As you have probably heard, Calcutta was once a centre of hosiery manufacture. I knew of a
successful manufacturer, Lakshmi Narain who trade all kinds of sweat absorbing underwear.
He also started making socks as more and more people took to wearing full, as distinct
from half, shoes in Calcutta. While dhoti was the popular apparel, shoes were worn
only by the executive class. In the days of the raj, the British brought their socks from
home. As trousers began to replace the dhoti, shoes came into vogue. As years went
by, it was suggested to Narain that hosiery gloves will also be fashionable. As with
socks, so with gloves. He made one uniform shape. Soon after the sales began, the goods
started coming back. The customer complaint was that both the gloves had been woven for
the right hand.
What Lakshmi Narain did to the gloves, Jawaharlal Nehru did to the
Constitution. Both overlooked a similar factor, albeit with the best of intentions. No one
in the Constituent Assembly pointed out the oversight just as not a single person in
Narain's factory could observe the mistake. Constitution making was a western tradition
and therefore the document was drafted on the implicit assumption of the Euro-American
psyche. The Christian ethos has been preocuppied with equality: God made men equal but
society makes them unequal.Constitution makers, therefore, tried to achieve equality. The
Christian priority was carried forward by Islam until Marxism hit the climax in the appeal
On the other hand, the Indian psyche evolved on the assumption that karma
is the cause and bhagya is the effect in the life of every individual. There
could not be a ceiling on karma or good deeds. Inevitably, therefore, there could
not be any limit to how much good destiny or good fortune an individual might enjoy. In
other words, liberty to do good or bad was the mainspring. Although liberty and equality
have been made to sound similar due to both being parts of the French revolutionary
battlecry, they actually stand at oppositeends. If liberty is to get free play, it would
be difficult to introduce equality. On the other hand, if equality is the desired
direction, there has to be a curb on liberty.
In the first place therefore, the Indian Constitution is made to fit a
western scheme for an eastern people. Another mistake was that its foundation or skeleton
was designed for administering a colony whereas the new document was meant to galvanise a
free people to develop. The Government of India Act of 1935, around which our Constitution
is structured, was passed by the British parliament in order to better administer the
Indian colony. At the same time, the Act offered a sop to the agitating Indian leaders
that they would have some say in the governance of their country. What must be remembered
is that the purpose of an imperial power is to keep peace and to cream off the economic
surplus of the colony. The idea is the opposite in developing an economy.
A third drawback is that the document is more a patchwork and less of a
well integrated legal document. To the Government of India Act were added ideas from
Westminster. In fact, even today when we are unable to find our own parliamentary
precedents, we refer to what happened in the British parliament. The Westminster model is
an unwritten constitution. For instance the British parliament is a legislature from which
is formed not only the executive government but also the House of Lords which is the
supreme court or the Privy Council. Moreover, Britain is a unitary state and not a
federation with so many state governments as in India. Why then use a unitary sample for
cutting a federal coat?
The Constituent Assembly imported the model of the American senate for
our upper house. On way to the distant Indian shores, the shape of the senate got
distorted. Every state in the USA, regardless of its size, elects two senators and that
too by universal adult franchise.
By the time the concept of US senate was adopted for the Indian Constitution the
representation to the upper house was proportion are to the population. The very spirit of
equality amongst the federating units, was jettisoned. Instead of public voting, the
electorate of the Indian senator were the members of his own state assembly. The framers
of our Constitution also borrowed from other documents like those of the Soviet Union and
Switzerland. The act of blending laws, rules and regulations was such as to put a brake on
progress. There was little consideration for decision making or implementation. No wonder
that the governments move with such incredibly slow speed in our country.
