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Can Britain learn from India?

Posted By Anthony On 15th August, 2007 @ 2:41 pm In South Asia | Comments Disabled

A short while ago Sunny suggested [1] on the OK blog that Britain needed a written constitution to resolve its many different identity problems. Very kindly he suggested that [2] OurKingdom could host the debate about this, which we would be very happy to do in partnership with sites like Pickled Politics.

But today, to celebrate independence, I’d just like to drop in a note about a brilliant must-read article published a couple of years ago on India’s pioneering constitution. It’s by Rajeev Bhargava who write it for OurKingdom’s mothership openDemocracy.net. [3] It’s here.

Rajeev argues that the Indian constitution is a model. It created a framework for multiculturalism – long before Canada - and, indeed, before the word was coined which is perhaps why it is not recognised for its achievement. He also sets out a case for the way the Indian example redefines ‘secularism’. It has no Jeffersonian ‘wall’ between the state and religion. The latter is recognised as a public and not just a private force and is both protected and limited by the constitution. In this way the Indian constitution shows how modern democracy can adapt to the emergence of multiple religions which are themselves making public and not just private claims

The point for Britain is that a constitution and, more important still, the process of arriving at one, is not just technical or legal. Anyway, for today, let’s celebrate the way India, at least, managed to create a new constitutional settlement in 1950 which, despite some speed-bumps, has lasted and remains well ahead of Britain’s.

———
Anthony Barnett writes for [4] openDemocracy.net.
This is a guest post.


Comments Disabled To "Can Britain learn from India?"

#1 Pingback By India’s constitutional example « OurKingdom On 15th August, 2007 @ 3:12 pm

[…] Anthony Barnett (London, OK): To salute India’s independence I have been honoured to publish a guest post on Pickled Politics about how India’s constitution is far ahead of our own. I link to Rajeev Bhargarva who shows […]

#2 Comment By AsifB On 15th August, 2007 @ 3:31 pm

Multilingualism would be a better attribute for Britain to learn from India than a written constitution.

The consitutionally light EU set of treaties are far practically useful : its still front page news in India if a new train service crosses a border. Contrast with the EU (which has a 20th century history of occupation and ethnic cleasning even more violent than Partition)

Forcing children to spend two years of their schooldays in countries where they have to learn another language would probably do even more in the long run.

#3 Comment By Anthony On 15th August, 2007 @ 3:57 pm

Why do they have to be set against each other AsifB? Are they incompatible? Not at all. This is classic trope of the old English, I’m afraid, sniff sniff, don’t what any of that constitution-mongering when it “would be much better” to fix the drains. Yes, let’s have multilingualism. How would a democratic constitution stop, prevent or slow this down?

#4 Comment By AsifB On 15th August, 2007 @ 4:13 pm

Anthony. I don’t deny you can have both!

If a written constitution can help us halve the number of Westminster MPs and distribute the lost number amongst regional assemblies -elected by proportional representation from party lists of local councillors for areas based on ITV regions (with a powerful Roses/Granada counterweight included to London) - with tax raising powers and the Lords kept for theme park/honours purposes, with a vote on the monarchy , less ridiculous holidays for legislators all round in and the regional+ national develved assemblies being given a HoL equivalent role one week a month to review Commons legislation, then count me in.

#5 Comment By Sofia On 15th August, 2007 @ 4:18 pm

Blimey…breathe…
What place would the monarchy have in a democracy with a written constitution….

#6 Comment By sonia On 15th August, 2007 @ 4:23 pm

yes they don’t have to be ’set against each other’ but in the language of economists who have short-term goals and prioritization and scarce resources ..

someone’s going to invest resources into getting a) everyone around to the idea of a constitution and b) they then have to get everyone to agree on what the constitution should be.

cool. i’m looking forward to this. because the constitution should then enshrine what our understanding of democracy is ( which in turn would involve agreeing what we think that d word means, , resolve the PR issue, blah blah) - - and so on and so forth.

so i’m looking forward to it…

#7 Comment By sonia On 15th August, 2007 @ 4:25 pm

good comments from AsifB

absolutely let’s get the ‘Consitution’ ball rolling - seeing it will take time to get everything agreed, as far as i can see, its one of those circular processes - seeing as it will need to take on board so many ‘issues’ that need resolution.. so we better get cracking

#8 Comment By AsifB On 15th August, 2007 @ 4:27 pm

Ceremonial and keeping the tabloids happy.
Scandinavia and Holland are not bad places are they?

My reasoning (if you can call it that) is that I’m a republican but a pessimist about winning a referendum in England.

Obviously the sensible thing to do (if people can not stomach electing a President or having one basicaly appointed by the PM as de facto happens in India) is to revolve Head of state duties around speakers of the various assemblies that will be created….

