On January 26 this year, India celebrated its 72nd Republic Day. Although India attained freedom from the colonial yoke on August 15, 1947, the true essence of our democracy lies in our Constitution which came into effect on January 26, 1950.
Have we ever pondered on why our Constitution is so important? Lest we take it for granted, here’s a reminder – it gives the citizens of India, the power to govern themselves by choosing their own government. However, hidden in the vaults of power are stories on how it came to be – the firebrands who saw its birth.
From the Sunday Shillong desk comes this story on the lesser-known aspects of the making of the Constitution of India.
Zebu Bull – Strength in Words
A renowned painter, Nandalal Bose was tasked with the responsibility of illustrating the Constitution of India. Born in Munger, the erstwhile Bengal Presidency in British India, he was born in 1882. A radical figure in the context of modern Indian art, he was a key figure in the Bengal School – where colonial influences had made its presence known. He drew on our rich history to revive the Indian style of art.
Born in a Bengali middle-class family of the time also meant early struggles – his family was against his dreams to pursue art in the initial days. Keeping in mind the societal expectations of the time he got married and enrolled in the commerce stream in Presidency College, but repeated failures only made him more determined to follow his dream. His parents relented and he joined to study art in Calcutta’s School of Art. Deeply influenced by Abanindranath Tagore, nephew of Rabindranath Tagore, he decided to take his craft further and became his disciple.
Bose was said to have selected fellow artists from Kala Bhavan, Shantiniketan to assist him in the illustration of the Indian Constitution. Together, they made 22 images for the manuscript which are found on the top of the Constitution. Notable among these were the Preamble, designed by Beohar Rammanohar Sinha and the National Emblem, sketched by Bose’s student Dinanath Bhargava, among others. The artists drew inspiration from Indian history – The Indus Valley Civilisation, the Vedic age and the different empires – that shaped the histories of India. The Zebu bull, for instance, was a popular animal found in Harappan seals, chosen for its symbol of strength.
One Man, Many Nibs and Ink Bottles
The original constitution of India was a handwritten one, painstakingly written by Prem Bihari Narain Raizada, italicised using calligraphy. While Nandalal Bose and his team of artists designed the borders of each page, it was Mr Raizada who was responsible for bringing the primary contents, including the Preamble to life.
Born in 1901 to a family of calligraphists, young Prem Narain Raizada lost his parents at an early age and was brought up by his grandfather, Ram Parshad Saxena and uncle, Chatur Behari Narayan Saxena. His grandfather was a noted scholar of Persian and English, and popular in the British courts, having taught Persian to British officials. He learnt calligraphy from his grandfather. Following his graduation from St Stephen’s College, he further immersed himself in calligraphy.
A story goes that Jawaharlal Nehru had approached him to write the Constitution and asked him regarding payment. To this, he replied, “Not a single penny. By the grace of God, I have everything I need and am quite happy with my life. But I have one reservation – that on every page of the Constitution I will write my name and on the last page I will write my name along with my grandfather’s name”. This request was granted and a room in the Constitution Hall was allotted to him. This hall later came to be known as the Constitution Club.
It took him six months to complete the task. Prem Foundation records that some 432 pen – holder nibs were used by him and he used 303 number nibs for the beautiful calligraphy. Around 254 ink bottles were used in the span of six months. The original manuscript was written on parchment sheets which measured 16×22 inches and is believed to have a lifespan of a thousand years. The completed manuscript had 251 pages and weighed around 3.75 kgs.
Inside a room in the Parliament library, there are helium filled cases – 30x21x9 inches with the temperature fixed at 20 degree Celsius and a 30% relative humidity that is maintained throughout the year. Within this, lies the 251-page bound manuscript. Originally, the Constitution contained 395 articles, 8 schedules, divided in 22 parts. Currently, there are 26 parts with the Preamble and 448 articles and 12 schedules.
Women Power – the strength of Fifteen
Fifteen women freedom fighters, lawyers, reformists, suffragists and politicians – shaped the role of women in Indian politics, in both colonial and post-colonial India. They were the women architects of the Indian Republic.
These women belonged to different women’s organizations, led the feminist movements since 1917, and raised their voices in different movements.
Some of these women were Durgabai Deshmukh, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Begum Aizaz Resul, Renuka Ray and Purnima Banerji, among others. Veteran women leaders like Sarojini Naidu and Vijayalakshmi Pandit also played a vital role. Annie Mascarene, Kamla Chaudhari, Leela Roy and Malati Choudhury also shaped our Constitution. Ammu Swaminathan, mother of Captain Lakhsmi Sahgal of the INA was said to have been concerned about the length of the Constitution – she felt that it should have been in the form of a pocketbook. Sucheta Kripalani led the Assembly in singing patriotic songs, including the national anthem.
The Process – “Bag of Borrowings”
Being the longest written Constitution means it was a time-consuming affair. The year was 1946 when the Constituent Assembly was formed under the Cabinet Mission plan.
January, 1948 saw the first draft of the Indian Constitution being presented for discussion. By November of the same year, 7635 amendments were laid on the table – of which 2473 were discussed in detail. The Assembly deliberated for two years, 11 months and 18 days.
Come January 24, 1950, the document was signed by 284 members, and included 15 women. It came into effect on January 26. There are two copies – in English and Hindi – and is the world’s most comprehensive Constitution.
Inspired by other Constitutions of the world, the Indian Constitution is often called the “Bag of Borrowings”. From France, comes the ideals of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity”, included in the Preamble; the concept of a strong central authority encompassing the federal spirit is from Canada; the Directive Principles of State Policy are inspired from the Republic of Ireland; Australia has given us the Concurrent list; the concept of Emergency comes from the Weimar Constitution, Germany; and the Five-Year Plans from erstwhile USSR.
However, it is Great Britain’s Constitution that plays a significant role. The Indian Parliamentary system, including the principles of single citizenship are influenced by the British parliamentary system.
Mention must be made of how Dr Ambedkar clarified that India is a Union and no state had the right to secede from the Union. At the drafting stage, he spoke of India as a federation of states with a strong center. He also reminded the people involved that if we are to carry on, we must not forget our minorities and that by not recognising them, the cherished and core principles of democracy would never be fulfilled.