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 these organs of the State depends are the people and the political parties they will set up as their instruments to carry out their wishes and their policies.
Who can say how people of India and their parties will behave? Will they uphold constitutional methods for achieving their purpose or will they prefer revolutionary methods of achieving them?
If they adopt the revolutionary methods, however good the Constitution may be, it requires no prophet to say that it will fail. It is, therefore, futile to have any judgment upon the Constitution without reference to the part which the people and their parties are likely to play.”
No Constitution is perfect and the Constitution of India is no exception to this general rule. But it goes to the credit of India that the urge for constitutional government was so deep-seated in her that she devised a Constitution of her own within three years after achieving political independence.
The Constitution she adopted was intended to be not merely a means of establishing governmental machinery but also an effective instrument for orderly social and economic change.
The strength and stability of a Constitution depends largely on its ability to sustain a healthy and peaceful social system and when occasion demands, facilitate the peaceful transformation of its economic and social order.
From this point of view the Constitution has set an ideal which not even its severest critic would characterise as outmoded or reactionary. Its basic objective is to establish a democratic, socialist, secular republic with a view to securing justice, liberty, equality and to promote fraternity among all its citizens.
It aims to translate into practice the noble concept of a co-operative Commonwealth, a blending of political democracy with economic and social democracy. It embodies the most comprehensive policy directions to the State and its agencies to ensure the establishment of a welfare State.
On the eve of the adoption of the Republican Constitution of India, many noble sentiments were expressed on the floor of the Constituent Assembly by its members. Some of them recalled the hoary past of India which was not unfamiliar with the concept of democracy and republicanism.
It was, perhaps, true that the ideals of democratic government and republican institutions were first conceived and practiced a thousand years before Christ when the people of Mithila established the world’s first republic. Such thoughts about a great past have indeed a heart-warming effect.
What is important, however, is not the consciousness of our ancient greatness but the ability to make democracy as envisaged under the Constitution a success in the present circumstances. Historical evidence indicates that in the days of the Buddha or even earlier certain types of democracy did flourish in parts of India.
But the republics of those days were confined to small areas, tribes and clans and operated in a highly decentralised fashion. The system, however, could not withstand the pressure of monarchical ideas based on centralisation of power and the republican ideals became soon a memory of the past.
Hence, references to glorious republican institutions in an obscure era can yield but poor comfort in the context of modern challenges.
The challenge that faces the country today is whether a Constitution embodying democratic principles and establishing republican institutions can withstand the pressures of a highly centralised administration embracing the entire country.
Ambedkar focused the attention of not only the Constituent Assembly but the whole nation as early as 1949 on this aspect of the problem when he asked the following significant questions: “On the 26th January 1950, India will be a democratic country and she will have a democratic Constitution.
What would happen to her democratic Constitution? Will she lose it? What should we do to preserve our democracy?” These questions are not easy to answer.
Yet it is the duty of everyone who is interested in the preservation of constitutional government and democracy in India to try to answer them.
A democratic system can endure only when the citizens as a whole hold fast to constitutional methods for achieving their social and economic objectives. Now that constitutional methods are open and available, they must abandon the bloody or coercive methods of revolution, of civil disobedience, of non-cooperation.
For achieving social and economic objectives these methods should have no place in the country. Democracy cannot long survive among any people with whom the loudest voice counts as the voice of wisdom or when coercive pressures take the place of reason and persuasion.
Similarly, no country can remain democratic and no people can preserve a constitutional government, if the generality of the people are imbued with an immoderate sense of hero-worship.
As John Stuart Mill said, people should not lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man or trust him with powers which enable him to subvert their institutions. There is nothing wrong in being grateful to a great man, but as Daniel O’Connel said, “No man can be grateful at the cost of his honour, no woman at the cost of her chastity, and no nation at the cost of its liberty”.
Dealing with this matter, Ambedkar said:
“This caution is far more necessary in the case of India than in the case of any other country. For, 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 sure road to degradation and eventual dictatorship.”
A political democracy without an economic and social democracy is invitation to unrest and even anarchy. Politics is more a result than a cause. Often this fact is forgotten in the external manifestations of the authority of the State. Political upheavals occur because of unsatisfactory economic and social conditions.
The dictum of Aristotle, that extreme inequalities cause revolutions in a democracy, although expressed in the context of Greek politics of a remote past, holds good for all ages. Wherever living standards are satisfactory, political stability is normally assured.
Where there is economic instability, upheavals are bound to occur. Hence in order to ensure lasting political stability, its base should be firmly planted in an economic and social democracy.
