New Delhi: As the country reels under the onslaught of the Covid-19 outbreak, there is much uncertainty about what post-coronavirus India will look like.
The pandemic, however, has underscored the countless existing inequalities of modern India. The mass exodus of migrant workers from cities, for one, sparked a debate about the need for a more inclusive socio-economic order.
Can a study of the preambular values of socialism and fraternity help India pick up the pieces after the pandemic?
Aakash Singh Rathore, political philosopher and author of the recently released book Ambedkar's Preamble: A Secret History of the Constitution of India, says that all progressive persons, whether from the Left, the Gandhian camp, and even reasonable voices from the Right, will need to come together in the post-Covid world.
In an interview with News18.com, Rathore talks about what an Ambedkarite vision for a post-pandemic India would look like.
Q. What lessons from Dr Ambedkar's life and works can India revisit to deal with the Covid-19 crisis?
A. Dr Ambedkar's social and political movements from the early days were always oriented toward securing justice for those who were marginalised, excluded, left out from consideration.
The Covid-19 crisis has been largely attended to in India by fixating on the middle classes, the balconied-class (a new social-identifier that has emerged in this crisis), with scarcely a word to be directed at the socially disadvantaged.
Dr Ambedkar's essential pursuit of equal treatment for all citizens before the law, equality of status and of opportunity, now needs to be envisioned in terms of equal treatment during crisis, because the crisis has instead become a new opportunity for treating Indians profoundly unequally, on the basis of class and caste, vocation, not to mention region, religion, gender, and other identifiers.
Q. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed many caste and class inequalities. Is India living up to the constitutional principles of ‘socialism’ and ‘fraternity’ enshrined in the Preamble?
A. Dr Ambedkar's oft-articulated concern during the drafting of the Constitution was how to ensure social democracy and economic democracy, in addition to political democracy.
The pandemic has exposed very clearly the 'life of contradictions', as Dr Ambedkar had put it, that we citizens of India live, where political liberty is undermined by social and economic inequality.
But even worse, the very political liberty itself is under new threat, as governments in India and around the world leverage the pandemic to increase surveillance, to pass new legislation or enforce unpopular legislation knowing that protest is impossible, and to suspend habeus corpus and suppress other rights, given that press attention is limited and citizen response ruled out.
Q. Gandhians, the Right, and the Left have spoken about how they feel a post-corona society should look like. What would be an Ambedkarite vision of a post-pandemic India?
A. The Ambedkarite vision is distilled into a handful of preambular concepts, such as justice, liberty, equality, fraternity, and dignity. We in a post-Covid India must struggle to pursue these just as we did in pre-Covid India, except that the battle will now be even more difficult than before.
The welfare state, already teetering pre-Covid, will now be dismantled using the economic effects of the crisis as a justification. Income inequality will radically increase, as the state relinquishes more and more responsibility to ensure social and economic democracy.
The security threat that arises from erosion of the welfare state in the midst of wide-scale poverty can be handled by the curtailment of political democracy, the further erosion of rights – forget the rights to education, healthcare, work, which have already been jettisoned, we are about to also lose basic rights of privacy, liberty, expression, religious practice, and so on.
I think that all progressive persons, whether from the Left, the Gandhian camp, and even reasonable voices from the Right, will need to join together in the post-Covid world to rescue democracy from the merciless leviathan that is the modern state.
Q. Your book recounts the study and deliberations made to develop the constitutional values of the Preamble. Besides Indira Gandhi's addition, there have been other attempts to alter the Preamble, some very recent. Do you think the Preamble will undergo more changes in the years to come?
A. The basic structure doctrine of the Supreme Court would seem to preclude attempts to alter the Preamble in a way that sought to vitiate it.
However, we are witnessing an era of dizzyingly swift constitutional amendments, and it appears that this is in line with an overarching attempt to revisit the ideas of India that have been dominant over the last 70 years since the enactment of the Preamble and its principles on January 26, 1950.
Instead of championing the values of the Preamble, we are presently reopening the wounds of Partition. If the ruling parties continue to pursue this revisionist agenda, then we may certainly soon see attempts to alter the Preamble.