The Indian constitution is considered a revolutionary document, but it was never clear, what this revolution was about. This question becomes important in a time when all that threatens the democratic culture of India, also swear by the constitution. Recent farmer and NRC protests show that the bureaucracy and government remain oppressive and continue to use colonial grammar and tools for understanding dissent and suppressing it. If the colonial grammar and techniques of ruling did not change even under our constitution, then what did the Constitution achieve for political liberty?
Ambedkar famously argued in the constituent assembly that India is entering an era of political equality but social and economic inequality. Ambedkar, driven by his experience of being a Dalit, kept the question of socio-economic equality at the forefront and probably did not think deeply about the idea of political liberty. The fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution were considered sufficient to ensure political liberty but our political history shows that it is not. The idea of political liberty has been twisted and violated under the very watch of the institutions supposed to ensure it, and sometimes even actively facilitating it.
Despite all this, our belief in constitution remains intact, not because of its merits but because we believe in the power of politics. The fetish of elections and the electoral majority being the justification for everything stems from this belief. Even when we admit that political liberty is unduly curtailed we shift the blame to an individual or an institution, but seldom point the finger to the constitution which also failed. The whole point of any constitution is to create a system of checks and balances against the abuse of power.
The Indian constitution, above all, was an experiment in creating a just social order using the law. Ambedkar as well as Gandhi understood the limitations of laws and politics to bring social change and they were right in their apprehension. It can create an illusion of justice but can't deliver real justice. SC/ST prevention acts could not annihilate the caste system or the Dowry prohibition act has not abolished the Dowry system. The limitation of law and politics does not emerge from the low state capacity but because a just social order can be created only when there is a broad consensus in the society. A polity which derives its legitimacy not from its ability to build social consensus but from electoral majorities is not democratic in substance but only in form.
Ambedkar's rejection of social movements as a legitimate political tool in the constitutional era of Indian politics laid the foundation for a politics in which the electoral process becomes the only legitimate political process. Even social movements of all ideological hues and colours, whether the Naxalbari movement or Bamcef movement in the 80s, Ram Janmbhoomi in 90s or Anna Hazare Movement in the early part of last decade, all of them ultimately resort to electoral politics for achieving their goals. There is broad consensus in India that the only legitimate political process is the electoral process and this consensus has allowed the political parties and governments to discredit the politics of social movements. The government's response to recent movements like NRC and farmer's movement clearly indicates the contempt political class has for social movements. There is an urgent need to challenge the monopoly of political parties and governments over the political process and the first step is to identify the limitation of the constitution as a moral fulcrum of the society. There is a need to question the cult of the constitution and in the process identify social movements as legitimate expressions of being political.