If we look around in our neighbourhood, political instability has been the norm rather than the exception. Coups, revolutions, military rule, dictatorships, countries run by armies, not to mention the assignation of leaders. To be perfectly honest, India too has had a share of the latter.
Starting with the murder of Mahatma Gandhi, on that fateful January 30, 1948, within a year of the nation’s independence.
Later, a serving prime minister, Indira Gandhi, was shot by her own bodyguards on October 30, 1984. Her son and former prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, was also assassinated by operatives of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on May 21, 1991.
Yet, except for a brief interregnum of 21 months from 1975-1977, India has functioned as a democracy despite extraordinary challenges including wars, natural disasters, and insurgency movements within the country.
But throughout India’s challenging and checkered history as an independent country, what has served, even saved, it from the sort of turmoil that afflicted its neighbours has been its Constitution.
Drafted under the stewardship of Dr B. R. Ambedkar, Columbia PhD and India’s first Law Minister, the Indian Constitution was an outcome of extensive debates in the Constituent Assembly.
An elected body of representatives from the British ruled provinces as well as India’s princely states, the Constituent Assembly was also unfortunately partitioned when the subcontinent was split into India and Pakistan.
After independence, the 299 member Constituent Assembly met on December 9th, 1949, tasked with framing India’s Constitution. It finished its onerous mandate almost three years later, on November 26th, 1949. With its coming into effect on January 26th, 1950, India became a Sovereign, Democratic Republic.
Although the Indian Constitution has been amended an astonishing 105 times to date, it has still provided a robust framework for a democratic state and the rule of law to govern 1.4 billion plus people today.
This notwithstanding the infamous 42nd Amendment during the dark days of the Emergency imposed by then prime minister Indira Gandhi when even the sacrosanct Preamble was amended with the words “Socialist” and “Secular” interpolated into the nation’s self-definition.
The Indian Constitution is probably the longest of any among the major countries of the world. It draws enormously from the Government of India Act of 1935, plus other constitutions of the world, including those of the United States, United Kingdom, former Soviet Union, Ireland, South African, Australia, and so on.
It emphasises, above all, Justice, Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Though some critics consider it not “Bharatiya” enough, that is not attuned to the civilisational values of India, even accusing it of embodying a “divided consciousness” typical of colonized nations, it would be impractical to make drastic changes to it.
This respect for India’s first text was amply evident in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address at the Supreme Court of India to commemorate India’s Constitution Day. Modi launched the “e-court” project, as also paid tributes to the victims of the 26/11 terrorist attacks on India.
The sad irony of the two dates coinciding would not be lost on those who consider the Partition of the country to be the biggest tragedy to have overtaken India in its recent past.
The legacies of a divided Constituent Assembly and a divided sub-continent continue to haunt all its denizens, which number close to an incredible 1.8 billion, if the populations of Pakistan and Bangladesh are included.
Modi emphasised India’s inclusivity, diversity, and progress: “India is moving ahead with force and taking full pride in its diversity.” He reminded his audience that “We the people,” with which the Constitution begins, indicates a solemn “oath and trust.”
For in India, the people are supreme and sovereign. It is the people of India who constituted themselves into a republic. That is why, Modi said that that the “Identity of India as the mother of democracy needs to be further strengthened.”
Looking forward to the next 25 years leading to the country’s centenary as an independent state, Modi reminded his listeners that “Azadi ka Amrit Kaal is also “Kartavya Kaal” for the nation—the nectar of freedom also enjoins upon all of us a tremendous national responsibility. “Be it people or institutions, our responsibilities are our first priority,” he added.
Prestige and reputation of India
Modi also pledged to “promote the prestige and reputation of India in the world” during its G20 Presidency term. The world was looking to India with hope, given its growing economic clout and global footprint.
Modi claimed that “defying all the initial apprehension about its stability, India is moving ahead with full force and taking pride in its diversity.”
One major reason for this, according to him, was the Indian constitution. That is why, recalling its architect, Dr Ambedkar, on the occasion, he said, “In the modern time, the Constitution has embraced all the cultural and moral emotions of the nation.”
The Indian Constitution is not a sacred text or a monument set in stone, immutable and beyond review or change for all time to come. It is, instead, a living and dynamic document to its citizens’ aspirations and commitments.
Does it have scope for improvement? Undoubtedly. Perhaps, India@75 is the time to take a closer look at some of its gaps, loopholes, even schisms.
But let us venture carefully and respectfully, keeping in mind how well the Constitution has served the republic and the people of India thus far.