Kingdoms and empires have evolved into numerous regions of the world known as continents, nations, and countries. Over time, these nations have made the transition from monarchical to republican regimes, and several causes have contributed to this change.
The emergence of diverse nation-states around the world is a result of people being aware of various revolutionary movements, enlightenment of ideas, political and economic instability, and aspiration for development. The shift from monarchs to elected leaders, from monarchies to democracies, has necessitated the adoption of several rules and regulations to run a nation.
When it comes to democracy, we are aware that “we the people,” who are the ones governed, also have the power or right to decide on a variety of issues in order to meet the needs of a rapidly evolving society. This requirement may differ from one person to another and from one community to another. Even if a country has diverse communities with diverse viewpoints, there must be certain rules and laws that are based on common ground. A few of the elements that led other nations to adopt constitutions around the world include individual rights, freedom, equality, and the separation of powers.
What is Constitution?
A constitution is a legal document that establishes the framework and principles of a government, and it serves as the law of the land. It defines the power and limits of government and the rights and obligations of citizens. It may be written or unwritten and it could be flexible or rigid, but it is always fundamental to the functioning of a country.
Nations make their constitutions based on a variety of factors, including historical, political, social, and cultural influences. Similarly, after India gained independence, its constituent assembly drafted a new constitution that would replace the Govt. Of India Act, 1935. The Indian Constitution was also influenced by some other constitutions and political systems from around the world. It was a unique document that incorporated the various features of other constitutions and political systems, while also reflecting the specific needs and aspirations of the Indian people. The length of the Constitution is a reflection of the magnitude of problems facing the newly independent nation, including its very integration as a nation-state.
Great minds worked hard to draft the Constitution, taking into account the needs and ideologies of the nation, yet there are many issues and uncertainties that persist today. Additionally, we observe a lot of unsettling behavior in a specific proportion of people when it comes to discussing their issues. Either we believe too much or too little in our constitution.
There are certain people with a reductionist approach to the constitution, who believe that everything in the draft can be resolved appropriately but that what is not there cannot be addressed effectively like a left-leaning and common educated person would always restrict his problem with the constitution and its articles. The fact that the constitution is a living document implies that it may be amended as needed but there must be some valid reasons that don’t go against basic fundamentals.
In contrast, there are a few people with extreme opinions, who believe that the entire draft must somehow be molded to suit their own needs or agendas like far-right people who clearly disagreed with the idea of secular India are now interpreting it through their ideological prism. There are many examples like a few of the ruling party ministers who have publicly said that they had come to power to change the constitution. Soon after the adoption of the Indian constitution, the magazines of the far-right extreme organizations many times criticized the constitution stating different reasons like no mention of the laws written in the ancient Bharat. Here, both the thought processes stated above seem problematic.
Another issue is the constitution’s incremental nature, which allows for multiple amendments, has provided opportunities for exploitation for the ruling parties. Examples include amendments to the FCRA, RTI Act, and the application of draconian laws like UAPA and NSA, particularly against helpless minorities like Dalits and Muslims. Then, what other attitude might a nation’s citizens take toward their constitution?
It is possible to view the constitution both as a point of reference when necessary and as an effective reformation when necessary based on fundamental principles. The question then arises — what may be the ideal restriction that could be imposed by these living documents to stop the abuse of authority and rule of law? What are the factors to be considered in the system of laws that can base and steer itself toward a more fruitful evolution of society?
By escaping the limited nature and binary thinking that characterize our contemporary public debate, “We the People” must broaden our own political vision for India’s future.
In my upcoming writings, I shall explore these two kinds of approaches toward the constitution, and the arenas where our political vision for India can be broadened, leading to a more fruitful society.