- Triplet 18 - On Exploring unstated premisses in collective consciousness of our Constituent Assembly

Triplet 18

On Exploring unstated premisses in collective consciousness of our Constituent Assembly

By Shiva Kant Jha

July 10, 2009

THERE are good reasons to believe that our constitution-framers' socialist vision received a powerful expression in our Constitution, a virtual ‘objective correlative' to express their aspirations. What was incipient in our Constitution was made exquisitely manifest by the insertion of ‘socialism' in the Constitution's preamble by the Forty-second constitutional Amendment done in 1976. The neo-liberal paradigm, which set in the last decade of the just dead century, bred a slowly fanned conspiracy to do away with this insertion with an objective of achieving two ends: to cloud this morning star supposed to assist the government, and also to prove that what was inserted by mistake is now deleted on deliberation. We shall have much to hear on these issues when the Writ Petition (Civil)    679 of 2007 comes up for hearing on July 27, 2009 before our Supreme Court. It prays that the Court should “ strike down Section 29A (5) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 to the extent it mandates adherence to the policy of socialism, thereby being in violation of Articles 14, 19(1)(a) and 19 (1) (c) of the Constitution”. At present it may not be prudent to write about case, and its possible outcome. We must await it with our fingers crossed, but trusting in satyameva jayate . But I intend to put forth a new perspective to help us see what is what. The ideas in this triplet are not analytically juristic, but are most fundamental.

On the examination of the broad profile of our Constituent Assembly the following points emerge:

(i) The Constituent Assembly was virtually a microcosm of India . All the leading lights of our Freedom Movement were assembled there. They had in their marrow the fire that burnt throughout our Struggle for Freedom. They possessed what the Art 51A of our Constitution wants every citizen of this Republic to acquire: the ideal to “(b) cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom.” It was, as Granville Austen says a one-party body in essentially one-party country. “The Assembly was the Congress and the Congress was India .”

(ii) ‘The membership of the Congress in the Constituent Assembly and outside held social, economic, and political views ranging from the reactionary to the revolutionary.' Austin comments: “…because the Congress and its candidates covered a broad spectrum, those elected to the assemblies did represent the diverse viewpoints of voters and non-voters alike.”

(iii) The Constituent Assembly was never under the hangover of Karl Marx. Neither the Communist Party nor the Socialist Party had their representatives in the Constituent Assembly. Austin comments:

“The absence of a formal Socialist group meant little, however, for most members of the Assembly thought themselves as Socialists, and with few exceptions the members believed that the best and perhaps only way to the social and economic goals that India sought was by the road of government initiative of industry and commerce.'

(iv) It had, as its members, some of the most distinguished capitalists who had shared the ethos which our Struggle for Freedom had created. One of them was Maharajadhiraja Dr. Sir Kameshwar Singh of Darbhanga, who as a member of the Constituent Assembly shared the common vision with others, though as a litigant he moved courts against his Rights to Property which led to the First Amendment to the Indian Constitution inserting Articles 31 A, 31 B and the Ninth Schedule to the Constitution. But he had celebrated the work of our Constituent Assembly even in England by hosting a party in London which was noticed and chronicled in the Romance of Savoy .

Jawaharlal Nehru was decidedly at the most conscious point of the collective consciousness of the Constituent Assembly. His vision, which was largely shared by most of the members of the Constituent Assembly, has thus been summarized by Bipin Chandra & others ( India After Independence pp.177-174 ):

“What did socialism mean to Nehru? In fact, Nehru never defined socialism in terms of a definite scheme or rigid general principles. To him, generally, socialism meant greater equality of opportunity, social justice, more equitable distribution of higher incomes generated through the application of modern science and technology to the processes of production, the end of the acute social and economic disparities generated by feudalism and capitalism, and the application of the scientific approach to the problems of society. Socialism also meant the eventual ending of the acquisitive mentality, the supremacy of the profit motive, and capitalist competitiveness and the promotion instead of the cooperative spirit. It also meant the gradual ending of class distinctions and class domination. Socialism also laid down on the large-scale social ownership or control over the principle means of production but Nehru insisted that, first of all, socialism concerned greater production, for there could be no equal distribution of poverty. In fact, to him socialism was equal to greater production plus equitable distribution….. Nehru believed that democracy and civil liberties had to be basic constituents of socialism, and were inseparable from it.”

