Revisiting and Reinventing Constitutional Ideas on Republic Day 2022

By Abhisek Kumar Panda, Research Associate at Rashtram

Today, India that is Bharat, celebrates its 73rd Republic Day. The Constitution of India was adopted on 26 November 1949, but came into force only on 26 January 1950. The 26th of January was chosen for its symbolic relevance to the Lahore session of the Indian National Congress held in 1929, wherein a resolution for Purna Swaraj or ‘complete independence’ was passed.  The Congress observed 26 January as Purna Swaraj Day thereafter until Independence was achieved in 1947.

Certain ideas that had shaped the constitution building process legally came into force in a sovereign India. The preamble of the constitution became the blueprint of what India is. The idea of “sovereignty,” where the ultimate decision-making capability rests with the people, was recognised after years of servitude. Similarly, ideas like democracy, republic, liberty, justice, equality and fraternity were also enshrined. Even a word like “secular,” introduced through the 42nd amendment during the emergency, without being explicitly mentioned, was part of the debates and vision for India. However, the constitutional makers’ understanding of the word “secular” was significantly different than what public policies reflect today, in the field of education, minority policies, religious institutions, electoral politics and so on.

These ideas actually originated in a civilisation significantly different from India. Also, a careful reading of the constitutional assembly debates, showcases that there were tectonic differences in understanding and conception of these ideas among constitution assembly members. While a superficial yet common analysis would conclude that such differences were manifestations of plurality, freedom of thought or multiculturality, a careful analysis would infer otherwise.

Indian culture has been shaped by Rishis. Rishis are seers of truth – the truth that lies beyond realms of body and mind. This may not make sense to a person rigid in notions of individuality and rationality, but that is perfectly understandable and acceptable. In this context, the words of a Rishi can guide us. Sri Aurobindo, explaining India’s colonisation and subjugation in his essay “Indian Culture and External Influence” says that India received a shock with “a waking, active, tremendously creative civilisation” during its own “state of comparative inactivity, sleep, contraction.” This has led to mechanical imitations and false endeavours of accepting the good of an external culture and leaving aside the bad. The separation of good and bad has no practical utility in terms of ideas or institutions.

The desirable path of India should be to grow from within and reinvent its true spiritual ideals. In Sri Aurobindo’s words, “to live in one’s self, determining one’s self-expression from one’s own centre of being in accordance with one’s own law of being, swadharma, is the first necessity.” Only then would India assimilate the foreign ideas from a position of strength and use them in a more integral way. Not only for itself but also for the whole of humanity. The latter is an additional mandate of the world that India can help fulfil. This has been reiterated time and again by many spiritual masters.

In this regard, the decoloniality discourse of India must not turn the clock backwards, which would only be a futile exercise. Just as the mind is influenced and reoriented by every thought, a nation undergoes changes with external influences. Any attempt at going back in time to an imaginary golden age would be non-experiential and limited to mental constructs. The ideals enshrined in the preamble are no doubt sourced from a fountain of an individualistic age where the only valid means of attaining truth or knowledge is empiricism. It is for anyone with an open mind to see that the institutions and policies based out of this, have become untenable and worse, dogmatic. A blind adherence to, and parroting of these outdated terms, have ceded the critical thinking and imaginative space to anarchist forces in the nation.

The solution lies in leapfrogging in the evolutionary cycle and casting aside the servitude of mental colonialism. This can only be done with a vigorous reinvention of spiritual truths that were once the bedrock of Indian civilisation and moulding the liberal, the individualistic and the rationalistic in the Knowledge of the ancient Indian spirit with new forms.