While economic democracy emphasises the absence of extreme inequalities of wealth and adequate means of livelihood for everyone, social democracy stands for a way of life which recognises liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life. In the words of Ambedkar “these are not to be treated as separate items of a trinity. They form a union of a trinity.”
One of the perils of constitutional government and democracy in Asian countries is that in these countries political changes have preceded social and economic changes. Europe presents a substantially different picture. There, by and large, political changes followed an economic and social revolution.
In most of the European countries particularly of Western Europe, the Industrial Revolution preceded the emergence of political democracy. This is the reason why Europe is in better position to preserve its political stability than Asia.
Unless Asia can bring about rapid economic and social changes among her peoples, the measure of political democracy that she has introduced is bound to be destroyed sooner or later.
India presents, perhaps, the most challenging test in this context, and she is struggling to realise rapidly an economic and social democracy, through democratic methods employed under a system of political democracy.
If she does not achieve quick and wholesome results in this great experiment, she too, like several of her neighbours, is likely to lose the initiative of democratic political order and succumb to some form of dictatorship.
Equality in politics and inequality in economic and social life is a life of contradiction. Such a life cannot last long. It is necessary that every effort should be made to remove this contradiction at the earliest possible opportunity.
The successful working of a democratic Constitution requires in those who work it a willingness to respect the viewpoints of others, a capacity for compromise and accommodation and a real feeling of forbearance.
Inflexibility and intolerance on the part of those who happen to be the rulers of the day will sow the seeds of hatred and vengeance. Constitutional government and democracy have no meaning if decisions are always taken on the strength of a numerical majority and the genuine feelings of the minority are bypassed and ignored.
It is true that constitutional government would be brought into contempt if the people do not respect and abide by majority decision.
Yet, wisdom demands the finding of a line of demarcation between the fields where majority opinion should of necessity prevail and where minorities, whether of opinion or of interest, ought to be allowed to prevail if the result do not militate against the security of the State.
Persistence in courses of conduct alienating minorities, linguistic or religious, simply because of the strength of a ‘brute’ majority, is not the way to strengthen democracy. In this respect the developing of healthy conventions and strict adherence to them have an important role to play.
Elsewhere, we have pointed out the imperative necessity of developing a sound party system for the successful working of the parliamentary system of government adopted under the Constitution.
But the success of a party system largely depends upon the availability of effective and efficient leadership to the parties. Fortunately for India, the national movement threw up in its onward march a set of leaders, able, devoted and trusted.
They guided the country in the initial stages of he: independence in settling some of the most vexed problems such as Partition, Integration of the Indian States and the framing of a new Constitution. They also gave a good start to the country in her economic and social transformation.
But the old leadership is disappearing and its place is not being taken up by that of a new generation capable of fully shouldering the new responsibilities and inspiring the confidence of the masses. Prior to 1964 one heard often that vexed question, “who will succeed Nehru?”
The succession was smooth and orderly but the problem of effective top leadership still remains. But what the country needs today, and even more tomorrow, is not so much a top leader as a widespread understanding of the facts and consideration which are relevant to the problem of leadership as such in a parliamentary democracy.
No nation can expect to get an efficient top leadership without carefully building up a series of levels lower down of properly selected and trained leadership.
Many years ago Walter Bagehot pointed out that nothing changes the face of politics as the change from one generation to another. While change is inevitable, it is essential to ensure that along with the changes of leadership, the qualities that must be common to leadership in every age are not destroyed.
Among such qualities are those of courage, character, integrity and social awareness. But among these, character and integrity are of even more important under a democratic system. One often hears of a crisis of character in the country.
In a country in which leadership becomes corrupt and character gets corroded, democracy cannot prosper. When a nation is engaged in mighty efforts of national consolidation and economic rehabilitation, it needs more and more leaders of great integrity and character. Only such leadership can inspire the masses and create in them the enthusiasm for producing better and richer results.
One of the most serious weaknesses of democracy in India is the widespread illiteracy and ignorance of the masses. The introduction of adult franchise at one stroke among a predominantly illiterate people has its own inherent dangers.
So long as they are unable to exercise the franchise in an intelligent manner after analysing the political issues in a rational way, democracy is not safe. For they may be stampeded through empty slogans and irresponsible promises into becoming camp followers of unscrupulous political adventurers.
It is, therefore, of the utmost importance to educate the masses and instill in them a genuine sense of political consciousness and the right constitutional per. As Edmund Burke said, “let us educate our masters” for the sustenance of our democratic order.
In a country as large in size and with a perplexing diversity in geography, language, race, religion and culture as India, the stability of a democratic system depends largely on its ability to decentralise authority and build up self-governing institutions of an integrated nature at all levels of the administration.
