Reflections on Law Day — 26 November 2012

Guest Post by Abhinav Sekhri, a law student at the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru
The last decade of British rule in the
subcontinent had immense political drama but little in coherent political
policy, the product of which was the passage of the India Independence Act on
July 18, 1947. The Act gave the people a date – August 15 – little short of a
month ahead which would mark a historic shift and grant what people had come to
covet most; independence. The Act also mentioned another date – December 9,
1946 – on which a body burdened with the task of creating a document that would
define the nation to be, first convened. The importance of a Constitution and
what it means to a legal system continues to be a subject of interesting
academic debate, but its significance remains beyond question. A Constitution
is unique; it is an amalgamation of the beliefs of our forefathers at the time,
their ideals for the future nation, and a representation of what the present
thinks as well. Following from this, it is obvious that not every Constitution
lasts; one need not look far for examples. However, the Constitution that the
people of India gave to themselves and adopted on November 26, 1949 continues its
tryst with destiny.
Few events since 1946 have surpassed the
making of the Indian Constitution in scale and ambition. Little need be said of
the diversity of the Assembly (albeit with obvious limitations of class and
gender), with 207 members initially and 284 members at the conclusion of the
Project, providing a voice to the vast masses who had recently acquired a new political
identity. This acquisition was marred with violence and witnessed an exodus
unlike any other in modern history. It was in this climate of hostility and
uncertainty that a group of people met and debated over the destiny of a nation
many feared would be stillborn. Some were ministers in the interim parliament,
and juggled their responsibilities of manning the helm of the present while
keeping the ship on course for a steady future admirably. Indeed, Pandit Nehru
who was a giant figure in the Assembly could himself be seen quelling (and
fighting) riots in Delhi streets at times. The Constitution is their biggest
legacy, but mustn’t be understood as our inheritance.
26 November 1949 was not heralded with
fanfare akin to Independence Day two years ago. The pressmen were in their
boxes reporting on the completion of an event they saw begin. The President of
the Assembly delivered a concluding speech outlining the difficulties faced,
and highlighted the significant features of the fruit of their labour.
Misgivings were made public, Gandhi was remembered and thanks were given to
those who worked hard behind the scenes. The final motion moved was put to motion
thereafter, with the question being
the Constitution as settled by the Assembly be passed.”
Words describing an event seldom do justice
to the reality portrayed. Government publications are especially adept at
portraying any excesses – of sorrow or jubilation – in the most muted of ways. There
could not be a better example of this than the six mere words in the records of
the Constituent Assembly which tell us that “The motion was adopted, (prolonged cheers)”. A journey which began
three long and arduous years ago had finally come to an end. All the members
individually went up to the President and shook his hand. It was drizzling
outside, a good omen they said, as they tried to look past the raindrops to
discern what might the future bring.
The Constitution has seen an interesting 62
years since the 284 appended their signatures on January 26 1950. After
relatively smooth settling, it faced its biggest test during the ‘rule’ of the
daughter of a prominent Assembly member. It bought those alive from the journey
of decades ago to come together as the Constituent Assembly Members’
Association (Dreams and Realities) to protect their cherished creation. The
Constitution came out relatively unscathed, although with some modifications,
and has not faced similar circumstances since.
Today, we stand in their place looking
beyond our windows. Some of the landscape outside appears clearer, coloured by
the experience of the past 62 years. Most of it remains the same for us as was
for them though – hazy, with hopes and aspirations drawing blurry lines across,
forming patterns to interpret for the gainsayers and naysayers alike.
Abhinav Sekhri
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