Constitutional Framework and Structures of Governance in India:

A Historical Perspective


Series of Weekly Lectures by Sri Devendra Swarup


Lecture XVIII, Saturday, November 3, 2012




In the eighteenth and concluding talk of this series, Shri Devendra Swarup gave a summary of the ground covered so far and the task ahead. At the beginning, he thanked all those who had made this lecture series possible. He especially mentioned the efforts of Shri Jitendra Bajaj, Banwari, Ram Bhadur Rai, Raj Kumar Bhatia, Avanish Awasthi, P. K. Chandla, Rajendra Gupta, Mewa Ram Arya, Brij Kishore Sharma, Meenakshi, Surya Kant Bali, Anand Adeesh, Gaurinandan, Dr. Rajendra Gupta, Kamal Kant Jaiswal, Chander Pal Singh and many others. He emphasised that it was indeed the zeal to contribute in the task of nation building in the challenging environment of today that had inspired the organisers and the audience, who had together made this long series a success.


The series has so far covered the period of Indian history between 1740 and 1947, during which the British established and consolidated their rule and replaced Indian ideas and institutions with colonial constructs before transferring power to Indian leadership. 


Initially, up to 1802, the British rulers displayed some appreciation for the institutions of Indian society and civilization that had continued since the ancient times. But after 1802, when their future in India looked secure, the British realized that India could not be ruled with an inferiority complex in the minds of the ruling class and it was necessary to replace it with a sense of superiority. Out of this realization arose the project to discredit India’s social and intellectual heritage in the form of James Mill’s History of India and the Haileyburry College.


Establishment of British rule in India coincided with the technological and industrial revolutions in Europe which greatly transformed the mode of industrial production and made long distance transport and communication convenient and easy. Soon every country was obliged to adopt modern technologies in order to survive and protect its sovereignty. It was only by adopting European science and technology that Japan was able to fend off western imperial designs. 


From1828 onwards, the British began replacing indigenous Indian institutions in all fields of public life, like education, law and judiciary and revenue administration, with new institutions suitable for imperial control administration. Efforts to Christianize India were also promoted in the hope that this will bind the ruled with their rulers and also induce the Indians to adopt the consumerist lifestyle turning India into a large market for industrial goods. 


Reaction to these British policies led to the great revolt of 1857. Failure of that effort exposed the age old weaknesses of the India society; while no Englishman supported the Indian cause, the British were able to rely on the support of a majority of the native soldiery and the native elite.


Though the national effort of 1857 failed, yet it shook the foundations of British rule in India. They responded by introducing major changes in their policies. The first conclusion the British drew was that the Indian empire was conquered by the sword and would be maintained by the sword. Secondly, they were convinced that positions of power in the civil administration or in the army could never be entrusted in the hands of Indians. Indians were discouraged from joining the elite ICS, even when some of them succeeded in passing the competitive examination overcoming all hurdles. The British finally agreed to transfer power only after 1945, when following the INA trial, they realised that they were in no position to keep control of the empire; there were possibilities of military revolt and Britain had suffered a substantial decline in her military and economic power after World War II. 


While after1857, the British had determined to never cede power to Indians, yet they were convinced that they could not rule India without the collaboration of powerful sections of Indians. It was to identify and bring such sections into their thought process and administrative system that they carried through elaborate exercises of what they called “constitutional reforms”. Constitution Acts of 1861, 1882, 1892, 1909, 1919 and 1935 became the mainstay of British policy to maintain the Indian empire. Each instalment of “reforms” offered somewhat more participation in governance to the elite English-educated Indians, but the fact remained that the British did not intend to transfer real power in the native hands. Even Lord Irwin, who has earned the image of the most liberal and catholic British Viceroy to have ever come in India, was clear that the British must not withdraw from India. When provincial autonomy was given to Indian ministries under the 1935 Act, Linlithgow made it clear that the federal part of the “reform” will not be implemented.


The British Cabinet Mission Plan of 16 May 1946 dragged India into a Constituent Assembly formed within the franchise of 1935 Act. And, the Government of India Act of 1935 constitutes about 80 percent of ‘our’ Constitution of 1950. In fact, it is wrong to take 1950 as the starting point of this constitution; it has been in force at least since September 2, 1946 when the Congress leaders accepted to form the interim government? 


