Constitution Day, a mix of cynicism and hope

Constitution Day, Maharashtra politics, November 26, power politics, horse trading, MLAs, BJP, Devendra Fadnavis, Chief Minister, Deputy Chief Minister, Ajit Pawar, NCP, form government, Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar, Uddhav Thackeray, Shiv Sena, Congress
The game of thrones being played out in Maharashtra over the past few weeks has not only raised questions about the falling standards of political morality but also brought under scanner the role played by the constitutional heads. Illustration: Prathap Ravishankar

The irony is not lost on the country. On a day that is celebrated as Constitution Day, the murky power politics in Maharashtra reminded the nation of the serious challenges to the core constitutional values and independence of the sacred institutions.

However, the day also brought hope as the Supreme Court stepped in to order floor test on Wednesday through an open ballot, to be conducted by pro-tem speaker. Such interventions by the highest court of the land restore faith in the primacy of the constitutional norms and help in checking their misuse. By fast-forwarding the floor test to determine who enjoys the majority in the Assembly, the court has helped prevent horse-trading.

Here is the delicious paradox: If the midnight political coup to install Devendra Fadnavis as Chief Minister and Ajit Pawar as his deputy through blatant subversion of the constitutional procedures made one cynical about the way democracy is practiced in the country, the Supreme Court’s intervention makes one hopeful about the efficacy of the checks and balances built into the system. The constitution is not just a manual for the governments but represents the soul of India, a commitment that is sacrosanct and unflinching.

Also read: On Constitution day, Maharashtra exposes inept, immoral institutes

The game of thrones being played out in the state over the past few weeks has not only raised questions about the falling standards of political morality but also brought under scanner the role played by the constitutional heads.

As the nation celebrates the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the constitution by the Constituent Assembly, the Maharashtra muddle, marked by unabashed mockery of the constitution, provides an occasion for introspection and assessment of the actions of constitutional heads and how they have consistently toed the line of ruling establishment at the cost of fairness and democracy.

Timeless message

On this day in 1949, the Constituent Assembly of India formally adopted the Constitution, which came into effect on January 26, 1950. It is also known as National Law Day or Samvidhan Divas.

The NDA government had announced on November 19, 2015 that Constitution Day would be observed on November 26 every year as a tribute to B R Ambedkar, the architect of the constitution. The announcement was made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi while laying the foundation stone of Ambedkar’s Statue of Equality memorial in Mumbai.

The day is also commemorated as National Law Day following a resolution passed by the Supreme Court Bar Association in 1979.

The real tribute to the occasion lies in holding those in positions of power accountable to their actions.

Also read: Time now to focus on our duties: Modi on Constitution Day

In fact, Ambedkar’s concluding remarks at the Constituent Assembly in his famous “Grammar of Anarchy” speech on November 25, 1949, are more relevant than ever before.

“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 to be good if those who are called to work it, happen to be a good lot.

The working of a Constitution does not depend wholly upon the nature of the Constitution. The Constitution can provide only the organs of State such as the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. The factors on which the working of those organs of the State depend are the people and the political parties they will set up as their instruments to carry out their wishes and their politics. Who can say how the people of India and their parties will behave?”

If we wish to maintain democracy not merely in form, but also in fact, we must do three things: Reject unconstitutional methods. Observe caution while putting our faith in charismatic leaders because hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship. Strive to achieve social democracy,” Ambedkar had said in his stirring speech.

Opposition boycott

The opposition parties, led by the Congress, boycotted the joint sitting of the Parliament on Tuesday, called to commemorate Constitution Day. Instead, the opposition leaders staged a protest near the Ambedkar statue in the Parliament complex against what they called “murder of democracy” in Maharashtra.

“In the latest situation in Maharashtra, they (BJP) are disrespecting Indian Constitution,” the Congress said while announcing the boycott decision.

Twelve parties, including the Congress, Shiv Sena, Left parties, NCP, TMC, RJD, TDP and DMK and some Independent members, gathered at the statue of Ambedkar to protest against Maharashtra developments even as the Prime Minister Narendra Modi was speaking inside the Parliament.

Also read: Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha to observe 70 years of Indian Constitution

Leading the protest, Congress President Sonia Gandhi read out the Preamble of the Constitution. “We are celebrating in our own way, the right way,” she said.

The former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who also joined the protest, said that the opposition demonstrations served as a reminder to the people that constitutional norms were being violated by the present establishment.

The opposition parties said they were determined to save the soul of the Constitution by not allowing it to be mortgaged to an “autocratic government blinded by the insatiable lust for power”.

“We are living in the times when three former J&K CMs who swore allegiance to Indian constitution have been illegally detained since 5th August. Meanwhile, MLAs are being purchased like onions in a supermarket. Happy Constitution day,” tweeted Iltija Mufti, the daughter of former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.

Democracy empowered

Addressing the joint sitting at the Central Hall of the Parliament, the Prime Minister said India has strengthened and empowered its democracy in the last 70 years.

“While November 26 is a happy occasion as India celebrates Constitution Day, it also reminds of the Mumbai terror attacks that took place on this day in 2008. I pay tributes to those killed in the Mumbai terror attacks,” he said.

Stating that the constitution stands for the dignity and unity of India, he claimed that nobody would be happier at the state of affairs in the country than its first Law Minister and architect of the constitution Ambedkar.

“The two mantras of the Constitution are dignity for Indians and unity for India. Had Babasaheb Ambedkar been alive today, he would have probably been the happiest man,” Modi said.