Constitution mandates ‘dialogue and debate’; Disruptions in legislatures negate its spirit

New Delhi: “Today, we are here to commemorate a historic day. A day when the Constitution of India was adopted by the Constituent Assembly in 1949. It is an occasion to recall the vision that inspired the Constitution makers, reflect on the continuing mission that began 72 years ago, to translate that vision into action.

At the outset, I pay my gratitude to the President of the Constituent Assembly Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Chairman of the Drafting Committee Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and the members of the Constituent Assembly for providing the direction for nation building. Their overarching framework continues to guide us in the collective endeavour of our nation to scale new heights amidst the contemporary national and international challenges.

Our Constitution, in essence, is a statement of values, ideas and ideals seeking to ensure justice, liberty and equality for all in the true spirit of fraternity and is a guide to peaceful and democratic transformation enabling the people to fulfill their aspirations.

Our Constitution is marked by innovative borrowing from various sources and selective adaptation integrating the long held indigenous values and western concepts. It exemplifies the essential Indian world view that believes in welcoming noble thoughts from all over the world and adapting them to our national context.

As we all are aware, it was the ‘people’ of India who gave themselves this Constitution through their elected representatives in the Constituent Assembly. The Preamble summarizes the philosophy of the Constitution in which the people preferred our country to be a Democratic Republic thereby indicating the instrumentalities by which the intended socio-economic transformation was to be achieved.

It has been our firm belief that people are at the centre of our development architecture. They are the agents of the transformation of our country. Their empowerment is the goal of all our efforts. Their aspirations steer our policies; their strengths drive our growth. Democracy, ultimately, is about people and their central role in governance and it is they who determine who should govern, how should they govern and what governance should ultimately lead to.

Keeping this perspective in view, we had taken the first major step towards democratic governance by introducing universal franchise right from the day we became independent. While it took 144 years for the US and 100 years for the UK to confer voting rights on women and the working class, we had the courage of conviction that each and every Indian should have the right to vote and be able to shape our shared destiny.

I have referred to the Preamble of the Constitution that mandated our country to be a ‘democratic Republic’ in order to share my thoughts on this solemn occasion on the functioning of our parliamentary democracy and its institutions.

In a pluralistic society like ours with incredibly fascinating variety and diversity, ‘debate’ and ‘dialogue’ become the most important instruments for shaping public policies. This process of dialogue requires an openness to new perspectives, a willingness to listen to diverse views. This is the spirit that pervaded the deliberations of the Constituent Assembly. That’s the spirit which should ideally permeate our Parliamentary system.

Addressing the Presiding Officers’ Conference held recently in Shimla, Hon’ble Prime Minister referred to the need to make the legislatures more productive. This is absolutely essential. We must make our Parliament and legislatures effective forums for focused attention on people’s concerns and national development. Time allocated during sessions must be fruitfully spent.

The Rajya Sabha Secretariat has been maintaining the required statistics that enable the assessment of productivity of the House since 1978. For 16 years from 1979 to 1994, the annual productivity of the House has been over 100%. In the next 20 years since 1995, the productivity of Rajya Sabha has been more than 100% only twice in 1998 and 2009. A broad declining trend in productivity is evident and it touched the lowest of 35.75% in 2018, a year before the General Elections in 2019.

Clearly, we need to have more meaningful, productive use of our time in the Parliament. We need to recognize the exalted place that Parliament occupies in public perception. It is, indeed, the sacred place where people’s voices are articulated and heard, where their hopes and fears are debated, where laws that protect them, foster their growth and enable fast-tracked national development are formulated.

The Constituent Assembly debates suggest that Rajya Sabha was created primarily to ensure that the enactment of legislation process is carried out with a calm, dispassionate, learned, evidenced – based, balanced approach. It was a House of elder statesmen- accomplished public persons who had the ability to participate in a dialogue without rancor and prejudice, who had the ability to present and debate on issues with conviction and persuasive expression.

My experience over the last four years suggests that no legislative proposal of the Government was defeated on the Floor of the House and in fact quite a few of them were passed by consensus. However, there were instances of Bills being delayed on account of disruptions on various issues.

I wish and hope that in future we would have fewer occasions like this because it results in inadequate scrutiny of the Bills. The Parliament loses the benefit of the knowledge and wisdom of its members who have been elected to these positions by the people of this country with great expectations. This also goes against the very objective of having an upper House which was established for facilitating an in-depth discussion on key issues.

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar ji had quite aptly noted that the effective functioning of the Constitution will depend on the quality of the people chosen to work it and said that the chosen bad lot can fail even a good Constitution while the good lot can work even a bad Constitution. As we celebrate the 75th year of our hard fought independence and also commemorate Samvidhan Diwas today, we must be mindful of this profound statement. One of the implications is that if we have to work a Constitution well, we must focus both on strengthening all the organs of the State and established institutions as well as on enabling good governance. The institutions as well as the people who run them matter.

At the same time, we must constantly review our performance critically and honestly reflect as to whether our policies and programmes are in consonance with the Constitutional values or not.

Underlying, our constitutional architecture is the firm foundation of ‘inclusion’, of leaving no one behind. It is the vision that finds echo in the overarching philosophy of the present government, led by Prime Minister Narendrabhai Modi that believes in “Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas and Sabka Prayas”.

We have been trying to forge national unity by celebrating our diversity, by finding the many threads that bind us together. We must continue to do so. That’s the core Constitutional value we have inherited and fondly cherish. As Sardar Patel said and I quote “But in the long run, it would be in the interest of all to forget that there is anything like majority or minority in this country and that in India there is only one community.” We care for every one, especially for those who are marginalized and need support. Every Indian should be enabled to contribute to national development. Every Indian has to be given the opportunity to shape the new India we are collectively dreaming of. Every Indian must be educated, healthy, skilled and forward- looking, ready to be a part of our country’s growth story. I am glad that the present government has turned many programmes like sanitation, cleanliness into people-driven mass Abhiyans or movements.

Our Constitution is not a static, archival document but a living document. It has enabled us to respond to the emerging challenges and adapt to the changing circumstances. Consequently, it has been amended 105 times so far. This shows that we have had the ability to listen, debate, dialogue and be agile. This agility and flexibility is essential to strengthen our country’s Constitutional values. So long as we are ‘alive’ to the changing realities within and outside our country and have the wisdom to make the right policy choices to address people’s concerns, we shall see this beautiful tree of Constitution grow and flower. Our common aim should be to make this happen – everyday, in each of our institutions and in each of our actions.

We know that this requires constant vigil, an attentive eye and concrete action.

There were certain unfortunate efforts to subvert the spirit and the philosophy of the Constitution during the dark period of Emergency but fortunately they were undone. We, the people, have, time and again, demonstrated that we will not allow this beautiful tree to wither.

To conclude, our Constitution has worked well to enable our march towards building a new India and, in the process, realizing the dreams of freedom fighters and the vision of the Constituent Assembly. We need to draw lessons from our past experience and move ahead to propel India forward. Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav is a celebration of our achievements we can legitimately be proud of. Let it be a spring board to take India to the next level and occupy its rightful place in the comity of nations as a Sushikshit Bharat, Surakshit Bharat, Swasth Bharat, Atmanirbhar Bharat and ultimately Ek Bharat, Shrestha Bharat.

Jai Hind