The Preamble and the Directive Principles incorporated in the Constitution reflected our national objectives which we hoped to achieve through this Constitution. But it has led India to her present pathetic condition, which can be witnessed everyday in the mirror of media. The debate for remedies has become sterile.


That the inspirations of our freedom struggle were spiritual is evident from its Gandhian leadership. A spiritual society throws up an ideal state, not vice-versa. But it seems that with the attainment of freedom our idealism evaporated.  Today the only effective component of the polity in India is the state; the society has all but disappeared. The issue before us is how to reconstruct Indian society?


The NGO sector with good selfless individuals and high aims, held a ray of hope for a while. Today these hopes lie buried; the sector has been taken over by greed and has become a way of amassing easy money.


Is it possible to change the country without changing the society, the people of India? Today there are multi-fold challenges before us. Fresh and innovative approach is needed to deal with these challenging problems. Indian villages are no longer the same as Gandhiji saw them when he wrote Hind Swaraj in 1909; or as they were in 1947, when India achieved independence. Today, as a result of technological developments, villages are desperate to become cities. In this situation, can the ancient system of Panchayats be revived and would it be advisable to do so. The Khap system has been demonised by the media. Are the modern Khaps similar to the ancient Panchayat system? 


There is also the environmental crisis facing humanity which is an unavoidable result of modern industrialisation and urbanisation. Then there is the moral crisis so evident in our daily newspapers. The whole atmosphere is reeking with sexuality and economic competition. 


The need of the hour is to have the courage of conviction shown by Gandhiji when he strongly rejected the inhuman practice of untouchability, but continued to support the fundamental principle behind the Varna system. 


What is the way forward to deal with the challenges facing the society? Would the present Constitutional framework allow us to face these challenges with any degree of confidence? The political system revolves around elections, of which the Parliament happens to be the epitome. Parliament mirrors all the strengths and deformities of the political system. It is important to note that Parliament has not yet made any effort to reform itself even after being reminded several times by the Supreme Court, the Election Commission and several Committees. There are many who think that system can reform itself; that if honest and good persons enter the political system, the system will be reformed. But the hopes of such reform from within are getting dimmer; because it is nearly impossible to enter the political system without garnering money power, muscle power and narrow vote banks based on caste or religion. Even if a good or noble candidate manages to defy these conditions and enter the political system, he or she will not be able to survive. Jai Prakash Narayan’s example is before us. He was looked upon as the ideal person to reform the political system; he had a blotless life full of sacrifices and the slogan of “Total Revolution”. His movement showed great promise till it remained non-political. Once he entered parliamentary politics, both he and his movement were finished.


Can the crisis of the political system be remedied by boycotting the political parties or political processes? The Emergency regime of Indira Gandhi was an attempt in this direction; but it failed.  


The political system has developed vested interest in maintaining the status quo. The change cannot come from within. But how can it be changed? Are the radical alternatives like military dictatorship or anarchy the answer? Can they bring the required change?


Our conclusion is that the present Constitution must be replaced. To achieve this we propose the following step by step programme.


1. Formation of a Core Committee of constitutional experts, eminent administrators with clean public image and guided by some prominent saints.


2. An intensive Research Project covering various aspect of the making and working of the political system to generate intellectual clarity and conviction about the inherent unsuitability of the system. 


3. An intellectual movement through universities and various forums of Lawyers and other professionals.


4. Public awareness campaign through mass media.


5. A powerful people’s movement through alternative media such as Melas, pilgrim places, Kathas, and temples etc.



The concluding talk was followed by a lively discussion in which many of those who had attended most of the talks participated. It was then decided to request Sri Devendra Swarup to give another 3 or 4 lectures focusing on the ways and possibilities of changing the current situation. It was felt that these lectures could be held after a break of a couple of months. The participants also felt strongly that after listening to Sri Devendra Swarup, we should hold at least a couple of open sessions where the alternative systems and paths leading to them could be discussed in greater detail.





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