Long Live the Constitution of India

India is a plural society with a syncretic culture
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Representational ImageFile/ GK

The  November,  26  is celebrated since 2015  as the “Constitution Day”  to generate awareness among the people about the significance of the constitution. The constitution of India was adopted on November 26, 1949 for “we the people of India”  to celebrate the transfer of power in 1947 and also the great transition from a colonial setting to the  Republic of India. 

The  leading national daily Indian Express on November, 26, 2022  carried four important articles by leading public figures to emphasize the uniqueness of the day  also known as  the  Law Day.

The Speaker of the Lok Sabh  Mr. Om Birla in his write-up  stated  that great men in the Constituent Assembly framed a constitution whose “acceptability has only grown with each passing day”. Mr. D Raja General Secretary of Communist party of India(CPI)  echoed the sane advice of B R Ambedkar who had cautioned:

“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”. This  writer was privileged to deliver a  keynote speech at a function on the theme,  “Unity in Diversity” as part of the process of celebration of the day.

The Preamble to the  constitution of India emphatically defines the identity of the state. There are three trinities which neatly highlight the path for a journey to be undertaken by the independent Indian state to realize the goal of unity in diversity.

The principles  of justice: social, economic and political form one trinity. The principles of liberty, fraternity and equality is another trinity. The dignity of the individual, unity of the nation and fraternity is the third trinity. These principles need to be read together and cannot be separated .

It is by forging unity of these principles that India can successfully be developed  into an inclusive and vibrant democracy. It is important to have an estimate of diversity and heterogeneity that India as a polity and society reflects  so as to appreciate the vision and craft of architects  of Indian Constitution.

Mapping the  Diversity

The framers of Indian constitution understood the diversity of India and drafted the constitution by taking cognizance of the existential reality. India is a plural society with a syncretic culture. The population of 1.3 billion comprises of over 4,635 communities, 78 percent of whom are not only linguistic and cultural but social categories.

The religious minorities constitute 19.4 percent. There are human diversities as well. The fact of the matter is that no Indian can speak for five minutes in a single language. The followers of almost all religions live in India. There are 19,500 languages, 600 of whom are on the verge of extinction. Almost 250 have already disappeared. It is precisely due to this mix that unity in diversity has been the defining feature of Indian identity.

National identity is about self-determination and how a nation understands and defines itself. The nation is to be understood and defined within the constitution and not outside it. The constitution evolves in the light of a country’s history, culture, experiences and past and present circumstances.

The constitution is expression of hope for a bright future. The framers of Indian constitution were conscious of the fact that India has something special to offer to the world and that being the power and  promise of its  example.

That example is glued  into the social framework of unity in diversity. The nation building process for future independent India accordingly got woven around three core ideals which  drew their  inspiration and energy from the constitution itself. These relate to democracy, pluralism and the development.

Democracy

The common man in India has fairly a good idea of living under a constitution and respecting it. During recent protests  the  youth, farmers, and women from disadvantaged sections carried copies of Indian constitution in their hands to agitate their  demands.

The poor of India always had a vested interest in preserving India as a democracy but the elite and richer classes have shown their bias  for autocracy. These classes would like to see  India “an election only  democracy”. The framers of Indian constitution remained undeterred by cynics because of their faith in the conviction of the common Indians. Democracy is a bold way of nation-building and courageous style of citizen-building.

In democracy we understand and even recognize that mistakes can be made but the beauty of this experience lies in rectifying those mistakes in a dialogic and peaceful manner. Democracy is not merely procedural but it is freedom from humiliation and violence. It is saying no to inhuman indignity. Democracy also means in a country ordinary lives do matter and these lives are not ordinary.

Dr Ambedkar put it in a more lucid manner; “Political tyranny is nothing compared to social tyranny”. Dicey said rule of law is “equality before law”. The rule by law is where the government is above law. Dr Ambedkar thus noted “if I am asked which article is best in Indian constitution it is article 32 dealing with constitutional remedies”.

The former Chief Justice of India justice Bobde cynically commented that Supreme Court is trying to discourage individuals from filling petitions under article 32 of the constitution”. Democracy can run into rough weather when there is elite capture of institutions, end of bipartisanship and a plebiscitary style of leadership.

Pluralism

The framers of Indian constitution were ambivalent in  sharply inserting secularism in the text of the constitution or even clearly defining it. Leading political theorist Rajiv Bhargav  argues that secularism entails principal distance and not equidistance. In this sense secular people are very much religious who believe that their conversation with God is a personal matter.

Secularism in western sense is rejection of the power of religion while as pluralism is being respectful of religions.

The Constituent Assembly of India declared its firm resolve to proclaim India as an independent, sovereign Republic to draw up for her future governance a constitution wherein adequate safeguards shall be provided to minorities.

The constitution provided religious minorities equal protection and equal citizenship rights under the law. The constitution baptized both India and the Bharat in article 01 which states, “India that is Bharat shall be a union of states”.

Eminent political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot  says  this ambiguity refers to debates in Constituent Assembly during (1946-50) in which two ideas were competing for acceptance.

The 1980’s saw a new convergence of a technological model of development and communal model of state resulting in a situation which saw shift from pluralism to polarization, secularism to communalism, and democracy to demography.

The fact of the matter is that liberal constitutionalism in India from 1947 to 1980 was piloted by the state and today the state is majoritarian.

The future of pluralism in India shall be judged by how quickly we win trust and confidence of the minorities in India and make them equal partners in the process of development. In his closing speech to the Constituent Assembly Dr Ambedkar stated: “By independence we have lost the excuse of blaming the British for anything going wrong. If henceafter things go wrong we will have nobody to blame except ourselves”

Finally, the ideal of development underlined in various parts and provisions of the Indian constitution has been a subject matter of debate among scholars and policy circles.

The minorities in India have deep concerns related to their identity and security, education and empowerment, equitable share in jobs and fair share in decision-making.

The Sacchar Committee appointed during UPA government by Dr Manmohan Singh drew attention of the nation to development deficit of Muslims in education, livelihood and access to public services. Poverty remains the main barrier and few Muslims find jobs in private or public sector.

The policies of economic liberalization have sounded the death knell of most traditional occupations of the community such as: hand and power looms, silk and sericulture, garment-making, leather, automobile repair, embroidery, zari and chicken work.

Apart from this the model of development followed by the state is inherently pro-rich and has created margins on all sides. Due to construction of dams only India has 40 million refugees  who are remotely benefitted by forces of corporate capitalism.

We need to understand that internal harmony and peace are prerequisite for development. The spending and investment decisions of the individuals and firms as every student of economics right from Lord Keynes wrote are based upon more expectations about future than the experiences of the past.

All said and done in politics and private life as Octavia Paz stated the surest method of resolving conflicts, however, slowly is dialogue and for that people need to establish an unbreakable bond with the letter and spirit of  the constitution of India.

Prof Wani is Kashmir based Political Scientist

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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