A Constitution always in the makingtext_fields
“If it be asked, What is the most sacred duty and the greatest source of our security in a Republic? The answer would be, An inviolable respect for the Constitution and Laws…..A sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle, the sustaining energy of a free government”.
-Alexander Hamilton, 1794
November 26 is designated as the ‘Constitution Day’ in our country to commemorate the adoption of our Constitution by ‘We the People of India’, acting through the Constituent Assembly. It is an occasion to understand the incredible story of our Constitution and to promote constitutional values among citizens. In the last 74 years of its organic and progressive growth, the Constitution of India has served as the framework and the sustaining energy of the organs of the State. Through times of war and peace and amidst other countless challenges, the Constitution, built on the edifice of the sovereign socialist secular democratic republican structure, continues to strive to secure its citizens-Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. This historic and most influential document is the vehicle of life for us and is beautiful in its profound simplicity. It has led to the symbolic transformation of the commoner from ‘nothing’ to ‘something’, which Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes in his 1789 pamphlet described as the ‘’Third Estate’’.
The Constitution of India is the reflection of the vignettes from the different periods of history, ranging from Mohenjodaro in the Indus Valley, the Vedic Period, the Gupta and Maurya empires, the Mughal era, the colonial period to the national freedom movement. It speaks about 4,000 years of the rich history, tradition and culture of the Indian Subcontinent.
Custodians of the Constitution
The people of India are the ultimate custodians of the Constitution. Sovereignty vests in them and it is in their name that the Constitution was enacted and adopted. The Constitution empowers the citizen, and the citizen empowers the Constitution by following it, adhering to it, protecting it, and preserving it to make it more meaningful with words and deeds.
The Constitution is everybody’s preserve. When the Constitution was adopted, there were no provisions regarding the Fundamental Duties of the citizens, though there was a Part III for Fundamental Rights. The Fundamental Duties were added to the Constitution by the Constitution 42nd Amendment Act in 1976, upon the recommendations of the Swaran Singh Committee constituted by the Government. The Committee suggested that steps needed to be taken to ensure that the Individuals did not ignore their duties while in the exercise of their Fundamental Rights. The newly added Article 51-A dealt with a Code of Ten Fundamental Duties for citizens which have now become Eleven by virtue of the Constitution(86th Amendment) Act, 2002.
Fundamental Duties as Reminders
Fundamental Duties are essentially a part of our tradition, mythology, religions and practices and they are responsibilities integral to the Indian way of life. They are intended to serve as a constant reminder to every citizen that while the Constitution specifically conferred on them certain Fundamental Rights, it also requires citizens to observe certain basic norms of democratic conduct and behaviour. Fundamental Duties have brought our Constitution in line with Article 29(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which says we all have a duty to other people, and we should protect their rights and freedoms and it synchronized with the provisions in several modern Constitutions.
Guiding the Nation
The Constitution dictated rule by popular consent, with laws enacted by people’s representatives. It introduced novel governmental doctrines and practices such as the rule of law, checks and balances, separation of powers, federal and republican forms of government, judicial review, and collective responsibility. It has prescribed the principles for guiding our nation, the mother of democracy and the expectations of people from the State. Its influence on the history of ideas and legal thinking has remained strong. However, there is equally a need to educate our citizens in the knowledge required to defend their rights and fundamental freedoms.
Importance of “We the People”
Every Society sets rules to live by. The chief aim of drafting the Constitution was to create a government to serve the citizens and with enough power to act at national and state levels, but without so much power Fundamental Rights would be at risk. One way to accomplish this was to separate the powers of the State into three branches and then include checks and balances on the powers to ensure that no one branch of government gained supremacy. The powers of each branch are enunciated in the Constitution itself. The Constitution has also determined its relationship with the people. The primary consideration of our Constitution, no doubt, is the welfare of all.
The framers intended to establish a firm league of the friendship of the Union with the States and between the States. They knew well that making the States strong would make the Union strong. The Constitution in Article 1 affirmatively declares that India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States. Constitution in a special way recognized the importance of liberty. Jose Rizal, a Filipino nationalist and polymath rightly asserts that without liberty, there is no light.
Wonderful Historical Charter
The Constitution is not merely a Declaration. It is the fulfilment of the promise of the people. It is a document of pragmatic character and utility. It really advances human good and our pursuit of happiness, making us better citizens. A well-structured constitutional government of enumerated power must hear every voice in the democratic process, secure investments and jobs, and guard us against external threats to peace. Constitutional limitations on the exercise of legislative and executive power in fact leave to each citizen a great expanse of freedom. It is up to each of us to employ our freedoms wisely and with responsibility.
We must know that free speech may lead to the search for truth and wisdom and its abuse may turn to falsehood and libel. Similarly, property can lend economic security to family and human flourishing, but it can also be abused to magnify environmental harms or deny just wages and decent working conditions. Founders understood the golden truth that only virtuous people can be free.
New Past for a New Present
A new past for a new present would take India’s constitutional history on a new frontier. The purpose of the Constitution is to build an egalitarian society to secure a life of quality for the people with the right to equality. The Constitution stands for the common man and works for the common man. The ambition of Mahatma Gandhi, the greatest man of our generation has been ‘to wipe every tear from every eye’. As long as there are tears and suffering, our pursuits will not be over.
The Constitution reflects the hopes and aspirations of the people. The cherished goals of the Indian Constitution as indicated in the Preamble, aspire for justice, liberty of thought, expression, belief, freedom of worship, equality of status and opportunity and to promote fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual.
Life in Democracy
Life in democracy should include equality in all aspects and should provide every man and woman opportunities to develop to the best of their ability. Quality, sustenance and success of democracy depend on political freedom, economic equality and social justice. Democracy is a great institution. Nevertheless, it is liable to be greatly abused. The remedy is not avoidance of democracy, but reduction of the possibility of its abuse to a minimum. A good Constitution in a democratic set-up is important, but much more important is the system it contemplates and the manner in which it works.
The ‘Living Tree’
The soul of India is its Constitution. It is a ‘living tree’ capable of natural growth and expansion. It is organic and progressive and is the light, path, direction and foundation of its people. It is a magnificent edifice reared for immortality. The amending process made the Constitution a living document that could be changed only with enough support to meet the changing needs of the time, without damaging its basic framework. It is said laws that promote people’s aspirations sprout from the womb of a good Constitution. Constitution has performed well as an engine of growth and means of social and democratic transformation. The growth of a democratic nation is assessed not merely in terms of GDP, but also based on the prevalence of democratic norms and constitutional values.
The real place of the Constitution in the daily life of an Indian has been beautifully exposed by Justice R F Nariman. “Let every person remember that the ‘holy book’ is the Constitution, and it is with this book in hand that the citizens of India march together as a nation, so that they may move forward in all spheres of endeavour to achieve the great goals set out by this ‘Magna Carta’ or Great Charter of India”.
Our founding fathers nourished a vision for this country ruled by people of diversity who lived and worked in it. With this idea, they structured our Constitution. Our success as a country and its rise to the present status of world hegemon today proves that a country can in fact be successfully run on a democratic framework. Let the Constitution guide India and its people to move forward, to be the model nation of the universe now and in the years to come.
(Dr. Pauly Mathew Muricken is a lawyer, writer and academic based in Kochi)