Rahul Gandhi is being barracked by the saffron camp for saying the constitution does not mention the word ‘nation’.They argue the Preamble does so clearly.But no constitution in the world talks about any ‘nation’. Constitutions talk about the structure and powers of the State and the rights of the people.They are rendered necessary by the urge and need to eliminate arbitrary exercise of power and inaugurate and maintain the rule of law.
Great Britain has no written constitution because the powers of the state are limited and rights of citizens ensured through a succession of laws passed in different times in response to the challenges of those times.Beginning with America and followed half a century later by a triumphant revolutionary France the practice has been accepted as the crowning achievement of a a century old struggle for freedom in India.In general it is commonly associated with the rise of democracy against the tyranny of customary autocracy.The republic is etymologically the state of the people.
The idea of a nation arose long after the first written constitution,if we discount the laws of Solon in Greece and such other ancient fragmentary precursors. Manusmriti the revered text of the Hindu nationalists was an elaborate and complex code for the whole social life extending to married life and status,including the graded position and rights of social hierarchy and gender relations.A modern constitution deals with the state,the citizen and the conceptual foundation of the laws.
Hence the constitution is concerned only tangentially with the nation. Rather like its relation to religion.It is concerned only with any possible impact it has upon the functioning of the constitution.For example the assertion of nation might encroach negatively upon the rights of certain sections of citizens.Or for that matter the seizure of state power by a certain type of nationalism might seriously endanger the rights of some other section of the citizenry.The constitution is supposed to take care of all those dire possibilities so inimical to its substance and primary functions.
On the other hand certain types of aggressive and power-hungry nationalism have little patience with the very idea of a constitution. They want to replace laws with their writ,or bend laws to serve it.These rule out of court the dignity of the individual and the sanctity of the laws.Even the courts, the guarantor of the constitution, are suborned to make room for their overweening ambitions.
At the time of preparation of the constitution only certain social and political outfits had any clear idea of the Indian nation,and that too only fitting Indian realities to a pre-conceived Procrustesn pattern.The makers of the constitution knew well enough that our nation was still in the early stage of development.The country and the people were too diverse and divided to make the transition easy.They might have hoped that by instilling liberal values and enabling democratic consciousness the constitution would foster a wholesome nationhood.But the basic document of our state had quite other functions.
(The argument is not concerned with endorsing or legitimising any role of Rahul Gandhi.)
Hiren Gohain is a political commentator