The members of the Constituent Assembly were well versed in oriental cultural ideas, and most of them were distinguished masters in humanities and jurisprudence. On a close scanning of their career and thoughts, this humble self is driven to conclude that the Bhagavad -Gita had the greatest impact on their thought which shaped their ideas at work in the framing of our Constitution. It is really tragic to note that our jurists have never appreciated this fact because their western orientation never freed them from the blinkers forged out of the Western borrowings. This synoptic deduction is based on the principle of probability.

Our social vision, as expressed in our Constitution, is egalitarian, it harbours no ill-will against any section of people. Our polity is founded on universal franchise; and our Struggle of Freedom evidenced involvement of the whole notion. This sort of universalism could be got only from the Bhagavad-Gita which thought of the weal of all, rather than of a lass, as did Karl Marx. Why do we need government? This question has been answered in the West by Thomas Hobbes ( 1588 –1679), the author of Leviathan ; John Locke, ( 1632 1704 ), the author of his two Treatises on Government ; Rousseau , the author of The Social Contract , and the authors of the American Declaration of Independence (1776) , and now by the neo-liberalists like Hayek and Friedman. They are all rationalizers who advocated the cause dear to those who called their tunes. It is the evidence of the cultural poverty of the West that all its theorists have erected in their work their own ego in the service of the vested interests who befriended them for reasons needing no elaboration here.

Our Constitution-makers were the revolutionaries for whom the nation mattered most; they were not like the hacks who are engaged by vested interests to craft a constitution. They had in their consciousness issues as aforementioned. At the dawn of the new India they had in their mind not The Communist Manifesto or the Road to Serfdom but the Bhagavad-Gita (unless someone pleads that his mind was a tabula rasa on which the neo-liberalists can script their brief).

The Bhagavad-Gita rejects, so does our Constitution, ideas such as these:

(a) The Bhagavad-Gita and our Constitution contemplate no class conflict or class struggle. They do not recognize dialectics central to the thought of Hegel and Marx. Our Constitution commits our polity to social justice under a system in which all live and work without discrimination, and under conditions whereunder life is not a mere animal existence. We have rejected Marx's dictum that the history of the “hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle".

(b ) The driving force in the cosmic affairs for Hegel is Spirit. For Marx the driving force is Matter , which means that for him “the driving force is really man's relations to matter, of which the most important part is the mode of production”, in effect, his ‘materialism, in practice, becomes economics.' In the Bhagavad-Gita (and our Constitution) the driving force is lokmangal , welfare of all. Both these reject Hegelian and Marxist dichotomies reflected in their theories of dialectics. In the Gita the harmony is the natural consequence of the concept of Isvara over Prakri t and Purusha; under our Constitution it is brought about by the idea of everyone's weal (which again is a rejection of the Unitarian ides of Bentham and Mill).

(c) The doctrine of Communism is based on the theory of the INEVTABILITY OF PROGRESS. It contemplates a Second Coming, something like the El Dorado of the Utopians, or the ‘Trickle-down theory of the neo-liberal economists triumphant in this present phase of Economic Globalization. Marx led us to a dream, Darwin made us to turn irresponsible as evolution is bound to take place anyway, and the neo-liberalists dangle before us a carrot they call ‘the Trickle-down theory'. Our Constitution does not ask the skeletons and the scarecrows, to sing a death-bed song in the glory of the plutocrats and their smoggy corporate oligarchy.

(e) The Bhagavad-Gita and our Constitution contemplate Rights and Duties for the development and happiness of all. The Utilitarians are satisfied with the happiness of a few, thereby facilitating the emergence of Capitalism, Fascism, and now neo-liberalism. Their arch-priest Bentham cared little for the liberty of all. He thought of the liberty only of a few. The rights of man, he said, are plain nonsense; the imprescriptible rights of man, nonsense on stilts. When the French revolutionaries made their ‘ Declaration des droits de l'homme ,' Bentham called it ‘a meta-physical work—the ne plus ultra of metaphysics'. It was argued that the “articles could be divided into three classes: (1) Those that are unintelligible, (2) those that are false, (3) those that are both.” We have, as is evidenced under our Constitution, rejected such foolish ideas. Our Constitution posits an over-arching social vision for the Free India.

