As per the Bharatiya tradition, the Constitution of Bharat also believes in change with continuity. It is flexible enough to change with the times while retaining the democratic character intact. Hence, refinement of the Constitution is possible as per the sentiments of the Constitution makers, even though it is considered as the continuation of the British administration in many ways. This was the collective sentiment during the conclave ‘Indianness of the Indian Constitution’, organised by Bharatiya Vichar Manch, Gujarat in collaboration with Organiser Weekly, on November 26, 2022, commemorating the Constitution Day.
At the Pool Side Lawns of Vadodara’s iconic Lakshmi Vilas Palace, the theme of this conclave was ‘To Reignite the Soul of Constituent Assembly Debate.’ Appropriately, the Guest of Honour for the inaugural session was Shrimant Rajmata Shubhangini Raje Gaekwad of Baroda, the royal family that was instrumental in bringing Princely States on board to participate in the Constitution making process. Presenting the keynote address, eminent thinker Dr. Mahesh Chandra Sharma, Editor of Manthan and President, Ekatma Manav Darshan Anusandhan Evam Vikas Pratishthan said, “This theme of the conclave looks a little surprising and complex. It may be true that the Constitution is largely seen as the continuation of the British administration, there is enough flexibility to refine it as per the wishes of the Constitution makers”. He further added that even at the time of enactment of the Constitution in 1949, there was a sentiment in the Constituent Assembly that when it comes to such issues as Gram Swaraj, this Constitution is not Indian enough in spirit. The assurance was given by Pt Nehru that it would be revisited in the coming days. Fortunately, the Constitution is flexible enough so it can be refined as per the spirit of our freedom struggle.
While highlighting the Indian features of the Constitution, Dr Sharma talked about the book written by Shri Laxminarayan Bhala, Hamara Samvidhan: Bhav Evam Rekhankan. The book elaborates on the descriptive sketches made in the beginning of each chapter of the Constitution by renowned artist Shri Nandalal Bose and his team. Dr Sharma remarked with a surprise that since all these pictures are present in the original copy of the constitution, but missing in the copies available in the market, they are rarely discussed in public.
Dr Mahesh Chandra Sharma also mentioned about a book Bharatiya Samvidhan Ki Ankahi Kahani, authored by Ram Bahadur Rai explaining the Constitution making process in its spirit and letter. The fact that the Constituent Assembly was formed for undivided India but actually ended up making the Constitution of partitioned India, should not be missed out. The Constituent Assembly was not party to this decision on Partition. The Constitution decided to do away with the communal representation through consensus, which was the biggest achievement, Dr Sharma underlined.
The Constitution of the country was drafted according to the advice and guidance of the British government by BN Rau. Hence, there was no reference to Gram Swaraj. Later it was included in the Directive Principles. Nehru wanted British scholars like Granvile Austin and Sir Ivor Jennings to draft the Constitution but it was Gandhiji who forgetting his differences with Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, suggested his name for the drafting committee. When Babasaheb was the Labour Minister, he had expressed the fear that “a government established in haste will only produce vested interests.” Hence, despite continuing with the framework of 1935 Act, after a long deliberation, we could adopt and enact a Constitution with futuristic provisions. There were protests against the Constitutional provisions, to which Pt Nehru replied, “we will not make a rigid constitution, we will make a flexible constitution”. It is a great feature of our Constitution that it is flexible, and hence changes/amendments have been made to it from time to time. He suggested the path shown by Pt Deendayal Upadhyaya that we should strive for – conceptualised as Parishkar ka Puraskar (advocacy for refinement) of the Constitution.
The speaker of the second session, Manoj Kumar Srivastav, spoke in detail about the art-culture related clauses in our Constitution and enthralled everyone by presenting comparative and scholarly details about the art-culture related clauses in the constitutions of other countries. Manoj Kumar Srivastava (IAS) has studied 133 constitutions of the world. He insisted that the right to protection of language and culture cannot be a group right, which is limited to minority groups as incorporated in the Articles 29-30. Sighting examples from various Constitutions, he clarified about Article 49 that only the words ‘historic’ and ‘artistic’ appear in it but the word ‘cultural’ is somehow missing. He pointed out the scope for making our Constitution more sensitive towards preservation and promotion of art and culture.
In the third session, Prof Sri Prakash Singh spoke about Dr Ambedkar and his contribution to the Constitution making process. Dr Ambedkar was clear that Liberty, Equality, Fraternity is originally an Indian idea/concept and he is the one who brought in the word fraternity in the Preamble. The word ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ were discussed in the Constitution and due to Dr Ambedkar taking the position about not binding the future generations in certain ideologies, these words were not included in the original Constitution, Prof Singh clarified. Despite lot of constraints, Dr Ambedkar tried his best to address maximum concerns of all Indians and nurtured the final draft of the Constitution with his incessant hard-work. He further pointed out that Babasaheb was strongly opposed to individual worship and he practiced it himself. He opposed the introduction of Shariat law tooth and nail, which was supported by K M Munshi Ji.
In the closing address Prafulla Ketkar, Editor Organiser Weekly, raised certain questions that arose regarding the Constitution. He said, “Swadharma, Swadeshi, Swabhasha and Swaraj were the pillars of our freedom struggle”. Why did members of the Constituent Assembly felt that the spirit is not reflecting in the Constitution? When the Princely States greatly contributed to the freedom struggle and the Constitution–making process, why were they projected as feudal and anti-democratic? If Gau-raksha and Gram-swaraj were the key concerns for the Constitution Makers as reflected in the debates, why are these issues considered as regressive now? Historically, we did not fight on the basis of languages, even the original Constitution did not divide us on the linguistic basis, then how come language become an issue of contention in last seventy years? We need to address these questions to chart out the course of refinement of the Constitution as per the spirit of Indianness, Shri Ketkar insisted.
Shrimant Maharaj Samarjitsinh Gaekwad of Baroda also graced the occasion. Sir Brojendra Lal Mitter, from the State of Baroda, who represented the princely state in the Constituent Assembly and articulated ‘We, the States, are an integral part of India’, was also remembered on the occasion. The conclave was concluded with the sentiment that there is a need for discourse on this matter in every corner of the country and with the chorus of Vande Mataram.