Thoughtpad

India’s Founding Moment : The Constitution of a Most Surprising Democracy by Madhav Khosla

I wanted to learn about the conception of the Indian Constitution. I found this book which explored the major predicaments faced by the constituent assembly and the thought process behind the structure of the constitution. It is an interesting book that explores the dilemmas faced by the founding fathers while writing a constitution for a largely illiterate impoverished country.

A constitution is not just a document laying out principles by which a state will be governed but is also a vision of the state that the founding members want to create. It lays down the ideal that the nation should strive towards. It also creates checks and balances for the worst tendencies of its citizens and its inherent structure is dependent on the nation’s history and culture.

Both the vision and structure were especially important while creating the Indian constitution. This was because, unlike Western Society, India did not gradually liberate its people and introduce self rule. This meant that self rule needed to be enabled without society regressing into its former evils that caused its stagnation and subsequent colonization (i.e. Caste system, backward religious practices). At the same time it needed to ensure that the average Indian citizen was given his rights and self respect and was not subjugated under the tyranny of a domineering government (i.e. British colonial government). The state that was created should educate society of a new way of living which included equality of rights and freedom of expression while blocking society from falling back into bad habits. This was why assumptions as well as exceptions were codified that resulted in the Indian Constitution being the longest constitution written.

Furthermore, the new state should be strong enough so that it can take on the systemic challenges plaguing Indian society such as poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy and react to dynamic challenges such as droughts or natural disasters.  This is why the founding fathers created a strong centre that could overrule lower governments.

Finally, the founding members chose to create a democratic country because each individual has a unique point of view which should be accommodated in the government that is created. India is a diverse society with many unique identities. The solution to this was democracy where every individual Indian citizen had the choice to choose their representative. This way the state was not imposing an identity on a person like the British were with different interest groups (i.e. parties representing religions) but was rather allowing the individual to choose their preferences.

The reason that reservation for the backward castes and tribes was done was because these sections of society had historically been discriminated against and had become so backward that the caste or tribe they belonged to overruled all of their personal choices or capabilities. They were unable to choose their identity as individuals because their role in society had been decided for them. In order to remove this difference they were given reservations. Unlike religious or ethnic communities, caste was a social construct that needed to be destroyed and in order to iron out the societal inequality, reservation was provided to them.

Many of the constituent members had varied views on the type of state they wanted to create after the British left. Some such as Mahatma Gandhi were not inclined to a Western form of government but were more interested in small local governments loosely tied together. The book explores these various thought processes and then explains the rationale behind the creation of the democratic form of government we see today. The constituent assembly believed that the only way that India could tackle its problems and avoid falling back to regressive practices was by creating a strong democratic government with a strong center which was guided by the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity.  

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