I’d personally be more happy though with one of Mark Steel’s old ideas about letting the winner of the National Lottery be Monarch for a week.

#9 Comment By AsifB On 15th August, 2007 @ 4:28 pm

No 8 above is in response to no 5

#10 Comment By Leon On 15th August, 2007 @ 4:29 pm

I like this post, especially like the joining up of OK and PP over this. Hope to see more working together like this.

#11 Comment By Sofia On 15th August, 2007 @ 4:39 pm

not so sure about PR…esp in areas where there are bnp councillors…

#12 Comment By AsifB On 15th August, 2007 @ 4:55 pm

re: no 11: Commons seats could stay first past the post as a limiting factor if you like.

Plus, PR elections can build in thresholds for seats and or non-STV systems like Alternative vote that limit the risk - but ultimately, if a party is legal it must be allowed to stand - its a risk but not principled reason for stopping the spread of PR in elections - plus as most English regions will have bigger ppulations than Wales and scotland, I don’t think it will be as much practical benefit to a bunch of racist losers as it would to Greens and Libs.

(Mark Steel if you’re interested did also allow for the possibility of a racist being one of his Lottery Monarchs of the week - a) they’d be gone after a week and most winners would be more representative of the Population as a whole b) they wouldn’t all be related to Prince Phillip etc…)

#13 Comment By Anthony On 15th August, 2007 @ 6:33 pm

On the monarchy - always a touchstone - I agree with AsifB and I’m very happy to see that he is tucking in. What we need is a referendum on a new constitution which would be multi-choice, ie one of the choices would be about what kind of head of state it should have. One option is directly elected, ie a President, but this moves away from a parliamentary system. Another would be by lot (say from those put forward by the local communities, after all the Queen is supposed to be ‘just like us’). But this is way too ahead of its time. A third would be to have someone specified as being non-party elected by Parliament. A fourth would be to continue with the Windsors as hereditary head of state. I agree that this is what is most likely even though I’d vote republican. But the outcome would be a European constitutional monarchy, like Spain’s. At the coronation the monarch would have to swear an oath of allegiance to uphold the constitution just like any other public office holder. And that would put an end to divine right (which they still believe in). This would be a democratic outcome. And it is why constitutional democracy is what matters not republicanISM which is a diversion. to put it another way, we badly need the republican spirit in this country. This means the people should decide what kind of head of state we are to have. It is in their taking the decision that the spirit of republicanism lies. Even if such a decision is to retain the old heritage in a new framework.

#14 Comment By Nodn On 15th August, 2007 @ 8:47 pm

What do we need to do to guest post?

#15 Comment By sonia On 15th August, 2007 @ 9:49 pm

pay £50? ;-)

#16 Comment By Rohin On 15th August, 2007 @ 9:52 pm

To the deputy editor.

#17 Comment By Toni On 15th August, 2007 @ 9:54 pm

why is everyone fiesty, hostile and aggressive on here?

#18 Comment By Rumbold On 15th August, 2007 @ 9:55 pm

Say that again Toni and I’ll lamp you.

#19 Comment By Rohin On 15th August, 2007 @ 10:05 pm

Up yours Rumbold, if anyone’s lamping anyone, it’s me.

Lamping, not getting lamped.

Damn, that’s just hostile and aggressive, I don’t know how to do feisty.

#20 Comment By Rumbold On 15th August, 2007 @ 10:08 pm

Threaten to bite someone’s kneecaps. That is fesity.

#21 Comment By Rohin On 15th August, 2007 @ 10:14 pm

Steady on, I’m not sure I want to be fesity.

#22 Comment By Puffy On 15th August, 2007 @ 10:59 pm

The only thing we can be sure of is any constitution drawn up by our politicians will ensure power is moved further away from the people.

Or, to paraphrase modern political parlance, we’ll be given the opportunity to “vote until we get it right”.

#23 Comment By The Common Humanist On 16th August, 2007 @ 9:57 am

Wouldn’t a classic British solution be to have what amounts to a Federal Republic in all but name and still retain a constitutional monarchy.

Am no fan of the Royals or of monarchy in the first place but they do mean an awful lot to many people in this country and in a time of social/cultural uncertainty I think that jettisoning centripedal forces such as the Monarchy is a inherently bad idea.

#24 Comment By Bleh On 16th August, 2007 @ 10:05 am

My reasoning (if you can call it that) is that I’m a republican but a pessimist about winning a referendum in England.

I’m a monarchist by default - I don’t particularily care for a bunch of inbred nincompoops that make up the current heirs to the throne, but when the alternative is a President Prescott, for example, then I’m with Lizzy 100% of the time.

