I want my constitution

Why isn’t a replica of the original Indian Constitution freely available

This blogger had tweeted about the whereabouts of original copies of the Indian Constitution a couple of weeks back (thoughts triggered by this piece in The New Yorker). Wikipedia tells us that:

After many deliberations and some modifications, the 308 members of the Assembly signed two hand-written copies of the document (one each in Hindi and English) on 24 January 1950. Two days later, the Constitution of India became the law of all the Indian lands.[Wikipedia]

An ANI news-report on Republic Day last year informed us that the “the original bound copy of the Constitution of India” is kept with the Central Library in Gwalior. However the World Digital Library (courtesy @thecomicproject) was able to throw more light on the subject of the original copies of the Indian Constitution.

This book is one of 1,000 photolithographic reproductions of the Constitution of the Republic of India, which came into effect on January 26, 1950, after being approved by the Constituent Assembly on November 26, 1949. The original of this elaborate edition took nearly five years to produce. It is signed by the framers of the constitution, most of whom are regarded as the founders of the Republic of India. The original of the book is kept in a special helium-filled case in the Library of the Parliament of India. The illustrations represent styles from the different civilizations of the subcontinent, ranging from the prehistoric Mohenjodaro, in the Indus Valley, to the present. The calligraphy in the book was done by Prem Behari Narain Raizda. It was illuminated by Nandalal Bose and other artists, published by Dehra Dun, and photolithographed at the Survey of India Offices.[WDL]

Incidentally, you can download a pdf copy of the photolithographic reproduction from the WDL website.

So we know that the “original of the book is kept in a special helium-filled case in the Library of the Parliament of India.” One can safely presume that the “original” book referred here are the two hand-written copies of the Constitution mentioned in the Wikipedia.

Another person who is in possession of the photolithographic version is Parimal Shroff, who sourced it from a rare book dealer in Ahmedabad.

…at the end of the constitution, where the 8th Schedule gets over, in this calligraphed version, the first signature is by Dr. Rajendra Prasad and the last by Feroze Gandhi,” remarks Shroff. Though most of them have signed in English, a few leaders including the President of the Constituent Assembly Rajendra Prasad and Purushottam Das Tandon signed in Devanagari script.

To Shroff, the Constitution of India is a classic piece of artwork that finds place of pride in his legal library, “One can find wonderful artwork right from the Preamble to the last page where this historical document is strewn with mythological characters, motifs from Buddha’s life, scriptures, all embroidered in Indian classical style.” This 16 by 12 inches hardbound book that weighs around 3.75 kgs is Nandlal Bose’s outstanding piece of art, who has luminously depicted some of India’s historic scenes all along the pages in the form of headers, illustrations, backdrops and borders.

The eminent artist left no stone unturned in illustrating our culture and heritage. Through miniature artworks, he has covered various periods and national heroes of the Indian history like the Vedic period, Harappa and Mohenjodaro civilisation, Ramayana and Mahabharata, Ashoka, Akbar, Shivaji, Guru Gobind Singh and Tipu Sultan. Gandhi’s Dandi march and tour to Naokhali have also been beautifully worked around the laws of our constitution. There are scenes depicting other historical episodes as well as scenes from the Himalayas, to the deserts and the Indian Ocean. The Part on Fundamental Rights is adorned by Shri Rama and the Part on Directive Principles of State Policy is adorned by Shri Krishna. Together they create a confluence of a rich history and beautify each section of the Constitution.[Link]

It might be news to many that the original copy of the Indian constitution is handwritten and calligraphed, and not typeset or printed. And there was a limited edition published by the government of India in the 1950s, copies of which have become rare and less available with every passing year.

This leads us to the real question about the subject. Why were only limited copies of the replica produced by the government and stopped thereafter? Why are these replica copies of the original not produced now, which should be freely available for anyone to buy as a souvenir?

The Indian Republic is governed by the rule of law, and the constitution is the basic document from which all the laws flow. In a manner of speaking, it is a pious document of the Indian Republic. It is high time the government started making available copies of the replica of the original Indian constitution freely available for sale.

It is well known that the Constitution of India is the longest hand-written constitution of any independent nation of the world, containing 395 articles and 12 schedules. But the essence of the constitution is captured, almost lyrically, in the Preamble to the Constitution. Here is a look on the original preamble, sourced from the WDL:

Click on the picture above for a larger image

Take a moment to ponder over the words written there, and the meaning behind them. Happy Republic Day!

Related posts:

Differentiating between the Independence Day and the Republic Day

Let us stop this jamboree of a Republic Day Parade

Republic Day parade in the 1950s

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6 Responses to I want my constitution

  1. Cherian January 26, 2011 at 5:41 am #

    This is something I’ve always wondered. Most American bookstores store very thin hardbound volumes of their constitution.

    On a related note, I hope someone will turn up with an “Extracts from the Constituent Assembly Debates”. That’s something I’d like to read.

  2. Arby K January 30, 2011 at 10:36 am #

    May be it’s because the Constitution has been amended considerably since 1950, that the circulating the original will have no relevance. The updated one with amendments is available online http://lawmin.nic.in/coi/coiason29july08.pdf

  3. Mike January 28, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

    I can understand your concern about the original Indian Constitution. But I still think you exaggerate the whole subject a bit too much. The orginal constitution is definitely an important document and should be accessible to all citizens. But aren’t there greater problems that India is dealing with? I am speaking of hunger and discussions about the role of women in society. These facts are not touched by the distribution of the original constitution. I understand you point, and I don’t think that it’s totally unimportant. But still I think there are more important things.

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