After India was born as an independent nation on 15 August 1947, its greatest achievement in its early years was the framing of its constitution that provided the social, political and economic framework that led to its emergence as a vibrant and dynamic democracy as well as an emerging regional power in south Asia.
When the first government of independent India took charge, under the guidance of Mahatma Gandhi and the first Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the gigantic task of laying out the constitutional framework was given to Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar.
The Constitution Drafting Committee appointed by the Constituent Assembly on 29 August 1947 was chaired by Dr Ambedkar. Though the committee had six other members, Dr Ambedkar who was the chief architect, through his vision for a just and equal society, laid out an elaborate constitution. The Constitution of India was adopted on 26 November 1949 and it accommodates diverse culture, language, religion and ways of life of 1.25 billion people to this day.
Life of Dr Ambedkar
Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar (14 April 1891 – 6 December 1956) was born as a low caste and was subjected to socioeconomic discrimination in his early years. He however excelled in school and went to earn doctorates in law and economics from renowned universities abroad. He was one of the political leaders during the independence movement who advocated for social inclusion and integration of all Indians in the post-independence era to bring about the union of India.
His work included promotion of education especially among the untouchables, called the Harijans or Children of God by Mahatma Gandhi.
Basic features of the Indian Constitution
The structure of the Constitution of India comprises of the preamble, 25 parts with 448 articles, 12 schedules, 5 appendices and has accommodated 100 amendments, making it the world’s longest constitution. A reason for the length of the constitution is because it incorporates the experiences of all leading constitutions of the world as Ambedkar had said, “there was nothing to be ashamed of in borrowing because nobody holds any patent rights in the fundamental ideas of a Constitution.”
It provides sovereign power of governance to the people of India where it is declared in its Preamble that the constitution was adopted and enacted by the people.
It establishes a parliamentary form of governance where the State is headed by the President and the Government is headed by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister of India and his council of ministers are accountable for all of their actions to the Parliament.
The constitution guarantees fundamental rights to its people such as right to equality, right to freedom, right against exploitation, right to freedom of religion, cultural and educational rights, and right to constitutional remedies.
The constitution through its Directive Principles of State Policy lays down guiding principles for framing of laws and principles both at the union and at state levels. These are not justiciable rights of the people but are fundamental to create social and economic conditions, through laws, plans and programmes, under with citizens can lead a good life.
The judiciary under the Indian constitution enjoys independence from the executive and legislature.
Shaping the Indian Constitution
Dr Ambedkar played a significant role in shaping the social framework of independent India. His views on social justice, equality and inclusion, and fundamental rights were shaped by his education in law, economics and politics and by his personal life and active participation in dialogue and negotiation during the independence movement. Thus, Dr Ambedkar’s constitution offered a wide range of constitutional safeguards and guarantees such as socio-economic rights, civil liberties, freedom of religion, the abolition of untouchability and the prohibition of all forms of discrimination among others.
Dr Ambedkar’s vision of democracy
Dr Ambedkar’s vision of democracy was based on the fundamental idea of “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” The constitution provided the political and legal framework at two levels: the union government and the Supreme Court at the centre and the state governments and the High Courts forming a federal structure.
The Members of the Parliament at the centre and the Members of the Legislative Assembly in the states are elected through universal adult suffrage allowing people’s participation.
Dr Ambedkar also viewed that democracy was only a means to the end of achieving social progress and economic development. He called upon those elected to power to govern with ethics, morality and constitutional morality, which is to abide not just by the legal provisions of the constitution but also to the spirit of the constitution. The Indian constitution is thus rigid to preserve its basic framework and spirit, but also flexible to have accommodated 100 amendments thus far.
The Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan
When the Bhutanese Constitution was drafted, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo commanded that it was wise to study constitutions from other countries. Dr Ambedkar’s vision and philosophy has found inspiration among the writers of the Bhutanese constitution that was deliberated with people from twenty dzongkhags and was adopted by the people of Bhutan on 18 July 2008.
Our constitution that is structured with the Preamble, 35 articles and 4 schedules is the world’s shortest. It establishes a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy with parliamentary democracy, institutionalizes monarchy, and commands the conservation of environment and preservation of culture among others. It also enshrines the Principles of State Policy with the overall directive to “promote those conditions that will enable the pursuit of Gross National Happiness.”
The former chief justice of Bhutan, Sonam Tobgay has said that “Bhutan wanted a rigid Constitution that would withstand untimely amendments” and allow its sprit to mature and nurture a vibrant democracy.
The constitutions of India and Bhutan establish democracy, the former the oldest, the latter the youngest, as a means to further social transformation in the former and realise Gross National Happiness in the latter through the principles of state policies and other framework enshrined in them. The writers of our constitution had a vision for better times and prosperous nation in posterity but it is subject to the lot of people who implement it.
However good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot. However bad a Constitution may be, it may turn out good if those who are called to work it, happen to be a good lot.
– Dr BR Ambedkar
Written by Dr Thinley Dorji (MBBS)
This is adapted from the essay written on the life of Dr BR Ambedkar on his 125th Birth Anniversary Celebrations in April 2016 organized by the Nehru-Wangchuck Cultural Centre, Indian Embassy, Thimphu, Bhutan.
This article was published by the Embassy of India in Bhutan in the Kuensel on 26 November 2016.