We borrowed the idea of the Rajya Sabha from the Senate with also the
intention of making the vice-president of the country the chairman of the Rajya Sabha. But
the President or the Rashtrapati was a kind-of a copy of the British constitutional
monarch who reigned but did not rule. The Lok Sabha is on the pattern of the British House
of Commons whose members are voted as legislators or law makers. Having been elected, they
also turn into the bearers of the executive. It is the majority of the legislators that
elects the prime minister who then chooses his ministers or his executive from amongst the
men and women elected by the people as legislators. The Indian prime minister has to be
continuously vigilant in order to ensure that he does not lose the support of the
majority. He therefore does not have a free hand but works only at the pleasure of this
majority. No wonder that the government moves so slowly.
Do not go entirely by what I say. Four years after the Constitution was
adopted, a committee was appointed in April 1954, headed by Nehru himself to study the
question of changes in the constitution. By that time, the Constitution had already been
amended. (The first amendment was passed in June 1951.) In May 1976, the Swaran Singh
Committee was appointed to go into the question of amending the Constitution.
In fact, the Haryana, Punjab and UP assemblies went to the extent of
passing a resolution asking for the reappointment of a new Constituent Assembly which
would write a fresh Constitution. By now, the document has been amended 84 times! On the
contrary, in the course of 225 years the US Constitution was amended only 24 times. The
Japanese Constitution, adopted in 1947, has not been amended even once.
All these facts point to an admission of mistailoring at the first
instance. The coat was cut without clearly studying the idiosyncrasies of the wearer, the
people of India. We agree that liberty is the mainspring of the Indian ethos. Freedom
extends to each individual to seek salvation through a path of his/her own choice, be it bhaktiyoga
or blind devotion, be it karmayoga or the path of rightful action. Be it
gnanayoga or self realisation, or be it any other path. The individuals are free to
achieve mukti, moksha or the liberation of their soul from having to be reborn.
The implication of this liberty is that an Indian does not necessarily
have to perform his karma within society. In contrast, a Christian or a Muslim
would be judged on doomsday by God as to how well he/she did by society, whether he is fit
to go to heaven or deserves to be sent to hell. There is no concept in his Judaic ethos
for sanyas or samadhi. The commitment to social or civic contribution is
distinctly greater. The corollary should be a sharp dividing line between public wealth
and private interest. Even a dishonest person is aware that he is sinning if he were to
take advantage of public wealth. Such a society could afford a government that undertakes
many functions, whether welfare, charitable or otherwise. Which, in any case, might be
necessary to ensure equality amongst the citizens. Remember that the Judaic complaint has
been that God made men equal but society makes them unequal.
A clean public life must be an outstanding characteristic of suraaj.
To ensure that, it is necessary to give up the Westminster model infavour of a structure
that would suit the Indian circumstances. In order to give the people of India an
opportunity to get used to the new structure, the beginning could be confined to the
states. In due course thereafter the experience should be transferred to the centre. All
executive powers should be given to a trinity of governors. In a universal adult franchise
election, the first three candidates should become governor, vice-governor and deputy
governor respectively.Within the troika, each of them should have a voting right
proportionate to the votes he or she secured in the public election.
The term of office of the troika should be six years. But none of them
would be eligible for reelection to any public office within the state. This provision
should help to ensure that the three men or women would concentrate on good governance
rather than doing favours in order to get reelected. The intention behind three governors
is to avoid putting all the state's eggs in one basket. Moreover, three would be able to
represent a fuller profile of the state's populace than one person. The legislators would
then concentrate on making and monitoring laws. Except that a two thirds majority of the
assembly passing a vote of no-confidence in any of the governors would be a serious
step. Their lack of confidence should be referred to the Rajya Sabha, the majority of
whose members would have the final say on the assembly's verdict.
The long and short of this argument is that the Constitution for
Indiashould provide minimal, rather than comprehensive government. The less patronage the
government has, the greater are the chances of a clean public life. The government should
be minimal enough as to give the people plenty of freedom and opportunity. It must
strictly ensure that this liberty does not allow one citizen to step on the toes of
another and thus interfere with his freedom to act. In other words, liberty should not
extend to licence and the government must ensure that everyone enjoys equal freedom,
whether in the pursuit of his profession, or of his business, or of his worship, or any
other pursuit of life.