Dr Jas Simran Kehal
The constitution is apparently revered but it is not celebrated- Stephen M. Griffin.
Constitution is not a mere lawyer’s document, it is a vehicle of life, and its spirit is always the spirit of age. ― Dr B R Ambedkar.
The strength of the Constitution lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it. Only if every single citizen feels duty bound to do his share in this defence are the constitutional rights secure.― Albert Einstein.
The greatest threat to our Constitution is our own ignorance of it.― Jacob F. Roecker.
Timeline and stages of drafting the Indian constitution
The Constituent Assembly formally began the task of framing the Constitution of India on 13th December, 1946.
Subsequently, a number of committees were formed to look into and report on various aspects of the Constitution.
-Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights and Minority Rights
-Sub-Committee on Fundamental Rights
-Sub-Committee on Minority Rights
-Union Powers Committee,
-Union Constitution Committee.
-Provincial Constitution Committee.
These debates came to a close on the 30th of August 1947.
B.N Rau, the Constitutional Advisor to the Assembly, on the basis of the reports of these various subcommittees and discussions in the Constituent Assembly prepared a Draft Constitution in October 1947.
The Drafting Committee had seven members: Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar, N. Gopalaswami; B.R. Ambedkar, K.M Munshi, Mohammad Saadulla, B.L. Mitter and D.P. Khaitan. At its first meeting on 30th August 1947, the Drafting Committee elected Dr. B.R Ambedkar as its Chairman.
The Drafting Committee began to scrutinize the Draft Constitution prepared by the Constitutional Advisor, along with other notes, reports and memoranda on October 27th, 1947.
The Drafting Committee finally submitted its Draft Constitution to the President of the Assembly on the 21st of February 1948.
The Draft Constitution was presented to the Constituent Assembly on 4 November 1948 by Drafting Committee Chairman Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. The Constituent Assembly proceeded to take up, clause by clause, every Article of the Draft Constitution for debate.
The most crucial and voluminous debates of the Constituent Assembly took place at this stage. These debates would go on till the 17 October 1949.
The revised Draft Constitution was submitted to the President of the Constituent Assembly on 3 November 1949, and then introduced in the Assembly on the 14 November 1949.
On the 26 November 1949, the third reading came to an end with the Constituent Assembly voting for the motion that Dr. Ambedkar had proposed in the previous stage.
The final Constitution was then signed by members of the Constituent Assembly on 24 January 1950 and came into effect on 26 January, 1950.
Here are selected excerpts from constituent assembly debates which are self-explanatory and give an overview of the foreknowledge of the drafters of our constitution.
Chief Architect of the Indian constitution
Mr. President, Sir, I am one of those in the House who have listened to Dr. Ambedkar very carefully. I am aware of the amount of work and enthusiasm that he has brought to bear on the work of drafting this Constitution. The House is perhaps aware that of the seven members nominated by you, one had resigned from the House and was replaced. One died and was not replaced. One was away in America and his place was not filled up and another person was engaged in State affairs, and there was a void to that extent. One or two people were far away from Delhi and perhaps reasons of health did not permit them to attend. So it happened ultimately that the burden of drafting this constitution fell on Dr. Ambedkar and I have no doubt that we are grateful to him for having achieved this task in a manner which is undoubtedly commendable.
Time taken to draft Indian Constitution
In its final form, the Draft Constitution contains 395 articles and 8 Schedules. The total number of amendments to the Draft Constitution tabled was approximately 7,635.
I mention these facts because at one stage it was being said that the Assembly had taken too long a time to finish its work, that it was going on leisurely and wasting public money. It was said to be a case of Nero fiddling while Rome was burning. Is there any justification for this complaint? Let us note the time consumed by Constituent Assemblies in other countries appointed for framing their Constitutions.
To take a few illustrations, the American Convention met on May 25th, 1787 and completed its work on September 17, 1787 i.e., within four months.
The Constitutional Convention of Canada met on the 10th October 1864 and the Constitution was passed into law in March 1867 involving a period of two years and five months.
The Australian Constitutional Convention assembled in March 1891 and the Constitution became law on the 9th July 1900, consuming a period of nine years.The South African Convention met in October, 1908 and the Constitution became law on the 20th September 1909 involving one year labour.
It is true that we have taken more time than what the American or South African Conventions did. But we have not taken more time than the Canadian Convention and much less than the Australian Convention. In making comparisons on the basis of time consumed, two things must be remembered. One is that the Constitutions of America, Canada, South Africa and Australia are much smaller than ours. Our Constitution as I said contains 395 articles while the American has just seven articles, the first four of which are divided into sections which total up to 21, the Canadian has 147, Australian 128 and South African 153 sections.
