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Making of the Indian Constitution


The cartoon of BR Ambedkar which created a parliamentary furore was sketched by cartoonist Shankar, as he was popularly called.

Even though some reports suggest that this was a 1950's cartoon, it was probably before January 26th 1950, when the Indian Constitution was adopted by the Indian Constituent Assembly. ToI suggests that this was a 1948 cartoon.  |  Copyright - Children's Book Trust; source and courtesy - outlookindia.com  |  Click for source image.

Even though some reports suggest that this was a 1950′s cartoon, it was probably before January 26th 1950, when the Indian Constitution was adopted by the Indian Constituent Assembly. ToI suggests that this was a 1948 cartoon. | Copyright – Children’s Book Trust; source and courtesy – outlookindia.com | Click for source image.

The school textbook cartoon of BR Ambedkar which created a furore in parliament on Friday was sketched by cartoonist Keshav Shankar Pillai.

Shankar, as he was popularly called, later founded the publishing house, Children’s Book Trust, in 1957. He made cartoons for newspapers and his magazine, Shankar’s Weekly, started in 1948. The government of India honoured him with Padma Shri in 1956, Padma Bhushan in 1966 and Padma Vibhushan in 1976.

The controversial cartoon was probably first published in 1948 and has been a part of NCERT’s (National Council Of Educational Research And Training) Class XI textbook in Tamil Nadu since 2006. The cartoon is credited to Children’s Book Trust.

It shows Ambedkar, a Dalit leader and creator of the Indian Constitution, seated on a snail with ‘Constitution’ written on it and India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, whipping the snail. (via Shankar made the Ambedkar-Nehru cartoon in 1950s – Hindustan Times).

What would Babasaheb Ambedkar tell his 'followers'?  |  Cartoon by Surendra; May 11, 2012; source & courtesy - thehindu.com  |  Click for larger image.

What would Babasaheb Ambedkar tell his ‘followers’? | Cartoon by Surendra; May 11, 2012; source & courtesy – thehindu.com | Click for larger image.

Up to speed

In a short period of less than 30 months, India wrote and implemented its constitution. It has been been a rather pliable constitution getting amended a number of times – and yet has been upheld and respected by all the extensions of the State.

Unlike Pakistan.

Now … or when?

After the boycott of the Simon Commission, from 1927, and the death of Lala Lajpat Rai (Nov 17, 1928), it was clear (especially to the British) that their days were numbered. Britain enacted The Government of India Act, first in 1919 and then in 1935. Some Indians have claimed the Indian Constitution is nothing original – based on the Government of India Act, 1935, by the British Raj.

This a claim not even worth examining, since this Government of India act, 1935, has been in public domain for more than 75 years. Pakistan had as much right to it as India did.

Why could Pakistan do nothing with it.

Documents do not make a country work! People do!! (Cartoon by Sabir Nazar; Courtesy - www.dailytimes.com.pk.).

Documents do not make a country work! People do!! (Cartoon by Sabir Nazar; Courtesy – http://www.dailytimes.com.pk.).

Get up … and get on!

In fact Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly dragged this Constitution-making exercise till October 1956.

Cut back to 1956 Pakistan.

Remember that 1956 was also the year when Pakistan became a republic – and the first constitution of Pakistan was adopted. Governor General Sahibzada Sayyid Iskander Ali Mirza (a Shia Muslim from Bengal, direct descendant of Mir Jaffer) became the first President of the Pakistani Republic.

Two years later, in October 1958, President Iskander Mirza staged a coup d’état and dismissed the constitution. Shortly afterwards General Ayub Khan deposed Iskandar and declared himself president. These shenanigans started the tradition of Army rule in Pakistan.

To an emerging Pakistan, after a 9 year struggle to write a constitution, two years later, the Army declared that the Constitution was worthless piece of paper. Another Constitution was written in 1962, and then a third.

The Shankar cartoon that was included in school textbooks which raised a furore in the Indian Parliament  |  Source and courtesy - outlookindia.com  |  Click for source image.

The Shankar cartoon that was included in school textbooks which raised a furore in the Indian Parliament | Source and courtesy – outlookindia.com | Click for source image.

Looking back

In the last 250 years, just 6 countries succeeded with Republican democracy without a significant breakdown in the first 50 years. Of the six, Sri Lanka (pop. 200 lakhs) Switzerland (pop. 80 lakhs), Israel (pop. 75 lakhs) and Singapore (pop. 50 lakhs) are tiny countries to generate any valuable data, models, norms or precedents. In any other day, age and society, the republican-democracy model would have been laughed off – and not studied by millions.

