Vox Populi: Interpreting the Preamble

Chandra Shekher Mishra

In the American manner, the Preamble of the Indian Constitution accentuates in no uncertain terms that “the people of India” have adopted, enacted, and given to themselves “this constitution.” The Objective Resolution emphasized that the Constituent Assembly– convened to craft Indian-made Constitution for the Indians– had derived from “the people… all the power and authority”. Thus, on the face of it, the people must be categorized as the source of authority of the Constitution.

However, many critics consider the statement above factually inaccurate, arguing that the Constituent Assembly of India was not sufficiently representative. The people did not directly elect the members of the Constituent Assembly; instead, they were elected by Provincial Assemblies. The Provincial Assemblies had been selected based on a restricted franchise, which left countless people out of the roll through the smokescreen of tax, property & educational qualification. As of 1946, only 28.5% of adults were allowed to vote in the Assembly elections. On top of that, the Constituent Assembly was a one-party body in a one-party country.

It is, however, submitted that the criticisms above are extra. According to Granville Austin, though mainly in the hands of the Indian National Congress, the Constituent Assembly was sufficiently representative since those candidates led the national struggle across the country with the ordinary object of ousting the Britishers. They were, indeed, very dear to the people. Moreover, Assembly’s internal decisions were made democratically, based on consensus rather than a roller majority representing and accommodating all shades of viewpoints, whether voters or non-voters. Members of the Constituent Assembly manifested a vast ideological spectrum.

Thus, in substance, the people are the source of authority of the Constitution, notwithstanding the criticisms above.

Juxtaposed to this, the decisions by the Government– since our independence– are based on a roller majority rather than consensus. H.N. Kunzru pointed out that modern-day governance could not be done by agreement. Moreover, it would have been challenging to define the same. That could probably be why it was not drafted into the Constitution. However, it is recognized that there are specific political conflicts involving human sensitivities, which must be resolved by consensus rather than the majority for the unity and integrity of the nation. In a liberal democracy, the Government must reveal a clear intention to accommodate conflicting views and interests to the maximum extent possible. In such issues, if the majority opinion is made to override the minority opinion– with no accommodation to minority views– it might deprecate and disturb the Constitution’s unity, integrity, and democratic ethos.

An essential attribute of a democracy is that the majority accommodates the interests & sensitivities of the minority to the utmost degree possible, and the latter does not obstruct governance by the former. Suppose the Government continues to make arbitrary decisions that undermine the interests of the minority and the nation without consensus or an attempt to accommodate the conflicting views. In that case, it might indeed be democracy’s death knell.

Further noteworthy is that the Indian polity was devised to serve the Indian identity. Hence, if the need so arises, the decisions must be made by consensus, instead of roller majority, to ensure that everyone has a voice in the governance of the nation, to ensure that the Government’s decision manifests the Indian mandate, to ensure that the unity and integrity of the country remain intact, to ensure that the Government, in substance, is of, by & for the people.

Reference: Granville Austin, Indian Constitution- Cornerstone of a Nation

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