On and around the occasion of Constitution Day, there would be many feigning new-found love for the Constitution they mauled at every opportunity. Unlike those who have a record of trampling upon the constitutional values of free speech, liberty and democracy on the flimsiest pretexts, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown great resolve in walking the shining path shown by modern India’s founding fathers encoded in India’s Constitution.
It is pertinent to point out Modi has time and again demonstrated that he is a thorough constitutionalist, working as per the path laid out under the Constitution to push for new India’s development that caters to its people’s aspirations.
Many people would remember Modi’s respect for the Constitution when he bowed to it in the Central Hall of Parliament in 2019 after winning the general elections. In 2014, he had bowed down to the temple of democracy at the steps of the Parliament before entering it. These instances of respect for the Constitution and constitutional values are part of his worldview from even before he became Prime Minister.
As Gujarat chief minister, Modi organised a Samvidhan Gaurav Yatra in 2010. A giant replica of the Constitution was placed in front of a statue of Dr BR Ambedkar to celebrate the 60th anniversary of its adoption. The replica was placed on a decorated elephant and carried across public places while Modi walked alongside the procession. The signal was clear – the Constitution and its ideals stand above everything and everyone.
This instance also shows the immense respect Modi has had for Ambedkar. No wonder then it is the Modi government that is developing the Panch-Teerth out of five places closely associated with the inspirational life of Ambedkar.
It is also this very philosophy that led the Modi government at the Centre, in 2015, to begin the tradition of observing Constitution Day as an important day for our nation.
Modi has maintained that the Constitution is a social document that empowers people with powerful rights. This has been upheld time and again by the Modi government, be it the 126th Constitutional Amendment Bill that seeks to extend reservation accorded to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies by 10 more years, or fulfilling the dream of a united India by revoking Article 370’s ‘temporary’ provision to fully integrate Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, ending a regime that alienated people and discriminated against women, Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes, Partition Refugees, and others.
The government has worked to empower India’s backward classes to fight atrocities by granting constitutional status to the National Commission of Backward Classes. It has also strengthened the SC/ST Atrocities Act by adding greater teeth to it. The Modi government moved a constitutional amendment to address economic inequity by providing 10% reservation in government jobs and educational institutions for economically weaker sections.
In 2019, during a Mann Ki Baat episode, Modi exhorted Indians to uphold constitutional ideals and values and contribute to nation-building. However, this was not the only time this issue was raised. Modi has maintained that even as the Constitution grants Indians several rights, it equally emphasizes on their fundamental duties. To this end, he has said repeatedly that people should discuss their duties in general life and raise awareness.
Modi has time and again lived up to this sense of duty, by maintaining respect for institutions even when things have not gone the way he and his government would have desired. Multiple electoral ups and downs have been treated with equanimity without any blame laid at the door of institutions.
The productivity of the Parliament has exceeded all expectations and broken records of decades even as historic bills have been passed through rigorous debate. From a time when every appointment to important institutions used to be either a corrupt or co-opted candidate under the UPA, we are now in the middle of an era where such appointments see no real controversies.
Many judgments from the judiciary seen as different from the government’s view have been respected. Contrast this with attempts to impeach the Chief Justice of India that originated from people who never tire from telling us how much they respect institutions.
Even in the face of seemingly favourable verdicts like the Ram Janmabhoomi verdict, Modi emphasized maintaining unity and respect for societal harmony rather than indulging in political one-upmanship.
To the people of India, it is more than evident who the real constitutionalist is, respecting institutions, upholding values and working towards the ideals that our Constitution’s makers identified for modern India.
(The writer is senior advocate in the Supreme Court and a BJP spokesperson. Views are personal.)