[Editorial] On Our Constitution

How did the Constitution come into being?

  • The Indian Constitution was drafted by the Constituent Assembly.
  • The Constitution, as settled by the Assembly, was put to vote by the President and passed by the House on November 26th, 1949. This was on a motion by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, who chaired the Drafting Committee.
  • Certain provisions of the new Constitution, such as those relating to a provisional Parliament, citizenship and other transitional measures came into force immediately. The rest came into force on January 26, 1950– which is now observed as Republic Day.
  • November 26th is now observed as Constitution Day. It marks the culmination of 3 years of discussion and drafting amid challenging circumstances.

What were the difficulties faced by the Constitution-makers?

  • The Constituent Assembly was a dual-purpose body i.e. it served as a Parliament in the morning and as a drafting assembly in the afternoon. This was hard work for the assembly’s members.
  • This dual operation was carried out over a 3 year period- between 1946 and 1949.
  • The Assembly had a challenging time governing a newly independent post-colonial nation of diverse people.
  • The assembly was meant to be a 296 member body but some members boycotted it (and eventually moved to Pakistan). At the initial sessions, it functioned as a 210-member body.
  • There were juristic concerns. For instance, Ivor Jennings, the constitutionalist who sought to be included in the drafting process (but wasn’t included),criticised the Constitution as downplaying communalism. This was especially stinging as communalism was the cause for the Partition.
  • The country was also facing the challenges of the Partition and communal tensions.
  • The refugees were pouring into the country, including into Delhi. Many refugees were taking shelter in the Purana Qila– situated just minutes away from where the Assembly convened.

Most probable and repeated topics of upsc prelims

What is the significance?

  • The Assembly had exhibited deft statesmanship in the face of the members’ boycott. To bring these members into the discussion and drafting process, B R Ambedkar said: “This is too big a question to be treated as a matter of legal rights. It is not a legal question at all. We should leave aside all legal considerations and make some attempt whereby those who are not prepared to come, will come. Let us make it possible for them to come, that is my appeal.”
  • Our approach in Constitution-making is unique in that it sought to make reparations for the historical wrong of caste-based discrimination. This discrimination is significant given that it defines the lives of numerous Indians- in the present and also their futures.
  • The Constitution prohibited discrimination on the grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. This enabled the new nation to bring into its folds of citizenship, those who had been left out for so long- women, members of the lower castes and minorities.
  • This could be contrasted with how the US Constitution doesn’t apologize or seek reparation for its historic wrong of slavery.

The Constitution’s endurance:

  • Enduring Constitutions are the exceptions while failing Constitutions are the norm in the world.
  • Tom Ginsburg of the University of Chicago School of Law conducted a study of the Constitutional systems of 200 nations. This covered every constitution between 1789 and 2005 and included 935 different constitutional systems.
  • The highlights of this study:
    • Constitutions survive for 17 years on an average.
    • An outlier to this norm is the US Constitution, which is 234 years old.
    • Typifying the global experience:
      • France has had 14 Constitutions.
      • Mexico has had 5 Constitutions.
      • Pakistan has had 3 Constitutions.
  • In this light, the fact that the Indian Constitution has endured for 72 years speaks for itself.

Reasons for our Constitution’s endurance:

  • The Constituent Assembly was not significantly diverse considering our population. However, the founders were able to appreciate the concerns of the common people by standing outside their own privileges.
  • They conceived a founding document that speaks for those silenced for years. As a result, the Indian Constitution became an instrument for the silenced to express themselves and to have the injustices redressed.
  • Over the years, the Constitution’s interpreters (Constitutional courts– SC and HCs) and the litigants (through social movements) have ensured that the object was consistently the expansion of citizens’ freedom, even when social morality thought otherwise.
  • The document’s morality has firmly supported the disadvantaged among the population. Today, other marginalized sections of the society, such as the LGBTQ community, are being heard and supported by the Constitutional courts.
  • This is the reason for the masses’ allegiance to the Constitution and consequently, the document’s endurance.

What is the way ahead?

  • Given the multitude of challenges, the Constituent Assembly members continued to draft our founding document heroically, rigorously and thoughtfully.
  • Their efforts culminated in outlining who we would be (“We the People”, as opposed to subjects) and what we will become– a country giving the liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship and ensuring equality of status and opportunity to its people.
  • As we marvel at our Constitution’s endurance and level of success today, we must remain aware of its deep roots in our ability to commit to expanding freedom for our people- not contracting it.
  • This commitment to each other’s freedom is the fuel that has been sustaining our Constitution.

Conclusion:

Voltaire said “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

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