Constitution Day: Let’s safeguard constitutional values

Constitution Day: Let’s safeguard constitutional values

Our freedom movement was not just about liberating the country from our colonial masters, it was deeply connected to precious human rights

Since 2015, the country has been celebrating November 26 as ‘Constitution Day’ or Samvidhan Divas to commemorate the adoption of the Constitution of India on that date in 1949 (the Constitution came into effect and India became a republic on January 26, 1950). This year, the celebrations acquire a greater significance as we are also celebrating the 75th anniversary of our Independence.

The Constitution of India is an extraordinary document. It is our supreme law. It is the beacon light of our democracy. It has given us the basic legal and institutional framework. All wings of the State derive their powers from it. It has given us fundamental rights, outlined duties of citizens, besides the Directive Principles of State Policy, which must be kept in view while framing any legislation. Social and economic backward sections and other vulnerable sections look up to the Constitution for protection. It indeed acts like a protective umbrella for everyone.

It is a document which “We, the People of India” gave unto ourselves. Thus, it is a promise as well as an aspiration with all its goals and values. It unequivocally asserts that the people are supreme, by enshrining the idea of a republic. There are lofty principles, such as justice, equality, liberty, fraternity and dignity of the individual. More than ever, we need to safeguard these and other constitutional values -- sovereignty, socialism, secularism and democracy.

The President of India, Vice President, Prime Minister, Union ministers, MPs, judges, all take an oath to abide by the Constitution and protect its ideals and values. The Constitution thus sustains and keeps up the hopes of the nearly 1.4 billion people of India. Every individual must uphold the dignity and values of our Constitution.

India has tremendous religious, linguistic, ethnic and cultural diversity. The Constitution acted as a great unifying force and has kept India together in the past 74 years. It has served the largest democracy of the world well.

Our freedom movement was not just about liberating the country from our colonial masters, it was deeply connected to precious human rights. The freedom struggle was, in fact, waged for securing and protecting rights, including the right to self-determination, self-rule, freedom of speech and expression and right to equality.

Role of people, parties

The architect of the Indian Constitution, Babasaheb Ambedkar, in his last address to the Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949, made several important observations: “I feel, however good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it happen to be a bad lot. However bad a Constitution may be, it may turn out to be good if those who are called to work it happen to be a good lot. The working of a Constitution does not depend wholly upon the nature of the Constitution. The Constitution can provide only the organs of the State such as the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. The factors on which the working of those organs of the State depend are the people and the political parties they will set up as their instruments to carry out their wishes and their politics…It is, therefore, futile to pass any judgement upon the Constitution without reference to the part which the people and their parties are likely to play.”

Referring to certain dangers, Ambedkar said, “in addition to our old enemies in the form of castes and creeds, we are going to have many political parties with diverse and opposing political creeds. Will Indians place the country above their creed or will they place the creed above the country? I do not know. But this much is certain, that if the parties place creed above country, our independence will be put in jeopardy a second time and probably be lost forever. This eventuality, we must all resolutely guard against. We must be determined to defend our independence with the last drop of our blood.”

Former President K R Narayanan, while speaking on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Republic of India in 2000 said, “Today, when there is so much talk about revising the Constitution or even writing a new Constitution, we have to consider whether it is the Constitution that has failed us or whether it is we who have failed the Constitution.”

On this Constitution Day, it is worthwhile reflecting on those words of both Ambedkar and Narayanan. Rajendra Prasad, as president of the Constituent Assembly, had pointed out: “If the people who are elected are capable men of character and integrity, they should be able to make the best of a defective constitution. If they are lacking in these, the Constitution cannot help the country.”

Speaking on the spirit of liberty, Billings Learned Hand, an eminent American jurist, lawyer, and legal philosopher, said, “I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it.” Thus, people -- enlightened citizens -- are the key. As another jurist put it, we can have the Constitution printed in golden letters and beautifully bind it, and yet what we have given to ourselves is just a book. Without the spirit of liberty or constitutionalism, it will not lead us anywhere.

(The writer is Vice-Chancellor, RV University, Bengaluru)

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