The prime minister was in fine form on Friday. In the morning, he issued an invitation to Congress President Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to talk about the stalled legislation on the goods and services tax, over tea. That same evening, he delivered an address to Parliament, bringing the Constitution Day debate in the Lok Sabha to a close, in which the binding theme was the acknowledgement of a shared commitment to the rules of the game. That morning gesture is a heartening first. The rancour of the 2014 Lok Sabha campaign has yet to fade from the public-political space, and the just-concluded election in Bihar only seemed to renew the acrimony. In this moment, when both the ruling party and the parties of the Opposition have seemed to be bracing for an especially bitter parliamentary confrontation, the PM’s tea diplomacy does well to break the negative pattern. PM Modi seemed to carry the same spirit onto the floor of the House, remembering and emphasising the ideas and ideals that constitute a nation — as he said at the very beginning of his speech, the discussion on the Constitution should not be reduced to “you and I”, its purpose was to serve as a reminder of a “we”.
What is it, asked the PM, that makes the Constitution a document that abides and inspires, in a changing world? What is that width of vision, that makes B.R. Ambedkar, who led the constitution-making project, an icon who can be appropriated and owned, not just by one party and school of thought, or one generation and social section, but by one and all? It is because the Indian Constitution is not just a legal document, it is a “samajik dastavez” or a social compact as well, the PM said. And this contract that binds a diverse people mirrors in the sprawl and complexity of its concerns the sensibility that Ambedkar brought to it as a Dalit — shorn of any sense of resentment or retribution. In the Lok Sabha on Friday, PM Modi marvelled, rightly, at the capaciousness and largeheartedness of the constitutional framework. He underlined its expansiveness, and also its careful delineation of the limits of power.
The PM invoked Ambedkar, whom his party is accused of trying to appropriate, but also Nehru, whom the Congress attempts to own. He spoke of the contributions made by previous governments to India’s journey and progress. He referred to what Sonia Gandhi had said in her speech — about the Constitution being only as good or bad as those who implement it — and recounted an anecdote in which Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad underlined that, offstage, political opponents can also be friends. The PM spoke of taking the constitutional spirit beyond the Lok Sabha to the jan sabha, to the people. That Friday promise, of a more inclusive, less partisan politics, is very attractive. It should not be forgotten on Saturday.