On the 63rd Republic Day, India needs to ask itself: has our constitution failed us, or have we failed the constitution? Or is it a mixture of both?
To be sure, the failure is really that of the constitution. One needs a statute not because it is a nice thing to have, but because we want to bind ourselves to a specific kind of conduct and behaviour in public life.
It's not good enough to say that we have failed the constitution, because in that case it means we didn’t create the right constitution for ourselves. If we don’t like the old constitution, we must replace it with a better one. The right constitution for us is the constitution we really want to follow and implement. (If we are more or less happy with small-time corruption, we must specifically allow it, as some people have suggested.) A constitution is an active document, not a holy book to be preserved and revered in private.
I believe that Indians don't really like the constitution we have. So, we ought to change it. This way we will at least be true to ourselves.
In a sense, we have done this repeatedly. We have changed the constitution over a 100 times through constitutional amendment bills.
So why should we not change the current constitution itself? Maybe we need a new constitutional assembly to reflect the hopes and aspirations of the peoples of India in the 21st century.
Let's look at the preamble to the constitution and see if we can identify with any significant statement in it.
This is what the preamble says:
We, the People of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign, Socialist, Democratic Republic, and to secure to all its citizens, Justice, social, economic and political; Liberty, of thought, expression, belief and worship: Equality, of status and opportunity; and to promote among them all, Fraternity, assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation.
After this, in the opening chapter of the constitution, we describe India, that is Bharat, as a Union of States.
Have we achieved even one-tenth of this stated goal in the preamble? My comments immediately follow every relevant phrase in the preamble (original in italics) in normal type.
We, the People of India (I would say, We, the Peoples of India, for India is a multi-identity state, we are not one people), having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign, Socialist, Democratic Republic (Sovereignty needs independent minds and a strong political-economy; without either, we lose our ability to manage our affairs ourselves; as for Socialist, a country which can't feed half its population cannot by any stretch of imagination call itself Socialist; as for Democratic, we have looked more like a mobocracy in recent years); and to secure to all its citizens: Justice, social, economic and political (Our justice system delivers delays for those seeking justice, and benefits crooks and scoundrels; so let’s not worry about delivering social, economic and political justice); Liberty of thought, expression, belief and worship (When we won’t allow Salman Rushdie to speak even on a video-link and a MF Husain has to die abroad, this aspiration is a dead letter); Equality of status and opportunity (We have achieved neither, but democratic politics has indeed improved the social status of the deprived castes and classes a wee bit); and to promote among them all Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual (ha!) and the unity and integrity of the nation (barely just).
Then, in the opening chapter of the constitution, we describe India as a Union of States. In fact, this is the truest part of the constitution: there is no India without its states, since the main entity is a sum of its parts – the states. The problem is the constitution then goes on to achieve the opposite – to make India a centralised country with states as vassals.
This gives us a clue on the first change we need to make to our constitution: complete separation of the powers of centre and states with almost no overlaps. Our states should be our effective nations, with India being the equivalent of European Union – which ensures free commerce, free movement of people, and defends the country from external threats, among other things. India has to be a federation, even a confederation, with Pakistan and Bangladesh having the option to join in at a later date.
Unfortunately, in the initial years of the nation, we placed too much emphasis on trying to be one nation and centralise all powers in Delhi. The fact is India cannot be governed from Delhi or any single capital. Even some of our states are too big to govern. The fall in governance standards – wrongly blamed on coalition politics – is the result of a flawed constitution that privileges central powers over state powers. Coalitions are the norm in much of Scandinavia, but is there any lack of governance?
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