Prime Minister Narendra Modi marked the occasion of Constitution Day of India and said the day is to pay homage to the inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi and the commitment of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. He said many such representatives had paved the way for the Navnirman of India. “The country should remember those efforts, for this purpose, it was decided to celebrate November 26 as Constitution Day 5 years ago,” the prime minister said while addressing the nation at the 80th All India Presiding Officers Conference. The prime minister said everything from the role of the three parts of the constitution to decorum is described in the Constitution itself. The PM said now our effort should be that the common citizen understands of the Constitution should be more comprehensive. “Nowadays you hear KYC… Know Your Customer is an important aspect of digital security. Similarly, KYC i.e. Know Your Constitution can also strengthen our constitutional safeguard,” he added. In this edition of The Big Picture, we will analyse how to better understand the constitution.
Edited Excerpts from the debate
The ‘essence’ of India
The spirit behind the framing of the Constitution was the welfare of all the citizens of India.
Indian Constitution assures dignity of the individuals and the unity and integrity of the Nation. It has smoothly transformed the society on the principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity as compared to the inhumanity/inequality that existed in past.
The Constitution of India governs the nation, it lawfully guides the society.
It lays down the framework defining fundamental political principles, establishes the structure, procedures, powers and duties of government institutions and sets out fundamental rights, directive principles and the duties of citizens.
It is the longest written constitution of any sovereign country in the world.
The Constitution was intended not merely to be a tool for governance, but a vehicle to usher in a new era of inclusive democratic politics.
Institutions of governance, such as the Parliament, the President, the Judiciary, the Executive, etc. did not exist before the adoption of the constitution, by the people of India, and were created by it.
Constitution further grants duty to President of India to preserve, protect and defend the constitution and the law.
Altogether, the Constitution of India is federal in nature but unitary in spirit.
It acts like a guardian in protecting the fundamental rights of the people. It aids to resolve the conflicts between the centre and a state or among states.
How to ensure that everyone knows and get connected to the Constitution?
Know Your Constitution campaign: It should become a campaign like KYC (Know Your Constitution).
Constitution education: The term ‘Constitution education’ does not imply teaching students the A to Z of the Constitution or enabling them to become experts in it. Rather, it implies exposing them to the Constitution, teaching them its salient features, enlightening them about their fundamental rights, enabling them to critically evaluate the relevance of various Articles, shaping their mind to develop a positive attitude towards it and helping them appreciate the wisdom found in it.
More awareness: It is challenging in India that awareness of Constitution starts decreasing after Preamble, Fundamental Rights, Fundamental Duties. This gap needs to be plugged.
Story-telling: India has a rich tradition of folk tales. To ensure that everyone gets themselves connected with the Constitution, it is essential to make it more interesting by associating storytelling to it.
Accessibility: In multilingual India, the language of the Constitution is challenging for few citizens. The bare text of the Constitution should be available in multiple languages.
Essence: The text of the Constitution, for a non-technical person, should be simplified.
Answering the Hurdles
Why is it important for citizens to understand the Constitution?
How to make it a greater priority?
How to simplify the language of the Constitution?
How to make the Constitution more interactive?
How to fundamentally re-think Constitution?
Why is Constitution education important?
In every country across the globe, people are expected to revere their Constitution and feel that it is their duty to know what is in it.
It is a vital document that is the basis of all laws enacted by any government in power. It is based on noble principles.
It is essential for the smooth and effective functioning of the Parliament, legislature and other wings such as Judiciary, executive etc.
At a time when there are so many ideological clashes, rising intolerance among people of various communities, growing inequality, suppression of women’s rights, it is only the Constitution of our country that can bind everyone together and help find solutions to various problems.
In these difficult times, it is important to have knowledge and a better understanding of the Constitution.
For example, since the concept of ‘secularism’ is not clearly understood by most people, there has been a clash of minds and hearts. If basic concepts such as secularism, justice, liberty, equality, fraternity and fundamental rights (the right to equality, the right to freedom, the right against exploitation, the right to freedom of religion, cultural and educational rights, and the right to Constitutional remedies) had been discussed in the classroom in a meaningful way, our society would have been different in a positive way.