However, in view of the great and urgent need for rapid economic development of the try, as a whole, the fathers of the Constitution were compelled to assign a predominantly leading c to the Central Government in the affairs of the nation.
They were justified in doing so in the text of economic and social development in India at the time they framed the Constitution. But if centralisation was dictated by the economic necessities of the present, decentralisation becomes imperative for the political stability of the future.
The structure of Indian polity has ultimately to be based on the solid foundation of self-governing local institutions at the village and district level which facilitates the building up of a hierarchy of well knit and closely bound units of administration at very successive higher level.
The progress of democracy in India is inseparably bound with the extent to which these local institutions are established and the manner in which they function in the years to come.
Another alaming development has been the steady growth of Nxalism in the country. It has read spread to many parts of India, The States which are most seriously under. Naxal threat is West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand.
Recently in one of his statements Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had voiced his concern and anxiety on the growth of Naxalism. Every citizen who is interested in the Unity and Integrity of India would feel worried over the development of Naxalism in India.
The time has come to make a serious and comprehensive study about Naxalism with a view to finding remedial measures and implement them with all seriousness and urgently.
Parliamentary system of government requires for its success a healthy party system. A few parties organised on a national basis and capable of reflecting well defined political and social philosophy is as essential condition for a strong and stable government.
If, on the other hand, the political spectrum reflects a multitude of small parties of regional or local persuasion, the ideal of a strong and stable government will not become a reality.
Since 1996 Indian political system has been dominated by a large number of small, regional and local parties which make a strong stable government with clear- j cut policies and programmes practically impossible.
This development if continues to exist for Dong and becomes more pronounced, no one can predict the future of India as a united, strong, democratic nation.
Whatever may be its imperfections; a Constitution need not and should not stand in the way of a country’s progress. Even if it is made only to suit the conditions and circumstances of one age, it need not fail in another.
It is difficult to imagine of a Constitution like that of the United States, written in the eighteenth century, suiting the altogether different conditions of the twentieth century. Yet it has worked and worked fairly well. In contrast, France has had no less than five Constitutions within nearly the same period.
Whether the latest one will help France to secure political strength and stability is yet to be seen. In post-war Europe, no Constitution was hailed as more democratic than that of the Weimar Republic of Germany. Yet it could not prevent Hitler in his sinister march to power and the establishment of a totalitarian regime.
The fact that the Indian Constitution has been amended ninety-four times in fifty-six years since its inauguration has been a subject of severe criticism both in India and outside. The critics consider that the Constitution is a “sacred document” which should not become the subject of too frequent amendments.
There is some substance in this criticism. Yet there is another side to the matter. A Constitution is only a means to an end and not an end in itself. It has no sanctity. It must conform to the needs and challenges of the country and of changing times.
In an age like the present, when science and technology have made spectacular changes in the lives of human beings, no Constitution can claim rigid permanence and at the same time be able to adapt itself to the changing conditions.
It is better to have amendments which will provide easy adaptability to altered conditions, rather than an abrupt end under the weight of revolutionary social changes.
A period of six decades is perhaps too short a period in the life of a nation. As such, an evaluation of the working of the Constitution has only a limited significance. Many of the objectives set before the nations are yet to be realised.
But still the trend is unmistakably clear. It was during this period that the initial tests of the Constitution were conducted.
The first to the Fourteenth General Elections on the basis of adult suffrage, the reorganisation of the States, the establishment of a full-fledged cabinet system of government both at the Centre and in the States, the setting up of an independent judicial; system all over the country with the Supreme Court of India at its apex.
The testing of the value and effect of the Fundamental Rights and the passing of a long list of social and economic legislation to give effect to the Directive Principles all these have been done in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.
While steady progress has been thus maintained under the Constitution, there have been stresses and strains both due to internal difficulties and external factors. As many as some hundred times the emergency provisions had to be invoked to set a right the breakdown of constitutional machinery in the States.
In 1962 a national emergency was proclaimed by the President as a result of the Chinese Communist aggression on the territory of India with far-reaching consequences. In 1965 the country faced another threat to its security as a result of the aggressive designs of Pakistan.
In 1971 emergency was again proclaimed to meet the Pakistani challenge following the civil war in East Pakistan. In 1975, for the first time, internal emergency was proclaimed resulting in the suspension of many fundamental rights and the imposition of many restrictions on the operation of the democratic system.
The Constitution was also amended many times either to remove the difficulties experienced in its working or to facilitate greater mobility in the social change that it originally envisaged. So far there have been ninety-four such amendments.
These amendments, however, have not in any substantial manner modified the basic ideals for which the Constitution stood, or altered the framework of governmental machinery it sought to establish.
