यह एक ऐसा स्थान हैं, जहाँ पर हम राजनीति और नेताओं पर एक खास नज़रिये से बातचीत करते हैं, जो हमारी भिन्न स्तरों के नेताओं के साथ आमने सामने हुई चर्चाओं और उनके साथ किए गए शैक्षणिक और ज्ञानवर्धक कार्यक्रमों के अनुभवों पर आधरित होगा । हम आशा करते हैं, कि यह ब्लॉग हमारे प्रजातंत्र के अनछुए और प्रेरणादायक पहलुओ पर प्रकाश डालेगा और संभवत हम सभी को हमारी डेमोक्रेसी को जीवंत रखने के लिए व्यक्तिगत स्तर पर प्रयास करने के लिए रास्ता दिखायेगा ।

Monday, 4 August 2008

CONVERSATIONS: POLITICAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL

What is a conversation? Is it a discussion, a debate, an exchange of views? Between whom or what does a conversation take place? Indeed, must it even take place between two or more people? Do conversations, like Heidegger has pointed out, create our world: bring it into being? And if so, what is the power of a political conversation? This post, on such conversations, is the first of inter-linked pieces on rules and rule-making, constitutions, and identity.

Some weeks ago, after following the American primaries closely for a while, I read three books about one political conversation – a conversation between a country and its people. The first of these books was Barack Obama’s Dream from My Father, a poignant tale of a man’s struggle to deal with his identity and the absence of his father. The book narrates how he created himself, the tumultuous dialogue he underwent in order to find his way in the world. Later, Obama’s world transforms into America’s world and we have a view of that world in The Audacity of Hope. In a chapter simply titled ‘Our Constitution’ Obama describes the lasting power of the Constitution but also that moment when its greatest power became its greatest weakness, and war became necessary. This Constitutional conversation is also foremost in the third of these books – Carol Berkin’s A Brilliant Solution. Indeed, it is on the creation of that conversation - the framing of the Constitution. What can we make of these conversations? And what lessons do they hold for our own systems? It is this that I wish to explore in this and the following posts.

In 1787, eleven years after the Declaration of Independence, some fifty-five men gathered in Philadelphia to draft a possible Constitution for the United States. The future of the confederation was precarious, poised at disintegration unless a serious effort was made at reworking the relationship between the States. The conversation at the Philadelphia Convention was thus directed at saving the fledgling nation and not at the future glory of the republic, and yet, somehow, in the exchanges between the southern and northern states, the small and big ones, the debates about executive presidency or a sovereign legislature, a solution that became workable emerged; a text that became the foundation of a powerful nation. Was it perfect? No, for as Obama says, the Constitution was born with one original sin: the sin of slavery. The compromise on slavery saved the federation then but returned to haunt it, until a point of time when it became intolerable. This moment of reckoning threw up democracy’s most difficult question: between a defining principle and democracy, what must one choose? Lincoln chose the principle and opted for war, and by that very act he redeemed the original sin, and the Constitution remained. Today as a black man waits to enter the White House for the first time, the meaning of the original text has once again altered. And perhaps this is the biggest success of that Constitution, indeed of any Constitution: the ability to infuse it with new meaning repeatedly, to stay with and ahead of the times, to be malleable to the wishes of men and women “in order to create a more perfect union.” If this is possible, it is no longer necessary to see Constitutions as bound texts, but as an organic composition of rules, as method of establishing deeper conversations between people and the state, and between people themselves, conversations that can become acts of creation.

(To be continued)

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