Dr Jas Simran Singh Kehal
India observes its Constitution Day this Sunday, 26th of November, as it was on this day in 1949 the constituent assembly adopted the constitution.
The idea of a constituent assembly for India was proposed in 1934 by M N Roy, a communist and an international revolutionary and adopted by Indian National Congress in 1935. In 1940, the British made a proposal termed as August offer which among other offers, recognized Indians’ right to frame their own constitution, In return, they expected Indians to co operate them in World War II.
Citing complexities in India, British wanted to write the constitution of India before they left but Indians resisted up till independence. On 29th August 1947, a committee was appointed to draft the constitution of India. It had nearly 300 representatives, partly elected and partly selected from all sections of society and chaired by Dr B R Ambedkar, the first Law Minister of India, a jurist, an economist and a social reformer. He is also known as father of Indian constitution. Covering 166 days, it took assembly 2 years, 11 months and 18 days to debate and enact the constitution. Constitution of Japan was written by 24 Americans with the help a female interpreter in just 7 days. It took our neighboring country of Pakistan about 25 years to draft and enact their constitution.
Our constitution was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 26th November 1949. With about 145000 words, 395 articles, 22 parts and 12 schedules, it was the world’s longest constitution. In contrast, the American constitution with 4400 words was one of the shortest constitutions in the world. Original cost of drafting our constitution was about Rupees one crore at that time. It was originally handwritten in flowing italic style in the best calligraphic tradition of our country by Prem Bihari Narain Raizada of Delhi. Each page was beautified and decorated by artists from Shantiniketan.
The Indian constitution was also known as a “Bag of Borrowing” with bits of constitution from all over the world. Fundamental Rights and The Preamble came from United States of America with startling resemblance of “We the People”. Liberty, Fraternity and Equality from French constitution, socio economic aspects and Directive Principles from Ireland, five year plans from USSR, idea of the Supreme Court from Japan, concept of Emergency from Germany and the parliamentary system of democracy was largely influenced by the Great Britain.
In his speech to the constituent assembly while presenting the constitution, Dr. B R Ambedkar gave three warnings which are relevant even today. The first was to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving social and economic objectives. Once the constitution came to effect, bloody methods of revolution like civil disobedience, non cooperation and satyagraha which he termed as grammar of anarchy were to be abandoned. The second thing was not to lay our liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with power which enables him to subvert their institutions. This caution was given by John Stuart Mill to all who were interested in maintaining democracy. In politics, Bhakti or hero worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship. The third thing was not to be content with mere political democracy but make social democracy as well. At last Dr Ambedkar emphasized that the success or failure of any constitution depends upon the citizens and their political parties who implement the constitution.
It was raining heavily outside the parliament, the day constitution was signed and many considered it as a good omen. About 284 members of the constituent assembly had signed the document on January 24, 1950. The constitution came into effect on 26th January as it was anniversary of “Purn Swaraj day”. On this day in 1930, the Indian National Congress hoisted the Indian National flag for the first time and started to fight for complete independence.
On October 12, 2015, PM Narendra Modi, to commemorate 125th birth anniversary of Dr B R Ambedkar, declared 26th November as Constitution Day of India, also known as Samvidhan Divas. Earlier, this day was known as Law day, after a resolution passed by the Supreme Court bar association in 1979. On this day, school children are to be taught about constitution and Dr. B R Ambedkar. Activities to be undertaken include reading out The Preamble, essay competitions and quizzes to be organized on the theme of Indian constitution and a period to be devoted for a talk on the salient features of the constitution of India and its making at the school level. Mock parliament sessions and debates on the Indian constitution are to be held at the college level. Run for Equality are to be conducted by department of sports.
Success of Indian constitution, despite our country being diverse in regions, religions, languages, cultures, practices and many other aspects is an example for whole of the world to follow. This indeed is a well drafted document, which is ‘of the people, for the people and by the people’ and needs to be followed in letter and spirit.
Dr Jas Simran Singh Kehal, MS (ORTHO), is an Orthopaedics Surgeon doing his Masters in Journalism and Mass Communication from Punjabi University, Patiala. He can be contacted at Kehal Trauma Centre, Nangal Dam, Punjab.