Address To The Parliament


Hon'ble Vice President of India,

Hon'ble Prime Minister of India,

Hon'ble Speaker of the Lok Sabha,

Hon'ble Members of Parliament,

It gives me great pleasure to be here amidst you at this function to mark the Golden Jubilee Celebrations of the birth of the Indian Republic and the commencement of our Constitution. The establishment of the democratic Republic of India was obviously, a significant and glorious event for India, for the freedom and welfare of the hundreds of millions of its people. But it was also a world event of far-reaching significance. People talk about the triumph of democracy in the world against other forms of Government. For that triumphal outcome, democracy in India has had a meaningful part to play not in the way of taking part in the ideological cold war, but in the sense of setting an over powering example to the world.

What Sir Anthony Eden, the Prime Minister of Britain, said at the time of the emergence of Indian Republic is relevant in this context. He said "Of all the experiments in government, which have been attempted since the beginning of time, I believe that the Indian venture into parliamentary government is the most exciting. A vast sub-continent is attempting to apply to its tens and thousands of millions a system of free democracy... It is a brave thing to try to do so. The Indian venture is not a pale imitation of our practice at home, but a magnified and multiplied reproduction on a scale we have never dreamt of. If it succeeds, its influence on Asia is incalculable for good. Whatever the outcome we must honour those who attempt it."

Even more meaningful was the opinion expressed by an American Constitutional authority, Prof. Granville Austin who wrote that, what the Indian Constituent Assembly began was "perhaps the greatest political venture since that originated in Philadelphia in 1787."

Mahatma Gandhi had visualized the new Constitution of India in terms of universal values applied to the specific and special conditions of India. As early as 1931 he had written "I shall strive for a Constitution which will release India from all thraldom and patronage. I shall work for an India in which the poorest shall feel that it is their country in whose making they have an effective voice: an India in which there is no high class or low class of people, an India in which all communities shall live in perfect harmony. There can be no room in such an India for the curse of untouchability. We shall be at peace with the rest of the world neither exploiting nor exploited. All interests not in conflict with the interests of the dumb millions will be scrupulously respected whether foreign or indigenous. Personally, I hate the distinction between foreign and indigenous. This is the India of my dreams for which I shall struggle".

At the core of our Constitution lies the essence of this Gandhian dream in the form of social justice and social democracy. Prof. Granville Austin has described the Indian Constitution as "first and foremost a social document". He further explained that "the majority of India's constitutional provisions are either directly arrived at furthering the aim of social revolution or attempt to foster this revolution by establishing conditions necessary for its achievement". The very same point was elaborated in eloquent terms by Dr. Ambedkar and Pandit Nehru. What makes our Constitution relevant to the conditions and the problems of India and the developing world is, in fact, the socio-economic soul of it. Its uniqueness is that it has combined this harmoniously with the liberal rights and freedoms as conceived by the Western democracies.

It is after deep thought and considerable debate that the founding fathers adopted the philosophy and the form of Government for India. Speaking on the draft of the Constitution Dr. Ambedkar claimed that "It is workable, it is flexible and it is strong enough to hold the country together both in peace time and in war time. Indeed, if I may say so, if things go wrong under the new Constitution, the reason will not be that we had a bad Constitution. What we will have to say is that Man is vile". To-day when there is so much talk about revising the Constitution or even writing a new Constitution, we have to consider whether it is the Constitution that has failed us or whether it is we who have failed the Constitution. Dr. Rajendra Prasad, as President of the Constituent Assembly, had pointed out: "If the people who are elected are capable men of character and integrity, they should be able to make the best of a defective constitution. If they are lacking in these, the Constitution cannot help the country". I believe these are wise words which we should pay heed to.

The form of Government, the parliamentary democratic form, was chosen by the founding fathers after deep thought and debate. In the Constituent Assembly Dr. Ambedkar explained that the Drafting Committee in choosing the Parliamentary system for India, preferred more responsibility to more stability, a system under which the Government will be on the anvil every day. He said that accountability was still difficult to obtain from day-to-day. Thus the Parliamentary system was a deliberate and well-thought out choice of the Constituent Assembly. It was not chosen in imitation of the British system or because of the familiarity with it that India had acquired during the colonial period. Gandhiji while acknowledging our debt to Britain with regard to parliamentary Government had observed that the roots of it were present in India in the age-old system of the village panchayats. Dr. Ambedkar explained in the Constituent Assembly that the Buddhist Sanghas were parliamentary type of institutions and that in their functioning modern parliamentary devices like resolutions, divisions, whips, etc. were used. These elements in our heritage made it possible and easy for India to adopt the parliamentary system of democracy. Besides, as Dr. Ambedkar told the Constituent Assembly the Drafting Committee chose this system because they preferred more responsibility to stability which could slip into authoritarian exercise of power. Another factor to be borne in mind is the immensity of India, the perplexing variety and diversity of the country, the very size of its population and the complexity of its social and developmental problems.

In such a predicament described by one writer, as one of "a million mutinies" there must be in the body-politic a vent for discontents and frustrations to express themselves in order to forestall and prevent major explosions in society. The parliamentary system provides this vent more than a system which prefers stability to responsibility and accountability. Our recent experience of instability in Government is perhaps not sufficient reason to discard the parliamentary system in favour of the presidential or any other system. In my opinion we should avoid too much rigidity in our system of government as in a very rigid system there is the danger of major explosions in society taking place. The possibility and the facility of a change in government is itself a factor in the stability of the political system in the long-term because then the people will be more inclined to tolerate a political situation they do not approve of or find difficult to cope with for long.

At any rate as Dr. Rajendra Prasad said the shortcomings in the people entrusted with running the system cannot be obviated by constitutional changes or provisions. Amendments to the Constitution are a different matter. The founding fathers deliberately made the amendment process of the Constitution easy so that shortcomings or lacunae in the Constitution can be rectified by the Parliament without too much difficulty. There are other changes that can be brought about like changes in the electoral law or the functioning of the political parties. Whatever we may do, and we have a right to bring about necessary changes in the political and economic system, we should ensure that the basic philosophy behind the Constitution and fundamental socio-economic soul of the Constitution remain sacrosanct. We should not throw out the baby with the bath water and like the tragic character Othello in Shakespeare has to lament later "Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away - Richer than all his tribe".

Thank you

Jai Hind