(d) Our Constitution, right from its inception, is cast to promote the welfare of all sections of our political community. On this point it differs from all other celebrated Constitutions, be of the USA , France , Russia , or even the U.K. In all these Constitutions, polity had been constructed for the delight of the affluent and dominant sections of people, and the commoners of the societies had to wait and struggle for even more than a century even to acquire the rights to universal suffrage. Our Constitution, like the Bhagavad-Gita, is universal and egalitarian: mandating a quest for universal weal. It is remarkable that even the members elected on a narrow franchise, had an over-arching vision, which can best be called our ‘Constitutional Socialism'

Our Constitution too recognizes Freedom within the discipline of ‘Constitutional Socialism'. It determines the reach of freedom recognizing the limits in the interest of others. Our Constitution's fundamentals are pragmatic, and socialistic. It does not share the assumptions of Marx, or of the classical economists, or of the neo-liberal economists. Our Constitution tames power, and puts wealth under an egalitarian discipline. It is not difficult to see that wealth corrupts power, and power enjoys whoring with wealth. The correct perspective is to consider our problems under the discipline of our ‘Constitutional Socialism'. The ideal of ‘Social Justice' is the very heart of the matter as without it polity and governance both are unjust intrusion. But this socialist pursuit would be wholly futile unless we have a substantial democracy for the benefit of all, rather than a device for some lost souls to capture power somehow. But a socialist democracy requires distribution of power, as the concentration of power always leads to tyranny. With this objective our Constitution provides a directive to the State (Art. 40):

“The State shall take steps to organize village panchyats and endow them with such powers and authority as my be necessary to enable them to function as units of self-government”

But what is most worrisome in this phase of neo-liberalism is a systematic evasion of Art 40 on account of the government's lust for more and more power, which (and it is a devastating irony) is now being used for the promotion of the interests of the corporations and the High Net Worth Individuals.

The objective of our people's collective pursuit is not “greatest good for the greatest number”; bur the welfare of all. This perspective is now being shared to some extent by the welfare economists like Dr Amartya Sen; yet the vision of welfare, as we get in the Gita, and find in our Constitution, is most comprehensive and for the l okamangal of all. ‘Dinkar' had felicitously described in his epic Kurukshetra :

Can't there be peace, any peace ever,

Till people share not in equality what comes.

Mahatma Gandhi pleaded for the Trusteeship concept underscoring what the Gita had said: ‘acquisitive pursuit for property without considering others' demand is thieving only' Our Constitution was made to escape what bedeviled the western constitutions because of the segmental view of those who dominated in the framing of such constitutions. It is a disaster to view our constitutional problems through the prism of the Western political thinking and jurisprudence. Our Constitution, when all is said, is sui generis , it is par excellence.


Dimensions of our Constitutional socialism

It is essential to know the basic assumptions and principles of our constitutional socialism. It is not possible to examine all its dimensions within the constraints of this short leaf of the triplet. Yet this author has spelt out certain dimensions of our constitutional socialism with brevity and succinctness. The dimensions are broadly these:

[A] Philosophical dimension :

I. Driving force in human history is ‘Spirit' according to Hegel, but it is ‘Matter' according to Karl Marx, but for Marx ‘it is a matter …, not the wholly dehumanized matter of the atomists, hence, in effect, it turns out ‘really man's relation to matter, of which the most important part is his mode of production: in short economics [.Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy p. 750]. This is the philosophical foundation of the Hegelian dialectics utilized my Marx to interpret history. Our Constitution commits our polity to an egalitarian vision for everyone's welfare: it, thus, reflects our philosophical tradition. The seeming dichotomy of Prakriti and Purusha of the Samkhya system was synthesized by the Bhagavad-Geeta as the pervading unity. ‘It enunciates a third principle: Purusottam (the highest Being) or Isvara (God) [ The Cultural Heritage of India Vol. II p. 186]. In short, our ‘Constitutional Socialism is unique; in fact our Constitution is sui generis on many points, the most important being its egalitarian vision..

II.Hegel, Darwin and Marx believed in the inevitability of progress as a universal law, which made them impervious to ethical considerations. The norms set forth in the Preamble, the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles stress on the karma and kartavya both of the individuals who happen to be the members of our political community, and of the State represented by the government of the day.

[B] Political Dimension

III. As our Constitution had not been framed to promote class interests, and as it granted universal suffrage from its commencement itself, it reflected the ethos of our Struggle for Freedom in which our nation participated as a whole: the sacrifice made by the poor was surely more than that of others who had reasons to calculate their profits. Democracy is not just a system to set up a political structure which can be allowed to be captured by vested interests through art or craft; it is, in fact, a system to provide a mechanism to realize the welfare of all, without riding roughshod over the fair and legitimate interests of individuals whatever be the segments to which they belong.