The second thing to be remembered is that the makers of the Constitutions of America, Canada, Australia and South Africa did not have to face the problem of amendments. They were passed as moved. On the other hand, this Constituent Assembly had to deal with as many as 2,473 amendments. Having regard to these facts the charge of dilatoriness seems to me quite unfounded and this Assembly may well congratulate itself for having accomplished so formidable a task in so short a time.
WHAT TYPE OF CONSTITUTION?
A student of constitutional law, if a copy of a Constitution is placed in his hands, is sure to ask two questions. Firstly, what is the form of Government that is envisaged in the Constitution; and secondly what is the form of the Constitution. For these are the two crucial matters which every Constitution has to deal with.
The debates in the Provincial Assemblies give me courage to say that the Constitution as settled by the Drafting Committee is good enough to make in this country a start with. I feel that it is workable, it is flexible and it is strong enough to hold the country together both in peace time and in war time.
Indeed, if I may say so, if things go wrong under the new Constitution. The reason will not be that we had a bad Constitution. What we will have to say is, that Man was vile.
I feel, however good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot. However bad a Constitution may be, it may turn out to be good if those who are called to work it, happen to be a good lot.
The working of a Constitution does not depend wholly upon the nature of the Constitution. The Constitution can provide only the organs of State such as the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary.
The factors on which the working of those organs of the State depends are the people and the political parties they will set up as their instruments to carry out their wishes and their politics. Who can say how the people of India and their purposes or will they prefer revolutionary methods of achieving them?
Dr AMBEDKAR’S APPREHENSIONS
My mind is so full of the future of our country that I feel I ought to take this occasion to give expression to some of my reflections thereon.
On 26th January 1950, India will be an independent country. What would happen to her independence? Will she maintain her independence or will she lose it again? This is the first thought that comes to my mind. It is not that India was never an independent country. The point is that she once lost the independence she had. Will she lose it a second time?
What perturbs me greatly is the fact that not only India has once before lost her independence, but she lost it by the infidelity and treachery of some of her own people.
Will history repeat itself? It is this thought which fills me with anxiety. This anxiety is deepened by the realization of the fact that in addition to our old enemies in the form of castes and creeds we are going to have many political parties with diverse and opposing political creeds.
Will Indians place the country above their creed or will they place creed above country? I do not know.
But this much is certain that if the parties place creed above country, our independence will be put in jeopardy a second time and probably be lost for ever. This eventuality we must all resolutely guard against. We must be determined to defend our independence with the last drop of our blood.
On the 26th of January 1950, India would be a democratic country in the sense that India from that day would have a government of the people, by the people and for the people. The same thought comes to my mind. What would happen to her democratic Constitution? Will she be able to maintain it or will she lose it again. This is the second thought that comes to my mind and makes me as anxious as the first.
It is quite possible in a country like India – where democracy from its long disuse must be regarded as something quite new – there is danger of democracy giving place to dictatorship.
It is quite possible for this new born democracy to retain its form but give place to dictatorship in fact. If there is a landslide, the danger of the second possibility becoming actuality is much greater.
Dr AMBEDKAR’S SUGGESTIONS
If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, what must we do?
The first thing in my judgment we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives. It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha. Where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for these unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.
The second thing we must do is to observe the caution which John Stuart Mill has given to all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, not “to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with powers which enable him to subvert their institutions”.
This caution is far more necessary in the case of India than in the case of any other country. For in India, Bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world.
Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.
The third thing we must do is not to be content with mere political democracy. We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well. Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy. What does social democracy mean? It means a way of life which recognizes liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life. These principles of liberty, equality and fraternity are not to be treated as separate items in a trinity. They form a union of trinity in the sense that to divorce one from the other is to defeat the very purpose of democracy.
We must begin by acknowledging the fact that there is complete absence of two things in Indian Society. One of these is equality. On the social plane, we have in India a society based on the principle of graded inequality which elevation for some and degradation for others. On the economic plane, we have a society in which there are some who have immense wealth as against many who live in abject poverty.
On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value.
How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions?
How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life?
If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril.We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which is Assembly has to laboriously built up.
CASTE AS ANTI-NATIONAL
I remember the days when politically-minded Indians, resented the expression “the people of India”. They preferred the expression “the Indian nation.” I am of opinion that in believing that we are a nation, we are cherishing a great delusion.