America became one of the first successful republican democracies – from 1789, when George Washington became the first elected President of USA. 70 years later, the strains were showing – North versus South. America was on the verge of Civil War – the main cause of which was the desire of the Southern states to remain independent (due to tariff issues) or at best as a loose confederation – not a federal union (actually slavery was a side issue).

Israel, (propped up by massive US aid) is another country which has been a republican democracy for more than 50 years. Switzerland (with guaranteed neutrality from the European powers) is another in modern history to survive 50 years of republican democracy.

The reason why India’s Republican Democracy works is because Indian genius has made it work. It is the commitment to make the system work, which is why the system is working.

Though some may cavil about how well (?) it works!

Coming to this cartoon, Shanker’s Weekly was a permanent fixture in subscriptions at my home, till its demise in the 1970s. Though respected in its time, it hardly made money.


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  1. May 12, 2012 at 1:12 pm | #1

    Anurag,

    I differ with you. The concept of Constitution was itself alien to indian ethos.. that’s the reason indian people could not understand what the constitution was, unless it reached out to them..

    The constitution was never ratified by the people, and it was imposed upon a bulk of rural society, who were not even briefed about what it was.. Nehru and his cabinet took everything granted for..

    So till now, the indian people never understand this constitution.. Even today, How many of the common people ever know what was written in it?

  2. May 12, 2012 at 2:52 pm | #2

    The concept of Constitution was itself alien to indian ethos.. that’s the reason indian people could not understand what the constitution was, unless it reached out to them..

    A few days ago … at the Ahmedabad Railway station … I was waiting for my train to arrive for journey to Mumbai. Two Nepalis came and sat next to me and we got talking.

    I am using these Nepalis as proxy for Indians of about 100-50 years ago. Zero economic opportunities. Traditional economic activities don’t pay any more. New avenues not available. Indians became indentured labour and went to work to West Indies, Fiji, Africa, (Mauritius, Kenya, South Africa, etc.).

    Nepal is in the same situation today. Slightly worse.

    Nepalis have deposed a benign royal family which was far better than the democratic rule that Nepal has been working on for the last 10 years. The Leftists have used guns and the Others don’t have words to fight these guns.

    This is the bad news.

    Now the good news.

    These Nepalis understand that – and they were clear about the fact the samvidhaan is the now the solution. The clock cannot be turned back. They can only go forward.

    A similar consensus happened in India – which I outlined in the Indian Thinking On The Republic.

    I suggest that we drop this idea that an ordinary Indian does not not know.

    He does.

    The earlier we get over the notion, the better it is. I have written two posts on the Indian Voter. There are clear voting patterns. All this business of caste and cash for votes are English words which have never explained Indian democracy.

    I suggest you take me seriously on this – as I was one of the very few who actually outlined as Scenario-I what would be the outcome of of the 2009 elections. To the T.

    Mamata, AP, DMK, – the works.
    :)

    The constitution was never ratified by the people, and it was imposed upon a bulk of rural society, who were not even briefed about what it was.. Nehru and his cabinet took everything granted for.

    If the world’s greatest oral tradition has lived for thousands of years, why do you believe that Indian Polity after Independence was not understood by the people.

    Again, please look at the Voting patterns. There are clear directions, clear issues and clear mandates.

    But in the last thirty years, we have seen issues getting muddled, leadership getting blunt, political parties getting lazy. Whoever has reached out has won. The most infamous being YS Rajasekhar Reddy. His padayatra across Andhra for 5 years was ridiculed but he won the election. Advani before that.

    Before Advani came onto the scene, from a party with an undifferentiated Gandhian Socialism platform, BJP was moving from obscurity to irrelevance.

    But the biggest was NT Rama Rao. His Chaitanya Ratham electioneering made Indian Polity sit up. Advani’s Rath Yatra was modeled on NTR’s Chaitanya Ratham.

    If Indian people could engage the British Empire in 200 armed and military actions over 200 years, do you think, they would have tolerated Nehru, if there was a disconnect?

    Your belief that India’s rural folks will passively accept is Western paradigm, based on wishful thinking.

    indian people never understand this constitution.. Even today, How many of the common people ever know what was written in it?

    One of the greatest things that the Indian leadership did was have faith in Indian people.

    The British Raj usually said that The Vote must be restricted to the educated, the rich, the landed and the gentry.

    Like it was in the Rest of the world.

    India was unique that we gave a simple Universal Suffrage from the first day, first show.