#25 Comment By Bleh On 16th August, 2007 @ 10:11 am

One of the problems of writing a constitution would be that it would be hijacked by the usual suspects will contain a lot of napeolonic law type “the state grants you a right to….” nonsense.

That’s not how the historically anglo-saxon unwritten constitution works - rather, we grant the state (which has no legitimacy anyway without the express will of the people) the power to uphold certain restrictions upon our personal selves for the good for all.

I don’t need no constitution to tell me as a free Briton (I do qualify as one of those, just), I have freedom to speech, association, employment, belief and so on - that is inherent, i.e. everything is permitted unless specifically forbidden. Compared that to the aforementioned Napeolonic style consitution, where everything is forbidden unless permitted according to the state.

That’s my big worry about a written constitution.

#26 Comment By Sofia On 16th August, 2007 @ 10:39 am

aggressive?? who what where…??

#27 Comment By Boyo On 16th August, 2007 @ 11:44 am

“Wouldn’t a classic British solution be to have what amounts to a Federal Republic in all but name and still retain a constitutional monarchy.”

Feral Republic more like…

#28 Comment By Anthony On 16th August, 2007 @ 1:55 pm

# 22 Puffy =

The only thing we can be sure of is any constitution drawn up by our politicians will ensure power is moved further away from the people.

Or, to paraphrase modern political parlance, we’ll be given the opportunity to “vote until we get it right”.

So - we have to draw it up via a citizens’ convention.

Bleh’s definition (25) that “everything is permitted unless specifically forbidden” would be very nice. But, breaking news!, it applies to the state not to Bleh: not having a codified constitution, or signing up to the EU charter of fundamental rights means that the Executive is permitted to anything it wants unless specifically forbidden by…. Bleh? All of us? hence detention without trial etc etc.

#29 Comment By Boyo On 16th August, 2007 @ 4:20 pm

“everything is permitted unless specifically forbidden”

IS our existing constitutions is it not?!

That’s the difference between us and countries with the Napoleonic Code, n’est pas?

#30 Pingback By Thursday 13: Google Politics Blog Search : Domestic Divapalooza On 16th August, 2007 @ 5:44 pm

[…] 2. Pickled Politics: Can Britain Learn from India? […]

#31 Comment By soru On 16th August, 2007 @ 7:57 pm

So - we have to draw it up via a citizens’ convention.

I suspect that the political actors making political decisions at that political gathering may not be totally devoid of the politician-nature.

#32 Comment By Anthony On 16th August, 2007 @ 8:49 pm

Hey Soru are you totally devoid? I mean totally :-)

#33 Comment By Sunny On 16th August, 2007 @ 10:09 pm

There was an event a few weeks ago by a group called ‘The Future of Britain’ group of something. I saw the event listed on Facebook, believe it or not. Anyway, it was at LSE with people including Henry Porter, Shami Chakrabarti and Nick Clegg speaking.

I think there are a lot of models out there, and the evidence is largely positive if we look at the experience of countries like New Zealand, Canada and South Africa. Ok not positive in every way but broadly.

I think a constitution can, in this case, have other advantages, which are vital to build a sense of solidarity around a political document. Not unlike how the Americans have it. But we’d have to commit to it pretty strongly, rather than slip it in quietly by stealth, like the European Convention on Human Rights

#34 Comment By soru On 16th August, 2007 @ 10:49 pm

@anthony: devoid to an awesome degree, man.

#35 Comment By Chris Stiles On 17th August, 2007 @ 1:20 am

This argument assumes a lot - namely the extent to which the Indian constitution has or hasn’t been tested.

The country hasn’t developed along fascist, authoritarian or dictatorial lines - but one wonders to what extent this would be viable in India anyway given the huge centrifugal forces that operate on a sub-national basis.

To what extent is the constitution responsible for anything that has happened, rather than the result of a natural - and rather chaotic - development of a system set in place virtually in toto at Independence. This applies most obviously to institutions like the Civil Service. It would also apply to religion/secularism - which seems to me to owe much more to an uneasy co-existence where there are (religious) minorities of any significant size, aided in recent years by general rise in prosperity. The 2004 elections seemed to owe more to a general desire to ‘kick the bums out’ and a Congress Party that managed to keep their infighting down to a dull roar rather than any sort of vote for secularism.

This is just so much pious - and possibly nationalistic - cant.


Article printed from Pickled Politics: http://www.pickledpolitics.com

URL to article: http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/1317

URLs in this post:
[1] on the OK blog: http://ourkingdom.opendemocracy.net/2007/07/27/dont-blame-multiculturalism-for-loss-of-british-ident
ity/

[2] OurKingdom: http://ourkingdom.opendemocracy.net/
[3] It’s here: http://www.opendemocracy.net/arts-multiculturalism/article_2204.jsp
[4] openDemocracy.net: http://www.opendemocracy.net