The Indian Constitution is said to be among the longest in the world, originally with 395 articles and 8 schedules. It was framed over three years and the Constituent Assembly witnessed lively, acrimonious and incisive debates on every clause. The proceedings of the Assembly were published in 11 volumes, some over 1,000 pages.
The Constitution was enacted on January 26, 1950.
So what is the importance of November 26, 1949 which was celebrated last year as Constitution Day? This is the date when the Constitution was adopted by the Constituent Assembly and the Preamble makes this explicit.
January 26 has a specific history. It was on January 26, 1930, that the Indian National Congress at its Lahore session passed a resolution demanding ‘poorna swaraj’ or full freedom. Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose worked together to oppose those in the Congress party who were satisfied with ‘dominion status’, wherein the British monarch would continue to be the head of government.
Last year, Prime Minster Modi’s NDA government declared November 26 as Constitution Day and held a two-day special session of Parliament to commemorate the day. This was a point of political contention and the NDA government faced considerable flak from the Opposition for trying to invent a date for itself. The contention of the Congress, Left and others was that the BJP had no freedom fighters to call its own so it wanted to appropriate heroes from other streams and coopt B R Ambedkar, considered the father of the Constitution.
It may have also wanted to make its peace with the legacy of Ambedkar who was bitterly opposed to the RSS and what it stood for. With RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat questioning the reservation policy, which also generated considerable controversy and was one of the factors in the BJP’s defeat in the Bihar assembly polls, the BJP saw November 26 as a chance to ‘reaffirm’ its commitment to the Constitution.
Also, the BJP argues that nobody outside the Congress fold (read Nehru and his family) during the freedom movement had received credit during successive Congress regimes for their roles in the freedom movement and so it was trying to give Ambedkar his ‘due’ (this year is Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary too).
The question is, would it be correct to call November 26 ‘Constitution Day’? There is no harm in periodically marking and celebrating something as central and big as the Constitution, but there are problems if November 26 is attempted to be launched as the ‘new’ special day.
On November 26, the Constitution was signed by the President of the Constituent Assembly. It was voted upon and the draft was adopted but in the draft it says explicitly ‘that on the 26th of January India shall be a Republic in 1950 when this draft will turn into a Constitution and we shall enact’ it then.
Also the law that governed India in the two months between November 26, 1949 and January 26, 1950 after India adopted this Constitution was the India Independence Act, 1947 moved by the British Prime Minister Clement Attlee in the House of Commons in London. So we did not turn into a Republic on November 26, 1949. So no day can be parallel to January 26 as that is the day India became a republic.
THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE – PLEDGE TAKEN BY PEOPLE IN LAHORE AT THE SESSION OF THE INDIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS ON JANUARY 26, 1930
We believe that it is the inalienable right of the Indian people, as of any other people, to have freedom and to enjoy the fruits of their toil and have the necessities of life, so that they may have full opportunities of growth. We believe also that if any government deprives a people of these rights and oppresses them the people have a further right to alter it or to abolish it. The British Government in India has not only deprived the Indian people of their freedom but has based itself on the exploitation of the masses, and has ruined India economically, politically, culturally, and spiritually. We believe, therefore, that India must sever the British connection and attain Purna Swaraj, or complete independence. …..
We hold it to be a crime against man and God to submit any longer to a rule that has caused this fourfold disaster to our country. We recognise, however, that the most effective way of gaining our freedom is through nonviolence. We will therefore prepare ourselves by withdrawing, so far as we can, all voluntary association from the British Government, and will prepare for civil disobedience, including nonpayment of taxes. We are convinced that if we can but withdraw our voluntary held and stop payment of taxes without doing violence, even under provocation, the end of this inhuman rule is assured. We therefore hereby solemnly resolve to carry out the Congress instructions issued from time to time for the purpose of establishing Purna Swaraj.
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