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January 19, 2000
Fifty years of solitude
It is a brief span in the nation's march, so no one can claim that a trek of fifty years should take the nation to its committed goals. However, if five decades could be likened to the early stages of one's travel plans, it should give an indication of one, the kind of journey it will turn out to be and two, if the route is taking us to the right destination.
Thus, the experience accumulated over the last 50 years should be enough to tell us if we have been on the right track.
By adopting the Constitution, India has committed itself to the letter and spirit of the statute that, one is told, embodies the best of the world's democracies. However, as the numerous amendments to it have shown, this is by no means a perfect document; there is constant need for amending it.
In fact, conformity to the historically written word -- whether handed down by a superior force, or by humans -- has never been a part of Indian culture or tradition. So it is natural that a statute drawn up by individuals -- howsoever far-sighted they maybe -- will be corrected, as reality encounters presumption.
In the case of the Indian Constitution, the biggest presumption seems to be the continuation of the political system as we inherited it from the British. After all, let us accept a couple of things for what they are: Jawaharlal Nehru was smitten by the British institutions, despite his political opposition to them, and as a traditionalist he yearned for India to be similar. There is nothing wrong with that per se, but the failure was in not perceiving the emergence of the United States on the world stage, and to recognise the similarities that could have bound the two nations together.
Contrarily, India embarked on what now seems to be a pig-headed version of non-alignment which, on the ground, meant a pronounced tilt towards the Soviet Union, the price for which India is still paying 50 years down the line.
That, all said and done, was a political decision, taken by the then leadership in the best interests of the country. Just as the decision to go in for the Westminster model was, warts and all. This model, to be fair, had served a monoethnic nation, not a pluralistic one such as India is. Or the US is. And it is this version of governance that has been exposed by what it is, by Mandalites and Mandirites alike. Surely, it can be no one's case that the government of India should be sworn in on a minority vote. This anomaly needs to be addressed, and that can be only done through addressing the source of the chaos.
In that sense, the parroting of statements by this government, about reviewing the Constitution, should stop forthwith, if the intention is not to go beyond them. What the nation needs is a firm assurance of action, and a firmer assurance that whatever action is contemplated will not be a partisan exercise.
In fact, opponents of the exercise to reviewing the Constitution are motivated by that single fear: that the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party will alter the Constitution fundamentally -- which, again, doesn't appear to be the right thing to do. What the statute needs is an overhaul, not a replacement.
To me, the single most drawback of the Constitution as it exists is the generation of a fractured polity. And any attempt at recasting it must address this question first and foremost.
While amendments to the Constitution are welcome per se, what we have seen is the overturning of judicial verdicts through brute force. It has happened in the case of an old Muslim woman's maintenance in the past, and is likely to happen again over the disputed birthplace of a man revered by many as god-incarnate. The question is, should the executive be allowed to have such overweening powers over the judiciary, the Constitution? Or, is there an essence to the Constitution that needs to be preserved whatever the political exigencies maybe? The answer to this is evident, and that is an area the proposed review needs to address.
And such an exercise is necessary if, 50 years down the line, the Constitution as we have it is not to be altogether junked by succeeding generations in favour of more extreme solutions. A little bit of dynamism here couldn't hurt anyone.
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