Critics of the Forty-second Amendment claim that it has substantially modified the basic framework of the Constitution. Those who support the Amendment claim, however, that the Amendment has not brought about any such basic change. To come to any firm conclusion on this question we have to carefully watch the working of the Constitution since the Amendment for a reasonably long period of time.
The Sixth General Elections of 1977 and the Seventh General Elections in 1980 have shown that the democratic urge is very deep-rooted in the people of India and their faith in the fundamentals of the Constitution and a constitutional system of government is firm and strong.
The ninth General Elections of 1989, however, did not give a clear verdict to any all India political party to form a stable government.
A hung Parliament was a matter of great concern to all lovers of the future of democracy in India. The Government formed by the minority Janata Dal Party in 1989 did not last long and its successor Samajwadi Janata Dal Government too had the same fate.
The result was the tenth General Elections in June 1991 which too did not give a clear majority in Parliament to any party. Yet the Congress-I was able to form a Government which lasted its full term of five years. However, the Eleventh General Elections of 1996 repeated the position of 1989 and produced a hung Parliament.
The Government formed by Atal Behari Vajpayee lasted only thirteen days. It was succeeded by the Deva Gowda Government which was supported by the Congress Party from outside.
The Deva Gowda Government, however could hardly last a year when the Congress Party withdrew its support, he Deva Gowda Government was succeeded by the Gujral Government, again with the support of the Congress Party from outside.
But in April 1997 the Congress Party again withdrew its support in the wake of the Jain Commission Report on Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. The outgoing Cabinet advised the President to order elections and hence the Twelfth General Elections in early 1998.
The results of the elections did not give a majority to either of the two major parties, the BJP and the congress. However, the BJP with the support of the smaller parties which fought the elections with it and the Telugu Desam Party supporting it from outside formed the Government with Vajpayee as time Minister.
The Vajpayee Government hardly lasted a year when one of the supporting parties, AIADMK, withdrew its support forcing the Prime Minister to seek a Confidence vote once again the Lok Sabha. Unfortunately, the Confidence Motion was lost by the unprecedented margin of just one vote.
Although there was an attempt to form an alternative government under the leadership of the Congress Party, it could not succeed. Inevitably, another General election, the thirteenth was the logical consequence.
With greater strength in the Lok Sabha, the Vajpayee Government was once again in the saddle. It was a government under the newly-formed National Democratic Alliance consisting of as many as sixteen parties. The Telugu Desam Party which had strength of 29 members in the Lok Sabha attended its continued support to the Government from outside.
This government has ruled the country for nearly five years. Although it faced several threats from minor coalition partners it has been able to give a stable government for a reasonably long period. On the whole its performance has been satisfactory. Coalition governments are almost invariably weak governments.
At the fourteenth General Elections in 2004 the Bajpayee Government was unable to repeat its earlier electoral success and in its place a new government headed by Man Mohan Singh assumed power with the support of a large number of small regional and local parties and the Left Parties supporting it from outside.
No one can say that the Man Mohan Singh Government is strong or stable. One might even sarcastically observe that it is a government of a motley crowd of small disunited and even warring parties whose future no one can predict.
The Constitution Review Commission had made many valuable recommendations with a view to making the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary function in a manner that will fulfill the objectives enshrined in the Constitution.
In the last few years a few amendments to the Constitution have been made on the basis of those recommendations. But most of them are still left untouched. For example, political reforms for good governance, electoral reforms to make elections a credible exercise and judicial reforms to make the judiciary accountable are all important and necessary reforms.
The Tenth Schedule of the Constitution which was intended to prevent defections has been a total failure and hence requires a drastic amendment. The nature of our socio-political system depending largely on communal, caste and religious considerations have made Indian society divisive and disruptive.
Too many small political parties are a menace to the satisfactory functioning of governments in India, Both at the Centre and in the States a workable majority in government has become a difficult task and is beset with many unwanted compromises.
We adopted the Cabinet system of Government after the British model but its functioning during the last few decades has been against the principles and practices of that system. Above all, corruption in all walks of national life seems to have destroyed the spirit of the Constitution. One can add many more to this depressing list of glaring failures.
In short, the working of the first six decades of the Constitution has more of failures than successes. Nevertheless the people of India cannot lose hope as our Constitution is still serving as the foundation of our democratic system. So long as it endures, India will find it an inspiring document for the citizens of this land.
The complete and unqualified triumph of the rule of law or a reasonable level of economic security to the masses in spite of over five decades of planned economic development, appear to be a distant goal.
Even so, India should feel some satisfaction that she is widely recognised and acknowledged as a democracy striving to fulfill the noble ideals embodied in the Preamble of the Constitution. We can still work the Constitution well and provide an opportunity for the masses of people in India an opportunity to live a good life.