Our ‘un-Indian’ Constitution
In the 125th anniversary year of B.R. Ambedkar, an exclusive excerpt from a forthcoming tome on the Indian Constitution. In this introduction, the book's editors explain how the Constitution was about a moral revolution and how it transcended nationalism
The Indian constitutional project can be described in many ways. For its most prominent historian, Granville Austin, the project was about “social revolution". For others, it was a political project, an expression of the fact that the Indian people were finally sovereign and dedicating themselves to the universal values of liberty, equality, and fraternity. The project does, in some ways, further all these goals. But the backdrop of those substantive aims contains two meta-aims of the Constitution, as it were, that often go unremarked. When the Constitution was enacted, there was a self-conscious sense that in writing a text, India was finding a way to resolve major substantive debates and disputes over norms and values. The task of constitutionalism was a morality that transcended positions and disagreements on particular issues; indeed, its strength was that it gave a framework for having a common institutional life despite disagreements. The second aspect of constitutionalism was the ambition that while the Constitution would serve Indian needs, it would not be bound by any particular tradition. It would, rather, reflect and be in the service of a global conversation on law and values. In the debates over particular doctrines, it is easy to miss the distinctiveness of these two ambitions, and the way in which they have informed the practice of constitutionalism in India. In some ways, more than particular achievements, it is the institutionalisation of these practices, against the odds, that constitutes the greatest achievement and challenge of Indian constitutionalism.