Musings on the Constitution-LXIII
To continue with the Preface to the Framing of the Indian Constitution:
“The second volume, dealing in the main with the settling of the principles of the Constitution, contains the reports, minutes and proceedings of various committees. such as the Union, Constitution Committee, the Provincial Constitution Committee, the Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights, Minorities, etc; and, in addition, it includes the texts of a large number of notes, drafts and memoranda submitted to these committees.
The third volume, concerned with the actual drafting of the provisions of the Constitution, contains the first draft of the Constitution prepared by the Constitutional Advisor, the minister of the Drafting Committee and Draft Constitution as settled by the Drafting Committee.
The fourth volume deals with the first stages of constitution-making and its adoption. It contains a number of comments and suggestions received from various provincial governments and legislatures, central ministries and departments, judges of the Federal Court and High Courts, members of the Constituent Assembly, public institution and individuals. Included in the volume also are the proceedings of a conference of provincial princes with the members of the Drafting Committee and the provisions of the Draft Constitution as adopted by the Constituent Assembly at the second reading stage and subsequently revised by the Drafting Committee.
The compilation of these documents and the preparation of the study have been carried out under the direction of a Committee headed by B Siva Rao, As Director of the Indian Institution of Public Administration in succession to Prof. Menon, it has been my good fortune to be on this committee for almost two years. The strain on its member in guiding and supervising the research has been heavy.
26th Jan,1966 J.N. Khosla”
Even in the context of these Musings, there could be posers as to why one needed to traverse to the “How”, to read the Constituent Assembly Debates. Whether it may not dissipate our energies or focus and would we not be doing well to treat the Debates as a self contained Code for understanding the Constitution? A legitimate poser that needs to be responded to. The Preface, as extracted above of Republic Day, 1966 vintage, answers it in part. But the Preface to four volumes initially published, may not contain a wholesome response. Framing of the Indian Constitution under the leadership of Prof. B. Shiva Rao, went on to six volumes which is always recommended reading for those indulging in the Constitution in some depth.
Without beating about the bush and groping for answers in any half hearted way, this author is inclined to lean on another Vikram Raghavan clone. Thankfully, India now boasts of young constitutional scholars. They are truly ‘original’ in their perspective and the tools they have at their disposal are many. But, they are not wasting them. They are handling the tools with aplomb and the academic training they are gaining alongside, helps them immensely in the cause. Alongside academic pursuits, they are into researching big and writing extensively and publishing books that are classy and in top draw .
Age is a number we say. But, in India, we have the regretful spectacle of not listening to millennial voices, that they are not gray haired or sufficiently old by our standards to qualify to be wise.
If they are in the 30s or just beyond, we treat them as ‘kids’, with no business to punch above their weights. Unlike in the West, we refuse to believe and accept that there could be heavy weights born to punch harder, among us.
Let us learn to recognise talent for what it is. We have this syndrome within the family, community, and society.
Though we are enamoured of ‘prodigies’ ( A Sachin Tendulkar in sport debuting at all of 16 years and Gottuvadyam Ravikiran recognising carnatic ragas at 3 and performing at 8), we are not inclined to see Professors or authorities in them. They need to grow old to be cast in that mould.
That is a failing we are all guilty of, for our lasting loss. There is a cultural deficit that India is guilty of, that needs to be made up and made up quickly, for we are a nation of youngsters.
Gautam Bhatia is a D.Phil (Law) Candidate at the University of Oxford. He read for the BCL and the MPhil at Oxford (2011 – 2013), and for an LLM at the Yale Law School (2014). He is the author of Offend, Shock, or Disturb: Freedom of Speech under the Indian Constitution (OUP 2015) and The Transformative Constitution (HarperCollins India 2019). He practiced for four years as a lawyer in New Delhi, and was part of the legal teams challenging the constitutionality of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (prohibiting same-sex relations) and the Aadhaar project (India’s national biometric identification scheme). His work has been cited by the Supreme Court of India, and by various High Courts.
He writes , talks and tweets a lot. He manages a Blog of his own, aptly christened- Indian Constitutional Law and Philosophy.Thomas Friedman alluded to ’70 million journalists’ with whom he had to compete as a New York Times Columnist. In best seller Thank You for Being Late. He talked of an Ethiopian assistant at a petrol pump at Bethesda, United States, running a Blog. Bhatia is not confined to his Blog and posts there. He writes in dailies as The Hindu and particularly authored a couple of constitutional works ,as noted already, from the prestigious houses Oxford University Press and Harper Collins. He is now a well respected voice, who India may do well to listen. Upendra Baxis and AG Nooranis are ageing, though still around. But Gautam Bhatias and Vikram Raghavans are poised to seamlessly occupy those slots. So let Gautam Bhatia take over to answer “How to read the Constituent Assembly Debates’ for a more authentic and trustworthy voice than concededly mine.
“For any student of the Indian Constitution, the Constituent Assembly Debates are both invaluable and indispensable. They are, however, difficult to read, as well as difficult to relate to the final constitutional text. This is not simply because of their volume, but because a significant part of the actual drafting took place outside the proceedings of the Assembly, and in Committees. A bare reading of the Debates, therefore, can often be confusing: the language of the draft articles changes, as does their numbering. The Debates frequently refer back to what happened in the Committees. Trying to understand the Debates without the Committee proceedings is bit like trying to swim with one arm and one leg.
Fortunately, the Committee proceedings are available in B. Shiva Rao’s six-volume edited collection titled The Framing of India’s Constitution: Select Documents. However, much like the Debates, the Select Documents cannot be read as self-contained volumes. This is because, as the Assembly drew on what was happening in Committee, the Committees discussed and revised the drafts that they received from the Assembly.
A holistic understanding of the framing of India’s Constitution therefore depends on a (somewhat) careful exercise that involves reading together the debates and the committee proceedings. This process is equally important if you’re trying to trace the history of a particular clause or set of clauses. The various iterations of a draft clause…”
(Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)