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 Constitution of India not for the poor and toiling masses: Seth Damodar Swarup in Constituent Assembly  

Last modified Monday June 09, 2014


"63 years back, in the Constituent Assembly of India on 19 November 1949, the concerns expressed by Seth Damodar Swarup have become the fate of a billion Indians today. In his speech, Seth Damodar Swarup said, 'this Constitution may be the biggest and bulkiest constitution in the world, may even be the most detailed one, it may be heaven for the lawyers, and may even be the Magna Charta for the capitalists of India, but so far as the poor and the tens of millions of toiling, starving and naked masses of India are concerned, there is nothing in it for them. For them it is a bulky volume, nothing more than waste paper.' An Excerpt of the Speech presented by Mani Ram Sharma"


Mani Ram Sharma



The Constituent Assembly of India met in the Constitution Hall, New Delhi at Ten of the Clock, Mr. President (The Honourable Dr. Rajendra Prasad) in the Chair.

Speech of Seth Damodar Swarup (United Provinces: General):

"Mr. President, the Second Reading of the Draft Constitution has ended and the Third Reading is going on which will also conclude in three or four days. After that the inauguration of this Constitution will be held over till the historic day of the 26th January. All this is good and for that the Honourable Dr. Ambedkar and his other colleagues of the Drafting Committee deserve the congratulations of the whole House, because they have drafted this Constitution with great skill and labour.


Sir, ordinarily it would be expected of me who is a Member of this House that I should have a feeling of satisfaction for the successful completion of our labours. But Sir, permit me to say that at this moment when I am speaking on this Constitution in this House, far from having any sense of satisfaction I am feeling extremely depressed. The fact is that it appears to me as if my heart were sinking at this moment and a slow palsy is overtaking me. This is due to my realisation that in spite of the fact that the British rule ended more than two years ago, the misfortune of the country and its people is that they have not yet perceived in the least any improvement in their conditions as a result of this change. I am afraid that the masses instead of finding any improvement in their lot are beginning to suspect that their lot is becoming worse as a result of this political change. They are unable to perceive as to where all this will end. The fact is that the general public, in whose name this Constitution has been framed and would be passed, sees only despair and darkness around them.

Mr. President, some of our friends thought that so far no change has been apparent in the condition of the general masses, because so far the Constitution and the laws framed by the British Government are in force. They believed that when our Indian constitution is ready, the masses would definitely feel that they are on the way to progress.

But, Mr. President, I wish to be excused for placing the hard reality before you. The people of this country would not at all be satisfied or happy even after this Constitution is completed and enforced. Because what is there for them, in this Constitution, as it has evolved now, and is soon going to be enforced? You may go through it from the beginning to the end, you will not find anywhere in it any provision for bread for the poor, starving, naked and oppressed people of India. What attempt has been made in this constitution for solving their day to day problems? Besides this, it does not contain any guarantee of work, or employment for them. Far from ensuring to them wages according to their work, there is no guarantee in it even for a living wage even for a minimum wage and payment for subsistence.

In these circumstances, Mr. President, even though this Constitution may be the biggest and bulkiest constitution in the world, may even be the most detailed one, it may be heaven for the lawyers, and may even be the Magna Charta for the capitalists of India, but so far as the poor and the tens of millions of toiling, starving and naked masses of India are concerned, there is nothing in it for them. For them it is a bulky volume, nothing more than waste paper. It is a different matter whether we accept this fact or not, but we would have to admit that even if we ignore the views of the public, we would have to pay attention to the opinion of the great people.

I wish to invite your attention to the opinion of the honourable the Speaker of our Indian Parliament. He says that constitution that has been framed does not at all contain any shade of Indian genius, and is quite contrary to that. If I am not mistaken the General Secretary of the Congress, Shri Shankarrao Deo has also expressed his views about this Constitution in this House. He says that this Constitution is bound to be rejected if a referendum is taken. So even he leaving aside the views of the general public about this Constitution and only taking into consideration the views of such respectable people, how can we claim that the public will be satisfied with it?

Mr. President the reason is clear. This Constitution has been framed by the people who are not the true representatives of the general masses. I have stated previously that the framers of this Constitution at best represent 14 per cent of the Indian masses. This is a bitter fact. We, who are here in this House as the representatives of the public have failed to fulfil our duty for which we had assembled here due to various reasons and causes such as party politics. It is for this reason that the people of India are particularly faced with disappointment again, as they had seen after the change of Government. Then, we have to consider, what is in store for us? There is no doubt that the Indian masses will never accept this Constitution in the words of respected Shri Shankarrao Deo. This Constitution cannot work permanently in this country.

We have seen that there are some good things too in this Constitution and some nice principles have been enunciated in this, e.g. there is a mention of general franchise and joint electorate, abolition of untouchability. But so far as the principles are concerned, they may be, quite all right. But how far they would be enforced in practice will be seen when they are put into practice. We see that the mention of Fundamental Rights in the Constitution is a significant matter. But Mr. President, have we really got some Fundamental Rights through this Constitution? I can say emphatically that the grant of Fundamental Rights is a mere farce. They have been given by one hand and taken away by the other. We have been told in plain words that this guarantee about the fundamental rights will not apply in the case of the Acts at present in force, and in respect of libel slander, or contempt of court and the Government is authorised to enact such laws even in future. Besides this, so far as the right of association or the right to go from one place to another is concerned, the Government will have the right to enact any law to take away these rights in the name of public interest so the grant of Fundamental Rights is a farce.

