Amidst all raves and rants, slumber and celebrations, whining and winnings for the last few last few days I was torn apart into two parts to what to write about the Republic Day. Topic was clear, but reasons weren’t.
To celebrate the day by poetic travail with patriotic piousness would be amount to lying to my own beliefs and ideals. And to rip apart into small shreds this imperfect democracy would tantamount to treachery as this very imperfection has surprisingly stood the test of time. Adding on to this conundrum is a book written over 60 years ago, amended more than 100 times, fought over ever since it came into being and still in spite of all still retaining its basic structure guaranteeing the integrity and continuity of the Republic.
In order to get over this confusion, I resorted to read as many articles I can about Republic day; sadly none fit the bill and provided the missing block. Most of them either written by commentators, political scientists, critics, professors or plain journalists either criticized the shortcomings of this imperfect democracy or plainly or rather vulgarly flaunted the naked patriotism. Everyone talked about the Republic, hardly anyone wrote about the book and its continuity. There were talks about corruption, nepotism, politics, but not Constitution. For a citizen while talking about the nation, the problems and its cleavages are the first thing noticeable, but the book which provides for the panacea is not talked about. I am not saying that the Constitution is the panacea, but it provides for the process of panacea.
So what is Constitution? A simple Wikipedia search will put the meaning in this way:
“A Constitution is a set of rules for government—often codified as a written document—that enumerates the powers and functions of a political entity. In the case of countries, this term refers specifically to a national constitution defining the fundamental political principles, and establishing the structure, procedures, powers and duties, of a government. By limiting the government's own reach, most Constitutions guarantee certain rights to the people. The term constitution can be applied to any overall law that defines the functioning of a government, including several historical constitutions that existed before the development of modern national constitutions.”
Therefore it can be safely said that Constitution is a set of rules which determines the conduct of a nation, its government and its people. It put limits to the powers enjoyed by the government and also determines the scope of sovereignty of a nation state. And more than that it guarantees its people, who bestow it upon themselves, that they have certain rights which cannot be taken from them.
Indian Constitution is one of the longest in world, having approximately 395 articles divided into 22 Parts and 12 schedules. It took two years eleven months and eighteen days to draft and was adopted by Constituent Assembly (not parliament) on November 26, 1949. It became applicable on January 26, 1950. The date of applicability was mere symbolic as it is on January 26, 1930 Congress demanded Purna Swaraj or complete independence.
Just like the country itself, the constitution itself is mish-mash of various other constitutions across the world subjected to Indian conditions intelligently worded and subjected to judicial interpretations. Structure of the Constitution is derived from Government of India Act, 1935, Fundamental Rights is inspired from American Bill of Rights enshrined in American Constitution, Directive Principles of State policy is from Irish Constitution, principle of Cabinet Government and relations between Executive and legislature is largely drawn upon British common law (there is no written constitution is Britain), Union-State relation is similar to that of Canadian Constitution and parts regarding trade, commerce and intercourse is inspired form Australian Constitution.
The Constitution operates as a fundamental law. The government organs owe their origin to the Constitution and derive their authority from, and discharge their responsibilities within the framework of the Constitution. Constitution is not to be construed as a mere law, but as the machinery by which laws are made. A Constitution is a living and organic thing which, of all instruments has the greatest claims to be construed broadly and liberally. Any change or amendment in the Constitution can be only done within the ambit of the Constitution itself, without any interference with the basic structure of Constitution. Such powers the Constitution gives to it organs that any change by one organ to detriment of other organ can be rendered useless by the other organ.
The pervasiveness and vastness of the Indian Constitution is such that the final solution to every separatist cause in this vast country with multiple grievances has fallen within the purview of the Constitution. The social cleavages, the wounds in name of every –ism had it solution within the Constitution itself. Hadn’t this being intelligently worded, rigorously parsed, and morally universalistic guidebook of sheer class, India would likely have Balkanized into thousands of splinters by now. But it isn’t, and its credit lies not only to this book but also to its drafters whose foresight helped in management of the largest democracy of the world.
B.R. Ambedkar is known as the father of Indian Constitution, rightly so, but he was not the only one, there were many others. It composed from apart from leaders like JL Nehru, Dr. SP Mookherjee, Sardar Patel, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, people like BN Rau an eminent Jurist, SM Saadullah Muslim League leader and Premier of Assam, Dr. Sachchidananda Sinha, MA Ayyangar first Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha, NG Ayyangar, AK Ayyar thrice Advocate General of Madras, G Durgabai a criminal lawyer and feminist, TT Krishnaswami, HC Mookerjee, KM Munshi founder of Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan, NM Rau from Orissa, PB Sitaramyya and many others who participated in the debates, gave suggestions, protested and asked questions. It is the collective foresight of these individuals that today we have a nation that in spite of problems is still united, still not every constituent of this union is taking up arms against another constituent, still courts are moved whenever there is a problem.
If you have read the preamble of the Constitution it goes like this:
WE THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and opportunity;
And to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;
IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.
Read it carefully, it says WE give it to ourselves this Constitution to secure US of JUSTICE, LIBERTY, EQUALITY and FRATERNITY. On each of this word revolutions happened, on each of these words theses are being written and these we give it to ourselves and forget.
Today, almost all of us complaint that we failed to secure all of these, today corruption is rampant, today India is lying low in HDI, today politicians have eaten into the very fabric of this nation, our laws are weak, true. But ask yourselves have we forgotten what we gave to ourselves.
Somewhere I read we have managed to protect the process of democracy but have failed to do justice to its spirit, I wish I could disagree. Our laws our constitution hasn’t failed us, but we have failed it.
Ask yourself how you celebrated the Republic Day? The answer would be in this form:
“Happy Republic Day to you, well I watched the parade, listened to patriotic songs, watched patriotic music, waved flag, felt great about the country blah-blah”
Now I ask this one, on a bright sunny day when temperature touched forty degree centigrade did you went to the polling booth located at 10 minutes walk from your home to exercise your franchise, or did you just chose to give your feet a rest during this one day. At any day you called your fellow countrymen with a slang or abuse based purely on his or her racial feature, categorizing him or her as a foreigner. At any time, as an employer, you rejected a person just because he belongs to certain caste or tribe. At any time you paid a bribe you thought you are doing the right thing so that thing could be easy. At any time you flaunted about the contacts you have. If yes in most of the cases, then take my sympathies, but the truth is you haven’t celebrated the Republic Day.
It is not just the show of patriotism, cherishing the each and every moment of it. It is not the parade, but the ballot. It is not waving but asking question. It is not just about chest thumbing, but of being accountable.
Till now, it was the foresight of the founders which have steered us from all the trouble, but from here it will be our foresight to take us from here to where we wish to go.This march of the Republic is still incomplete. The way is there, so there is means, but the person marching is in tatters. So pick yourself up and march. Because undoing it would just be lying to ourselves, after all we gave ourselves this constitution.
© Tarun Mitra
1. Constitution of India with selective comments by PM Bakshi
2. Goodyear India V. State of Haryana, AIR 1990 SC 781:(1990) 2 SCC 71, paragraph 17
3. Minerva Mills Ltd V. Union of India, AIR 1980 SC 1789:(1980) 2 SCC 591
4. Keshavananda Bharati V. State of Kerala, AIR 1973 SC 1461: (1973) 4 SCC 225: 1973 Supp SCR I
9. Mint, Delhi Edition, January 26,2010
10. Guidebook of Nation, Sreeram Chaulia, Financial Express, January 26, 2010