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Thursday, April 02, 2020

What Nehru, Ambedkar and others said during Constituent Assembly debates

While framing the Constitution, politicians and freedom fighters discussed minority rights, independence of the judiciary and the importance of dissent.

Updated: January 26, 2020 5:24:29 pm
jawaharlal nehru Jawaharlal Nehru (Photo: Express Archives)

‘The main thing is the spirit behind it’

“It only seeks to show how we shall lead India to gain the objectives laid down in it. You will take into consideration its words and I hope you will accept them; but the main thing is the spirit behind it. Laws are made of words but this Resolution is something higher than the law. If you examine its words like lawyers, you will produce only a lifeless thing. We are, at present, standing midway between two eras; the old order is fast changing, yielding place to the new. At such a juncture, we have to give a live message to India and to the world at large. Later on, we can frame our Constitution in whatever words we please. At present, we have to send out a message to show what we have resolved to attempt to do. As to what form or shape this Resolution, this declaration, will ultimately take, we shall see later. But one thing is, however, certain: it is not a law; but is something that breathes life in human minds…”

Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, moving the Objectives Resolution, December 13, 1946, that formed the basis of the Preamble

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Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

‘In politics, hero-worship is a sure road to degradation’

“The second thing we must do is to observe the caution which John Stuart Mill has given to all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, not ‘to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with power which enable him to subvert their institutions’. There is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country. But there are limits to gratefulness. For in India, bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship….”

BR Ambedkar, chairman, Drafting Committee, November 25, 1949

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Durgabai Deshmukh Durgabai Deshmukh (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

‘High Courts are guardians of the fundamental rights’

“…the High Courts have got to take upon themselves greater and heavier tasks and onerous responsibilities. They are the repositories of the Constitution; they have got to interpret the Constitution. They are the guardians of the fundamental rights in the Constitution. Every common man must look to these courts for fair treatment and justice. They have got to see that their rights are safeguarded and that they are in safe custody. Therefore if we have got to achieve this we have got to see to the successful working of these High Courts and this depends mostly upon the quality of the judiciary and the manner in which it is composed. The independence of the judiciary is a thing which has to be decided and this independence, to a large extent, depends on the way in which these judges are to be appointed. They should not be made to feel that they owe their appointment either to this person or that person or to this party or to that party. They have to feel that they are independent. It is only in that case that we get efficiency of administration of justice….”

– Durgabai Deshmukh, politician, freedom fighter, lawyer and social worker on the responsibilities of the provincial judiciary, July 21, 1947

Jaipal Singh Munda (Photo: Express Archives)

‘You have to learn democracy from the tribal people’

“I rise to speak on behalf of unknown hordes – yet very important – of unrecognised warriors of freedom, the original people of India, who have variously been known as backward tribes, primitive tribes, criminal tribes and everything else. Sir, I am proud to be a ‘jungli’ that is the name by which we are known in my part of the country. As a ‘jungli’, as an Adivasi, I am not expected to understand the legal intricacies of the resolution. You cannot teach democracy to the tribal people: you have to learn democratic ways from them. They are the most democratic people on earth.”

– Jaipal Singh Munda, politician and hockey player, first speech in the Assembly on December 19, 1946

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frank anthony Frank Anthony (Photo: Express Archives)

‘I’ll drop the prefix Anglo the day you forget you are Hindu’

Some people say, ‘Oh, Anthony…why don’t you drop this prefix ‘Anglo’?’ Well, I say, the word ‘Anglo-Indian’ may be good or bad, but rightly or wrongly it connotes to me many things which I hold dear. But I go further and say to the same friends of mine, ‘I will drop it readily, as soon as you drop your label of ‘Hindu” … the day you forget that you are a Hindu, that day – no, two days before that – I will drop by deed poll, by beat of drum the prefix ‘Anglo’ because, believe me that when we all begin to drop these prefixes or labels …that day will be welcome first and foremost to the minorities of India…”

– Frank Anthony, India’s longest-serving Anglo-Indian member of Parliament, on May 26, 1949 (Report of Advisory Committee of Minorities)

KM Munshi KM Munshi (Photo: Express Archives)

‘The essence of democracy is criticism of government’

I was pointing out that the word sedition has been a word of varying import and has created considerable doubt in the minds of not only the members of this House but of courts of law all over the world. Its definition has been very simple and given so far back in 1868. It says, ‘Sedition embraces all those practices, whether by word or deed or writing, which are calculated to disturb the tranquility of the state and lead ignorant persons to subvert the government.’ But in practice, it has had a curious fortune. A hundred and fifty years ago in England, in holding a meeting or conducting a procession was considered sedition. Even holding an opinion against, which will bring ill-will towards government, was considered sedition once. Our notorious Section 124-A of the Penal Code was sometimes construed so widely that I remember in a case, a criticism of a District Magistrate was urged to be covered by Section 124-A. But the public opinion has changed considerably since and now that we have a democratic government, a line must be drawn between criticism of government, which should be welcome, and incitement, which would undermine the security or order on which civilised life is based, or which is calculated to overthrow the State. Therefore, the word sedition has been omitted. As a matter of fact, the essence of democracy is criticism of government. The party system, which necessarily involves an advocacy of the replacement of one Government by another, is its only bulwark; the advocacy of a different system of Government should be welcome because that gives vitality to a democracy.”

– KM Munshi, On the need to remove the word ‘sedition’ in the fundamental rights discussion on December 1, 1948


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