How Indian Is India, and Other Considerations

The government's recent focus on revising various aspects of the country, from parliamentary buildings to legal codes (and now the very name), has raised concerns about its intentions and the potential implications for India's democratic and secular character.

Prominent scholar and economist Bibek Debroy, who serves as the economic adviser to the current government, authored an article titled ‘Advocating a New Constitution: A Case for ‘We the People‘.’

Published in Mint on August 14, this article calls for the adoption of a new constitution, setting a target date of 2047 for its implementation. While there were previously speculations about the government’s intentions to amend the constitution, Debroy’s public stance on this matter confirms the validity of these assumptions.

The fact that government officials and bureaucrats are openly endorsing the idea of a new constitution on public platforms, such as Mint, underscores the seriousness of this proposal. This development dispels any doubts or rumours, as it reflects a deliberate line of thinking within influential circles. It is significant that individuals close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi are now advocating for constitutional change, indicating that this is not a random or isolated viewpoint.

It’s important to note that right-wing Hindu ideologues and leaders have long criticised the existing constitution, viewing it as a colonial legacy rooted in the Government of India Act, 1935. This perspective contrasts with the historical context in which the constitution was crafted after extensive deliberation, led by figures like Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Speaker Rajendra Prasad, who were deeply engaged in the anti-colonial struggle that shaped India as a nation.

This opposition to the constitution manifests itself in various ways. When K. Sudarshan became an RSS sarsanghchalak, he openly declared that the Indian constitution was based on Western values and should be replaced by one based on Indian scriptures referencing Manusmriti.

He said: “We shouldn’t be ashamed to change the constitution completely because we have already changed it a hundred times,” and said France has revised its own four times.

Also read: ‘We Have Veiled Emergency, Judges Often Lack Spine, Writing New Constitution at This Time Impossible’

“There’s nothing sacred about that. In fact, it is the root cause of most of the country’s problems,” he said.

It is also related to their concept of decolonisation of minds as put forward by RSS general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale, “The Euro-centric ideas, systems and practices, the western world view were still ruling us for decades. Independent nations didn’t shirk them totally.”

The colonial era cannot be viewed as black or white. It has shades of grey. Colonial powers plundered our wealth, but they also had to open institutions that articulated “equality between men (and women).” The RSS committee and the prime minister’s advisor can make various arguments in favour of the abolition of this constitution, but essentially they reject the equality that the values of people like Bhagat Singh, the struggles launched by Ambedkar and the national movement have shaped the whole world.

Movement indeed, up until the 1990s, the country attempted to embark on the path of equality, relying on the Indian constitution for support and Nehru’s modernisation policies. Now it seems we’re taking a step backwards. With the temple and cow dominating the scene, invoking ancient values and the Brahmanic interpretation of the past (so-called “civilisational values”) paves the way to inequality, subverting what we have seen through the larger mass movement of history achieved…the struggle for freedom in India. Any opposition to the constitution of India is merely a reuse to bring the country back to a time when inequalities (caste, class and gender) were sanctified by religion (Brahmanism).

Debroy clarifies that his article represents his personal views and does not necessarily reflect the stance of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister or the Indian government. However, the article’s thorough and confident articulation suggests that it should not be dismissed as merely one individual’s opinion.

Debroy outlines a range of reform agendas, covering aspects like factor markets, tax reform, government expenditure prioritisation, infrastructure development, labour market formalisation, urbanisation, and legislative efficiency, all with the aim of achieving change by 2047. He highlights that numerous amendments over the years have altered the original constitution, leading to the need for a new one, a position he believes is not bound by the 1973 Supreme Court judgment on the basic structure.

We can remember the blog article by Arun Jaitley named ‘The NJAC Judgement – An Alternative View which he posted on October 18, 2015, where he clearly mentioned, “The Indian democracy cannot be tyranny of the unelected and if the elected are undermined, democracy itself will be in danger”.

Election is a very integral part of democracy which cannot be avoided but in every decision it is not the case, the people who made the constitution knew it very well so they proposed various institutions for different activities. 

He cites a study by the University of Chicago Law School, indicating that written constitution in other countries have an average lifespan of only 17 years. Given that India’s current constitution is largely based on the Government of India Act, 1935, which is viewed as a colonial legacy, Debroy argues for a new preamble that reevaluates the meanings of terms like secularism, democracy, justice, freedom, and equality in the context of changing times. 

Critics argue that Debroy’s perspective raises questions about the legacy of leaders like Ambedkar, Rajendra Prasad, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, and others who played pivotal roles in India’s independence and constitution-making. They contend that labelling the constitution as a colonial legacy is an audacious attempt to rewrite history and undermine the values enshrined in it. One BJP Rajya Sabha MP, Naresh Bansal, questioned the place of very word “India” in the constitution, as it is a symbol of slavery.

Also read: Bharat, India and Hindustan Don’t Cancel Each Other Out. They Reflect Continuities in Our History

The government’s recent focus on revising various aspects of the country, from parliamentary buildings to legal codes and then to th, has raised concerns about its intentions and the potential implications for India’s democratic and secular character. This shift in emphasis from the values of the Indian constitution to alternative interpretations is sparking debates about the direction in which the country is headed.

For instance when the new parliament house was inaugurated it was said that the old parliament house is the sign of the colonial era. When the opposition formed an alliance and named it ‘INDIA’, Assam’s Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma called the word “India” a sign of slavery. When the government is proposing new bills for the Indian Penal Code, then too it is calling the old system a symbol of the colonial era.

And now they are calling the constitution a symbol of colonialism. What kind of audacity is this?

As I mentioned before, these type of thoughts cannot be called random. On August 8 former Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi made his first speech where he also mentioned that there is a point to debate on the basic structure of the constitution. He stated “Basic structure of the constitution has a very debatable jurisprudential basis”.

Gogoi’s statement creates a paradox, because when he was in the post of Chief Justice of India, in many verdicts, he clearly supported the verdict of 1973 and said that the basic structure of the constitution cannot be changed. But it cannot be coincidence that just after one week of Gogoi’s speech, Debroy openly articulated it. Debroy’s call for a new constitution aligns with a broader trend among some right-wing circles, who argue against the Western influence and character of the current constitution, favouring a return to traditional Indian values, even citing Manusmriti as a potential basis. This position contrasts with the historical trajectory of India’s independence struggle, which aimed to eradicate caste and gender hierarchies and promote equality.

In conclusion, the proposal for a new constitution, as advocated by Debroy and some right-wing circles, represents a significant departure from India’s post-independence ethos and raises complex questions about the nation’s values, identity, and future direction. The debate around this issue is emblematic of broader discussions about the evolving character of Indian democracy and its relationship with historical legacies.

Harshvardhan is a student of history and political science in Christ University, Bengaluru. His email is  [email protected].