Months before India adopted the Constitution, BR Ambedkar, its chief architect, was a bundle of anxieties. He stood at the rocking cradle of India’s freedom movement and knew, more personally than other founding members, that India would be born with serious congenital defects. Ours was a society based on meticulously graded inequality, giving itself a constitution that said we were all equal. But we knew, not all were equal.
In November 1949, the final draft of the Constitution was ready. India was to be a Republic in two months. Ambedkar knew the Constitution, as progressive as it was, was only as good as the men trusted to uphold it. “She once lost the independence she had. Will she lose it a second time?” Ambedkar said, as he delivered one of his greatest speeches, “The Grammar of Anarchy,” in the central hall of the Parliament, on 25 November. The Constitution was formally adopted the next day, with Ambedkar wondering if India had the stomach to digest the independence she was about to get.
Ambedkar wrote “The Grammar of Anarchy” at a truly anarchical time in India’s history—between 1947 and 1950, when India was independent but did not yet have a constitution. There were no rules any longer. The text is a brilliant and meticulous prescription to avoid exactly where India is right now: in a state of utter chaos, condemned to be free, with the political parties in power assuming that the chief purpose of power is to oppress everyone from behind large desks in their luxurious, tax-payer funded offices where everyone has learnt to use the language of democracy to subvert it.