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Mainstream, VOL LII No 26, June 21, 2014

Reflections on the Constitution

Saturday 21 June 2014, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

The following is the second-last article of N.C. to appear in this journal. It was published in Mainstream (March 21, 1998). He passed away on June 27 of the same year.

Reflections on the Constitution

We are now witness to the transfer of power—from one group to another. Many of the differences are being sorted out while some remain as differences over which differences persist.

It is to be recognised that on the issue of differences there arose disharmony which ultimately led to the partition of the country, a prospect nobody envisaged except Gandhiji. On this Jinnah and the Congress leaders had different opinions and at one time, it seemed to the Congress leaders that perhaps Jinnah was asking for too much.

The result was a new contraption, namely, the Advisory Council, of which Jawaharlal Nehru became the chief and which the Muslim League at first boycotted at the behest of Jinnah. The Muslim League, after some time, joined the Advisory Council, and it was Liaquat Ali Khan who brought about a budget which was back-breaking for the Congress.

Looking back, one could not help feeling that the Congress leaders did not realise the implications of this change on the part of the Muslim League. It would have been a mistake on the part of the League to have boycotted the Advisory Council, and come to think of it, there could be no doubt that the boycott was part of the strategy of the League.

Only when it got a firm assurance that the British authorities would concede a separate state of Pakistan, did the League join the Advisory Council and demonstrated its cooperation—as much as the Congress did—sensing the transfer of power. What was perhaps missed by the shrewd Indian observers was the fact that the British had about this time made the solemn promise that they would go in for partitioning of the Indian subcontinent.

The boycott period was over and many of us looked at Liaquat’s budget as a “bold gesture” on the part of the new leaders of the Muslim League—not realising that it was a trap for the new leadership of the Congress and as a result the British looked more liberal than they were. If we compared Liaquat’s first budgets with his subsequent budgets in Pakistan, it would be clear that he was far from generous and what he did was to put the Congress in the wrong by carrying kudos for the Pakistani leadership. He knew that the Government of India at that time was too weak to bear the burden of that budget. The radical stance he brought to bear on the budget was clearly a stunt. It was a not meant to be anything more than a stunt and so it seemed to those who could see what was in store.

In the selection of the new Cabinet, Pandit Nehru consulted Vallabhbhai Patel. Though a balance was reached, there were some howlers as could be seen in the selection of C.H. Bhaba. What Nehru meant, we were told, was that the great atomic scientist would be sent for, but instead came the businessman, who was a stranger to Nehru. He had already chosen his team and it was a surprise when he agreed to the Sardar’s suggestion.

As for Bengal, K.C. Neogy was sent for, though he had participated without much prominence in the activity against partition or afterwards. Neogy’s choice did not satisfy the East Bengal Congress magnates, nor could he carry with him other influential persons of the east. The real leader of this section was Shyamprasad Mukherji as could be seen in the unfolding of his career—right up to his martyrdom in 1953.

Another inspiring figure was Babasaheb Ambedkar. If one reminds oneself of the stand that Ambedkar took from the Poona Pact of the early thirties right upto the transfer of power, one could see that he was the only person who had made a study of partition. This was also done by Ashok Mehta and Rajendra Prasad. And yet it was on the young shoulders of Babasahab Ambedkar that the job fell.

Obviously this was Gandhiji’s choice. In a sense, it was a defeat for Gandhiji that the Congress leadership could not produce one personality who could undertake the burden singlehanded. Although others were involved in the founding of the Constitution—distingusihed sons of the south had undertaken to do the job—throug-hout, it has been noted, it was Babasaheb Ambedkar who drafted the Constitution of this country. It is indeed ironical that when the first general election was held under the new Constitution. Dr Ambedkar, who stood as an independent, could not win his seat and he even forfeited his deposit. Such was the fate that awaited him.

It was on the basis of a restricted franchise that the new Constitution was drawn up for the people of India. Although the Constituent Assembly succeeded in summarising it—having drawn up 80 amendments—the fact remains that this Constitution generated unilateral reaction despite the fact that it was brought about by guaranteeing universal adult franchise to the people of India.

There are, of course, aspects which commend themselves to the people. What is wanted is that the Constitution should be flexible enough to tackle the problems that confront India from time to time. This is the beauty and strength of the Constitution, not that it was the summary of all that the human wisdom has conceived of. Nehru at that time was in the formative years. This could be seen from his writings in 1945:

India in common with most other countries of the world is facing a grave economic crisis which has been heightened by the recent disorders in the North. This crisis is due partly to its economic growth having been arrested during the long period of foreign rule and partly it is the result of the gradual decline of the structure of capitalist society all over the world, accentuated as this has been by two successive World Wars. It is essential that this crisis be faced and overcome, not merely by temporary palliatives but by a planned approach to social structure which increases production and ensures a fair and equitable distribution so as to raise the standards of the people as a whole. This involves a progressive socialisation of the means of production and the growth of social services and social security. Advance must be made on all fronts on a planned and balanced basis, always bearing in mind that the claims of the masses are given the first periority.

Nehru mentioned those who would look into the prospect. The members of this Committee were Nehru, Azad, Jayaprakash Narayan, N.G. Ranga, Gulzarilal Nanda, J.C. Kumarappa, Achyut Patwardhan and Shankarrao Deo.

A maturer Nehru looked at his own prospect in this angle. He wrote to Sri Krishna Sinha on June 16, 1948:

I am writing to you again in regard to the Mor project and the Mesanjore dam... This matter must be finalised soon as delay is harmful and wasteful. If the project is a good one it must be pushed through with all speed. If it is not good then it should be dropped. My own impression is that it is a good project, beneficial alike to Bihar and West Bengal. Inevitably, it involves a certain displacement of population as all such schemes do. A scheme, which is patently beneficial to the community, cannot be given up because it involves displacement of persons. If so, there would be no scheme at all...

This leads us to the conclusion that the Mor scheme should be considered purely on its merits, apart from the provinces concerned. Anything that adds to the productivity of the country and the fertility of the soil should be welcomed. Further this scheme would add considerably to the power resources of the country and more specially of Bihar and West Bengal.  

(Mainstream, March 21, 1998)