Constitution – it is the word that we often associate with politicians and lawyers, isn’t it? It is the word that is frequently used in a situation when a lawyer (or the court, for that matter) or a politician has to justify some action that apparently makes no sense…
… Or at least that’s what it seemed to me.
My curiosity with the Constitution came about partly because of a particular statement I heard over and over and over again – that India just ‘copied’ the British Constitution. Then, I found that it took them almost three years to put the Indian Constitution together. And I wondered what they were up to, for three years, if it was a simple copy-paste, Xerox job.
This introduced me to Constitution Assembly Debates, a site which has recorded every single bit of the arguments that went into framing the Constitution. The minutes are so detailed that you can see the casual banter among the members, or an uncle in the middle of the debate complaining that his petrol reimbursements aren’t done yet. As silly as some of these moments are, the debates are full of profound moments which reveal the extraordinary amount of thoughts on every aspect of what India would be. The sheer number of times they mention “Future Leaders…” made my hair stand up. They were talking about us, weren’t they?
Was the Constitution copied? Nope. Was it influenced by a lot of other constitutions? Yes. But if you read the debates, you’ll realise that the makers of India’s Constitution didn’t blindly copy it. They made trips to the courts in several of these countries. They also met with prominent experts to understand what was working (and what wasn’t) – and to get a sense whether the things they were adopting were, in any way, better than the existing rules and laws.
If I have one complaint against the Indian Constitution, it is the fact that it is simply too ambitious.
Needless to say, in course of the process (it took me about six months to read through the Constituent Assembly debates), I fell in love with the Constitution and the debates. And my heart-strings tugged at the sight of the first edition of the Constitution. It wasn’t just about the content, but also the way it had been presented (a masterpiece created by the artists in Shantiniketan for two-and-a-half years).
A thousand copies of these were made and given to prominent folks. Seventy years later, most of these copies are very hard to find. The books themselves are lost, and a few of them are kept in museums and libraries.
I believe that as a country, we will last for another 200-300 years. If we’ve already lost an important section of this masterpiece within 70 years, we wont have much to show to the next generation. And it is important to know the magnificent start we had.
So two years ago, I started a project to create a replica of the first edition of the Indian Constitution. And, after two years of manually tracing every inch of the artwork and text to create a high resolution image, the result is what you see below.
The goal was always a personal one. I wanted a copy for myself – and one for my niece and nephew, which I’ll give to them someday, when they grow up and I have to tell them about the history they are part of. As painful and tedious as the process has been so far, I am glad to have saved a piece of our history.