Any constitutional document is designed to provide a reference point to guide popularly elected governments. For a reference point to be relevant over the years, it must both be able to capture the founding principles of the nation, as well as their evolution across time. This can only happen if the original document is nourished periodically, reinforcing the original vision while also ensuring that it speaks to today’s challenges.

2022 is the 75th year of India’s independence and the eighth decade of the functioning of the Constitution of India. While constitutional principles have largely remained resilient during this period, this juncture is an opportune one to reflect particularly on four basic facets of India’s identity—federalism, secularism, multilingualism and underpinning them all, liberty.

All four have faced significant challenges over the course of India’s independent history and are being severely tested today. Federalism has often been reduced to an academic concept when powerful Union governments dismiss state governments led by opposing political parties; Hindi imposition was a real possibility in the early 1960s when the honeymoon period for the usage of English was coming to an end and has come up intermittently since then; threats to secularism have been endemic since the communally charged days of partition and are even more acute today with the evolution of Hindutva as a mainstream ideology; and the space for liberty, best captured through discordant views, independent opinions and free thinking, has been fast shrinking.

We are now at an appropriate time, neither too early, when these challenges are academic, nor too late, when the challenges have ripened, to understand what the constitutional vision of secularism, federalism, multilingualism and liberty is. Once the challenges, real and perceived, are identified, an evolved vision of what these concepts ought to mean can be articulated.

Deriving from Ramakrishna Paramhansa’s pithy statement ‘joto mot, toto poth’ (as many views, as there are paths), India is one nation with many paths—religions, languages, governments, voices. It is this plurality that defines India as a nation where opposites cohabit, intermingle and get along. Out of this plurality arises many rich possibilities.

While some may grow tired today of hearing old slogans like “unity in diversity”, it is our Constitution that epitomises this slogan and has held India together by allowing us to live, work, learn, and grow alongside those different from us. Central to this achievement is the constitutional celebration of differences. An India filled with clones, yes-men and parroted views would neither capture the nation’s vast plurality nor create any meaningful possibilities.

The Constitution remains our best hope of ensuring that this spirit of plurality is sustained in India over time. With this objective, Vidhi is undertaking a multi-year research project on the Constitution, its relevance and need at a crucial moment in India’s journey as a constitutional democracy. We invite you to join us in this reflection. In the spirit of pluralism we hold so dear, we hope we can encourage you to explore your own visions of India and its challenges, whether or not they are the same as ours.

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