When it was enacted at the end of three laborious years of drafting by the Constituent Assembly, few analysts were prepared to confidently forecast that the Indian Constitution thus produced would have a long life. It is a tribute to the wisdom and foresight of the Founding Fathers that what they created continues to remain the rock on which is built India’s parliamentary democracy. The Indian Constitution has been the beacon of light to both lawmakers and the common citizens. In over seven decades, its basic structure has remained intact. Despite the numerous amendments that it has undergone, the principles enunciated in the Preamble continue to inspire faith in it.
“We, the people of India,“ is how the preamble begins, before proclaiming to the world the birth of a sovereign, secular and democratic republic wedded to the principles of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. It has become not only a legal document detailing the structure and organs of the state, but a veritable people’s charter of rights and liberties.
The Constitution that is celebrated on the Republic Day is a living document in a new sense, because it has taken roots in the popular imagination. It was on 26th January 1950, that India became a republic and has remained so. Indian democracy over the last seven decades has grown stronger because of every Indian’s deep belief and trust in the Constitution.
As the spectacular march-past on the Rajpath every Republic Day celebrates India’s military might; it is also the occasion when a billion plus Indians pay homage to the Constitution. It is this document that guarantees every Indian citizen his/ her freedom and guarantees rights. Each Indian on the Republic Day also pledges to uphold their duties and responsibilities as enshrined in this most sacred document of the land. This is the spirit of the Constitution that makes it so dear to every citizen.
It is important to remember that the Indian Constitution was born as the outcome of a national struggle for freedom from British colonial rule under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. Inspired by Bapu’s political philosophy, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar gave his own stamp to the Constitution by fine-tuning the promises of social equality and justice in favour of the oppressed masses.
Another significant feature that emerged was the adoption in essence of a federal structure of government. Described as a Union of States, the Indian Republic has been able to develop a centralized federal governance model. Federalism has been progressively strengthened by the political development of the states as ‘centres’ of power in the federal power structure. It has been so since. Indian federal structure is not in sync with excessive centralization, as in the case of many western democracies.
Civil rights and fundamental liberties enshrined in the Constitution have been important elements of the claims to democratic legitimacy. The Supreme Court of India has endorsed them many times. This has enlarged the ‘right to life’ to mean life with dignity. Freedom of expression and the right of citizens to information as well as the right to individual privacy have reinforced India’s democratic credentials. Today, Indian democracy is far more developed than many others in the world.
The Indian Constitution continues to augur well for the future of the Republic. Citizens in the times to come need to renew their vows and commitment to the compact that binds them to the Republican State.
Script: Prof. Balveer Arora, Chairman, Centre For Multilevel Federalism, ISS