant demand with Dr Ambedkar throughout the period that the Constituent Assembly existed. But, as we shall later learn, what Dr Ambedkar understood by the term ‘nation’ was quite unique.
The amended draft preamble, as of 9 February 1948, read:
. . . and to secure to all its citizens: Justice, social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship, vocation, association and action; Equality of status, and of opportunity; and to promote among all its citizens, Fraternity, without distinction of caste, class or creed, so as to assure the dignity of every individual and the unity of the nation . . .
The following day, the same sparsely attended committee meeting again took up the preamble. No changes were made to the text, but it was decided to append a footnote to the preamble clarifying that ‘the Committee has followed the ‘Objectives Resolution in drafting the Preamble.’
Presumably, this was only for the benefit of the Constituent Assembly and there was no serious intention for our Constitution’s Preamble to be annotated! There are, as B.N. Rau would have surely interjected, no known constitutional preambles anywhere in the world with footnotes.
The next two Drafting Committee meetings, on 11 and 13 February 1948, welcomed even fewer members. N. Madhava Rao did not attend, leaving only Dr Ambedkar and two others discussing the draft. There is, very mysteriously, no mention of the preamble in these minutes.
The Final Version and Changes None
During the 21 February 1948 closing meeting of the committee, on the day that Dr Ambedkar forwarded the draft Constitution to the president of the Constituent Assembly, some more changes were made to the draft preamble, mostly terms being deleted for simplification. The version sent to the Constituent Assembly read:
WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens: JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith, and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity of the nation . . .
This version was not significantly different from the radically innovative text that Dr Ambedkar had originally penned and introduced on 6 February 1948, totally out of the blue. And as difficult as it may be to believe, this 21 February 1948 version turned out to be the final version adopted nearly two years later, on 26 January 1950.
It is Dr Ambedkar’s preamble not only because of the processes by which it came to be, but also because of its conceptual content—it is Dr Ambedkar’s preamble both procedurally and substantively. Unlike for B.N. Rau, or even for Nehru, each and every one of its central concepts—justice, liberty, equality, fraternity, dignity and nation—has a decisive and inimitable provenance in Dr Ambedkar’s writings and speeches.
(The above excerpt has been published to mark Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar’s death anniversary on 6 December. Some subheadings have been inserted and some paragraphs broken to make it more accessible to the readers of The Quint.
Aakash Singh Rathore is a philosopher of international repute and the author of seven books. He is International Fellow of the Centre for Ethics and Global Politics, Rome, and Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. Rathore is also the series editor of Rethinking India (fourteen volumes, forthcoming 2019-20) and co-editor of its first volume, Vision for a Nation: Paths and Perspectives with Ashis Nandy. He tweets @aakash_ironman.)