How can people divided into several thousands of castes be a nation? The sooner we realize that we are not as yet a nation in the social and psychological sense of the world, the better for us. For then only we shall realize the necessity of becoming a nation and seriously think of ways and means of realizing the goal.
In India there are castes. The castes are anti-national.
In the first place, because they bring about separation in social life.
They are anti-national also because they generate jealousy and antipathy between caste and caste.
But we must overcome all these difficulties if we wish to become a nation in reality. Without fraternity, equality and liberty will be no deeper than coats of paint.
HINDU MODEL OR A MODERN SOCIETY?
Another criticism against the Draft Constitution is that no part of it represents the ancient polity of India. It is said that the new Constitution should have been drafted on the ancient Hindu model of a State and that instead of incorporating Western theories the new Constitution should have been raised and built upon village Panchayats and District Panchayats.
Such is the part the village communities have played in the history of their country. What pride can one feel in them? That they have survived through all vicissitudes may be a fact. But mere survival has no value. The question is on what plane they have survived. Surely on a low, on a selfish level.
I hold that these village republics have been the ruination of India. What is the village but a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow-mindedness and communalism? I am glad that the Draft Constitution has discarded the village and adopted the individual as its unit.
The Draft Constitution is also criticized because of the safeguards it provides for minorities. I have no doubt that the Constituent Assembly has done wisely in providing such safeguards for minorities as it has done.
In this country both the minorities and the majorities have followed a wrong path. It is wrong for the majority to deny the existence of minorities. It is equally wrong for the minorities to perpetuate themselves.
A solution must be found which will serve a double purpose. It must recognize the existence of the minorities to start with. It must also be such that it will enable majorities and minorities to merge someday into one.
To diehards who have developed a kind of fanaticism against minority protection I would like to say two things. One is that minorities are an explosive force which, if it erupts, can blow up the whole fabric of the State. The other is that the minorities in India have agreed to place their existence in the hands of the majority.
No minority in India has taken self -rule stand. They have loyally accepted the rule of the majority which is basically a communal majority and not a political majority.
It is for the majority to realize its duty not to discriminate against minorities. Whether the minorities will continue or will vanish must depend upon this habit of the majority. The moment the majority loses the habit of discriminating against the minority, the minorities can have no ground to exist. They will vanish.
CITIZEN’S DUTY TO ELECT DEFENDERS OF CONSTITUTION
Whatever the Constitution may or may not provide, the welfare of the country will depend upon the way in which the country is administered. That will depend upon the men who administer it. It is a trite saying that a country can have only the Government it deserves.
If the people who are elected are capable and men of character and integrity, they would be able to make the best even of a defective Constitution. If they are lacking in these, the Constitution cannot help the country.
After all, a Constitution like a machine is a lifeless thing. It acquires life because of the men who control it and operate it, and India needs today nothing more than a set of honest men who will have the interest of the country before them.
There is a fissiparous tendency arising out of various elements in our life. We have communal differences, caste differences, language differences, provincial differences and so forth. It requires men of strong character, men of vision, men who will not sacrifice the interests of the country at large for the sake of smaller groups and areas and who will rise over the prejudices which are born of these differences.
We can only hope that the country will throw up such men in abundance. Let not those who have served in the past therefore rest on their oars, saying that they have done their part and now has come the time for them to enjoy the fruits of their labours. No such time comes to anyone who is really earnest about his work.
In India today I feel that the work that confronts us is even more difficult than the work which we had when we were engaged in the struggle. We did not have then any conflicting claims to reconcile, no loaves and fishes to distribute, no powers to share. We have all these now, and the temptations are really great.
While everybody recognizes the necessity of the diffusion of Constitutional morality for the peaceful working of a democratic Constitution, there are two things interconnected with it which are not, unfortunately, generally recognized.
One is that the form of administration has a close connection with the form of the Constitution. The form of the administration must be appropriate to and in the same sense as the form of the Constitution. The other is that it is perfectly possible to pervert the Constitution, without changing its form by merely changing the form of the administration and to make it inconsistent and opposed to the spirit of the Constitution.
Constitutional morality is not a natural sentiment. It has to be cultivated. We must realize that our people have yet to learn it. Democracy in India is only a top-dressing on an Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic.
The constitution can be frustrated by political parties– Griffin (1998).
Let us examine if the Constitution has failed us, or we have failed the Constitution. – Shri K. R. Narayanan (28th January 2018) on the golden jubilee of our Republic.
Compilation by Dr Jas Simran Kehal. He is an MBBS, MS (Ortho) and has an MA in (Journalism & mass communication).