IV.The Political Realm is not to be made subservient to the Economic Realm, where the Rule of Corporations and the Market ( Pax Mercatus ) prevails. The State, under our Constitution, cannot roll back its activities as that would be gross constitutional dereliction. Even the policy changes must conform to the constitutional policies, and our Constitution's principles and provisions

V.There must not be an opaque system, as darkness is never conducive to promote the ideas and the ideals of our Preamble, the Fundamental Right, and the Directive Principles.

VI.Our ‘Constitutional Socialism' is founded on the fundamental principle of our Constitution's supremacy, and subservience of all the organs of the State to the Constitution. This supremacy operates both in the domestic sphere, and at international plane.

[C] Social Dimension

VII. Our Constitution is committed to bring about a social revolution to change the unjust stratification of our society which trapped us over the centuries, but this objective cannot be realized if wealth and power get polarized in our country.

VIII. It is this over-arching egalitarian constitutional vision which conditions the content of such seminal concepts as ‘liberty, ‘equality', ‘fraternity', ‘dignity' ‘unity'….. Liberty cannot be reduced to a mere license to exploit and loot; equality is not equality amongst the high net worth individuals, forgetting those who make virtually the Third Estate. Fraternity and dignity cannot be achieved in plutocratic and oligarchic tyrannies of the vested interests

IX. ‘Social Justice' is the very purpose of our polity, and the very heart of our Constitution and this requires creation of conditions for all so that quality of life improves.

[D] Economic Dimension

X..The mission of our socio-economic management is the welfare of all under conditions of justice, social, economic, and political.

XI.Our constitutional socialism contemplates no class struggle: it believes in the welfare of all.

XII.Our constitutional socialism does not permit greedy acquisitiveness of capitalism, and believes in an equitable distribution of social resources so that even the so-called ‘last man' is not without the basic amenities for existence, and is not excluded from the conditions needed for dignity, and for the fruition of his natural faculties.

XIII.The Government is a trustee to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting a social order “in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all institutions of national life”.

XIV.The State must ensure that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to subserve the common good. Concentration of wealth is immoral as it is so never without exploitation, and corruption.

XVI..The State must ensure that the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment.

XVII.The natural resources should be managed wholly with egalitarian ideas to the exclusion of the commercial motives of the market economy.

XVIII.The species of property other than those mentioned at XII to XIV, which are primarily on account of individual inventiveness, should be under individual ownership as a reward for the inventor's creative genius; but none can be allowed to adopt extractive technique.

XIX.The standard for decision-making in our public spheres should be judged on the talisman given by Mahatma Gandhi, so that justice is done even to our ‘last man'.

XX.The State must ensure that the integrity of our society is not subverted by consumerism, and the deceit of the vested interests. The State must preserve our value system, education and health so that they are not degraded, polluted, or subverted under this neo-liberal craze generated by the high pressure advertisement.

XXI.To ensure that we can build our socialist society under the aspect of justice, we must work for peace so that our limited resources are not wasted for the benefit of capitalists, who need wars to sell their armaments, protect their extractive wealth, and to distract people from their loot, and misdemeanour.

XXII. Consumerism is sin till the last man receives just treatment. Human beings must not be treated as commodities for trade.

XXIII.As planning and market help economic management, these tools be used, but under the critical gaze and supervision of the State ensuring public accountability. The real question pertains to what sort of Market, and what sort of State (or government): and what sort of relationship and inter-actions develop inter se diverse segments of people.

XXIV.The State preserves the sovereign space of socio-economic management free from the imperialistic, crypto-imperialistic, and the neo-liberal interveners. When all is said, such things would require continuous assertions of our rights so that the demonic persons are purged of their acquisitive greed.

XXV. The government, which is no more than people's agent, must be under effective popular control and accountability; and the nation must not allow public opinion to be made captive, or to become the product of manufacture in anyone's factory whether in our country or outside. There must be a system to enforce continuous accountability of all the organs of the State so that none forgets that people would prefer creative destruction to unjust existence as less than humans. In fact, the government loses its relevance or credentials if it departs from our Constitutional Socialism.


