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The Constitution as the ‘Social Contract’ of Modern India



The  Constitution of India should be seen as a work-in-progress – not because it has been amended ever so often by different governments but because it has been taken over by ‘we, the people’, repeatedly, especially since the 1990s. The ‘authorized’ interpreters of the Constitution and Law are no longer its sole interpreters. The continuous battles over its interpretation in the courts of law are only one way in which meaning is contested. But from the dalits reclaiming it as “Babasaheb’s Constitution” to the pathalgadi movement  of the Jharkhand adivasis and finally as the banner of citizenship movement today, its meaning has been contested time and again in the streets and in villages.

It is customary, in most secular-nationalist and left-wing circles, to invoke the “great values of the national movement”, which is seen as synonymous with the “freedom struggle”, which in turn is reduced to the “anticolonial struggle”. On 15 August 1947, India attained Independence from colonial rule and on 26 January 1950, “we, the people of India” gave to ourselves the Constitution of India. The anticolonial struggle came to an end in August 1947 but that did not mean that all the currents that  comprised the larger “freedom struggle” – the jang-e-azadi – got their freedom. We perhaps need to make a distinction today between the “freedom struggle” (that is still ongoing) and the “anticolonial nationalist” movement.

We need to state emphatically that the “freedom struggle” of different social groups is not – and never was – reducible to the “anticolonial struggle”. There were many different strands and currents that  either functioned at a distance from mainstream nationalism , or even worked in opposition to it.

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