As India marks 66 years of the adoption of its Constitution, there is plenty to celebrate — but there is a lot to reflect upon as well. Interrupted significantly only by 21 months of the Emergency — that too imposed and removed under the Constitution’s four walls — the Republic has reasons to cheer for having proved wrong critics, cynics and sundry sceptics who had questioned India’s nationhood and raised eyebrows at its democratic ambitions. The Republic now aspires for a seat in the UN Security Council, is the world’s fastest growing major economy and recognisably a global beacon for unity in diversity. Yet, there are pitfalls.
The Constitution remains the template under which various institutions function to uphold its values, but it is increasingly questioned from various sides by disparate interest groups — who forget the Constitution was forged as a document of consensus. The recent suicide of Rohith Vemula has become a focal point to discuss the caste fractures in India, while affirmative actions meant to emancipate backward groups are questioned by a section of the urban elite. President Francois Hollande, as the chief guest at Tuesday’s Republic Day parade, brings with him the spirit of ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’, the guiding values of the French Revolution. But it might do well for Indians to ponder over the fact that in their own Constitution’s Preamble, these words are preceded by the terms ‘Justice — Social, Economic and Political’.
In times of social stress, it is perhaps wise to focus on the priorities of that preamble. Also, the nation is feverishly discussing the ifs and buts of a man who has passed into history — Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Bose’s legacy is being revived by India’s first non-Congress government in a clear single-party majority. In reinvigorating the legacy, there is also an attempt to play on the Nehru vs Bose divide. The fact is that Gandhi, Bose, Nehru and Patel had collectively worked for the same ideal and the Constitution was drafted under the stewardship of BR Ambedkar in a gesture reflective of a collaborative quest. Expectations rise among the youth on an increasingly connected planet. It is then necessary to emphasise the spirit of consensus upon which the Republic was founded. Democratic differences must not be allowed to fester and turn into ugly fractures.