Spirit of Constitution guides the Republic
On Samvidhan Divas, let us remember the founding document of the nation and build a stronger, more inclusive, and prosperous India for future generations
The Constitution of India was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on November 26, 1949. The anniversary of that momentous day is an occasion to celebrate and cherish the enlightened and most resilient Constitution drafted in the post-colonial world. It is a Constitution that was conceived, drafted, debated, negotiated and adopted over three years entirely by Indians, something that all of us can take justifiable pride in.
The people of India can also take pride in working this Constitution through fair and rough weather in the last seven decades without compromising the foundational principles of the Republic embodied in the Constitution document. These foundational principles – liberty, equality and fraternity - are nothing but a reflection of the universal and eternal aspirations of humankind since the dawn of civilisation.
Members of the Constituent Assembly, being people of the soil, carried a deep understanding of the historical, socio-political, economic and cultural milieu of our nation. This is amply reflected in the manner that issues unique to our society and culture have been addressed in the Constitution: It has deftly woven in provisions of great import such as special protections to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and minorities, the Directive Principles of State Policy, the language issue and many more. If the Constitution of India has gained in acceptability and relevance with time among the people of India and their political representatives, it is because of its acceptability among the masses right from its inception and for continuing to instil a sense of justice, ownership and hope among all sections of society.
The roots of our democratic institutions date back to the Vedic period. Historical evidence establishes the prevalence of popular assemblies and elective monarchies. The rich heritage of India’s participative governance institutions was duly noted by the constitutional luminary, BR Ambedkar. While speaking in the Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949, for the motion to adopt the Constitution of India, he stated that “it is not that India did not know what is democracy.
There was a time when India was studded with republics and even where there were monarchies, they were either elected or limited.” He elaborated that “the Buddhist Sangha knew and observed all the rules of parliamentary procedure known to modern times. They had rules regarding seating arrangements, rules regarding motions ... Although these rules of parliamentary procedure were applied by the Buddha to the meetings of the Sanghas, he must have borrowed them from the rules of the political assemblies functioning in the country at this time.” The voluminous debates of the Constituent Assembly reveal the extent of engagement of members in the proceedings that led to the drafting and framing of our Constitution. The Constituent Assembly devoted a total of 165 days spread over 11 sessions. More than 7,600 amendments were tabled by members, of whom almost 2,500 were moved and debated. What is also interesting to note is that more than 50,000 visitors came to Parliament to witness the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly and see for themselves first-hand the making of the Constitution.
The Constituent Assembly also received thousands of representations and petitions from citizens from all over India who wished to convey their views and ideas about the foundational document of the Republic. This was a barometer of the extent of enthusiasm among citizens about the process of constitution-making. This enthusiasm and engagement of common citizens with the Constitution did not pale with time: On the contrary, the sanctity of the text has gained greater legitimacy.
The articles of the Constitution are like articles of faith not only for the official machinery of the State but for individuals who consider them as reference points for addressing challenges before the nation and the citizens. In fact, common people approach public representatives, executive functionaries and the courts daily by invoking the Constitution to seek redressal of grievances or for the enforcement of rights. The legitimacy that the Constitution enjoys can, to a large extent, be attributed to the way it has been worked in the last seven decades. Ambedkar was prescient when he pointed out that “The working of a Constitution does not depend wholly upon the nature of the Constitution. The Constitution can provide only the organs of the State such as the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. The factors on which the working of those organs of the State depend are the people and the political parties they will set up as their instruments to carry out their wishes and their politics.”
Looking back, one cannot but agree that the leaderships of the three organs of the State have upheld the principles of the Constitution. The provisions of the Constitution have served both as guardrails of our political life and as beacon lights for socio-economic change. Hundreds of enlightened legislations, erudite court judgments and people-centric policies of governments bear testimony to the sagacity of the leadership of the State.
The one feature that endears the Constitution to all citizens is its ability to communicate meaningfully and with empathy with the citizens – whether from the generation of the freedom struggle or the millennials, across gender, caste, class, language and region. It has subsumed in itself the civilisational core of this great nation, yet remains modern in its outlook and temperament, accommodative of diversity, tolerant of differences.
It is on account of the constitutional ethos that the Constitution has so successfully ingrained in our political mind space that smooth transfer of power after each one of the hard-fought 17 general elections to the Lok Sabha and scores of elections to the state legislative assemblies is taken as a given. The smooth transfer of power is a remarkable tradition not only for the subcontinent but, indeed for the entire post-colonial world, which has often witnessed abrupt abrogation of constitutions and violent overthrow of elected governments.
The makers of our Constitution had the wisdom and foresight to acknowledge that a document drafted and adopted in a particular age needs to be equipped with flexibility and adroitness to accommodate the demands of future generations. Great care was taken to allow amendability of the constitutional provisions but the degree of ease of amendability of an article was very carefully modulated on sound legal principles and practical considerations about the content of the given Article. A balance was sought to be struck between “flexibility” and “rigidity” in a manner that amendments that impinged on the federating provisions, for instance, required to be ratified by a majority of legislatures of the states.
The 106th Constitution Amendment Act – the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam – was a landmark legislation passed by both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha as its first legislative business during the historic first session of the new Parliament building. This Act of Parliament at the historic session in September 2023 is an eloquent and the most recent example of how the organs of the State, the executive and the legislature in this case, have worked in tandem to bring about one of the finest transformative pieces of legislation to promote gender justice. As we celebrate the Samvidhan Divas today, let the spirit of our Constitution guide us in building a stronger, more inclusive and prosperous India for future generations. I extend heartfelt greetings and good wishes to all my fellow countrymen on this auspicious Samvidhan Divas.
Om Birla is Speaker of the Lok Sabha. The views expressed are personal