In every democratic country, the laws governing the land apply to all citizens, regardless of their differences or diversities. In India’s case, most of the laws were formulated in Britain during the nineteenth century. With the passage of time, representation was granted to Indian leaders, but the actual powers still rested in the hands of the British.

The transfer of power took place in 1947, but India’s own laws came into effect a little later. The law of the land became the embodiment of the legal authority the people empowered to govern them.

The Constitution of India had involved a rigorous process that was aimed at ensuring that the power always remained in the hands of the people. It was also important to have a constitution specifically meant for its people, which is why, despite imbibing quite significantly from several other constitutions around the world, the Indian Constitution stood out for its specific consideration of minorities, the deprived, as well as the indigenous tribes.

It was, in fact, made amply clear during the very first meeting of the Constituent Assembly that India’s constitution had to be so drafted that it became naturally acceptable to its people.

Nehru famously told the august gathering that India was not just going to copy ideals, procedures and provisions of the constitution from elsewhere. “Whatever system of government we may establish here must fit in with the temper of our people and be acceptable to them. We stand for democracy,” Nehru had said in a speech while outlining the vision of the Indian Constitution on 13 December 1946.

The purpose of that meeting was to draw the objectives of the Constitution of India, which Nehru had drafted and moved in the Constituent Assembly on that occasion. Based on these objectives emerged the Preamble to the Constitution of India, which describes the aspirations of the Indian people.

It is a very crisp introductory statement, which became a guide to patriotism in India as it set forth the relationship between the State and its people with astounding clarity. It also represented the principles and the ethos of the Constitution as well as the source from which the document derived its authority and meaning.

The reason young Indians later did not feel the Constitution was forcefully thrust upon them and came to accept it quite naturally was because the drafting committee and the Constituent Assembly went into every little detail and discussed all major issues of contention before they were accepted as a part of the Constitution.

Noted author and activist Seth Govind Das, for example, highlighted the cultural background to the protection of cows, and why it is regarded as mata (mother) in India.

“Ours is an agricultural country. It should have all that is necessary for agriculture. From this point of view, the protection of cows is very essential for us. The problem of cow protection is a matter which has been associated with our civilisation from the time of Lord Krishna. To us, it is not only a religious or economic but also a cultural problem. Just as we have declared the practice of untouchability an offence, we can also declare that cow-slaughter in this country would be an offence. We should include some provision in our Constitution for this. We learn from our history that only such regimes, whether during Hindu period or Muslim period, as had prohibited cow-slaughter had been popular and successful in our country. History is a witness to the fact that cow-slaughter was abolished here during the rule of many Muslim Kings. It may be said that it would entail a heavy financial burden. I submit, however, that even if we impose a tax on the people and ask them to pay it in order to protect the cows, I am of the opinion that they would pay it quite willingly. The bogey of financial difficulties used to be raised before us by the British Government. But I would like that in the matter of cow-protection this bogey should not be raised before us by the British government.”

Similarly, Damodar Swarup Seth, the staunch socialist and a Constituent Assembly member, had highlighted the key role played by Gandhi in making the Indian freedom struggle a mass movement. He noted that the Constitution should consider Gandhian philosophies and avoid centralisation of power. A staunch socialist, he went to the extent of stating that the Assembly should be dissolved as it didn’t represent all sections of the Indian society.

Seth, an outspoken defender of the rights of people from the economically and socially lower strata of the society, warned us about the ill effects of centralisation of power.

He had said:

“Centralisation is a good thing and is useful at times but we forget that all through his life, Mahatma Gandhi emphasised the fact that too much centralisation of power makes that power totalitarian and takes it towards fascist ideals. The only method of safeguarding against totalitarianism and fascism is that power should be decentralised to the greatest extent. We would have thus brought about such a centralisation of power through welding of heart as could not be matched anywhere in the world. But the natural consequence of centralising power by law will be that our country which has all along opposed Fascism – even today we claim to strongly oppose it – will gradually move towards Fascism.”

While it was naturally expected of the citizens of the independent nation to behave as patriots, the fear of sedition also lurked among the members of the Constituent Assembly, which is perhaps why the matter was vigorously debated during the formation of the Indian Consitution.

Prominent members such as KM Munshi, popularly known by his pen name Ghanshyam Vyas, said that criticism of the government should not be seen as sedition.

But the most significant exchange on the matter took place between the Sikh leader Bhopinder Singh Mann and the Speaker of the Constituent Assembly, Seth Govind Das. Mann warned the august gathering thus:

“For the public in general, and for the minorities in particular, I attach great importance to association and to free speech. It is through them that we can make our voice felt by the Government, and can stop the injustice that might be done to us. For attaining these rights, the country had to make so many struggles, and after a grim battle succeeded in getting these rights recognised. But now, when the time for their enforcement has come, the Government feels hesitant; what was deemed as undesirable then is now being paraded as desirable. What is being given by one hand is being taken away by the other.”

Das, who was a noted Satyagrahi and had been jailed several times, recalled that his grandfather held the title of “Raja” while his uncle and father held the title of “Diwan Bahadur”. He said:

“I am very glad that titles will no more be granted in this country. In spite of belonging to such a family, I was prosecuted under Section 124A and that also for an interesting thing. My great grandfather had been awarded a gold waistband inlaid with diamonds. The British Government awarded it to him for helping it in 1857 and the words, ‘In recognition of his services during the Mutiny in 1857’ were engraved on it. In the course of my speech during the Satyagraha movement of 1930, I said that my great-grandfather got this waistband for helping the alien government and that he had committed a sin by doing so and that I wanted to have engraved on it that the sin committed by my great-grandfather in helping to keep such a government in existence had been expiated by the great-grandson by seeking to uproot it. For this, I was prosecuted under Section 124A and sentenced to two years’ rigorous imprisonment.”

The members recognised that the only reason why sedition was weaved into the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in 1870 was to jail the critics of the British Raj. Therefore, at the very outset, it became amply clear that the matter of sedition or treachery towards the cause of the motherland wasn’t something that was ignored by the founders of the Republic of India. It was instead hotly debated, argued and deliberated upon.

The members of the Constituent Assembly, after much thought and reflection, believed that the struggle for freedom was based on the idea of liberty and thus the entire exercise would turn futile if citizens of independent India were forbidden from criticising their own elected government for the fear of sedition. Criticising the government of the day was not an anti-national act to their mind and to the spirit of the Indian Constitution.

As originally enacted, the Preamble describes India as a “sovereign democratic republic”. The Preamble to the Constitution of India describes in great detail the relationship the State shares with its people. That is the premise from which Indian patriotism derives its meaning. reading the words but were actually trying to live that life. Many adjustments were being made, people were trying to adapt to freedom, they were learning to live with each other and withstand the forces that wished otherwise.

The Psychology of a Patriot

Excerpted with permission from The Psychology of a Patriot, Saket Suman, Rupa Publishing.