In the previous parts (first and second) of this essay, I discussed some aspects of constitutions and governments. The discussion was general and was principles based. In this part, I examine the particular case of the Indian constitution and the governments that it gives rise to. And I conclude that the constitution needs to be replaced.
Let’s look at the Indian constitution. The fun facts:
- It’s big. The longest constitution in the world. Around 147,000 words. Compare that to the USA’s ~7700 words, South Korea ~9000 and Japan ~5000.
- It’s unread. To a first approximation, no one has actually read the Indian constitution. Certainly, none of the tens of thousands of “law makers” has actually read it. How these members of parliament and legislative assemblies can do the job they are expected to do without even a passing familiarity with the constitution is a marvelous mystery.
- It’s unreadable. Written by lawyers in language that only lawyers can comprehend, the constitution is unreadable by the average educated person (never mind the hundreds of millions who can’t read, even if their lives depended upon it.) Here’s an extract from the 1st Amendment to the Indian constitution —
31B. Validation of certain Acts and Regulations.-Without prejudice to the generality of the provisions contained in article 31A, none of the Acts and Regulations specified in the Ninth Schedule nor any of the provisions thereof shall be deemed to be void, or ever to have become void, on the ground that such Act, Regulation or provision is inconsistent with, or takes away or abridges any of the rights conferred by, any provisions of this Part, and notwithstanding any judgment, decree or order of any court or tribunal to the contrary, each of the said Acts and Regulations shall, subject to the power of any competent Legislature to repeal or amend it, continue in force.”.
I only quote an extract since the entire amendment is over 1700 words long. Compare that to the 1st Amendment of the US constitution which I quote here in its entirety in just 45 words:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
I love the US 1st amendment so much that I know it by heart. Simply brilliant. “Congress shall make no law” sounds like music to my ears.
So much for the form of the constitution. Now let’s go into the content of the Indian constitution.
- The constitution places the people in a subservient role. In principal-agent terms, the government is the principal and the collective citizenry is its agent. In master-slave terms, the government is the master and the citizens its slaves. The government (politicians and bureaucrats) is omnipotent and the people powerless in relation to the government.
- The constitution assumes that the government is some kind of benevolent elected despot: despot in the sense that it has the power to make decisions arbitrarily that the people have to abide by, and benevolent in the sense that its motives are purely altruistic. The people cannot be trusted and the government is beyond suspicion.
- The constitution implicitly assumes that the government is comprised of people who are self-effacing, selfless saints who are also amazingly wise: while people are myopic, selfish and ignorant (which is the primary reason that people need to have an all-controlling, all-powerful government), the moment someone is selected (through a democratic process that involves those aforementioned myopic, selfish, ignorant masses) from among the lot (of myopic, selfish, ignorant masses) to occupy a position in government, he or she (the selected politician) becomes immediately transformed into a selfless, all-knowing, visionary, wise saint who is magically able to discern that which is truly good, beautiful and of value to society.
- The constitution grants only limited freedom to individuals in society and unlimited powers to the government to interfere in every aspect of the private and public lives of individuals. For instance, the constitution grants citizens the right to property but only subject to the will of the government which, if it feels like it, can appropriate any property for whatever use it posits is for the “public good.” It’s not that individuals have a pre-existing right to private property, and which the constitution then commands the government to protect.
- The constitution does not value individuals; it sees individuals as members of groups. It then treats groups differently and therefore individuals are treated differentially depending on the group affiliation. Individuals are not seen as ends in themselves but as means to some end that is defined at the level of the group. In effect, it perpetuates the worst of caste-based discrimination. By doing this, it effectively establishes antagonistic relationships between groups defined by religion and caste. This creates a toxic environment where the only game possible is one of competition in negative-sum games, instead of cooperation in positive-sum games.
- The constitution allows the most corrupt and the least competent to attain positions of political power. This fact is so evident that it hardly needs any elaboration.
- The constitution does not create a system that is robust to misconduct and bad leadership. A robust system is one in which does not require good people to make it work, and in which even bad people can do little harm.
Why is the Indian constitution flawed in the ways noted above? I believe that these “flaws” are not unintentional. I believe that it is by design and not error. It’s a consequence of the British colonial rule, and the subsequent rule by Nehru’s Congress party.
The constitution is unreadable (and unread) by the public because the public is not supposed to read it. It is to be a handbook for the rulers, not the subjects. It is big because it has to spell out in minute details what the subjects are allowed to do, what is prohibited, who gets what of how much from the government under which conditions, etcetera etcetera. It does not grant people liberty because colonial rulers are not in the business of granting liberty and freedom. It does not recognize individuals as ends in themselves because by clubbing them into groups, a colonial ruler can effectively “divide and rule” the subjects. It does not have to create a robust system because only the most competent were supposed to rule — selected as they were from an elite.
It has to be admitted that the constitution does allow democracy. It allows the subjects the freedom to choose whose commands they will obey. But it’s cold comfort since regardless of the choice, the nature of the servitude does not change.
India needs a different constitution that is consistent with a free people, that allows the people the freedom to prosper, to live lives of dignity. India needs an independence struggle.