In many ways, through the 70 year of its existence, the Constitution has played a transformative role, in transforming not only functioning of govt but also Indian society at large
The Indian Constitution being the longest constitution of the world was adopted and enacted on 26th November 1949. In many ways through the 70 year of its existence, the Constitution has played a transformative role, in transforming not only functioning of the government but also Indian society at large. To understand its transformative nature, one has to first and foremost understand that it transformed the people of India from being British colonial subjects to citizens of a republic and through the Constitution India became the largest democracy on earth.
The Indian Constitution is unusual for it has endured across seven decades and with consistency. Constitutional democracy was formally suspended only once from 1975 to 1977 – in what is referred to as the emergency. Though there have been other problems in its operation, the Constitution of India has provided stability to the political and legal culture of the country.
The Constitution was framed to work at three levels:
i) At first level, it was meant to deliver political freedom after two centuries of colonial rule;
ii) At second level, it was aimed at providing a blue print for economic development for all sections of society, specially for the downtrodden and deprived people;
iii) At the third level, its aim was to tackle the problems of social injustices that prevailed in the Indian society.
The Indian Constitution was an ambitious document, it wanted to achieve all this simultaneously through governance of the country – many saw the Indian Constitution as a revolutionary document. It was made over a period of three years. Many constitutions in Africa and Asia were drafted later keeping the Indian constitution as a role model.
The Preamble which embodies the spirit of the constitution clearly and unequivocally states, that justice, liberty, equality and fraternity are the foundation stone of the Indian Republic. The constitution brought into existence full-fledged democracy founded on universal adult franchise and equality of all citizens. Firstly, it sought to transform the individual’s legal relationship with the state. It transformed the subjects of colonial regime into citizens of a republic.
The Preamble also states that the people of India have given themselves a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic. The words socialist and secular were inserted into the preamble by the 42nd amendment in 1977. The words secular led to many interpretations and it has discussed and argued hotly at many platforms even today.
The late L M Singhvi, who served as a consultant, it was reported that he refused to sign the Hindi version of the draft because it translated secular as “Dharma Nirapeksha” (meaning indifferent to Dharma). He was of the view that Dharma is the foundation of the society. Thus, secular should be translated as “Pantha Nirapekshata” (non-sectarian) or indifferent to organised religions.
Contrary to popular perception, a single word in English especially religion cannot be the correct translation of the word Dharma. Religion has its root in other traditions (Judeo-Abrahamic and Roman) and comes nowhere close to defining the concept of Dharma. Dharma is the collective civilisation wisdom, which has been accumulated over the millennia. Dharma was defined by Swami Ranganathananda of Ramakrishna Mission and as quoted by the Supreme Court stands as, “The Sanskrit word Dharma stands for the integrating principle, in human society and can be translated roughly as righteousness or ethical sense”.
Dharmic tradition accepts change as the only constant. It also encourageous change within the broad principle of Dharma. Many academics, intellectuals, media persons and of course politicians overlooked the fine and correct distinction between Dharma and religion on which Singhvi had insisted.
The Indian constitution brought transformation, in the colonial rule and replaced it with democracy, by introducing subjects of sovereignty and public participation. Apart from universal adult franchise and Parliamentary democracy, freedom of speech, expression, association and conscience and the right to life and personal liberty, and also the right to equality before law. These fundamental rights were not there in the Government of India Act, 1935. As such, the fundamental rights signified a great shift in constitutional philosophy.
The second outstanding feature of the Indian Constitution is its aim to re-construct the state and society. The preamble and its three words -- liberty, equality and fraternity -- is the mantra that instills life into the Indian Constitution. Political democracy, cannot last if it is not based on social democracy. What does the social democracy means? It means a way of life, in which there is liberty, equality and fraternity are the basic principles. These three are inseparable – liberty, equality and fraternity have to live together.
The Indian Constitution is an organic document compared to a living tree – because it evolves and is updated through various judgments, so that it keeps pace with the changing times. The best example of this living tree is the expansion of Article 21 (Right to Life), which has expanded through various judgments and has gone much beyond what was contemplated by the makers of the constitution originally. The Right to Life is today not only a right to stay alive but to ensure a decent living. Many rights such as Right to Education, Right to information, Right to shelter and many more have been brought into the ambit of the Right to Life, through judicial pronouncements and judgments.
The aim of the constitution was not just to give India a “Law Manual”. Dr S Radhakrishnan in his opening speech to the constituent Assembly in December, 1946 had said: “We wish to bring about a fundamental alteration in structure of Indian Society ….”.
In the light of this remark, the Indian Constitution is playing its transformative role, in all spheres of life of the Indian citizen and thereby strengthening our democracy – True to its Dharma.
(Jishnu Dev Varma is the deputy chief minister of Tripura. Views expressed are his own)