    And it has worked. The Great Confusion is in minds of us Westernized, English-speaking people. Start with respect for the Indian Voter. Then your mind will open.

    Shed your assumption of the Ignorant Indian Voter.

    The Last Thing on this subject of alien democracy. The greatest quality of the Indian mind is at after a point, he does not look where and whose idea it is.

    His only thought, How Can Make It Work?

    In another context is the Indian Software story. How did India churn more than a million coders in a short period of about 5 years that took on the challenge of the Y2K.

    Just go ahead and make it work. Indians are also ensuring that Democracy Works. Dont look t the past. What worked in the past is not going to work now.

    Right now, we need to think of how we live to fight another day.

    The Past and the Future

    India’s historic military model worked brilliantly till the Slave Dynasty in 1200 AD.

    - Gunpowder,

    - War Elephants,

    - Mounted Cavalry,

    - Every citizen was also a soldier.

    - A huge military market

    These were the elements which was the envy of the world. When the Khwarizm Shah wanted to escape the Chengez Khan’s Mongol Wrath, they came to India. When Cleopatra saw the end in Egypt, she readied boats to sail to India – to escape from the Romans. When the Zoroastrians were defeated on their home soil in Iran they came back to Bactra (which is possibly the Greek pronunciation of Bharat-ah).

    To defeat this awesome Indian military machine of India, the first to unlock the secret were the Islamic invaders. The concentration of wealth in Islamic societies allowed the chieftains there to invest in huge cannons, more horses, large stock of gunpowder, the best artillery specialists that money could buy, hired soldiers from the Indian military market.

    Against this combination, were Indian kings sitting on small treasuries as per Bharattantra.

    Bharattantra’s solution to this was an increase in taxation from 16.67% to 25%. This was the chauth system that Shivaji imposed. In the past also when faced with invasions from Asuric centralized polities, India had resorted to consolidation.

    The Maurya, and Gupta Empires against invasions from the Khyber.

    The Chola Empire against sea-piracy and naval invasions in the South.

    Today we expect our politicians (Kshatriyas) to be like Brahmins Sattvik and our Brahmins (intellectuals) to be Rajsik. This can only happen in Desert Bloc. For this we the chatteratti are to blame.

    These silly campaigns against corruption, for instance.

    India’s past of the self-sufficient villages was built on a massive military might. Not on the basis of goodwill and passive non-violence.

    So before you talk of your jati-based village centric life, look at how can India sustain industrial production for a 10 year War, against whoever is the Super-power of the world is at that time. Once we do that, we can go back to our villages and lead our simple lives again.

    In the meantime the reality is that we have live an uneasy peace with the stronger Asuric Empires. Till we can win over them, we should fly below the radar, make small bargains and avoid big compromises. And rebuild to taken on Asuric Empires.

    This one-hour long video below is reality.

    Think about how can India manage itself in such a world. The great thing was India hardly mentioned in this video. This is the best news you can get.

  3. A Fan of Your Blog
    May 12, 2012 at 3:51 pm | #3

    What has made democracy work in India is samskar or dharma, which is loosely translated as “programming to choose between right and wrong”. Democracy has nothing to do with it. As has been seen in India and elsewhere, there are many fundamental flaws with democracy, oligarchy being one of them. Somehow, we have been brainwashed to think that because democracy is “inclusive”, it is the best system and we should be proud of it.

    I would suggest that any system that is fair in nature, and appeals to the dharma of us Indians would have worked. I agree with Senthil that democracy, as it is represented today in India, is an alien concept to India, imported by British educated Nehru and his cronies. If you look deep inside our constitution, most of the concepts are copied from British and French constitutions. The likes of Ambedkar and Nehru would have been far more successful with our model if they had captured the ethos of India and developed a grass roots level movement, which had infused energy into the local economies through private local industry. Centralized planning through five year plans, centralized development of economy and centralized higher education were major flaws in how this democracy was put into action, basically because it paid no heed to thousands of years of history and economic activity in India, and flew in the face of how economic activity was organized. This view prevalent at the time that India was “inadequate” to deal with its own problems and needed foreign concepts to thrive was the biggest problem, Macaulyism had won.

    The need of the hour was to strengthen local economies and primary education. The solutions that were offered were exactly the opposite, which is a shame.

  4. Satya
    May 12, 2012 at 5:47 pm | #4

    70 years is too soon to judge any system..
    You are absolutely right in saying “It is the commitment to make the system work, which is why the system is working.”

    Democracy is a flawed system (its based on Quantity rather than Quality).. It speaks of Rights/Freedom rather than Duty/Responsibility.. It is meant for slaves rather than independent individuals.

