Delhi Full Statehood Issue: A constitutional renaissance

SC’s Delhi verdict

  1. Already much has been said and more will come on the nature and scope of constitutional powers of Delhi’s elected government and the Union
  2. But this judgment provided the conception of “constitutional renaissance” which was finely elaborated by the entire bench of SC hearing the case
  3. One does not know how the political class would respond to this momentous exposition of six key constitutional notions:
  • Renaissance
  • Morality
  • Pragmatism
  • Objectivity
  • Purposive interpretation
  • Good governance

The idea of constitutional renaissance

  1. It was first sounded in Manoj Narula (2014) judgment
  2. It stands severally described now as “a constant awakening as regards the text, context, perspective, purpose, and the rule of law”, an awakening that makes space for a “resurgent constitutionalism” and “allows no room for absolutism” nor any “space for anarchy”
  3. The term “rational anarchism” has “no entry in the field of constitutional governance or the rule of law” and by the same token constitutional text and context resolutely repudiate the lineages of absolutism or the itineraries of dictatorship
  4. One may then say that “constitutionalism” is the space between “absolutism” and “anarchy” and its constant repair and renewal is the prime function of adjudication
  5. That awakening is a constant process; renaissance has a beginning but knows no end because everyday fidelity to the vision, spirit and letter of the Constitution is the supreme obligation of all constitutional beings
  6. One ought to witness in daily decisions an “acceptance of constitutional obligations” not just within the text of the Constitution but also its “silences”
  7. To thus reawaken is to be “obeisant to the constitutional conscience with a sense of constitutional vision”

How to achieve the renaissance

  1. Courts should adopt that approach to interpretation which glorifies the democratic spirit of the Constitution
  2. “Reverence” for the Constitution (or constitutionalism) is the essential first step towards a constitutional renaissance

Rights of the people

  1. People are the true sovereigns, never to be reduced to the servile status of being a subject; rather as beings with rights, they are the source of trust in governance and founts of legitimacy
  2. All forms of public power are held in trust
  3. The relatively autonomous legislative, executive, administrative and adjudicatory powers are legitimate only when placed at the service of constitutional ends

Idea of constitutional morality

  1. It provides a principled understanding for unfolding the work of governance
  2. It is “a compass to hold in troubled waters”. It “specifies norms for institutions to survive and an expectation of behaviour that will meet not just the text but the soul of the Constitution”
  3. It also enables us to hold to account our institutions and those who preside over their destinies
  4. Constitutional morality balances popular morality and acts as a threshold against an upsurge in mob rule
  5. The democratic values survive and become successful where the people at large and the persons-in-charge of the institution are strictly guided by the constitutional parameters without paving the path of deviancy and reflecting in action the primary concern to maintain the institutional integrity and the requisite constitutional restraints

The doctrine of constitutional objectivity

  1. This “lighthouse” of constitutional interpretation demands of those in power to act “justly and reasonably”
  2. It overrides acts of purely subjective discretion

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