Attitude towards Property

The Oriental philosophy, whether Hindu, Muslim, or the pristine Christianity, never considered Property the fruit of an individual's acquisitiveness. Social purpose was always most dominant, as the society looked down upon greed and selfishness. They considered that all property was God's, (or Nature's) gift for the welfare of all. The whole story (in the Srimad Bhagavad Mahapurana ) of Shyamantaka Mani (that most precious jewel which begot gold every day) is a powerful metaphoric presentation of the approved idea as to Property. Such a property could not be a matter of an individual's greed. Krishna advised that such a property, irrespective of the fact who acquired, and how he acquired it, should go to the State for promoting public weal. And in the Bhagavad-Gita Krishna expressed similar ideas [rendered in English vide]:

“Eating sacrificial remains,
The good are freed from all evils;
The wicked eat their own evil
Who cook food only for themselves.” Chap. III.13

“As the unwise ones act, attached,
O Descendant of Bharata,
So the wise should act, unattached,
For maintaining the world's welfare.” Chap. III.25

It is worthwhile to point out the ideas about Property which have come down us as part of our traditional consciousness. Our Society had never appreciated acquisitiveness. It can be illustrated by some apt references from the great books of our culture:

(a) The Srimad Bhagavad Purana tells the story of Dhenukasur who had asserted his monopoly over all the fruits and trees in the area he controlled. He prevented humans, birds and beasts alike from an access to the natural resources. Krishna fought with him, and destroyed him in order to make the social resources available for all.

(b) Krishna had resorted to a revolt, as Jesus had done against the Herodian establishment and the callous money-changers (the ancestors of the present-day bankers, the arch-priests of the neo-liberalism), against Indra and Kamsa who asserted their exploitative impeium over people.

(c) Krishna held in the Bhagavad-Gita that Property acquired merely for acquisitiveness and greed is clearly a sinister ‘THEFT' (Chap. III.12). [It reminds us of the French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon who had said: “Property is theft.”]

(d) The characteristic approach of our great society was expressed by great poet Surdass who said:

“Hungry belly cannot pray” [bhukhe bhajan na hohi Gopala].

Even God cannot be worshipped by a hungry man.

(e) It is narrated in the Bhagavad Mahapurana (Canto V. Chap. 56) that Satrjit acquired a Shyamantak precious stone which could beget a good quantity of gold. Krishna advised him that such a property should go the State for the benefit of all. He, like the present-day rabid capitalists, refused and ridiculed Krishna . But he could not keep that wealth as it was snatched from his brother while he was roaming in a forest. A canard was spread against Krishna that he had got that person killed to snatch that precious stone. Krishna saw to it that the precious stone was traced out. It was brought to the King's court, and Satrajit was called to face it. His soul was not so debased as of James Mill, so he was repentant. Krishna gave him back as a matter of trust for public weal. Perhaps, when Gandhi was asking the acquirers of property to treat Property a matter of public trust, he was stressing what Krisna had said. Property under trust is for the weal of all. The looters of public wealth are public enemies. Their greedy acquisitiveness would provide justification for people's wrath ( recalling Krishna's dharma-yudha , Mohammad's resort to sword, Jesus' wrath against the Herodian establishment and the exploitative pursuits of the money-changers of Jerusalem, and Mahatma's stern warning to the neo-liberalists and others of the same feathers that if acquisitiveness and greed become the sole motivating force of the manipulators and the usurpers of Property, then “ ignorant, famishing millions will plunge the country and which, not even the armed force, that a powerful Government can bring into play, can avert.” [ Young India 5. 12. 1928 p. 396] ). What Mahatma Gandhi had said deserves to be read and re-read till wisdom dawns on all.

The attitudes towards property are determined by the idea of the Welfare State which was clear to all who had known the concept of lokasangrham explained in the Bhagavad-Gita : to cite one (Ch. III.20) of the many slokas :

Lokasamgraham eva pi

Sampasyan kartum arhasi

[“Thou shouldst do works also with a view to the maintenance of the world”]

Loka sangraham is explained by V.S.Apte, in his A Sanskrit-English Dictionary , to mean ‘the welfare of the world', and for the ‘propitiation of mankind'. It is defined by Acharya Rama Chandra Verma in his Manaka Hindi Kosh thus: “1. Sab longo ko prassana rakhkar unhe apne sath milaye rakhna. 2. Sansar ke sabhi longo ka kalyan ya mangalka dhyan rakhna. ” Swami Gambhrananda, in his annotation of Madhusudana Saraswati's Bhagavad-Gita says: “ Lokasangraha means making people understand their own duties and preventing them from taking the wrong path.” (at p. 237). - Links on Shivakantjha - Links on Shivakantjha

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