Opinion: On 69th Republic Day, what we need to remember about our Constitution

The preamble of the Constitution of India. Photograph:( Others )

Cuttack, Odisha, India Jan 26, 2018, 06.29 AM (IST) Yogesh Pratap Singh

Freedom fighters had cherished many aspirations and dreams during the arduous course of the freedom struggle. Upon realisation of this dream, they were passionate about making a fresh start in the form and system of a government substantially different from that of alien rulers. Consequently, the arrival of political freedom gave impetus to the drafting of our own Constitution which was objectified on this day of January 26, 1950.  

 

Constitution of India was, therefore, not a mere a set of fundamental principles that formed the basis of governance; but it codified and reflected certain basic ideals, philosophy and goals that were cherished by our founding fathers. Federalism, separation of powers, constitutionalism, rule of law is at the heart of Constitution. Besides, there are other fundamental principles which contribute meaningfully toward the achievement of liberty, order, and justice.

       

First, the Constitution of India was based on the belief that a legitimate Constitution is that which originates with, and is controlled by we the people and, thus, a Constitution is more than a body of substantive rules and principles. Thomas Paine explained this the best when he said, “a Constitution is not the act of a government, but of people constituting a government, and a government without a constitution is power without right.” This principle is very well entrenched in the Preamble of the Constitution, which declares that the Constitution is ordained and established not by the government, but by “We the People of India.”   

 

Second, our Constitution subscribes to the view that the government must in all respects be politically accountable to the governed. This is accomplished through the election process and with the members of the House of Representatives being directly accountable to the electorate. Though sloping towards union, the States have an effective role by virtue of the Upper House, Electoral College to elect the President, and the amendment process.   

 

Third, the Constitution rested on the proposition that all governments are limited government. A Constitution is a legal, not just a political, limitation on government. It is considered by the Supreme Court, the antithesis of arbitrariness. Instead of advocating parliamentary supremacy, the Indian Constitution affirms that the Constitution shall be the supreme law of the land.    

 

Fourth, the Constitution embraced the view that in order to ensure constitutionalism i.e. idea of limited government, the powers of government must be defined, distributed and divided. This tendency toward “tyranny in the head” shall be prevented, or at least discouraged, through a separation of powers among the three branches of the government.  

 

Fifth, the Constitution of India was premised on the unassailable assumption that the rights and liberties of the people would be protected because the powers of government are limited. The drafters were over conscious and, thus, immunised the power process by inserting negative clauses (Fundamental Rights), inhibiting the government from assuming any such powers along with positive directional clauses (Directive Principles) to take affirmative action.   

 

However, our Constitution was deficient in certain matters. As in the western conception of rights, Indian Constitution emphasised only rights rather than duties, in spite of the fact that these duties of citizens are encapsulated in the preamble to the Constitution. Duties, such as the duty to uphold the constitution and its ideals, duty to uphold sovereignty, unity and integrity of India, duty to promote harmony and brotherhood amongst all people must now be given substance rather than declarations of ornamental significance. 

 

Otherwise, it would be impossible for a democratic community like India to ever flourish where the citizens are not enthusiastic to be active participants in the process of governance by assuming responsibilities and discharging citizenship duties with utmost integrity and honesty. Another duty of supreme importance which must be performed is the duty to practice tolerance, otherwise, constitutional democracy will be under threat, while the cherished freedom of expression and dissent will be held captive by fanatic mobs. 

 

I wish to recap on the virtuous occasion of 69th Republic Day, the finest lines of Justice O. Chinnappa Reddy in National Anthem Case: “our tradition teaches tolerance; our philosophy preaches tolerance; our constitution practices tolerance; let us not dilute it."           

 

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)