[As India celebrates its 71st Republic Day today, I wish to share with all my readers a speech I had given on the 70th Republic Day celebrations at the National Law University, Jodhpur. The speech is extremely close to my heart as it allowed me to express my love for the Constitution of India and why I believe it is a unique document. In the speech I also expressed my concerns regarding how our Constitution is perceived. Even if the text below makes even one reader proud of our Constitution, the purpose of this post will be served. Happy Republic Day! Jai Hind! ]
“Today is a special day for the citizens of India as on this day 70 years ago, India became a nation from a country. On this day we adopted a document that made us secular and not ruled by one religion. It made us a sovereign and not an enslaved nation as it was today that we shredded our colonial lineage and adopted a Constitution that gave us justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. India became a constitutional democracy.
I believe there is no better occasion than today to share my views on the Constitution of India, as I am someone who truly believes and loves the Indian Constitution. Therefore, today I shall share two of my biggest concerns regarding how the Indian Constitution is perceived by the common public.
We all have seen the picture of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar holding the Constitution very close to his heart and pointing a finger at someone. I read somewhere, that there is an interesting anecdote behind that picture. When the Constitution of India was brought in force, Dr. Ambedkar its chief architect was once addressing a gathering and a group of people therein accused him of drafting a Constitution that was ‘Un-Indian’ and not an Indian document. Dr. Ambedkar held the Constitution close to his heart and pointed at those critics to state that the Constitution was an Indian document.
Today, I aim to elaborate on the belief of Dr. Ambedkar that our Constitution is one of a kind and is an Indian document. While I agree that there are several principles in our Constitution which are clearly borrowed, like the principle of Rule of Law, Separation of Powers, Fundamental Rights. However, by calling their incorporation a mere copy of another Constitution would be stating that none of the modern Constitutions in the world are original, because these are the principles which govern every modern constitutional democracy.
At a time when post-colonial nations got their independence and were deliberating the nature of their respective Constitutions, the majority went ahead with a Constitution akin to their colonial masters i.e. the United Kingdom or the one applicable in the strongest nations in the world i.e. United States of America or the USSR. However, India refused to follow one particular model. Our founding fathers deemed it fit to select appropriate constitutional devices which are suitable to the needs and demands of India and that’s how the Constitution of India came about.
You would be intrigued to know that when the United States of America (“USA”) drafted its Constitution and brought it in force, African-Americans and women were not given equal rights. The US Constitution considered African-Americans as a property that could be easily bought and sold in the market. The United Kingdom gave unlimited power to its parliament to do whatever it deemed fit without any checks and balances.
The Indian Constitution on the other hand considered everybody equal, man and woman alike. It prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, religion, caste, sex. Our Parliament was not supreme and they were bound by the principle of constitutionalism i.e. nobody is above the people of India and the Constitution.
Coming to our unique identity it starts with the Constituent Assembly, a body that had representation from every religion and community in India. Interestingly, the Assembly which was dominated by the Hindus (i.e. the religion of the majority population in India) was criticized for giving us a Constitution that was insufficiently Hindu. I believe that speaks volumes about the vision of our founding fathers, who wanted India to be truly secular and not be dominated by the Majority religion.
The Constitution we got protected the minorities and was a counter majoritarian document. Coming to the constitutional provisions, if we read our Sixth Schedule it provides protection to the aboriginal indigenous people. We have a quasi-federal set up which is unique to the entire world. The Panchayat Raj system captures the ethos of India.
Our Parliament is not immune as the Supreme Court can correct it where it goes on. Our Supreme Court is not immune as the Parliament can correct it where it goes wrong. Most importantly any citizen of India irrespective of her/his race, religion, caste or sex can approach the Supreme Court/High Court if her/his fundamental rights are violated. I believe that speaks volumes about the vision of our makers about how they wanted India to be.
Therefore, I disagree when people say that in our Constitution we wanted the music of Sitar and Veena, but what we got was the music of an English band. I disagree because I believe that the English band that once existed has been replaced by an Indian classical orchestra, which plays the Rag Bhairavi, the Gurkripan and the Kawali with the same devotion, as that is the essence of the Constitution of India.
My second concern regarding the Constitution of India is extremely personal. I believe that the subject of Constitutional Law does not get its due amongst the student community. Having asked why, one is told that the subject does not make a real difference; the subject does not get one employment and is dull. Being part of a legal system, I take offence.
The basic purpose, why ‘law’ in the first place emerged was to regulate state-citizen relationship. Any legislation on the most niche and complex areas of law needs to be tested on the Constitution, to be valid. There is a reason why this Constitution is arguably called the grund norm from which all other laws derive their validity. What we eat, what we speak, what we do, what we wear, everything is governed by the Constitution. Therefore, calling it an unimportant document is something I find hard to digest.
On this auspicious day, I request all the students to give this subject a chance and not judge it on the notions you have been told. If you read it with heart, the Indian Constitution is undoubtedly the best Constitution in the world.
Before I conclude, I would like to reiterate the words of Dr. Ambedkar who said,
‘A Constitution no matter how good, if the people implementing are bad will be a bad Constitution. A Constitution no matter how bad, if the people implementing are good, will be a good Constitution.’
As citizens of India, let’s take a pledge that we will be ‘Constitutionalists’ and implement this document to the best of its spirits.
Jai Hind! Jai Bharat!”