One Nation, Many Paths
A Position Paper on the Indian Constitution
A constitutional document is designed to act as a compass to guide popularly elected governments, as well as a fetter to restrain them. For such a reference point and limitation to be meaningful and acceptable over time, it must both be able to capture the founding principles of the nation as well as their evolution over 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— secularism, federalism, 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 dismissed state governments led by opposing political parties; 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; 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 the possibility has continued to come up intermittently since then; 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 become insurmountable, 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), we believe that India is one nation with many paths—governments, religions, languages, voices. It is this plurality that defines India as a nation where opposites cohabit, intermingle and get along. Out of this plurality arise many rich possibilities.
While some may grow tired today of hearing old slogans like “unity in diversity”, our Constitution epitomises this slogan and it is this very document that 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 today nor create any meaningful possibilities for tomorrow.
The Constitution remains our best hope of ensuring that this spirit of plurality is sustained in India over time. With this objective, this paper—One Nation, Many Paths—is presented as a critical reflection on the Constitution: one in which an appraisal of developments since 1950 can lead to a reaffirmation of the original vision on some matters and the possibility of reorientation in others. The paper inaugurates 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 that 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.