Atanu Dey On India's Development

The Indian Constitution – Part 1

| 10 Comments

So far I have asked around 10,000 Indians if they have read the Indian Constitution. Not one of them admitted to having read it. A few say yes initially but when probed a bit admit that they haven’t really read the whole thing. Some claim to have read the preamble. That is like saying that they have seen the movie merely because they have seen the ad in the newspaper or have had lunch because they checked out the lunch menu.

The constitution is not a holy book, to be kept on an alter and worshiped, to be believed but not examined, to be considered divinely inspired and therefore implicitly trusted.

With very rare exceptions, all Indians whom I have met believe that the constitution is great and wonderful. The operative word is “believe.” Although they have not read it, they are nevertheless fully convinced that it is simply marvelous.

A very intelligent, well-read, awesomely informed, truly articulate, highly educated friend of mine just a few days ago confessed that he did not even know how long the Indian constitution was.

It is a pathetic state of affairs. A document that lays the foundations of a nation, which lies at the core of what the nation is about, which dictates what the government is about, which informs all policies that affect every aspect of public affairs and the lives of all citizens is a closed book. Not only is the constitution unread, it is probably unreadable.

An informed citizenry is the necessary precondition for a functioning democracy. Widespread ignorance of the constitution is inconsistent with any meaningful democracy.

In my opinion, the constitution is the fountainhead of all of India’s troubles. Unless and until it is replaced, India will continue to languish at the bottom of the heap. Scrap it and write one that is good and worth a read.

  • Mahesh Sreekandath

    I have a horrible case of Hayekianism, to quote the man – “a constitution is essentially a superstructure erected to serve the enforcement of existing conceptions of justice but not to articulate them: it presupposes the existence of a system of rules of just conduct and merely provides a machinery for their regular enforcement”.

    I have not read the Indian Constitution, but I guess it should merely be a tool to enforce an “existing system of rules of just conduct”, rules which we need to inherit culturally, such ethos should be passed down with each generation, a codified constitution should exist only for it’s enforcement by the polity.

    Bill of rights represent the inherent traits of the American society, federalism might have been enforced from above but seems like James Madison intended the US constitution to enforce the separation of powers to essentially gridlock govt so that a normal citizen can pursue his plans independently. Indians need more freedom to define their own brand of liberalism, we need to define our own rules of just conduct.

    • Atanu_Dey

      I agree with Hayek. I have learned a lot about this matter from two other great thinkers: John Rawls and James Buchanan.

      Rawls’ conception of justice as fairness, and Buchanan’s ideas on the relationship between the citizen and the state.

      • Mahesh Sreekandath

        Atanu,
        Undoubtedly, the influence of James Buchanan is constantly reflected in your posts.

  • V R Meenakshi Sundaram

    A good read. Indian constitution is not very different from Government of India Act of 1935. A mere act of the British Parliament had become the foundation of our constitution, which is a sad truth. The Quit India movement could only send the British out of the country; not the British Raj.
    Looking forward to your Part-2

    • George Mathews

      constitution was authored. Not handed down to us. Laws were handed down to us. I think you are confusing the both

      • V R Meenakshi Sundaram

        Yes, the Government of India Act of 1935 was handed down to us by the British. Yet, this act had become the very foundation of the constitution which was authored by the Indians. Thus the system which was designed by the British to rule India as a colony is still intact.

  • Jitu Vishy

    Not having read the constitution is one thing, but blatant misinformation being passed off as being in the constitution is a whole different matter.
    I have nothing against Hindi or Hindi speakers and can get by, albeit with atrocious noun gender mixups, but whenever people shove it in my face, demanding that I “should” be able to speak and understand Hindi claiming that “Hindi is our national language as stated in the constitution” it is really annoying to have to educate them on the difference between a “national language” and “one of the official languages of the union government”

  • acrutiapps

    That and first teach half of the population to read.

  • Remya V P

    Where is the TIme and Mind to read our Constitution? This is the mere question question asked by our youngsters! In fact one needs to find himself freed from his business as well as family issues in addition to internet anti privacy policy which in turn grasps his 50% free time left after work and family. Reading about our constitution is in deed an outcome of his interest in Indian Structure of development and Policy making concepts. One thing that I would like to commend on is People have a general tendency to feel extremes(either+/-) about things that are difficult to understand or not much of their interest..

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