Who cares about Fundamental Duties?
The Constitution of India, besides defining the power of the government, spells out the rights and duties of the citizen.
As it protects the rights of all the citizens and serves as the framework for good governance, it functions as a social contract between the government and the people governed.
According to Dr Ambedkar, the architect of the Constitution of India, “The Constitution is workable, it is flexible and it is strong enough to hold the country together both in peacetime and in wartime.”
Old is NOT always Gold
India has too many laws and they put up obstacles to running smooth administration and ease of doing business.
A few of these seem out of touch with our present times
Consequently, the country needs a follow up to the repealing exercise with the rationalising of a scattered and over-legislated criminal law.
This would include, among other things,
repeal of the remaining redundant laws
decriminalisation of offences that were poorly conceived
reduction in overlap by enacting one statute incorporating all aspects of a subject
reconsideration of forms of criminal penalties and an overall reduction in use of imprisonment
The progressive steps
The Delhi high court decriminalised beggary in Harsh Mander v. Union of Indiaby declaring unconstitutional some 25 provisions of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959.
The Supreme Court decriminalised homosexuality in Navtej Singh Johar and others v. Union of India.
The Supreme Court declared Section 497of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) to be manifestly arbitrary and violative of Article 14 and 15 of the Constitution.
The R. Ramanujam Committee in 2014 reported the existence of 2,781 laws on the central statute book. The Committee also identified obsolete and redundant laws for repeal.
The Law Commission too undertook a similar project.
This was followed by a repealing and amending exercise by the Parliament that was spread over four Repealing and Amending Acts, two each in 2015 and 2017, and one in 2016.
Constitution Day is a one-day affair with some activities but understanding the Constitution is a process leading to right thinking and noble behaviour. The proper understanding of the Constitution, right attitude towards it, ability to interpret it to the current situation and willingness to keep its spirit alive is essential for the democratic setup.
The Constitution of India
The Constitution is a set of written principles and precedents of the Government of India that frames fundamental political principles, procedures, rights, directive principles, restrictions, and duties of the government and the citizens of the country.
It declares India to be a sovereign, secular, socialist, and democratic republic and assures its citizens' equality, liberty, and justice.
The final draft of the Indian Constitution which is the longest in the world was adopted on 26 November 1949 after almost 2 years, 11 months an 17 days.
It was legally enforced on 26 January 1950.
Longest: With so much of writing, the Indian Constitution is the longest of any sovereign country in the world. In its current form, it has a Preamble, 22 parts with 448 articles, 12 schedules, 5 appendices and 115 amendments.
Written by: The original Constitution of India was handwritten by Prem Behari Narain Raizada. The Constitution was published in Dehradun and photolithographed by the Survey of India.
Bag of Borrowing: The Indian Constitution is often called a ‘bag of borrowings’.
British Parliament: The fundamental law of India was mostly embodied in a series of statutes enacted by the British Parliament.
French Constitution: The Ideals of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity Come from the French Constitution. These words appear in the Preamble to the Constitution of India. Many other nations have also adopted the French slogan of "liberty, equality, and fraternity" as an ideal.
The USSR: The concept of the five-year plans in The Indian Constitution was borrowed from the Constitution of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
Japan: The laws governing our Supreme Court and the concept of “procedure established by Law” were adopted from the Constitution of Japan.
Germany: India borrowed the concept of suspension of fundamental rights during Emergency rule was taken from the Weimar Constitution of Germany.
United States: The Preamble of the Indian Constitution was inspired by the US Constitution’s Preamble. Both the Preambles begin with “We the People”.
Amendments: Up to January 2020, the Indian Constitution has had 104 amendments.
The basic structure of the Indian Constitution stands on the Government of India Act, 1935.
What is Constitution Day?
While on 26 November, the Constituent Assembly of India adopted the Constitution of India, which came into effect from 1950, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment on 19 November 2015, notified the decision of the Government of India to celebrate 26 November as 'Constitution Day'.
The day is celebrated to promote Constitution values among citizens.
The Constitution Day is celebrated as a mark of tribute to India's first Law Minister BR Ambedkar, who played a pivotal role in drafting the Indian Constitution.