Making a mockery of the Constitution Day

By H. Srikanth

After urging the universities to hold orchestrated debates and discussions on a non-academic propaganda book titled, “[email protected]”, the UGC has issued instructions recently to organize seminars on Constitution Day on the theme, ‘India as mother of democracy’. No national leader worth the name had ever made such an absurd claim. Contrarily, recognizing the hierarchical and undemocratic nature of the Indian society, our national leaders worked hard to give a shape to a constitution that defended democratic and secular values, and espoused the liberal ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity. Organizing seminars glorifying the kings and the khap panchayats amounts to making a mockery of the Indian Constitution.
November 26, 1949, is an important day in the history of modern India. It was the day when the Constitutional Assembly of India completed the task assigned to it and formally approved the draft of the Constitution of India. Indian Constitution took a concrete shape because of the hard work of 299 members of the Constitutional Assembly who sat for 114 days, spread over nearly three years. Our Constitutional makers took inspiration not only from the ancient republican traditions but also from the modern constitutional experiments in Britain, the USA, France and Ireland. The Indian Constitution with 395 Articles, 8 schedules and 22 parts is the largest written constitution in the world. The successful completion of the task by the Drafting Committee under the effective leadership of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar enabled India to overcome the dominion status and became a modern republic on 26th January 1950.
The history of the Indian Constitution was intimately related to the history of India’s freedom struggle from colonial rule. While fighting against the British, our national leaders aspired for a constitution of our own that would set the goals for a sovereign democratic state. Although Indians fought for over a hundred years, independence became possible only after the II World War. After the war, Britain became so weak that it found it difficult to contain the growing discontent and continue the colonial rule in India. Although Winston Churchill won the war, his party got defeated in the elections. The Labour party government led by Clement Attlee, decided to put an end to the British rule in India and announced its intention to form Constitutional Assembly to decide on the future of the Indian state. To facilitate the political transition, an Interim Government was formed in September 1946 to assist the Imperial government, with Jawaharlal Nehru as Vice President, Sardar Patel as Home Minister and Liaquat Ali Khan of the Muslim League as Finance Minister. Simultaneously, the members of the Constitutional Assembly were also elected indirectly from among the elected members of the provincial assemblies.
When the Cabinet Mission came to India in 1946, Mohammad Ali Jinnah pitched up the demand for separate Pakistan. He declared that the Muslim League representatives would join the Constitutional Assembly only if his demands were conceded. Because of opposition from the Muslim League, the British government was hesitating to convene the meeting of the Constitutional Assembly. It was only after Jawaharlal Nehru threatened a mass resistance, the British government agreed to convene the first meeting of the Constitutional Assembly on December 9, 1946. The first session attended by 211 members elected Dr. Babu Rajendra Prasad as Permanent President of the Constitutional Assembly. All representatives from the Muslim League boycotted the session. On December 13, 1946, Jawaharlal Nehru moved the historic ‘Objective Resolution’. The discussion on the Resolution was however postponed because of the absence of the Muslim League representatives.
Meanwhile, the communal situation in the country worsened, and different parts of the country witnessed riots. Lord Mountbatten was appointed as the Viceroy in February 1947. The meeting that he convened in Shimla seeking political consensus failed, as Jinnah persisted on the demand for Pakistan. Even Mahatma Gandhi failed to convince Jinnah. To keep the country united, Gandhi proposed Jinnah as the Prime Minister. But his proposal was not to the liking of Nehru and Patel. Against Gandhi’s will, the Congress leaders accepted the proposal for the partition of British India.
Amid the communal riots that followed the Partition decision, the elected members of the Constitutional Assembly, who were from the proposed truncated India met again to resume their work in 1947. The members of the Muslim League from the provinces within India agreed to attend the Constitutional Assembly. The princely states also sent their representatives. On July 22, the Assembly adopted the National Flag. On August 15, 1947, Independence Day, Jawaharlal’s famous ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech was made on that day from the floor of the Constitution Assembly. The members took the oath at 12 midnight. On the eve of independence, at the advice of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru invited Dr. Ambedkar to serve as Law Minister in his government. Subsequently, Ambedkar became the chairperson of the Drafting Committee of the Constitutional Assembly. Different sub-committees were constituted and their recommendations were compiled and presented for debates. There were threadbare discussions on every Article and clause. All decisions were taken democratically after intense discussions. As the members belonged to different ideologies and represented varied social interests, there were heated debates and differences within the Assembly. But their commitment to India made them work together and arrive at a consensus on various contentious issues. Absence of the communists and RSS members facilitated the birth of a Constitution which was largely liberal democratic in content, but with welfare orientation. It guaranteed liberal rights and gave us a vision of a secular and egalitarian society in the distant future.
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar was not unaware of the contradictions between the Constitution that promised political equality and the Indian society that remained unequal and hierarchical. Hence, in his last speech in the Constitutional Assembly, he cautioned the members: “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.”
Seven decades have passed since Amebedkar delivered the historic speech. Where do we find ourselves today? Yes, India has made progress in different fields. Unlike many other postcolonial states where democratic experiments failed, there is still a semblance of democracy in India with periodic elections taking place every five years. But are they enough to declare India as the mother or father of democracy? In India, class inequalities not just thrive; they are fast widening. Atrocities on the dalits, tribals and the women continue to this day. Minority rights are under constant threat. Religious and national jingoism are on the rise. Undemocratic and colonial laws still operate. Several social activists, journalists, students and the poor are languishing in the prisons without trial for months and years. And those at the helm of affairs who are to uphold the Constitution themselves are active in undermining the constitutional values which our national leaders had espoused. One should not overlook these bitter realities while observing Constitution Day. It is not the Constitution per se, but its actual implementation by the governments and the people which will show in which direction India is moving. It is time that we, the Indians, recall the dreams of the national leaders who fought for emancipation and rededicate ourselves to uphold the constitutional values and work for realizing the goals enshrined in the Preamble of India Constitution.

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