Can the Indian Constitution Be Revised? Here’s What the Founding Fathers Thought

Many members of the Constituent Assembly rose to praise the new Constitution, but ulterior motives were rampant.

4 min read
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Most Indians think that our Constitution was the considered choice of our Founding Fathers, that they agreed on its key features, and that it is a superb document. Unfortunately, none of this is true.

As we celebrate the Constitution’s adoption, it would do our country well to consider why many founders didn’t actually like some of its most basic features.


Patel’s Advisory on Direct Election

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru clashed on the Constitution’s most basic feature – whether the President and Governors are elected directly by the people or indirectly by the MPs and MLAs – very early in the framing process. Patel recommended Direct Election for the office’s independence and dignity; Nehru argued that it would make rivals of the PM and CMs.

The matter was resolved in Patel’s favour in a joint meeting of the 36 top luminaries engaged in the framing process – Nehru, Patel, Rajendra Prasad, KM Munshi, BR Ambedkar, GB Pant, SP Mookerjee, JB Kripalani, etc.

They passed a resolution for Nehru to reconsider, but he never did.

Patel still went to the Assembly with his idea of directly elected Governors, and the Assembly approved his model Provincial Constitution. At the insistence of Nehru, however, the decision was reversed.

Patel chose not to attend the Assembly on the day of the reversal, or even bring up the issue again, perhaps because he considered the Constitution to be temporary. He had told the Assembly, “This Constitution is for a period of ten years.” But he died within a year of its adoption.

In 1963, Munshi wrote, “The Constituent Assembly did not understand that they were creating a powerless President.”


Ambedkar’s 'United States of India’ Proposal

Ambedkar’s disapproval of the Constitution was even more fundamental –over the parliamentary form of government – although that didn’t come out until much later. He didn’t think a country with a permanent religious majority should adopt a majoritarian system. Before he was inducted into the Constituent Assembly, Ambedkar told the British Viceroy, “The parliamentary system would not do in India.”

He even submitted an alternative plan to the Assembly, labeled 'the United States of India'. It gave the states more autonomy and appointed a fixed-term Executive, elected by the whole house instead of just the majority party.

But once he was appointed Chairman of the Constitution’s Drafting Committee, Ambedkar chose not to pursue his own ideas.

Ambedkar’s true feelings remained hidden until after his resignation from Nehru’s Cabinet. In 1953 he made an astonishing statement in the Rajya Sabha: "Sir, my friends tell me that I have made the Constitution. But I am quite prepared to say that I shall be the first person to burn it out. It does not suit anybody.”

When members chided him that he had defended it in the Assembly, he snapped back, "We lawyers defend many things. … I was a hack. What I was asked to do, I did much against my will.”


Members Expected "Veena” not "English Band”

Ironically, Ambedkar did defend the Constitution from criticisms like his own from many founders inside the Assembly. Nearly a third of the members had something disparaging to say about his draft – that it was a copy of the British Government of India Act of 1935, and retained the overly centralised colonial system of rule.

It was "not even the case of pouring old wine into new bottles, but of old wine and old bottles," said Ajit Prasad Jain. "We wanted the music of veena or sitar," said K Hanumanthaiah, "but here we have the music of an English band."

"This parliamentary democracy is essentially meant for maintaining the status quo," declared PS Deshmukh, "it does not answer the aspirations of the man in the street."

Members used harsh words. One called the proposed Constitution "futile and lifeless" (Kamlapati Tiwari), another "queer and unwholesome" (Lakshminarayan Sahu). "Democracy of this country has yet to be realised and certainly not in this Constitution," said another (K T Shah). Members described certain provisions as "a farce" (Damodar Swarup), "a clear deception" (Sardar Hukum Singh), or "a façade" (H V Kamath).

The criticisms were so persistent that a member exclaimed, "Far from having any sense of satisfaction, I am feeling extremely depressed" (Damodar Swarup). "A suspicion lurks in the minds of even the most ardent admirers,” said Nandkishore Das, “that something is wrong somewhere.”

Many members rose to praise the new Constitution, but ulterior motives were rampant.

Most had never spoken in the Assembly before and this was their last opportunity to establish a record of participation. Many rose simply to praise their leaders; some were unabashed sycophants. And many came forward to applaud the draft only to tell their constituencies back home that they brought them benefits.


Mahatma Gandhi’s Vision of the Constitution

Gandhi wasn’t involved in the making of the Constitution, but based on his known views, there is little doubt that he would have disapproved of its over-centralisation, parliamentary form, and the lack of separation of the Church and the State.

Gandhi’s vision of India’s Constitution was based on village panchayats. His thoughts were outlined in 1946 in the Gandhian Constitution of Free India, written by his associate Shriman Narayan Agarwal.

It described a “Decentralized Village Communism” with autonomy to panchayats in education, health, economy, and administration, and "a complete separation of functions between the Legislature and the Executive.”

England’s Parliament was "like a sterile woman and a prostitute,” wrote Gandhi in 1909, because it was "under the control of ministers.” He cautioned: “If India copies England, it is my firm conviction she will be ruined.”

In 1938, Gandhi said, “In my dreams of a model state, power will not be concentrated in a few hands. A centralized government becomes expensive, unwieldy, inefficient, corrupt, often ruthless, and is always heartless.” And he wrote in 1946, “If I were a dictator, religion and state would be separate. I swear by my religion. I will die for it. But it is my personal affair. The state has nothing to do with it.”

Now that India is taking bold initiatives, perhaps, it is time to consider the views of many of our founders and revise the Constitution to better meet our country’s aspirations.

(The author is Founder and CEO of the Divya Himachal group and author of ‘Why India Needs the Presidential System’. He can be reached @BhanuDhamija. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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