Fraternity: Constitutional Norm and Human Need – Rajmohan Gandhi


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There’s no dearth of references to a sense of kinship beyond one’s family or tribe in ancient Indian texts. We know from anecdotes in the Ramayana and Mahabharata, the Upanishads and epigraphic sources like Ashoka’s 12th Major Rock Edict, that our ancestors were no strangers to an expansive understanding of fraternity. Therefore, although the earliest adoption of fraternity as state motto happened in 18th-century France, the West cannot claim to have taught fraternity to India. Even so, it took our freedom struggle and the writing of the Constitution for it to become an integral value governing our lives.

While the idea of fraternity was implicit in the Motilal Nehru Constitutional Draft of 1928 and the 1931 Karachi Resolution of the Indian National Congress, the National Movement’s commitment to it was questioned by leaders like Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar because the Movement appeared to prioritize the anti-colonial struggle over social reform to eliminate caste inequality. Dr Ambedkar, who had suffered caste oppression, knew that there couldn’t be a democratic future if caste wasn’t done away with. However, his antagonism with Mahatma Gandhi, the pre-eminent leader of the National Movement, is often amplified. This monograph argues, instead, that not only did both hold each other in high regard, it was due to Ambedkar’s steadfast opposition to caste that, through Gandhi, modern Indian society learnt to take its first steps towards embodying fraternity, even as it fought the Raj.

Rajmohan Gandhi, one of India’s leading and most admired thinkers, moves easily from ancient India to modern Europe to an intimate portrait of the epic face-off between Gandhi and Ambedkar which led to the Poona Pact of 1932. This engaging monograph should be read by everyone invested in upholding the constitutional norm of fraternity in our increasingly divided country.


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