A total of 104 changes in 70 years. That’s a change and a half every year of amendments to the Indian Constitution in the seven decades since it was first enacted in 1950. India has introduced 4 times more number of amendments than those made to the US Constitution, which is 27 to be exact, with two of the netting out for prohibition of alcohol, 18th and repeal of prohibition, 21st, in about 1/4th of the time of the US constitution being around (231 years since it was first enacted in 1789).
Such frenetic change activity of the Indian Constitution provides three primary insights:
• Broad-based respect for the letter of the Indian Constitution – this is something every citizen of India should be proud of, as it signals a singular belief system across such a large and diverse population as ours.
• Active engagement in public debate on government policy-making – as each amendment follows a rigorous process involving both houses of the parliament and securing simple majority or special majority or special majority along with ratification by at least one half of the State legislatures. Both the level of engagement and adherence to the amendment approval protocol bodes well for our very young democracy
• Amendment fatigue – this is the dark cloud of the above silver linings. Too many amendments in too short a duration of time might lead to disenfranchisement among the broader population, as it will feed into the perception that thus enacted amendments (somewhere out there in Delhi) lead to no material difference in the lives of the common man on the street.
Besides patting ourselves on the back on a strong positive in the first two points and reminding ourselves to continue to stay the course on these fronts, nothing more needs to be said. The third point merits further analysis to provide a bit more granular understanding of the nature of those 104 amendments. Although there is no formal categorization, the existing amendments can be broadly grouped under the below three categories.
Changes to the territory
Almost one-third of the amendments are focused on changes to the territory of India (e.g., 53rd for Mizoram, 56th for Goa, 71st for Konkani as an official language).
Changes to government machinery
Almost one-third of the amendments fall in this category (e.g., 38th to enhance powers of President to pass ordinances), with some bordering on truly the absurd (e.g. 60th setting the upper limit of Rs. 2,500/- for Profession Tax; enacted in 1988 that amount must’ve meant something then but with inflation it is totally insignificant or meaningless in 2020).
Changes required to uplift backward, SC, ST classes
Remaining one-third of the amendments rightly focus on the main topic that attempts to economic equality across the entire population regardless of caste or religion.
Now that you have had a quick whistle-stop tour of our Constitution, if you are like me, you should be feeling proud to be an Indian citizen (for being a part of such a vibrant and healthy democracy) while also wondering why has the economic disparity not really been addressed despite close to 30 amendments.
Although individual income levels have increased across the population of India (as evidenced by growth in GDP per capita by about 440% over the past century), the gap in the wealth and income levels between the richest and poorest of the population, aka economic disparity, has also widened (Gini index, a measure of economic disparity; according to World Bank, Gini Index for India has gone up from 32.1 in 1983 to 37.8 in 2011).
If the 30 or so amendments haven’t really delivered on their promise of economic equality, then it is time to perhaps evolve. We can’t keep on repeating the same things while expecting different outcomes. We have to conduct root cause analysis and only then recommend appropriate remedies. Economic disparity has many causes including intellect, genes, network of social connections, and inherited wealth. As a governmental policy, not a whole lot can be done to address intellectual or genetic or social variances among individuals (and that has been attempted and it failed miserably with the fall of socialism and communism), but government policy can certainly address the issue of inherited wealth.
As evidenced by various economic think tanks (e.g., IMF, World Bank, World Economic Forum), most of the economic disparity across the globe (and India is no exception) is the result of transfer of wealth from generation to generation. As a result, the gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow with time. Historically, this has only been reset by bloody revolutions – despite a relatively peace-loving population like India’s, we should never get complacent that bloody revolutions won’t happen here, because when the majority of the population feels like they have nothing to lose, then we will go after the rich to lynch them – this happened in France in the 18th century and as recently as in 20th century in Cambodia. And it always ends very violently.
One potential long-term solution to address that ever-widening economic inequality between the rich and the poor, is a new form of government known as Paracracy (par (Latin) means equal (Latin) and kratia (Greek) means rule). Paracracy also forms the cornerstone on which my new novel, Pokhran, is based. Paracracy represents a form of government where almost everything is maintained “as-is” in the current day free-market capitalistic democracies, with one big exception being that none of the citizens will be bequeathing their inheritance to the next generation. Every citizen will start their life at the age of twenty-one, with no wealth inherited from their parents or any relatives and friends. From that point on, each of the 21-year-olds will be free to amass as much wealth as they legally can, without any constraints, and upon their death (or their spouse’s death), their wealth will be passed on to the State.
The State would invest the property and wealth thus accumulated from its citizens into education, infrastructure projects, defense, law enforcement and social services to take care of the sick and the disabled. Such governance will ensure that there is no generational build-up of wealth and no ever-widening income inequality, as every generation starts out with a clean slate.
Paracracy can form the foundation for establishing a progressive society and is a bold new way of nation-building, where the citizens emigrate on an individual basis after they have explicitly agreed to the first principle which is of no inheritance.
Embracing Paracracy is one potential way for our young capitalistic democracy to sound the death knell to a generational build-up of wealth and to more permanently address the ever-widening economic chasm. And as a side benefit, henceforth we might no longer need the third category of amendments in those aimed at reducing economic inequality.
Independence Day is always a great time to take a look back at what we have accomplished thus far and where do we go from here and to remind us of our collective responsibility to leave our nation in an even better place than what we were born in.
Uday Singh is an economist and an engineer whose newly released book 'Pokhran' centers the novel around the concept of "Paracracy" - a revolutionary governance model to level the playing field for haves and have-nots.