November 26, the day declared as “Constitution Day”, passed off like any other day with a ritual reference by the prime minister. Independent India began its tryst with destiny with great hopes and aspirations. But it also had to face tragedies such as Partition, Hindu-Muslim conflicts, that took a large number of lives on both sides, and the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. But while finalising the Draft Constitution, B.R. Ambedkar did not let these exigencies overtake the need for a democratic Constitution — he ruled out any element of theocracy in the document. On November 26, 1949, he placed the Draft Constitution before the Constituent Assembly. The assembly adopted the Constitution and India became a democratic republic in 1950.
The Constitution is much more than the country’s fundamental laws of governance. It affirms the values of a pluralistic and diverse society and is wedded to the ideals of liberty, equality, fraternity as well as to secularism, gender justice and social, political and economic justice for all. It has been, appropriately, described as a social document.
Defining our nation in terms of one culture, language or religion is a negation of the Constitution’s ideals. Through the federal framework, it provides scope for diverse cultures and languages to flourish. It provides safeguards to the marginalised sections of society and minorities. Its liberal provisions and egalitarian values celebrate the rights and freedoms of all citizens. The consolidation of India as a nation and its resilience owe a lot to the way the Constitution has worked for more than six decades. It created the conditions for the empowerment of the deprived and disinherited sections of society.
The Constitution has often faced challenges from the forces which opposed its progressive architecture of rights. In 1999 and 2002, the then NDA government talked about reviewing the Constitution. The proposal had the potential of overturning the Constitution’s core ideals. K. R. Narayanan, the then president, took a firm stand against the review of the Constitution. “Let us examine if the Constitution has failed us or we have failed the Constitution,” he said. This forced the government of the day alter its stand to review the Constitution. It appointed a commission to review the working of the Constitution.
Narayanan’s stand assumes significance at a time the Constitution is being subverted by numerous administrative measures, which are contrary to its provisions. Ambedkar had cautioned that the Constitution could be negated by subtle administrative actions that are completely against its ideals. The idea of Constitutional morality that he enunciated not only mandates that the Constitutional offices be respected, it also calls for questioning these institutions when they trample upon the rights of people and subvert the Constitution itself. The cultivation of a comprehensive constitutional morality means — among other things — the ability to question the incumbents occupying the institutions created by the Constitution. Unfortunately, the country is dismayed at the aggressive posturing of the government against all those who dare to criticise it. This muscular approach is against the Constitution’s very essence.
Accommodation and understanding — not division and confrontation — lay at the heart of the methods used to frame the Constitution. In using coercive and compulsive nationalism, the government has lost sight of this spirit. It’s the Constitution that is checking the Hindutva forces to a great extent. But this also means that these forces want to subvert the Constitution to usher in Hindu rashtra. Cow vigilantism, the lynching of Muslims in many parts of India in the name of cow protection and the barbaric attack on Dalits by the Hindutva groups go against the Constitution.
The right to life guaranteed by the Constitution includes rights to education and healthcare, right to work and shelter and right to clean air and water. The policies of the government have compromised such rights. Neo-liberal policies have not only resulted in jobless growth but also job losses.
We need to be mindful of the plight of the poor and the toiling masses and socially discriminated sections of our society. Communal and fascist tendencies of the government pose a threat to the Constitution and the nation as a whole. It is extremely important to take concerted action to save the Constitution from such forces. Saving the Constitution would mean saving the nation.
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