-  Indian Heroes
   -  India Alive
   -  Issues


E-Mail this article to a friend Everything you wanted to ask about the move to review the Constitution, but didn't know whom to ask

Krishna Prasad


Yeh review, review kya hai?

In the golden jubilee year of the Republic, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government wants to set up a commission to "review" the Constitution, to "strengthen" it and make it an "effective instrument for faster and equitable socio-economic development" as promised by it in its election manifesto.

35-word, two-line promise?

Yes. All the NDA speaks of in its manifesto, is its plan to "appoint a commission to review the Constitution not only in the light of experiences and developments since 1996, but, indeed, of the entire post-Independence period, and to make suitable recommendations."

The entire Constitution or just portions of it?

No one is quite sure, although L K Advani has been kind enough to clarify that "the intention is not to create a new Constitution. We do not want to create a new Constitution. I have always been opposed to a new Constitutent Assembly." The review, says the home minister, is like a "periodic health check-up".

Why then is everybody so sceptical?

Because no one has yet explained "how a remulching of the constitutional arrangement will yield a better crop of governance." And because, as the noted economist K N Raj says, the "review" could mean anything from an amendment to a change in the basic structure of the Constitution. But law minister Ram Jethmalani says: "Even if you find one part wrong, you have to look at it as a whole."

What is the stand of different political parties on the review?

The BJP says it is an "innocent act" whose time has come. Mayawati alleges the BJP move is a "clear challenge" to the wisdom of the Father of the Constitution, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. The Congress and Left parties believe the review is just a figleaf for the "saffronisation" of the nation's polity.


The veteran political journalist K K Katyal writes in The Hindu that the RSS is stated to be the main motivating force for this course of action: "There is a feeling that the constitutional changes were favoured for removing obstacles to implementing the hidden agenda". The "hidden agenda" roughly translates into building the Ram temple in Ayodhya, evolving a uniform civil code, abolishing Article 30 which gives a right to minorities to establish and administer educational institution and abolishing Article 370 which grants special status to Jammu & Kashmir.

Dr Subramaniam Swamy alleges that the RSS had directed the BJP to find ways to start a new Republic with a "Hindutva Constituton".

Is it that easy?

No. The government will require the two-thirds support of Parliament for any tinkering of the essential features and principles of the Constitution. And given Sonia Gandhi's mood at the moment (she courted arrest over the removal of the Gujarat government ban on bureaucrats joining the RSS), that is next to impossible to obtain.

Then why is the Congress so vehement in its opposition?

Chiefly, because the Congress wants to be seen as the secular torch-bearer and because it feels a statutory provision for fixed-tenures for the Lok Sabha and state assemblies is a covert exercise by the BJP and its friends to abrogate power without accountability.

But BJP general secretary M Venkaiah Naidu says the reason Congress is afraid is because a public debate on the review would expose the party's long saga of misrule and misdeeds. And Prafull Goradia, also of the BJP, writes that the Congress is afraid that a "review might lead to provision whereby a person of foreign birth is barred from holding any high office."

Just that?

Not quite. Congressmen say the real catch in the exercise is Centre-state relations in which the Centre would be the sole arbiter in inter-state disputes. The proposed changes would leave no choice for states to knock the doors of the judiciary. The Congress is also peeved with Ram Jethmalani's statement that the word "socialism" be deleted from the Constitution, and the attempt to tamper with the size of some state assemblies which would be to the BJP's advantage and the Congress' disadvantage.

Where does the President stand on all this?

The President has put a spoke in the government's wheel. He disapproves of the idea of freeing the executive from the rigours of accountability by going in for a presidential form of government and by having fixed terms for the Lok Sabha and state assemblies.

At a function to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Constitution, barely minutes after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had mentioned the government's intentions to review the statute, K R Narayanan said the time was opportune to ask if we had failed the Constitution or the Constitution had failed us.

He quoted Rajendra Prasad, the first president, who said in 1949: "If the people who are elected are capable and are men of character and integrity, they should be able to make the best of even a defective Constitution. If they are lacking in these, the Constitution cannot help the country."

Has the Constitution failed us?

N J Nanporia writes in Deccan Herald: In the light of the evidence on every side no one can dare to maintain that the Constitution has succeeded…. Consider the main features of the political landscape today. Ugly scenes in Parliament and state legislatures. Blatant horse-trading and corruption. An increasingly poisonous infection of the politician-bureaucrat nexus. A rising level of instability, both of the political and law-and-order kind. The manipulation of voters on the basis of caste and other such affiliations. Poll rigging on large scale. Populism at the expense of progress."

And Harish Khare writes in The Hindu: "It can be conceded that the Constitution-based political system has not produced the kind of satisfactory governance that would have transformed India from a feudal economy and fragmented polity into a first-rate industrial economy and modern governing arrangement."

Should President Narayanan's stand surprise us considering that he is a former Congressman?

Yes. Twice before, he had included in his address to Parliament mentions of the BJP-led government's desire to eradicate the "virus" of political instability caused by minority governments.

On October 25, 1999, he said the NDA government wanted to have a fixed five-year term for the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies. And to replace the present system of no-confidence with a "constructive vote of no-confidence". More than a year before, on March 25, 1998, he said: "Fifty years after independence, the time has come to rejuvenate our institutions so that they are strong enough to meet the challenges of the future. The government proposes to do so as well as appoint a commission to review the Constitution and make recommendations so that anomalous experiences of the past are not repeated in the future."

Why has he changed his mind now?

That's what you would think. Jethmalani does not. The law minister says "my reading of the President's speech is that he has approved of the process of keeping the Constitution under review and making changes where necessary."

Given the opposition to a whole-sale review and the President's misgivings, wouldn't amendments have been sufficient?

Probably. Former chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana high court Justice M Rama Jois, for one, believes that amendments to Article 73 and 113 to bring it line with Article 63 and 66 of the German Constitution would have sufficed to deal with the BJP's core concerns.

According to Article 63, immediately after elections, Parliament should choose its leader without debate, who should secure 51 per cent of the votes. The President is compelled to put the person so elected in the PMO.

And Article 66 says a no-confidence vote should be accompanied by suggestions for an alternative person to take over as prime minister. If adopted here, the Lok Sabha may express its lack of confidence in the incumbent prime minister by electing successor with the majority of its members.

That simple?

Yes. As K K Katyal writes, a change to this effect does not necessitate a "review" of the Constitution or its amendment, not even a simple legislative measure. "It could be brought about by revising the rules of procedure of the LS as was done when the concept of 'confidence motion' was introduced."

Wasn't that acceptable to the BJP?

Could have been but wasn't. Which just goes to show that the Vajpayee government probably has in mind "major, substantive changes" which could not be effected through the amendment process. And which is why Venkaiah Naidu is vehemently opposed to specific amendments to deal with the problem-areas. He says there could be no amendment without a review.

Is the Constitution so sacred that it cannot be touched?

Tell us what you think of this feature