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An estimated 2-minute read

Un/happy 60th Birthday to our Constitution!

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As citizens, observers and above all individuals who have the potential of being harbingers of social change, we have thoughts and avowed beliefs in the state of Indian democracy aplenty. But those vary between euphoric ideals which bind us together and the stark realities which force us to question those very fundamentals.  

Today, on the eve of India's 60th year as a Republic, I was drawn into thinking about the man who gifted us our constitution – Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar – a great statesman, democrat, administrator and the first law minister.

I also instantly recalled Ambedkar's warning, which is discussed by eminent historian Ramachandra Guha's article "Ambedkar Desiderate" in a special issue of Outlook magazine:

There was "nothing wrong", said Ambedkar, "in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country. But there are limits to gratefulness." It worried him that in India, "bhakti or what may be called the path of devotion or hero-worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship."

The write-up and especially that excerpt made enough sense for me understand that greatness lies not in idolisation of a person, but rather in imbibing the cherished concept of what makes the nation great.

The "Ambedkar Desiderate" article encapsulates the contemporary problems stemming from historically prevalent dogmas and exigencies that have governed and continue to dominate our socio-political existence in India.

A look at our constitution offers a glimpse of India's history and the important events that shaped it and the way it shaped our society.

Some birthday facts about the Indian constitution:

  • The Constituent Assembly took two years, eleven months and seventeen days to complete the task of drafting the Constitution spread through eleven sessions covering a total of 165 days.
  • Late in the evening of 14 August 1947 the Assembly met in the Constitution Hall and at the stroke of midnight took over as the Legislative Assembly of an Independent India. 
  • The Drafting Committee under the chairmanship of Dr B R Ambedkar was formed on 29 August 1947 to prepare a Draft Constitution for India.
  • A total of 7,635 amendments that were tabled, the Assembly moved, discussed and disposed of as many as 2,473.
  • The Constitution of India was adopted on 26 November 1949 and 284 out of 299 members appended their signatures to it on 24 January 1950.
  • The Constitution of India came into force on 26 January 1950, since then the Assembly ceased to exist, transforming itself into the Provisional Parliament of India until a new Parliament was constituted in 1952.
  • It is the longest written constitution of any sovereign country in the world, containing 395 articles in 22 parts, 14 schedules and 94 amendments.

In honour of the Constitution's 60th birthday, do you think the document has achieved what its writers had set out to do? Where has it failed us and where have we failed it? And what is our role as lawyers to help it change and adapt?

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