On 24th November 1948, B.H. Khardekar stood up in the Constituent Assembly to speak for the first time. He confessed he was nervous, and told members that he had never spoken before in any Assembly nor had he participated in any school or college debate. What made Khardekar speak up after having remained silent for two years since the Assembly began its drafting work on 9 December 1946?
The Assembly was debating a proposal to include a provision in the Constitution’s non-legally binding Directive Principles of State Policy that urged the State to embrace prohibition. It appeared that the majority of members were in support of this proposal and the Assembly was going to formally accept it. Khardekar hoped to stop this.
He began by addressing arguments in support of the proposal. He reminded members that prohibition in the United States and the Madras Province, which were being touted as successes, had actually failed. To those who claimed that Gandhi had wanted prohibition, Khardekar argued that the Assembly should pay importance to the ‘essence’ of Gandhian ideas like ‘love, toleration...non-violence, search for truth’ and not to the ‘outward trappings of Gandhianism’ which included things like Khaddar and prohibition.
In the middle of his speech, Khardekar pivoted from responding to arguments to making an impassioned case in favour of alcohol.
He paraphrased what Harold Laski, the famous British political theorist had said in Liberty in the Modern State - ‘prohibition goes against the very grain of personal liberty’. Khardekar felt that ‘prohibition, inhibitions, suppressions’ would not allow for the full development of personality. The Greeks, he argued, laid the foundations of science and philosophy – they did not have any taboos, suppressions and inhibitions.
He told the members that the ‘club life’ would come to end. Anticipating accusations of peddling the pleasures and lifestyles of the rich, Khardekar asked members to think of millions of mill workers who, after working very hard, enjoyed some toddy in the evening from which they got some joy. ‘Why should you deprive him of that?’, asked Khardekar. ‘...men like Dr. Ambedkar [get] great solace in reading', he continued, 'there are others who like to read novels and enjoy them. There are those who like to play the piano and there are some who would like to have a glass of wine or beer.'
He accused Assembly members of trying to enact prohibition without being aware of any empirical data. For e.g. how many people actually drink alcohol in the country? He told prohibition supporters that they were ‘ignorant of a very important fact that you do not know the essential difference between drinkers and drunkards’. Kharedkar wagered that the number of drunkards was minuscule and this could not be a justification for prohibition.
Towards the end of his speech, Khardekar turned his attention towards the Congress Party. He knew that the push for prohibition by the Congress Party affiliated Assembly members, who enjoyed a dominant majority, was really a continuation of previously stated Congress policy. In a parting shot to the Congress establishment, Khardekar, quoting an editor of the Times of India said ‘there are things other than liquor that go to the head and power is one. Let no[t] the majority party suffer from it’.
- Debate Summary: Article 47
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