Delving into ‘India That Is Bharat: An Introduction to the Constitutional Debates’

Minister P Rajeeve’s book, India That is Bharat: An Introduction to the Constitutional Debates offers a glimpse into the mammoth task of framing a written Constitution
India That Is Bharat: An Introduction to the Constitutional Debates’ by Minister P Rajeev
India That Is Bharat: An Introduction to the Constitutional Debates’ by Minister P Rajeev Photo | Express

KOCHI: The latest volume of the book, ‘India That Is Bharat: An Introduction to the Constitutional Debates’ by Minister P Rajeev is exceptional for one main reason: While books on constitutional laws are in plenty, very few have ventured into Constituent Assembly Debates (CAD) and come out with a publication. 

In the present volume, he dispels the ‘myth’ about the Parliamentary address by the President or the governor, often thought of as an address prepared by themself. Thus, Rajeeve writes: “In 1841, during the reign of Queen Victoria, she objected to certain parts of the speech for a parliamentary address and demanded amendments to be made. The queen’s demand was declined by the cabinet and it refused to alter the speech prepared by them, leaving her no choice but to deliver the speech as it was. This incident highlights a distinctive aspect of the British Parliamentary system, wherein, the queen’s address is essentially a speech prepared by the cabinet that deals with the course of action and the laws, meant to be passed. The sole responsibility of it was vested with the cabinet.”

Rajeeve analyses the Constituent Assembly Debates and shows how tortuous it was for the framers to complete the gargantuan exercise of crafting the Indian Constitution, the largest written one in the world. Take, for instance, the status of the Governor: “...some argued that the governor should be granted executive powers which were enjoyed by their counterparts in the American states. Nevertheless, the majority held the view that this would be contradictory to the British parliamentary system, which had been approved theoretically. The report submitted by Patel’s committee explicitly stated that the governor should act in accordance with the advice of the cabinet and not misuse the power granted.”

 The truth, however, is that the governor’s function is only to advise, counsel and warn and not to make a mockery of the Constitution.  As regards the executive powers of the President a highly contentious topic in the CAD, Ambedkar intervened to steer clear of the clouds stating that:“…based on this Draft Constitution, the President will enjoy exactly the same powers held by the King according to the British Constitution. He will be the head of the state but not the head of government (executive). He represents the state but does not rule...” 

However, discussions in the Constitution Assembly primarily revolved around naming the nation. There were varying opinions, lively debates and conflicting perceptions. Eventually, the Constituent Assembly approved the name — India that is Bharat — which has been incorporated in Article 1 of the Constitution. 

The author is emphatic when he says the CAD showcased

a strong commitment to secularism and pluralism as could be deciphered from the underlying principles guiding the discussion. In Part 5, he makes an in-depth analysis of the relevant provision of the constitution to conclude that India is a secular state as implied in the preamble and Article 15 (1),

Article 14,  Article 25(1), Article 5-11 clarifying that “religion is not a parameter in determining citizenship”. 

The discussions continue to lively deliberations on an array of subjects, including fundamental rights, the American model vs parliamentary democracy, is special status only for Kashmir, the Constitution and its application, protection of religious minorities and Sardar Patel, and the Constitution and political parties. And they deserve to be read and studied by everyone who has an interest in the Constitution and its genesis.

The writer is a former Judge at High Court of Kerala and former acting chief justice at High Court of Madras

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