South Asia

Organized Panel Session

4 - Separating the Nation from the State: Revisiting B.R. Ambedkar’s Constitutional Thoughts (1940-1950)

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Jackson, Mezzanine Level

In the annals of Indian constitutional history, Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956) occupies a central role as one of the framers and is often referred to as the ‘father’ of the Indian constitution. Such an epithet is indeed justified, considering that Ambedkar served as the chairman of the drafting committee, and as such piloted the bulk of the constitution through its rigorous debates in the constituent assembly (the body that set itself the task of framing independent India’s constitution). However, within such nationalist renderings of Ambedkar’s role in the constitution, what is often missed is his critique of nationalism that underlined much of his constitutional thought. This paper revisits three textual moments, namely his arguments for Pakistan published as Pakistan or Partition of India (1940), the drafts he prepared for the constituent assembly in 1946 and his interventions during the debating of the constitution (1946-1950), to reconstruct his constitutionalism. By recovering Ambedkar’s constitutional critique, one can fruitfully understand the conflict that lay at the heart of the founding of the postcolonial republic, namely that nationalism in whose name a diverse body of people were meant to come together, itself became a critical problem at the moment of framing the Indian constitution, thus illustrating the indelible tensions between the project of constitutionalism and that of nationalism.

Arvind Elangovan

Wright State University, Ohio

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4 - Separating the Nation from the State: Revisiting B.R. Ambedkar’s Constitutional Thoughts (1940-1950)



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