The constitution buildersA docudrama by Shyam Benegal on the Indian constitution-making process offers lessons for our own CA members
It is mesmerising to watch article-by-article debates at the Constituent Assembly (CA) on provisions to be inserted in the constitution. The erudite explanations of provisions, their travaux and reasons for recommendation, the equally emphatic rejections and the eventual prudential judgment to strike a compromise to build an enduring constitution are definitely moments worth watching. These moments can arouse a profound sense of belonging to the nation and its people.
I, of course, am not referring to the events that transpire at the CA hall in New Baneshwor. The members of our CA have dropped our self-esteem to its lowest ebb. A deserted hall, aspersions instead of genuine engagement in debates and the lending of deaf ears to the voices of other members have been the usual scenes since our protracted constitution-making process began in 2008. Unlike ours, the members of the Indian CA had the zeal to deliver a constitution, were characterised by statesmanship rather than partisanship, and were a relatively more constitutionally knowledgeable bunch. The veteran Shyam Benegal has captured the animation and spirit of these Indian CA members in his recent docudrama titled Samvidhaan: The Making of the Constitution of India. A week ago, Samvidhaan completed its 10-episode run on Rajya Sabha TV, a state-owned channel.
Meet the architects
Shyam Benegal, a person bestowed with Padma Shree awards and acclaimed for captivating viewers with his exploration of India’s social-political realities, has ventured into developments that unfolded in the making of the Indian constitution. In Samvidhaan, he reenacts the CA of India, which lasted from 1946 to 1949. He has covered CA debates in Samvidhaan and in doing so, displayed the interjections and methods of speech delivery required to propose draft articles for the constitution or to cause amendments to them. He has beautifully presented how the eloquent speeches of the architects of the Indian constitution influenced the constitution-making process.
You will find history unfolding with actors portraying the roles of BR Ambedkar, JN Nehru, Vallavbhai Patel, Abul Kalam Azad, KM Munshi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Hansa Mehta and MK Gandhi. The speeches of Abul Kalam Azad on language, BR Ambedkar on fundamental rights, KM Munshi on freedom of expression and Nehru’s ‘Tryst with Destiny’ are examples of some unforgettable acts. A scene with Ambedkar and Patel, where the former threatens to quit the CA over the issue of protection of the rights of schedule castes, demonstrates the passion of the leaders.
Constitution making in India was not an easy process. While independence was at sniffing distance, a partition between India and Pakistan along communal lines loomed in the distance. In fact, for the first six months, from December 9, 1946, the CA could not make much progress because of communal riots, the absence of the Muslim League at the CA and conflict between the aspirations of Muslim League and the Indian National Congress. The political deadlock was eventually resolved with the acceptance of the British Indian Empire’s partition into two independent units—India and Pakistan. However, even after this political impasse was resolved, significant disagreements between members existed on issues related to the definition of link languages, creation of union/federal state, protection and reservation for minorities and forms of governance.
The members were able to amicably settle all these issues with hard work, dedication and concerted efforts.
Not every generation gets an opportunity to draft the constitution through an elected body again and again. Unfortunately (or fortunately), this opportunity has fallen on us for the second time in one decade. The first CA (2008-2012) failed miserably in the constitution-drafting process because of a lack of devotion and consensus among political parties. If the members of CA II do not avail themselves of the second opportunity and contribute meaningfully to the constitution-making process, the people of Nepal will never be able to forgive them. On the other hand, if they succeed in this task, the proud tag of the ‘author’ of the constitution will always remain theirs and they will never have to scout for respect and veneration from the Nepali people.
In the end, if the suffering and yearning of the Nepali people for a constitution is not enough motivation to promulgate the constitution, the CA members can watch Samvidhaan for inspiration. For those who missed watching it on TV, you can catch all 10 hour-long episodes on Youtube.
Dahal is an advocate (@the3rdbranch)