    Any system to be declared foolproof has to last more than 150years in Bharat!! Personally I feel Democracy going down in next 30years, though I wish sooner.

  5. May 12, 2012 at 11:47 pm | #5

    The “reforms” thrust upon us as a nation were quid pro quo arrangements, which at the very heart of them, were beneficial to India. There was a long history of success with these, specifically with the Asiam tigers. India had been successful in resisting these reforms till that time, mainly because we were averse to indulgence from IMF and others. With a near bankrupt environment, we were forced to implement these reforms and really had very little choice with them. As of 1970, India was better situated than China economically. But China embraced the same reforms much earlier, and see where China is today.

    The fact that the ABV Govt continued with the reforms is testimony to their effectiveness. It is now well acknowledged that, if India has to continue with its ascent in world economy and politics, the liberalization process has to continue. While there is no question that there are many ills of this process, the fact that over 300 million people (equivalent to population of the United States) have “escaped” from below the poverty line is a tremendous achievement. Had the population been in the 300 million range, where it actually should have been if our leaders had been more proactive, we would have been the richest nation in the world in a mere 20 years. Even though this is trickle-down economics at its best, it is the only system that has worked.

    What made the big difference was the end of protectionism that was harbored by JN and IG governments and the license raj that it created. What PVN and MMS did was not a stroke of great genius, but a fiscal necessity to keep the bankrupt Indian economy afloat. It was shoved down our throat by the likes of WB. Let’s not kid ourselves by saying India would have achieved its current rate of economic growth, had we not opened our economy to the free international markets. Those who knew what this would do for us as a country, wisely invested in the happenings by starting software companies and leveraging our skillsets that complement our educational strengths.

    More people are better if we can manage to provide better education and/or vocational skills to the populace where they can become more productive. If not, then they become a burden on society.

    We are caught in a chicken and egg situation. Till we educate our people, we cannot make them productive. And because of the growing population, we cannot have the resources to make them more productive.

    To be all the nice things people need to be, they need to educated, cultured, civilized, productive, etc. etc. Else they can become a liability quickly. With half the people below poverty line with no access to water, food, education, etc. etc., how do we make them all the wonderful things we want and need them to be?

    AFOYB – Are you changing your position. Look at all your above statements. They are all in direction of capitalist industrialization. How did this sudden insight on the ‘need of the hour was to strengthen local economies and primary education. The solutions that were offered were exactly the opposite’

    Opportunistic recant or a genuine change of heart?

  6. A Fan of Your Blog
    May 13, 2012 at 5:06 pm | #6

    There is no change of heart. We are discussing two different time frames here. One is 1947-1955 (errata – earlier mentioned as 1957-1955) and another is 1991. What we did in 1991 as a nation was a necessity and a reaction to what existed before. What we did in 1947 as a nation was essentially starting with a clean slate. Mr, Nehru, as the head of the state, had a chance to define our direction. You know how I feel about that direction.

    Also, capitalist industrialization has many flavors. State-sponsored (along with its infamous red tape) is one, which is a direct result of Nehruvian policies. Privatized industrialization that strengthens local economies and skill sets is another, which existed for thousands of years before the British arrived.

    Given where we were in 1991, what we did in 1991 has yielded great results in creating jobs and alleviating poverty. We needed to accelerate reforms, which the present MMS Government has failed at. Despite all the scandal mongering, I have respect for MMS as the head of state. Unfortunately, political compulsions keep getting in the way. The reason they do is because, again, we are importing foreign schools of thoughts and applying them to a very different demographic. It feels like foreign concepts are being shoved down our throats, and the local systems are resisting those changes, and for good reason. If MMS were to distance himself from the likes of Kapil Sibal, and tap into local systems and wisdom, the reforms would be far more palatable for our people.

    I hope this clears what may seem like an about turn. If not, please let me know. I continue to be a big fan of your work, Anuraag. You have brought new (to me), more well rounded schools of thought that have shed light into what was and should be. I am also impressed by Senthil’s blog. Some of his posts like the one on khap panchayat are truly eye opening. Please keep up the good work.
    ————
    The above comment had a typo – which the commentator requested to be changed with the following message –

    There is a typo in my response. I meant to say 1947-1955 and not 1955-1957.

    - admin.

  7. May 13, 2012 at 6:00 pm | #7

    AFOYB –

    I can clearly see that you have: –

    1. NOT seen the video that I believe was essential viewing. It says all the things that 2ndlook has been saying. Only thing he has been saying it before 2ndlook said that.

