Guest Post by Abhinav Sekhri, a law student at the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru
The last decade of British rule in the subcontinent had immense political drama but little in coherent political policy, the product of which was the passage of the India Independence Act on July 18, 1947. The Act gave the people a date – August 15 – little short of a month ahead which would mark a historic shift and grant what people had come to covet most; independence. The Act also mentioned another date – December 9, 1946 – on which a body burdened with the task of creating a document that would define the nation to be, first convened. The importance of a Constitution and what it means to a legal system continues to be a subject of interesting academic debate, but its significance remains beyond question. A Constitution is unique; it is an amalgamation of the beliefs of our forefathers at the time, their ideals for the future nation, and a representation of what the present thinks as well. Following from this, it is obvious that not every Constitution lasts; one need not look far for examples. However, the Constitution that the people of India gave to themselves and adopted on November 26, 1949 continues its tryst with destiny.
Few events since 1946 have surpassed the making of the Indian Constitution in scale and ambition. Little need be said of the diversity of the Assembly (albeit with obvious limitations of class and gender), with 207 members initially and 284 members at the conclusion of the Project, providing a voice to the vast masses who had recently acquired a new political identity. This acquisition was marred with violence and witnessed an exodus unlike any other in modern history. It was in this climate of hostility and uncertainty that a group of people met and debated over the destiny of a nation many feared would be stillborn. Some were ministers in the interim parliament, and juggled their responsibilities of manning the helm of the present while keeping the ship on course for a steady future admirably. Indeed, Pandit Nehru who was a giant figure in the Assembly could himself be seen quelling (and fighting) riots in Delhi streets at times. The Constitution is their biggest legacy, but mustn’t be understood as our inheritance.
26 November 1949 was not heralded with fanfare akin to Independence Day two years ago. The pressmen were in their boxes reporting on the completion of an event they saw begin. The President of the Assembly delivered a concluding speech outlining the difficulties faced, and highlighted the significant features of the fruit of their labour. Misgivings were made public, Gandhi was remembered and thanks were given to those who worked hard behind the scenes. The final motion moved was put to motion thereafter, with the question being
“That the Constitution as settled by the Assembly be passed.”
Words describing an event seldom do justice to the reality portrayed. Government publications are especially adept at portraying any excesses – of sorrow or jubilation – in the most muted of ways. There could not be a better example of this than the six mere words in the records of the Constituent Assembly which tell us that “The motion was adopted, (prolonged cheers)”. A journey which began three long and arduous years ago had finally come to an end. All the members individually went up to the President and shook his hand. It was drizzling outside, a good omen they said, as they tried to look past the raindrops to discern what might the future bring.
The Constitution has seen an interesting 62 years since the 284 appended their signatures on January 26 1950. After relatively smooth settling, it faced its biggest test during the ‘rule’ of the daughter of a prominent Assembly member. It bought those alive from the journey of decades ago to come together as the Constituent Assembly Members’ Association (Dreams and Realities) to protect their cherished creation. The Constitution came out relatively unscathed, although with some modifications, and has not faced similar circumstances since.
Today, we stand in their place looking beyond our windows. Some of the landscape outside appears clearer, coloured by the experience of the past 62 years. Most of it remains the same for us as was for them though – hazy, with hopes and aspirations drawing blurry lines across, forming patterns to interpret for the gainsayers and naysayers alike.