Then, Mr. President, we see that the law regarding property is identical with that contained in the Government of India Act of 1935. The result would be that it would be impossible to nationalise property and there would be many obstacles in effecting such economic reforms as may be in the interest of the public.

Mr. President, it is a matter of surprise, of pain indeed, that while speaking on the Objective Resolution our Prime Minister had said emphatically that he was a socialist. He had also expressed the hope that the Constitution would be of a socialist republic. We listened to all his speech, but when the amendment seeking to add the word 'socialist' with the word 'republic' was moved in the House, it was rejected.

Mr. President, on the one hand we desire that today's social structure should be maintained without any alteration, and on the other hand we also wish that poverty and unemployment should vanish from this country. Both these things cannot go hand in hand. While in America our Prime Minister said that socialism and capitalism cannot go hand in hand; it is surprising as to how it can be expected to maintain status quo, to maintain capitalism and also to remove the poverty and unemployment of the masses. Both these things are quite incompatible. It is felt therefore that starving, naked and oppressed people of India would perhaps continue to be in the same misery as they are today. Besides this even viewing this from other points of view too we do not arrive at any happy conclusion. Nowadays there is a lot of talk about co-operative commonwealth in our country. But what is the actual fact? It is no direction to say in the Directive Principles that the Governments would establish any such thing. To give directives in round about words is different from giving clear directive for establishing such a order. Still the Congress President wants us to cherish the hope that a classless society will be established in this country within five years. A layman like me is however unable to understand as to how to reconcile the two statements, the one that we hate socialism and want to maintain the status quo the other that we wish to establish a classless society in our country while preserving the exploiting group. I cannot see how these two objects which are mutually opposite can be realised. Besides this there are several minor things which could be accomplished but have not been done.

The demand for the separation of the executive and the judiciary is a very old one-perhaps as old as the Indian National Congress is believed to be. But this Constitution does not contain any definite plan, any adequate provision to separate the executive and the judiciary as soon as possible.

Looking at States, I can say that no decision has yet been taken to end the Jagirdari system. The result would be that millions of peasants of the States would continue to be slaves of the Jagirdars. Besides this, the farm labourers would continue to be the slaves of the money lenders. Along with this we see that this Constitution contains so many things which are far more reactionary and backward than the provisions of the Government of India Act of 1935. It was provided in the first draft of this Constitution that the Governor would be elected direct by the voters. Later on another proposal was made saying that the Government would be appointed by a panel. But now the President has been given the right to select the Governors and also to fix their tenure of office himself. It is right that the President will as far as possible use his right properly, but this may lead to a tug of war between the provincial government and the Governor. It is just possible that the provincial Government may have a different ideology from that the Central Government and that conflict in ideologies may lead to conflict between the provincial government and the Governor. Besides this the discretionary powers of the Governor are even more reactionary than those contained in the 1935 Act. The Act of 1935 gave the powers of individual judgment to the Governor but it was essential for him to consult the cabinet. But now the Governor need not consult the cabinet regarding the discretionary powers. So, we see that in respect of Governors and three powers too we have gone backward instead of advancing forward.

Again the President has been given greater powers than necessary in the name of emergency powers, and the centre too has been given greater powers to interfere in the provincial affairs more than necessary. Our Constitutional structure is federal in name, but so far as the administrative sphere is concerned, it has become completely unitary structure. We do realise that centralisation is to some extent essential, but over-centralisation means more corruption in the country. Mahatma Gandhi advocated decentralisation throughout his life. It is surprising that we have forgotten that lesson as soon after his departure, and are now giving undue powers to the President and the Central Government.

Mr. President, the structure of a modern State is generally based on division of powers, between two compartments - Provinces and the Centre. This system is already over-centralised. If we wish to end corruption, bribery and nepotism, the system of two compartments does not seem to be appropriate. For this we needed a four compartment system. As I had once proposed, there should have been separate village republics, separate city republics and separate provincial republics and they should be federated into a central republic, that would have given us a really democratic federal structure. But as I have just said we have framed a unitary constitution in the name of a federation. This would essentially result in over centralisation, and our Government which ought to have been the Government of the people, would become a fascist Government. So from this point of view as well, Mr. President, we arrive at the conclusion that the Constitution framed for our country will neither lead to the welfare of our country nor to the protection of those principles on the basis of which we have ostensibly proceeded. This seems to be the reason why the socialist party of India has declared that if and when they happen to capture power, the first things they would do will be to set up a new Constitution Assembly on the basis of general franchise and that constituent Assembly either change this whole constitution totally or would make necessary amendments in it. Mr. President, I would therefore not take any more time of the House and would only say that from the point of view of the interest of the people, high constitutional principles, this Constitution does not deserve to be passed. We should reject this Constitution. But Mr. President we may do it or not, I would submit, and fully believe in what my respected Friend Shri Shankarrao Deo has said, that even though we may accept this Constitution, the people of the country will never accept this. For them this Constitution would not for of greater value than other ordinary law books. The hopes of the people for the Constitution would remain unfulfilled just as they had remained fulfilled by the change of Government. If, therefore, we wish to retain the confidence of the people, there is still a change to do so, but if we do not succeed in this task, I am sure, Mr. President, the masses of India and the posterity too will not remember us by any good or respectable name."

Article Source: Judicial Reform in India

[Author is a former Officer with State Bank of Bikaner and Jaipur, currently practicing as an Advocate and engaged in serving societal interests, especially Judicial Reform.]


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