Anantkumar Hegde’s comments on constitutional amendments – a media manufactured controversy

The debate on the inclusion of the word ‘secular’ in the preamble has been raging in recent times due to the controversy surrounding the BJP MP Anantkumar Hegde. The minister said that “we (BJP) are here to change the constitution.” He did not say what exactly the change is going to be. The media and anti-BJP elements ganged up to twist his words on the topic of secularism and created huge brouhaha. To end the ruckus in the parliament, he tendered an apology in the house.

This episode raises an important logical question. Did the people and the governments which have amended the constitution in the past, have no allegiance to the constitution? Were they traitors? The first government to amend the constitution was led by Jawaharlal Nehru himself. Per the same logic, was he against the constitution? The 42nd amendment, which made sweeping changes to the constitution was passed under Indira Gandhi’s tenure. Was she then also a traitor?

In The Hindu, an article on this episode appeared on 2nd January, expressing deep concern over ‘threat to the secular character of the constitution’. The author, an advocate in the Madras High court wrote :

There was a point of time, perhaps, when we might have taken the idea of a secular, pluralistic India, tolerant of all sects and religions, as a position set in stone. But, incidents, especially since the early 1990s, have radically altered both reality and our imagination. That certain groups, including many within the political party presently in power at the Center and in many States, actively believe in a different kind of India is today intensely palpable.

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Of course, some fundamental values of the constitution have to be preserved. Democracy, multi party democracy, federalism, secularism (in its true sense) and free speech must not be threatened by any government. But that doesn’t mean the favorite parts of the pseudo secular liberal elite class should never be touched. It doesn’t mean that a political party disliked by the same class, should be banned from amending the constitution as per what they think fit and in accordance with the mandate they have received.

There are many loopholes in the current constitution. Its vagueness on appointment of judges has given disproportionate power to judiciary. Lack of definition of the word ‘minority‘ has led to misuse of article 29 and article 30 of the constitution. Hindus who are in minority in 8 states are unable to get the benefits meant for minorities. Rampant conversion of gullible poor is also a matter of great concern.

Lokanath Mishra in his speech in the constituent assembly on (6 December 1948) argued against the freedom of propagation of religion and questioned the brand of secularism that was being written in the constitution. He said :

Sir, it has been repeated to our ears that ours is a secular State. I accepted this secularism in the sense that our State shall remain unconcerned with religion, and I thought that the secular State of partitioned India was the maximum of generosity of a Hindu dominated territory for its non-Hindu population [..]

Do we really believe that religion can be divorced from life, or is it our belief that in the midst of many religions we cannot decide which one to accept? If religion is beyond the ken of our State, let us clearly say so and delete all reference to rights relating to religion. If we find it necessary, let us be brave enough and say what it should be. [..]

But this unjust generosity of tabooing religion and yet making propagation of religion a fundamental right is some what uncanny and dangerous. Justice demands that the ancient faith and culture of the land should be given a fair deal, if not restored to its legitimate place after a thousand years of suppression.

As far as the freedom of future generations to amend the constitution is concerned, Jawaharalal Nehru himself has conceded that the constitution can be changed by the country from time to time in his address to the constituent assembly. Pt Jawaharlal Nehru in his constituent assembly speech on 8th November 1948 :

I should like this House when it considers the various controversies – there are bound to be controversies and there should be controversies because we are a living and vital nation, and it is right that people should think differently and it is also right that, thinking differently when they come to decisions, they should act unitedly in furtherance of those decisions.  […]

Vast number of minds and eyes look in this direction. We have to remember them. Hundreds of millions of our own people look to us and hundreds of millions of others also look to us; and remember this, that while we want this Constitution to be as solid and as permanent a structure as we can make it, nevertheless there is no permanence in Constitutions.  […]

It is right that House elected so – under this Constitution of course it will have the right to do any thing – should have an easy opportunity to make such changes as it wants to. But in any event, we should not make a Constitution such as some other great countries have, which are so rigid that they do not and cannot be adapted easily to changing conditions. Today especially, when the world is in turmoil and we are passing through a very swift period of transition, what we may do today may not be wholly applicable tomorrow. Therefore, while we make a Constitution which is sound and as basic as we can, it should also be flexible and for a period we should be in a position to change it with relative facility.

The basic structure and boundaries of power to amend of the Parliament is well defined by the Supreme court in various cases over the years. If any amendment is found to be against the spirit of the Constitution or principles of justice, the courts have the authority to strike them down as they did under the tyrannical rule of Indira Gandhi.

So what is this fuss all about? No constitution is perfect. And the document can be corrected and updated as per needs of the time and the mandate that the government of the has received. The Modi Government got a thumping majority for a reason. For the promises they made and in tune with the aspirations of a young nation. Why then is it to inconceivable that they should attempt to change the Constitution in accordance with those aspirations. For the Constitution is meant to reflect the will of the people, not the other way around.

[Transcripts of Constituent Assembly debates can be accessed on the Parliament website here]

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