Ideas of India – Constitutional Ideals
(—Shameless cogging again)
The members of the Constituent Assembly were chosen on the basis of the year’s provincial elections (There were eight women, and also representatives of the princely states).
Within the Congress there were wide differences. There was hardly any shade of public opinion not represented in the Assembly. Submissions were also requested from the general public, and they were many, divided and vocal. The Constituent Assembly had to adjudicate among thousands of competing claims and demands.
The Constituent Assembly had more than 300 members, out of which about 20 were the most influential, twelve of whom had law degrees. These included Nehru, Patel (minority rights), Rajendra Prasad (President), Ambedkar, Alladi Krishnaswami Aiyar and B.N. Rau (Advisor).
Some people wished for a Gandhian return to the Panchayati Raj, but under Ambedkar, the individual rather than the village was chosen as the unit.
A number of foreign models such as the American, the Swiss, the Irish and the British were considered. The Upper House was constituted with a view to act as a check upon the lower house. The President was seen as the nominal head of the State, much like the British sovereign; the Supreme Court was seen as the guardian of the social revolution and the guarantor of civil and minority rights; fiscal federalism was mandated – heavily borrowed from the Act of 1935.
To the unprejudiced eye, the Constitution was an adaptation of Western principles to Indian ends. The Constitution sought to facilitate national unity and to promote progressive social change. (E.g. freedom of religion v. uniform civil code).
There was a bias towards the centre – the three lists. This was because of the existing system, the prevailing chaos, and the need for economic reform and equalisation among states.
As far as rights of the minorities went, the demand for separate electorates was rejected. In the end, even the Muslims came around. The women also did not ask for separate electorates, asking instead for social justice. However, reservation for the Untouchables was there. (Throwing open of temples etc.) Jaipal, the tribal leader, also wanted reservations for tribals. This was acceded to.
The language question was very contentious. It was vociferously argued that the national language should be Hindustani and that the Constitution should be in Hindi. (Hindustani was an amalgam of Hindi and Urdu). The politicians of the North wanted Hindi, those of the South wanted English. Nehru thought Hindustani could be a uniting factor. Partition killed the case for Hindustani. The move to Sanskritise Hindi grew in pace, and became fanatical. This led to furious debates on the floor of the house. In the end, a compromise was reached: the official language was designated Hindi, but for fifteen years the English language would be used for all official purposes.
The three warnings of Ambedkar:
1) The place of popular protest in a democracy – no more civil disobedience.
2) Unthinking submission to a charismatic leader.
3) Not to be content with merely a political democracy.
Chew on these:
Have the objectives remained the same?
What kind of changes have our constitutional ideas gone through?
What did they represent then and what to they represent now?
What is the genesis of these things that become our ideals?
Are they the product of colonialism (in what manner?) Do you think the constitution is a shared ideal?
What is its role in the imagination of india?
How has the changing imagination of india affected our ideals?