After more than 200 years of colonial rule, India became free at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947. The hard-earned independence was an outcome of a long-drawn freedom struggle. At the time of independence, we inherited an impoverished country that had been for millennia preceding the pre-colonial era a global economic and cultural powerhouse. The turbulent period at the time of independence posed serious challenges before the framers of our Constitution. Doubts were expressed about the longevity of the experiment, on the desirability of adopting democratic ideals of governance, particularly on granting universal adult franchise to a nation steeped in illiteracy, poverty and the lack of exposure to modern democratic systems and institutions.
However, our Constitution framers remained undeterred by sceptics because of their deep understanding of our democratic ethos that has evolved over two millennia. The strength of our democratic structures is firmly hardwired into our socio-political tapestry. The members of the Constituent Assembly were deeply cognisant of the traditional but robust participatory forms of governance in our village republics that had survived the ravages of invasions, the exploitation of a feudal order and the rise and fall of empires. But, most importantly, what guided the framers of our Constitution over everything else was their complete trust in the democratic sensibilities of the common Indian citizen. India can justifiably claim to be the “mother of democracy”.
The experience of living in a democratic polity for the last seven decades is testimony to the fact that the faith the Constituent Assembly had placed in the nation in such trying circumstances to stay the course of a democratic governance model has not been belied. The ideals and principles that form the bedrock of our Constitution continue to illuminate our path as a confident nation marches on into Amrit Kaal.
It was through the untiring efforts of the Constituent Assembly presided by Rajendra Prasad and the drafting committee chaired by Babasaheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar that the Constitution was bequeathed to us. It was wholeheartedly adopted and continues to be held as a sacred document seven decades later. This is no mean achievement in a world, particularly among the newly liberated nations of the time, where life spans of constitutions have often been short.
The Constitution of India in letter and spirit has always stood for the dignity and welfare of all citizens. All organs of the state have contributed over the decades in strengthening the foundations of constitutional democracy in India. The way the Constitution has been understood and interpreted by governments and all organs of state, the free press, political parties and the common citizens have ensured India’s relentless march towards the eradication of hunger, illiteracy, poverty and underdevelopment; towards strengthening inclusivity, accountability and transparency; and in the celebration of unity in diversity and political stability. In a nutshell, the Constitution has facilitated our journey to become a modern welfare state which actively promotes a sustainable, equitable and just quality of life for all its citizens.
Perhaps one of the most significant features of the Constitution is that it is a living document with an inviolable core that shelters the foundational values of our nation and civilisation and which, at the same time, provides for and supports a flexible superstructure that lends itself to adaptation in response to the demands of public interest in a rapidly changing world. The inherent flexibility in the Constitution has enabled Parliament to enact relevant people-centric constitutional amendments from time to time, but also provided opportunities to the higher judiciary to interpret the provisions of the Constitution constructively. While the core “basic structure” of the Constitution has served as an anchor, the manoeuvrability and dynamism implicit in the framework has helped propel the nation to power ahead as a leader among the comity of nations.
With the completion of 75 years of our independence, we can justifiably take pride in our journey as a nation and our achievements in diverse fields. It is also a time to reaffirm our faith in our people and our Constitution as we enter Amrit Kaal and renew and rededicate our commitment to remain steadfast in achieving our dream of a new self-reliant, strong, united and humane nation in the next 25 years.
The ‘Panch Pran’ of Amrit Kaal will undoubtedly help us in realising the ideals that the Constitution has espoused. The political leaders at the time of the freedom struggle had framed a Constitution which sought to place the common man as the central protagonist of our national life, the political sovereign. The welfare and dignity of the common man is at the heart of our Constitution which we shall be able to secure for her by taking the Panch Pran and working wholeheartedly for its realisation. It will only be then that our democratic ethos will find its full efflorescence, and the dreams and fruits of the sacrifices of countless freedom fighters will be realised. Only then we shall be able to re-establish India as a foremost global nation.
The Constitution empowers the people as much as the people empower the Constitution. The framers had realised that no matter how well written and how detailed, it would have little meaning if it failed to establish a symbiotic bond with the institutions and the people. It was the foresight, intellect and ingenuity of the great men in the Constituent Assembly that helped succeed in framing a Constitution whose acceptability has only grown with each passing generation. It is also a time to salute the common citizen of the country who has established an unbreakable bond with the letter and spirit of the Constitution and has at every difficult juncture of our journey renewed her faith and commitment to the lofty ideals of our Constitution.
The writer is Speaker of the Lok Sabha