CA questionnaire Will it help constitution writing?

These days, the mass media, both the print and the electronic, have widely covered the news regarding the visits of the CA members to their assigned destinations (constituencies) with a big questionnaire of about three hundred and fifty questions heavily loaded with grave technical issues. Actually, the issues of political nature, required to be deliberated upon academically and politically for reaching consensus, have been left to the common people who can hardly provide responses to the questions or attend to the questionnaire properly. It has been found that the questions are too complex to be answered by the CA members themselves or even by average graduates. The questionnaire set is so detailed that it may take several hours to comprehend and answer the questions at a stretch.

No doubt, people’s participation is a must for owning a constitution. Relevantly, we can share the experiences of the South Africans as to how they viewed it and had it as well. We can quote, M.C. Ramaphosa, chairperson, CA, South Africa, “—- the drafting of the constitution must not be the preserve of the 490 members of that Assembly. It must be a constitution which they feel they own, a constitution that they know and they feel belongs to them. We must, therefore, draft a constitution that will be fully legitimate, a constitution that will represent the aspirations of our people.” Ms Mbete-Kgositsile, MP, African National Congress, CA stated,”The people of South Africa must be involved. They must be consulted in an organised fashion on specific issues in order for the new law to be sensitive to and shaped by their realities, and for it to address these realities.”

With such broad objectives in mind, they made the process of constitution-making transparent, open and credible. Moreover, they made the final constitution to have an enduring quality of enjoying the support of all, irrespective of ideological differences. Their most challenging job was to find ways to enter into effective dialogue and consultation with more than 40 million people, mostly from rural areas without access to print or electronic media. Moreover, they never had a culture of constitutionalism, and protection of human rights.

They made a public participation programme addressed in three ways: community liaison, media liaison, and advertising. The function of community liaison was to initiate face-to-face interactive programmes between members of the CA and the broader public. To ensure effective communication, the print, radio, and television were used under a national advertising campaign. The primary objective of the media strategy for the CA was to inform, educate, stimulate public interest and create a forum for public participation.

The media campaign was launched just before the CA started functioning. Its aim was to raise public awareness about the constitution-making process, encourage individuals and interest groups to make submission and publicize constitutional public meetings. The CA’s media campaign also advertised the constitutional public meetings that were held serving two functions: the political actors in the CA were able to report on their activities, and the public were invited to voice their views on issues addressed in negotiation. There were 26 public meetings held in all nine pro-vinces. It was calculated that 20,549 people attended workshops, and 717 organizations participated. The public response was overwhelming as 1,438 submissions and 2,48,504 petitions poured in.

With regard to the owning of the constitution, the principle of accessibility was followed by way of distributing seven million copies of the constitution in all eleven official languages. A distribution strategy was designed to ensure that the new constitution was accessible to all, particularly the historically disadvantaged sectors of society. Four million copies were distributed to secondary schools in appropriate languages of instruction. Two million copies were available at post offices countrywide, while 500,000 copies were distributed to all security agencies and prisoners.

It is not necessary to follow the South African model. But we must follow a practical and reasonable path. The CA has been reduced to a data-processing unit and ironically, honourable members, mandated by millions of voters to frame a constitution for them, have been reduced to the status of data-collectors at the cost of millions of rupees. It is not that money counts, but the method of collecting public opinions. The copies of the questionnaire have been left at the mercy of the secretaries of the village development committees to be filled in the manner they wish by any interested individuals or groups. As the data processing is a time consuming business, it may not provide feedback to the CA on time and may prove problematic later on. They could have gone to the people for their approval much later with a few complex issues, or with a draft of the constitution compiled from all agreed provisions.

Prof. Mishra is ex-election commissioner