    2. You are still not reading my replies. Pls dont get so protective about ‘your’ ideas or mine. Follow Keynes dictum. I change my opinion when facts change. You sir, what do you do?.

    Puh-leeze, read before you repeat your ideas.

    - Like I mentioned above, between 1200-1950, India fell behind in ability to mass-manufacture armaments

    - First due to a different economic models.

    - In the next few centuries, the problem became greater – now we had a a different economic model plus lack of technology.

    - You only have to see how Babur in 12 years before his attack on India, mass produced cannons and hired the best artillery specialists in the world.

    - The Lodis could not compete with that.

    - Later the English upped the ante. They manufactured more armaments than the Mughals could – and we know what happened.

    Though Indians manufactured the largest amount of gunpowder in the world, others manufactured more guns and cannons. Our gunpowder killed our people. This was the kaal-chakra.

    Do you think, we can make fighter jets, aircraft carriers, battletanks, ICBMs with a village based economy.

    Wakey! Wakey!

    The world has changed. The asurs are in full force. It is the midnight of Kali yug. Asuric mayaa is in full cry. We are enveloped in mayaa. mayaa is all round us.

    Senthil – With all your loyalty to the old Indic model, you have to see one thing. We cant go back. We cant bring back the old India. It is gone. DEdd-dd.

    Surely, the values that drove Bharattantra earlier can drive India even today. But the mechanisms have to change. Agriculture yes. Jathi based, self sufficient villages is a pipe dream. Handicrafts and cottage industry gotta die. We must have enough production to be able to fight a 10 year world war.

    American war production during WWII was so huge, that they simply left behind megatons of war material in whichever country it was lying at the end of the war. That war material was a ‘gift’ to the ‘host’ country. It was being auctioned off till the early 70s.

    India cannot fight a war for more than 30 days.

    On the war surplus

    An uncle of mine bought a dozen Harley Davidsons (plus tons of other stuff) from this war surplus auction for a few hundred rupees. Those Harley Davidsons, I believe would be worth nearly a crore today. In early 70s, he bought a trailer for a Jeep, made by Carnegie Steel, which belonged to the 101st Airborne Division – if my memory serves me correctly. Again for a few hundred rupees.

    OK, we need to index it price levels of that time. Gold was at INR 200 at that time, in early 1970s.

  8. A Fan of Your Blog
    May 13, 2012 at 6:04 pm | #8

    Anuraag, I have not watched the video. I will do so and post. Thanks!

  9. x
    May 18, 2012 at 2:29 am | #9

    Bharat worked on the realization of dharma by ppl.
    West works by chimera of system created in minds of ppl.
    West use a book that is supposed to be central thesis that governs everybody. whether religion or governance or even economics. This centralisation of power is central to west.

    Senthil & ‘Fan of your Blog’ are correct in that concept of a book governing actions of ppl is alien to Bharat. Its always dharmik consciousness that directed Bharatiya.
    So, even today, 80% of indian population do not know what ‘constitution’ contains. they also dont know what IPC says or does not say. Yet they do not behave in inhuman way. they regulate their lives dharmikally.

    Centralised authority vested on books or prophets or chimerik systems are western ways to grab power.

    Life and realization happen beyond them.

    The disconnect of ‘modern indian state’ and ppl of india IS real. take example of recent UP elections. SP got 30% of votes polled, out of polling percentage of 60%. which means only 18% UPites voted for SP. which means 82% ppl did not elect this govt! That is the disconnect concealed under the chimera of ‘participative democracy’.

    This disconnect is also the reason why indian farmers are committing suicide in thousands while ‘modern india’ claims to be ‘advancing’.

  10. May 30, 2012 at 10:33 pm | #10

    If with village based economy, we achieved all these:
    - Gunpowder,
    - War Elephants,
    - Mounted Cavalry,
    - Every citizen was also a soldier.
    - A huge military market

    Why can’t we achieve same now with village based economy?

  11. June 9, 2012 at 7:34 am | #11

    Take something as basic as electricity.

    Today India has a healthy world-class manufacturer for boilers-turbines – BHEL. Knowing that BHEL is there, Europeans, Americans, Japanese and now the Chinese offer India the best deals. Can a village based economy make super-critical thermal equipment. Can Inia compete with a world that runs on electricity with having electricity? Can we have electricity with having that equipment?

    Can we make jet-fighters and missiles with a village based economy.

    As I see it agriculture is the future.

    But to secure that future, we need to be able to compete and protect ourselves against the most heavily armed and vicious empires in the history of mankind.

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