By Krishna Jha
“Today, when there is so much talk about revising of the Constitution or even writing a new Constitution, we have to consider whether it is the Constitution that has failed us or whether it is we who have failed the Constitution,” said the then President K R Narayanan while speaking in the Central Hall of the Parliament on the occasion of the celebrations of completion of fifty years of our Constitution on January 27, 2000.
The fear has raised its head again. Dr B R Ambedkar while writing the guiding principles, had prepared the foundations for a secular democratic republic, which is facing continual erosion since last several years. In fact the achievements for which we had toiled and suffered for all the decades past, are today getting demolished. The scientific temper that we had nurtured among ourselves to build a secular state faces the deadly attack from the obscurant, communal absurdities. It is done through banning books, pushing scientific research organisations to the edge, in an attempt to replace them with irrationalism, destroying the cultural, literary ethos. Nothing more harmful can be done than enslaving the mass consciousness which is the first priority for the autocrat in the making. The fourth estate for democracy, the media, today stands shackled by the corporate forces. The print and electronic both are facing the brunt.
While elaborating on the making of the Constitution that took almost three years, Dr Ambedkar had said that the “…policy of the state, and how the society should be organised in its social and economic side are matters which must be decided by the people themselves according to time and circumstances,” since “…it cannot be laid down by the Constitution itself, …because that is destroying democracy itself.”
Dr Ambedkar thus stressed on people’s will. This ‘will’ is not the will of the majoritarian forces. It was the constituent assembly under whose guidance the Constitution was prepared that had added many points to protect the rights of the minorities.
It was on November 26, 1949 that the Constitution was adopted and came into force on January 26, 1950. It signified the victory of democratic forces, with secularism implicit in it, in the post independence India. Despite the challenges from the Hindutva forces, especially in the conditions of partition in the country, the Constitution guaranteed in its article 25 “Freedom of conscience and right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion equably.”
The making of Constitution was taken up by a team led by Dr Ambedkar in a meeting of the Constituent Assembly on December 9, 1946. It was also a time when in the process of partition, eight to ten million people were displaced, five to ten million dead and 70,000 women raped and destroyed. An entire civilisation remained blood soaked. The refugees poured in from newly formed borders of the two countries that were till then one, from the northwest and the east. The Constitution was conceived in such a way as to bring to the newly formed country a sense of oneness, filling the gap that history had left between the past and the transformed present of the Independent India. Secularism and federalism are non-negotiable – one of the central messages the Constitution succeeded in delivering.
It is also important to point out that in the making of the Constitution, the developments like independence, partition and the resultant blood bath were not overlooked and were taken with precision, depth, and farsightedness. The criticism made by certain sections about the constituent assembly remaining silent on some prime issues like the partition stands corrected in the making of the text of the Constitution itself. In the debates of the constituent assembly that formed the foundational document, it could be seen in the debate over Indian citizenship, especially with the millions of migrants settling in the country after partition. Then there was the claim from the minorities for political electoral reservation which was outrightly opposed by Hasrat Mohani as that was taken as coming from earlier strains of separatism which was responsible for partition.
The Constitution, with its declared features of welfare state, was an achievement. In the process of characterising the Indian state, later terms like ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ were added to the Preamble that were in built in the Constitution. In this struggle one of the prime points was Hindu Code Bill which was presented in the constituent assembly and faced grim controversy. The bill had to be divided in parts like Hindu Marriage Act, that outlawed polygamy, had provisions for inter caste marriage and divorce procedure, the Hindu adoption and maintenance Bill and lastly the Hindu succession Bill that brought widows and daughters at par with sons in matters of property inheritance.
The Hindutva forces opposed it in the name of Hindu family norms, but the prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru remained unruffled and got it passed. He also refused to make any alteration in Muslim Personal Law as his contention was that majority Hindus need not force any change on the minorities. Any change would be introduced only if the suggestion came from them, especially the Muslims. (IPA Service)