Pull away from ignorance and know the constitution. Review of ‘The Constitution and the Parliament of India’ written by Derek O’Brien
With so much happening all around, it is necessary to understand it all through competence and knowledge… and not through a kaleidoscope of ignorance. I remember talking to a few bloggers and was surprised to hear them admit that they did not know our constitution at all.
Come on now, nobody expects you to rattle off the amendments one by one in the right sequence. No one expects you to know by heart the way the seats are allocated in the Rajya Sabha… though it is helpful to know that Uttar Pradesh is ahead with 31 seats and is closely followed by Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu with 19 and 18 seats each. This is how one knows the sort of election clout that surrounds a state like UP.
As I opened this rather conveniently sized book on the constitution and the parliament by Derek O’Brien, I said to myself, ‘Not another one! I hope it doesn’t just seem to be a boring monologue. It is boring monologue-like writings that have kept most of us away from knowing all the vital facts during the years when we had to study Civics, you see.
Well, the author writes (in the section on Emergency provisions) that “a proclamation of emergency was again made in India during Indira Gandhi’s term on 25 June 1975 on the ground of ‘internal disturbance’.” The author tells us towards the end of the section that “by the 44th Amendment Act, 1978, the words ‘armed rebellion’ replaced the words ‘internal disturbance’.” Believe me, I was totally unaware of this fact and knowing even this one vital fact made me fall in love with the book. I could now understand so many aspects that are and were connected to Emergency. By the way, the book also informed me that ‘the first proclamation of Emergency under article 352 was made during the Indo-China war of 1962.’
Why wouldn’t a reader want a book on our Constitution to also give us interesting facts that no other book with a text-book profile would care to give? For instance, many of you might wildly guess that J L Nehru was the first to sign the Constitution of India but will certainly not know that it was his son-in-law Feroze Gandhi who was the last person to sign it! This is of course expected from a book that is authored by the famous quizmaster… and the book doesn’t disappoint us here. Where else would I have had to turn just a few pages to know that the word ‘budget’ is from the French word bougette, meaning leather bag for documents or money! Derek is diligent enough to insert little known or attention-grabbing facts in every section discussed… and so I realised that though I had been watching proceedings in the two houses on the television so often, I might not really have observed that the ‘floor covering and furnishings of the Lok Sabha are green in colour while those of the Rajya Sabha are maroon in colour’. I wondered if this had anything to do with the way the Elders sometimes behaved!
The book literally holds your hands and leads you on to read and discover the Constitution as well as our parliament in ways that no text-book dares to do. The book not only discusses all valid aspects that are connected but also gives all possible facts in relevant lists as well.
The book isn’t always serious and grim and only thrusting facts at you… it has lists that just might make you smile. For instance, I smiled when I read a short description of Sharad Yadav in Appendix 1 where Derek mentions all the ‘outstanding parliamentarians’. This award was instituted by the Indian parliamentarian group in 1995 and I said to myself, ‘Our Parliamentarians need to also have the power to retract an award if the person does or say things that are unbecoming of a person who has been given such an award!’ And no, Lalu Prasad is not in this list.
Just a few things that I would have loved to see in this book include a comprehensive list of all election symbols used so far… the book lists only those that were used in the 2014 elections. The book has no index and so if you’re in a hurry and just want some relevant info on a specific amendment, you may need to flip through a lot of pages. I wish the short biographies of the Presidents of India and the PMs also mentioned some of the vital amendments that their tenures were associated with. Such inclusions could be useful references to writers and bloggers.
I think I’ll agree with the blurb mentioning that the book ‘will instil a sense of pride about the country in readers and will also inspire them to be more responsible citizen.’
Title: The Constitution and the Parliament of India’
Author: Derek O’Brien
Publisher: Red Turtle – Rupa Publications
Price: Rs 195/- (in 2015)
Review published in ‘The Education Post’ dated 18 May 2015:
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20 May 2015