(This story was first published on 2015 and is being reposted from The Quint’s archives on the occasion of Ambedkar Jayanti. You can read our other stories on Dr BR Ambedkar here.)
In November 2015, a blitzkrieg of sorts raged in the Indian Parliament. No, this was not a war being fought over a bill, or an ordinance. It involved the codex that shapes our republic — the Constitution of India.
The Indian government decided to declare 26 November as the Constitution Day, the day when it was adopted in 1949, months before it came into force on 26 January 1950, celebrated in the country as Republic Day. Prime Minister Modi categorically noted that the declaration was not only aimed at generating awareness about the Constitution, but also about Dr Ambedkar.
But did you know that the Father of the most detailed and wordy constitution wanted to burn it?
I Shall be the First Person to Burn It Out
It is by placating the sentiments of smaller communities and smaller people who are afraid that the majority may do wrong, that the British Parliament works. Sir, my friends tell me that I have made the Constitution. But I am quite prepared to say that I shall be the first person to burn it out. I do not want it. It does not suit anybody. But whatever that may be, if our people want to carry on, they must not forget that there are majorities and there are minorities, and they simply cannot ignore the minorities by saying, “Oh, no. To recognise you is to harm democracy.” I should say that the greatest harm will come by injuring the minorities.Dr BR Ambedkar in the Rajya Sabha on 2 September 1953
On 2 September 1953 while debating how a Governor in the country should be invested with more powers, Dr Ambedkar argued strongly in favour of amending the constitution.
[...] my submission is this that no harm can be done to democracy and to democratic Constitution if our Constitution was amended [...]Dr BR Ambedkar in the Rajya Sabha on 2 September 1953
Shruti Rajagopalan, Assistant Professor of Economics at State University of New York, Purchase College, while speaking on the historical, ideological, and economic context for constitutional amendments in India from 1950-78, speaks about Ambedkar’s resentment.
A Constitution for the Demons
Two years later, on 19 March 1955, Dr Anup Singh, a Rajya Sabha member from Punjab, brought up Ambedkar’s remark, when the Fourth Amendment Bill was being discussed. Dr Singh asked, “Last time when you spoke, you said that you would burn the Constitution.”
Do you want a reply to that? I would give it to you right here. My friend says that the last time when I spoke, I said that I wanted to burn the Constitution. Well, in a hurry I did not explain the reason. Now that my friend has given me the opportunity, I think I shall give the reason. The reason is this: We built a temple for god to come in and reside, but before the god could be installed, if the devil had taken possession of it, what else could we do except destroy the temple? We did not intend that it should be occupied by the Asuras. We intended it to be occupied by the Devas. That’s the reason why I said I would rather like to burn it.Dr BR Ambedkar in the Rajya Sabha on 19 March 1955
There have been several media reports, views published across platforms, entailing the gabfest involving the Constitution. And then there are our politicians. But no one, absolutely no one has even bothered to take a short walk back in history, and considered what the maker of the Constitution had to say.
We ask you – if you want to honour someone, would you just adorn him with ceremonious accolades, or would you rather partake of the wisdom he once shared?