The ground rules of the one land of many
- India to celebrate another Republic Day, the 72nd anniversary of the entry into force of our Constitution.
- In so doing we reaffirm the essence of Indian nationalism, reified in a constitution adopted after almost three years of debate, and in the process implicitly salute the ‘idea of India’ that emerged from both the nationalist movement and its institutionalization in the Republic.
Republic day of India
- Republic Day is a national holiday in India, when the country marks and celebrates the date on which the Constitution of India came into effect on 26, January 1950.
- It replaced the Government of India Act as the governing document of India and thus, turning the nation into a newly formed republic.
A gift and a vision
- The idea of India as a modern nation based on a certain conception of human rights and citizenship, vigorously backed by due process of law, and equality before law, is a gift of the Constitution.
- The modern idea of India, despite the mystical influence of Tagore, and the spiritual and moral influences of Gandhiji, is a robustly secular and legal construct based upon the vision and intellect of our founding fathers, notably (in alphabetical order) Ambedkar, Nehru, and Patel.
- Earlier conceptions of India drew their inspiration from mythology and theology.
- The Preamble of the Constitution itself is the most eloquent enumeration of this vision.
- In its description of the defining traits of the Indian republic, and its conception of justice, of liberty, of equality and fraternity, it is the principal task of any Constitution to constitute.
- The way in which the ideals embedded in that document were implemented and evolved, in a spirit of civic nationalism, through the first seven and a half decades of India’s independence, have determined the kind of country we are.
To shape a new citizen
- Every society has an interdependent relationship with the legal systems that govern it, which is both complex and, especially in our turbulent times, continuously and vociferously contested.
- It is through this interplay that communities become societies, societies become civilisations, and civilisations acquire a sense of national and historical character.
- B R Ambedkar’s famous statement during drafting the constitution mentions various disparities within Indian society.
- He said ‘I do not want that our loyalty as Indians should be in the slightest way affected by any competitive loyalty,’ said the great constitutionalist, ‘whether that loyalty arises out of our religion, out of our culture or out of our language. I want all people to be Indians first, Indian last and nothing else but Indians.’
Incorporating the underclass
- Ambedkar’s eloquent assault on discrimination and untouchability for the first time cogently expanded the reach of the Indian idea to incorporate the nation’s vast, neglected underclass.
- As an opponent of caste tyranny and a nationalist, he believed that Dalits must support India’s freedom from British rule but that they must pursue their struggle for equal rights within the framework of the new constitution that he had a major hand in drafting.
- The establishment of a constitutional democracy in post-colonial India involved an attempt to free Indians from prevailing types of categorisation.
- It tries to place each citizen in a realm of individual agency that goes beyond the immutable identity conferred by birth.
- The Constitution provided a legal structure to an implicit idea of India as one land embracing many.
- The reason India has survived all the stresses and strains that have beset it for three quarters of a century (and that led so many in the 1950s and 1960s to predict its imminent disintegration), is that it maintained consensus on how to manage without consensus.
The rule of law
- Indian nationalism is the nationalism of an idea, the idea of what I have dubbed an ever-ever land - emerging from an ancient civilisation, united by a shared history, sustained by pluralist democracy under the rule of law.
- The struggle for Indian independence was a shift away from an administration of law and order centred on imperial despotism.
- From this the idea of ‘constitutional morality’ was born, meaning a national commitment to pursuing desirable ends through constitutional means, to upholding and respecting the Constitution’s processes and structures.
- It should be in a spirit of transparency and accountability, free speech, public scrutiny of government actions and legal limitations on the exercise of power.
The Constitution’s spirit
- Ambedkar realised the possibility of perverting the Constitution, without changing its form, by merely changing the form of the administration to make it inconsistent with the spirit of the Constitution.
- Constitutional morality is not a natural sentiment. It has to be cultivated.
- Citizens must realize that people have yet to learn it.
- Democracy in India is only a topdressing on an Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic.
- To recall these basic principles today is to recognise how far we are currently straying from them, and the dangers inherent in the present government’s practice of paying lip-service to the Constitution while trampling on its spirit.
- This Republic Day to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Independence a little over six months later, we must remind ourselves of, and rededicate ourselves to, the ideals that lie behind the Constitution whose entry into force we all celebrate on January 26.