‘State of the Nation’ – book review

State of the nation

For a layman to understand, to a reasonable extent, the structure of the Indian constitution and its nuances, the ‘real’ meanings of many of the terms that we have come to take for granted and the way the Indian republic has progressed since 1947 and the changes that have gone into the constitution since then, is a humungous task.

And the fact that I, as a layman, was able to reasonably understand all of the above is a grand testimony not to my intellectual ability but to the lucid presentation of the material by its eminent author, Fali.S.Nariman.

A renowned lawyer and constitutional expert that he is, Nariman has opened my eyes to see the extremely tricky aspects of the longest written constitution in the world – the Indian constitution.

How the makers of the constitution intended some aspects of the document to be, how the subsequent governments got the original intent watered down, how in spite of wholeheartedly ill-intentioned governments trying to water down the pillars of the constitution some well intentioned the judges have ensured that the spirit of the founding fathers has been maintained intact more or less – all these are elucidated in great detail in this treatise, ‘State of the Nation’.

Nariman also presents, with relevant examples, the different instances wherein the President, the Parliament, the executive and the judiciary had tried to exert their independence ( or superiority, should I say ?). And that part reads like a thriller.

We also get to know some snippets from history that we might not have been privy to, like :

  • The first President Rajendra Prasad’s tussle with Pandit Nehru and his wish to assert his Presidency
  • How Raj Narain won the court battle against Indira Gandhi and challenged her election and what Indira Gandhi did, in haste, to amend the constitution just before declaring emergency
  • How even the fundamental rights were denied by Indira Gandhi citing a constitutional amendment and how the subsequent Janata government amended that saying ‘even in case of an emergency’ the fundamental rights cannot be denied to citizens
  • The working styles of the different presidents V.V.Giri, Sharma, Narayan, Venkatraman, Zail Singh and Kalam
  • How Kalam indirectly asserted his Presidency by not following the prepared text and resorting to a Tamil poem that he himself had written exhorting the parliamentarians to do their jobs and not stage walk-outs for the flimsiest of reasons
  • How Pandit Nehru didn’t have money for his tea in 1935 after an electon campaign and how he and Lal Bahadur Sastri had to count the different coins that they had to pay for their cups of tea at a railway canteen
  • How Pandit Nehru had asked the Allahabad administration to raise, by five times, the annual property tax that was levied on his ancestral home

Fali S. Nariman has had the ring side view of things and he explains his thought process with ample references to various judgments of the US Supreme Court, leading British jurists and even the then Chief Justice of Pakistan.

A great read for anyone who is interested in the working of the Indian constitution.

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